Being gay in the classroom


#1

I teach adult students. Inevitably, I get someone asking me if I am married, if I have a girlfriend, why I don’t have a girlfriend, if I want a Tiawanese girlfriend, etc…

Up till now, I’ve tried to divert the questions, avoid answering, or just plain beating around the bush. I talk about my boyfriend as my roommate. Etc… I think the hardest part is when they ask me why I came to Taiwan. I came mainly because my boyfriend was unable to find a job in the US and had to return to Taiwan. Teaching English was a secondary reason. But, often I just make that the main reason.

I’m getting tired of lying and avoiding. Most of my gay colleagues say they don’t discuss their personal life, because it is their private life and “none of the students business.” But, my response to that is, if you were dating a person of the opposite sex, would you avoid talking about him/her? Do married teachers avoid talking about their spouses? If not, why should I avoid it just because my partner is the same sex?

The only reason I can think of is because of the possible negative reaction from the students. For those of you who are gay or lesbian, how do you handle discussing your life in the classroom? Have you ever mentioned that you are homosexual? If so, what was the reaction of the students? Did you lose any? Any suggestions or anecdotes would be appreciated.

Jonathan


#2

For God’s sake don’t announce to the class that you are ACDC. They will be stunned and won’t really know how to take it. You will put them in an embarrassing situation. It’s best to handle it like this; you tell your favorite student(s) when you have a private moment, eating noodles, visiting a home etc. that you are um… umm. gay. They will, hopefully, be touched by you following your friend out to Taiwan. You tell them in “confidence” but of course it will be common knowledge before long. Taiwanese much prefer these indirect ways for informing people of potentially embarrassing things. Good luck.


#3

First, I hadn’t planned on walking into the first class and introducing myself as gay. “Hi, my name is Jonathan, I’m your teacher and I am gay.” Nor, had I planned on just blurting it out and announcing it. Please, give me some credit! I’m not even sure I would tell every class or every student. But, if they ask me, why shouldn’t I tell them?

I have one class now in which the students seem very open and accepting of being gay. They talk about having same sex partners all the time. I keep just wanting to admit it to them.

Second, what the hell is ACDC?

Third, if and when I do tell someone, it won’t be with any hesitation. I’m not ashamed of it. Again, if it wasn’t for being unsure of their reaction, and its affect on their staying in class, I wouldn’t hesitate to tell them.

Jonathan


#4

ACDC means gay. It comes from electrician terminology meaning both ways. Maybe it’s just a Kiwi Aussie thing.
Sounds like you have already made up your mind. If you are going to tell people you might - and I don’t know what kind of school you are working for - tell your boss first. He/She will appreciate the show of trust.


#5

ACDC does not mean gay. It means bisexual. As in goes both ways, as in electrical current terminology for a current socket that is both alternating current and direct current.

Jonathan, good question, and good luck with your responses. I think Almas Johns is right: do it diplomatically. But yes, since you are proud of who you are, let the world accept you the way you are, too. I do. I am sure most of us here do too.

As for your students or their parents, well, this IS Taiwan. Did you ever see the movie WEDDING BANQUET by Ang Lee. Good intro to Taiwan’s views on gay life.

I salute your bravery.


#6

Jeez! You poor bastard.

I am not gay, but I am a bit ‘girly’ and have been accused of being gay more times than I care to recount since I came here. And when I say ‘accused’ I mean it.

Most of my students seem to have difficulty comprehending, let alone accepting, the whole idea. To them it’s always a big joke, and something to be looked down upon. I’ve tried a few times to make people explain their distaste, and they usually clam up into face-saving mode.

I think that as a culture Taiwan is still in the dominant-hetero-male vs submissive-female mentality. Deviating from that norm (especially as a teacher, where you have a reputation to live up to) is threatening to the fabric of society. They simply don’t know how to deal with it.

I’m going to hazard a guess that if you confront people here with the truth they will not be openly critical but you run the risk of being politely sidelined. Hide the truth and you are being untrue to yourself, but it’s your life. You’re faced with the same dilemma that gays were faced with in the west decades ago (and still are in some circles) but also have to deal with the fact that this is not your country.

I’d be interested to hear what happens. Keep us posted.

The other way is simply to avoid the issue.

Do you have a gf? not yet
why not? I dunno, what am I doing wrong?
do you like…? Yes, but she smells bad. Where can I find a decent woman?
Do you like TW girls? Do you?

And so on.


#7

I agree with Almas John’s suggestion. Tell a few students outside of class, in a non-classroom setting … and make sure beforehand that you know they will be accepting of it. Views on homosexuality have opened up recently, but not a lot. All of my co-workers know about me, and they’re all very cool about it (even my boss), but they’re all girls. I only personally told a couple of them, and preferred to let them tell the others in their own way, which I think is best. They’ve all met and hung out with me and my ex-boyfriend. Some of them like to ask questions and talk to me about it, others don’t mention it at all. But they all treat me like I’m a regular person (which I am). But, I think that that’s an exception. So I wouldn’t take any chances. The guy I’m dating now just told his mom and she freaked and now has said she won’t pay his college tuition anymore … so … I really don’t think there’s any compelling need to tell anyone.


#8

If you’re tired of lying and avoiding, just don’t. The Taiwanese are no different to rational intelligent people anywhere else when confronted with a confident, honest person who is open about themselves. If people ask, tell them, don’t wait for a reaction, be blase, indifferent to the fact they might be “shocked” and they’ll get over it, people do! Just behave like you would when having a conversation anywhere else!

This isn’t about cultural attitudes or commonly held beliefs in Taiwan, it’s about your personal relationship with your adult students. By going out of your way to tell a few over coffee, tell another few after class, you’ll make it much more shocking and interesting than it really is!

Don’t worry, be yourself and be happy! I don’t know anyone who’s had a bad time for being gay in Taiwan, except from other gay guys… :wink:


#9

Bear in mind though that some countries, like the US, have very strict laws forbidding discrimination based on race, gender, sexual bias, etc. I doubt that Taiwan does, and if they do they don’t enforce them. I recall a series of terrible stories of women suffering sexual harassment on the job in Taiwan and getting no recourse in the courts. I would imagine the same thing would be true of homosexuality.

If you mention it and the kids get excited, and they tell their parents who get excited, you could lose your job and have no legal remedy. So, it might be honorable to be honest, but in Taiwan I would think it’s risky.


#10

Well there was a report on Tealit.com a while ago about a guy that said he was canned from his job and thus deported because of his boss finding out he was gay … of course it’s hard to substantiate that and he could have just been a troll … but you never know. And, Magnolia, to say that cultural things don’t apply, I think, is not correct. Although homosexuality flourished in ancient China (there’s tons of interesting classical literature, I’ve even translated some really beautiful gay love poems from the Six Dynasties period), since the Qing Dynasty and the influence of Western missionaries in China, homosexuality has been oppressed. The views here are definitely much more conservative … MUCH more … than in the West, and I think that is something that definitely should be considered before going out and blabbing … I’ve never had any problems, personally, but you never know …


#11

Teaching adults is probably different, but I’ve heard of people teaching children being fired because they’re gay. Why? “If the parents find out they might think they will molest the children”. Yeah, the old ‘gays, pedophiles - sexual deviants are all the same’ mentality.

Ok, you’re teaching adults, but my point is that whilst there are many progressive thinking Taiwanese and most are ready to accept you as a person, generally it’s still a conservative place. It seems to me that being gay is generally accepted by many people AS LONG AS YOU DON’T TELL EVERONE. But that’s just what you want to do. So my advice is, be careful, be aware of the risks, decide if you want to put up with possible problems, and at the very least do it in the sort of way that Almas John suggested.


#12

Little Buddha: What I was saying is that it IS possible for individuals to exist outside of their cultural imperatives when forming interpersonal relationships. Whether or not cultural things apply, it’s down to the individuals concerned. If liljohn has a good professional relationship with his adult students and he has an active dialog with them on a daily basis as an “adult”, I think most of his students on an individual level will be able to transcend what Taiwanese culture at large thinks about gays. Oh that’s right, the Taiwanese don’t do individuality and can’t form purely interpersonal relationships! Oops! :unamused:

You and the others are probably right that caution is to be advised, but I think treating Taiwanese differently, like children who don’t understand something properly, is a little bit patronizing. But then that’s probably the most practical solution. I hope liljohn wil update us! :wink:


#13

My Taiwanese ex-girlfriend teaches at a Joy School in Taipei. She has two Taiwanese, male colleagues who are gay. The dozen or so teachers on staff all know. While there have been a few gossipy, tittilating discussions, nobody seems to have a serious issue with it. I once asked her how everyone knew, aside from making highly subjective guesses, and she told me that it was communicated in a few very subtle ways, and over a long period of time. I asked her if these men had ever simply told a colleague: “I’m gay.” She seemed horrified, and responded: “If so and so told people directly, there would be problems for him. As long as it is not discussed openly, he can live in whatever manner he chooses.” I assumed from this that most of Taiwanese society is still quite unable to accept openly gay people, but that most people can handle others living their lives in a manner of their own choosing.

I asked a former colleague of mine who is a gay man from Britain how many of his gay friends in Taiwan are openly so. He told me the percentage was very, very low.

Good luck.


#14

That’s interesting, Tomas - I’ve long believed that it’s perfectly OK for foreigners to be gay in Taiwan, just as long as there aren’t any local boys cavorting about the place with them! I don’t think any of the stigmas attached to gays in Taiwan actually apply to foreigners, teachers or otherwise. The shocking thing would be that a gay foreigner has a Taiwanese lover! :wink:


#15

Telling your boss may be a mistake, it could cost you your job. He wouldn’t say it’s because you’re gay, but he would find a reason. That is assuming that your boss is an uptight prick. If not, then don’t worry about it, but I still wouldn’t come out in Taiwan. There are totally different standards expected from teachers here and you may end up getting hurt by it all.

Good luck


#16

I know gay foreigner-Taiwanese couples, but they keep it on the d-low. And treating them like children on issues like this seem appropriate as they seem child-like in their understanding of people different from them. I had a Chinese teacher, God bless her, tell me that she doesn’t want to get darker when we were talking about vacationing down south. Then she realized my ethnicity and said, “But I think you have a beautiful skin color.” and seemed embarrassed about the whole thing. I felt bad for her because she must have thought she insulted me when really, I knew about the Taiwanese culture’s obsession with light skin and was not insulted.
I think the thing is that because most Taiwanese never leave the comfort zone of their own fairly homogenous culture they have a hard time relating to other cultures and people appropriately. Choose the most progressive students, the ones who seem to be interested in the discussion of same-sex relationships, and tell them outside of class, but only if they bring up something related to it or ask you one of those questions you mentioned above. You also might want to reveal it to the females more than the men since it seems men have a harder time accepting a gay man than women do.
Best of luck to you. Keep us posted on how it goes.


#17

Why on earth would anyone wish to discuss their sexual proclivities with their students? I happen to particularly enjoy “69” but its not something I’d care to divulge to my workmates and if I am ever asked awkward questions, I stick to my Ann Landers-style response: “I can’t imagine why you would have any interest whatsoever in such a personal matter.” Said with a sweet smile, of course.

I give this response all the time in answer to questions about why we don’t have kids yet, as its much easier than going into a whole spiel about how we had a child who died at the age of 9 days, or alternatively just lying and saying “no kids,” as that would be disrespectful of my daughter’s memory.


#18

LJ this is obviously something that’s bugging the hell out of you, so by all means come out to your students. The question is when and how.

I agree with the other posters that you should do it in a social setting outside of the classroom. Coming out during class will just be a huge distraction – everyone will be too stunned to focus on the lesson.

Though I’m not a teacher, my personal experience with coming out to colleagues is that the initial shock and curiosity quickly turns into acceptance (or perhaps more accurately, indifference).

Anyway, we all know how damn nosey the Taiwanese can be, so at some point one just gets tired of constantly evading the questions!


#19

Or you could just show up for class one day wrapped in this…


#20

Sorry sandman, that was a major faux-pas. Why do so many people reduce gay relationships to being all about sex? I admit we do get laid more often (giggle), but we have affection and romance and commitment and faith just like the hets.

In an ideal world at least, telling others that I have a same-sex partner shouldn’t be any more “personal” or off-limits than saying I’m married.