I Came Out to My Students…

and nothing happened. I teach college composition and the 22 eighteen-year-olds didn’t challenge me when I asked everyone to go around the room and say their name, their proposed major and their pronouns. “I’ll model,” I said. “Hello! My name is ____. I studied ____ in undergrad. I use they/them pronouns. If I were a woman I might use she/her and if I were a man I might use he/him.”

A number of my students were confused on providing their pronouns, but that’s to be expected. It’s still a relatively new concept and even when I used to identify as a woman, I would still get students who were confused. But even a few weeks into the semester, no one has challenged me, or laughed, or asked invasive questions. Sure, I have to remind people not to call me a Miss or a Ma’am, but I know they mean it out of respect.

I almost didn’t come out. I almost convinced myself that being an authority figure at the front of the room would be difficult enough when I look younger than I am (and I’m pretty young) and when I outwardly present as female. Why add another layer of stress when it was already a struggle to be taken seriously?

But I’m a graduate student in addition to being an instructor and I thought back to a class I took last semester where a brilliant professor would reference her female partner and how safe and comforting that knowledge was to me as a queer student. She made queerness accepted and normalized with such a simple turn of her speech.

And so, when I want to back away and hide myself behind my female presentation, I remember how I felt in my professor’s class and I choose vulnerability instead. I owe my students that same level of safety.

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