Guts and Glory: Living Out Loud as a Gay Pagan

This post was inspired by my friend, Misha.  She gave me the idea when I put out a request on Facebook, and she’s someone I admire for always being positive and living her life the way more people should.  When I asked Misha to define what she meant by living out loud, she responded by saying, “I define it by living my life in a way that might gives hope, light and truth to others. Leading and living by example.”

I came out when I was in high school.  It wasn’t well received by some friends, family, the churches I attended and completely random people who didn’t know me but only heard about me.  I came out 12 years ago.  (Erin just informed me that makes me “old gay” because I’ve been out for a long period of time.)  I swore up and down that I was absolutely DONE with high school.  I hated my experience.  I hated the feeling of being on the outside.  I hated feeling judged.  There was one teacher who was supportive of me, and I’m not even sure she really knew I was gay.  She just cared about me a whole lot and always supported me, even after I graduated.

When I got to college (after I transferred twice), I joined a group that had some of the same judgmental personalities in it that I remembered from high school.  And it drove me absolutely INSANE.  How as a person supposed to feel loved and accepted if s/he couldn’t even find a place to FIT IN and the one place where s/he could fit in was still being as exclusive as every other place?  I eventually told the adviser that the way the group was run was fucked up and that I wasn’t ever coming back.

I found most of my support from people who weren’t connected to the overall community or groups.  These were individuals that were living their lives, not hiding who they were from the world.  They gave me some of the best advice about friends, relationships, family, and success that I have ever gotten.  These people weren’t out in the public eye proclaiming themselves to the masses.  They were people who got up, went to work, inspired others on a daily basis by existing, and went home to their partners.  And I loved and appreciate every single of one them.

But there’s a problem.  These people, because they value their normal-quiet lives, are sometimes (but not always) difficult to find.  In a previous blog, I talk about two types of people when it comes to breaking down barriers in minority groups.  It’s slanted towards Paganism, but I talk about how it can fit any situation: That Baffled Look – Your Paganism is Showing.

The one group, the In-Your-Faces, are easy to spot because they live their life, literally, out-loud, but the Not-In-Your-Faces do the same, they just end up working their magic on a more one-on-one basis.  When it comes to my pagan beliefs, I tend to be a more Not-In-Your-Facer, but when it comes to my sexuality, I have almost always been an In-Your-Facer.  That was, until I started teaching high school.

I was out in college, an it was obvious.  I had the short boy-hair cut.  I passed for male for over a year without ever taking a single hormone (I’d get busted whenever I talked, so I perfected the head-nod-smirk-and-half-laugh).  When I decided I wanted to teach (because I realized that I liked education and 16-year-olds, and that I was good at it), I knew that my boyish looks weren’t going to get me a job.  I grew out my hair, and I started to purchase a lot of more feminine clothes.  I wore make-up on a occasion.  I went from being an out-and-proud soft butch to a semi-closeted chapstick-fem in 1.5 years.  It created some MAJOR gender dysphoria for me, which I still deal with (but that’s another blog).

When I lived in Massachusetts, I was out in my program and at the school where I worked.  My partner-at-the-time came to company parties and events, and everyone accepted us.  When we moved back and I accepted a job where I currently teach, that all changed as well.  My job became more important to me than living my life as a whole person.  I was terrified that if I was found out (because I was on temporary contract) that I would be fired.  It’s the South, you can’t ever be really sure.

At the end of that year, one my students asked me to attend a meeting at the school.  It was all the “gay kids,” she said, and she didn’t want to go alone.  When I went, I found out that there was a fairly large group of students who were struggling in the school.  They were struggling to find acceptance.  They were struggling to find support.  They were struggling to make their student group exist.  I told them I was there to help support if it was needed.

And at the start of the next year, they asked me to support them.  They needed a faculty adviser.  They needed an adult who was going to stand up for them when no one else would listen.  And that’s when it hit me: this job isn’t about me.  It’s about them.  It’s about the students.  It’s about fixing the school so that they don’t have to go through what I went through.  It’s about making sure they always have at least someone, like I had someone, to talk to if they needed it.

I said yes.  And that was the absolute, single most terrifying yes I have ever, ever said.

And since I said yes, I’ve gotten into the administration’s uncomfortable zone.  I’ve felt like I would walk into school and be fired.  I’ve fought for these kids, advocated for these kids, sat with them while they talked to the administration about how they were bullied, listened to their stories about their parents’ disappointed scowls and awkward questions.

This year, I took it one step further: I came out.  I came out to the students, to my boss, to my coworkers.  Now, there’s a lot of people here, so I’m not sure everyone has found out yet, but I’m not sure how that’s possible.  I’ve taken my partner, Erin, to games.  She’s come to the school, to my classes, met my students.  The kids love her.  My co-workers love her.  I did it for the kids, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t do it a little bit for myself.

For the kids, I came out because growing up… I didn’t see successful LGBT “normal” people in my daily life until I got to college.  If I saw a gay person, they had dropped out of school or were struggling to make ends meet, usually because they had poor family support after coming out (because of the times, a lot of people weren’t out).  If I saw a successful gay person, it was on TV and completely unattainable.  I came out to my students and my job because they deserved to see someone who was successful.  They deserved to see someone who graduated from college, got a Master’s degree, was in a stable, successful relationship, and was gay.  I wanted them to have hope that, even if the family support wasn’t there, that there was hope.

But I also came out for myself because hiding who you are and being forced to lie isn’t fun and it isn’t spiritually healthy.

Being the out-advocate that I am had led to many spiritual questions, and I’m sure teaching science hasn’t helped.  My kids know that I’m not a Christian, but I believe in a higher power.  They never ask for details, and I never get into it.  I’m sure that day will eventually come, and I’ll have another round of coming out stories to tell everyone, but until then, I live my life as a Pagan, and I haven’t denied it once.

Living Out Loud, as my friend calls it, isn’t at all easy.  In fact, it borders on absolutely terrifying, but it has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life, and it has made me more spiritual and more connected than I ever thought it possible.  The Gods have blessed me for being myself, but I think that’s all They wanted in the first place.

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Posted on April 4, 2014, in Balance, Life, Pagan Blog Project, PBP, Positive, Religion, Spirituality, Teaching and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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