Coming Out

Dear Editors:

I just have to tell you what an impact the Winter recent issue of Rethinking Schools (Vol. 16 #2) had on me. First of all, this whole war has reminded me how alone I can feel in my way of thinking. It helps so much to know that there are educators out there fighting the majority.

Secondly, the article written by the Madison teacher who came out to her class was timed perfectly. A year ago, after a long journey full of self-doubt, I came out to myself and my family. I’m now working on the rest of the world! Funny how I managed to hide my own homophobia beneath my liberal politics.

I always thought that “coming out” just meant finally admitting what you’ve known since birth – that you are gay with a capital G. But when that lock cracked and the closet door opened, I realized I’d been hiding much more than just my sexuality. I’ve spent most of my life feeling like a weird-o without believing there was any good reason for it. It just seemed that I never fit in anywhere. So I worried incessantly about what other people thought of me.

I feel like I’ve lived a secret life of caution. By coming out, I’m teaching myself how to stop limiting myself by hiding. It feels amazing.

Recently, I taught sex ed to a group of eighth graders. As the day approached when I would teach to prescribed lesson plans on homosexuality, I could think of teaching it with nothing less than absolute honesty. I “came out” to my students with support from my colleagues and reassurance from your recent article that it was possible and indeed important. Although the topic was originally met by my students with moans and under the breath slurs, ultimately, it was a success!

Kids always remind me that they are consistently underestimated. They were incredibly respectful … in fact more respectful about the topic in general after I identified myself as gay. They asked lots of good questions … and I think they were thankful that I was honest.

I was shaking and out of breath at the beginning of class … but as dismissal approached, I was explaining many things, from why my girlfriend and I may never be legally married (it was pretty cool to hear kids call that reality plain stupid) to how it felt to be stared at while shopping in the mall. A couple days later, one of my most cynical students sat close to me during study hall and made a point to say, “You know Ms. Forde, I have to be honest. When you first told me I thought of you differently and couldn’t get it out of my head. But now . it doesn’t matter at all.” It was with those final words that I knew I had done the right thing. This experience has been one of the most important in my life.

I hadn’t realized how much I had internalized this unidentifiable feeling of “weirdness!” With every “coming out” I feel more and more like myself.

Kristin Forde, Madison, WI.