Everything happens for a reason.
Or, so they say.
Sometimes we see the reason right away. Sometimes it takes a while.
I have come to believe my divorce happened so I could continue to grow as a person. And eventually be better for it. And therefore, happier.
I came out to my students a month ago. They are nine and ten years old. The world has not ended, no parent has complained to my principal, nor has anyone complained to me and I just held twenty-eight of thirty-three parent/teacher/student conferences.
It started innocently enough. I had not planned on coming out to them, but it had been on my mind. Something was compelling me to consider it. We were beginning a unit on "People Who Made a Difference." Our introductory piece was on Thurgood Marshall, the first black US Supreme Court Justice and I called on a student to read the opening paragraph. He began "Thurgood Marshall was denied application to the University of Maryland Law School because he was....Mr. Ballam, I can't say that word, it's a bad word."
It seems he couldn't say the word 'black' as he sincerely thought he was being disrespectful since he was describing a person. That lead me to start an impromptu discussion on the proper and improper use of words, and that some words used one way can be quite proper or quite offensive when used derogatorily, like 'bitch'. This in turn led me to the saying "That's so gay" when implying something is stupid or uncool. I merely said "And as a gay person myself, I find that very offensive."
There was some initial reaction, a bit of shock among them, some whispering, but we went on. My coming out generated some interesting questions and discussions from my students:
- I don't know what 'gay' means.
- How does a gay person know they are gay?
- I thought 'gay' meant happy. So, what kind of gay are you; happy or the other kind?
- Do you like boys?
And the one I was waiting for: Do you have a love?
I thought I answered the questions as best I could:
- It means when someone likes another person of the same gender.
- When they realize they like someone of their same gender.
- It can also mean 'happy' and I am both kinds.
- Yes, but grown up ones.
- No, I don't. (Though I could have used the "That's too personal" escape according to my principal, mostly on the last two, whom I kept abreast of the discussions in case of parent phone calls.)
Two students later confessed to me that they had gay family members; aunts and a brother.
Maybe the reason for my coming out was to generate this discussion among my students and maybe even with the first real live gay person they know.
At the conclusion of one parent/teacher/student conference, as I walked mother out the classroom, she suddenly asked her daughter to take the younger sibling to the restroom and then turning to me, she asked if I had noticed any change in her daughter's behavior since the beginning of the year.
I thought for a moment and couldn't come up with any noticeable change, either positive or negative.
The mother went on, "I can tell you this because I feel comfortable with you, but I just entered into a relationship with another woman and my daughter was a bit rebellious, and she pushed me away. But she seems to have settled down a bit recently."
I motioned the woman back into the classroom, closing the door behind us.
I began, "I came out to the class last month, and I want to share with you what your daughter said to me."
The mother looked curious, yet apprehensive.
I went on, "She came up to me privately and said, 'Mr. Ballam, I want to thank you for being honest'."
Mother gasped, "She said that?"
"Yes," I said, "and I was very touched by her comment."
A tear began to well up in her eye.
Maybe the reason I needed to come out to the class was less for me, but more to bring a mother and daughter closer together.