COMING OUT TO MY COLLEGE STUDENTS — AGAIN

I admit it. I’ve been sloppy about the coming out process. Casual. Inconsistent.

I mean, it’s not like it’s hot off the press, in an Elizabeth Gilbert kind of way. I’ve been with my wife Bonnie for almost 30 years. I’ll do the math for you — we got together in 1987, when coming out meant struggle, family awkwardness, lost friendships, and fears of losing jobs. People were dying of AIDS, getting fired, living secret closeted lives… and yet finding courage to come out anyway, to dance in the streets for gay pride celebrations, to advocate for rights and legal protections.

Fast forward almost thirty years, and I admit that I sometimes take coming out for granted. After all, the LGBTQ community is seen everywhere — the media, politics, family reunions, academia. I have been out as an elementary educator, and as a college educator who teaches early childhood education, for pretty much my whole career.

But I questioned myself over the summer. Do I come out to every college class I teach? Not really. Sometimes it has happened naturally, as when a class discussion turned to serving families with LGBTQ parents in the early childhood setting. I was able to share my experiences a lesbian mom, to answer questions and ease the awkwardness my college students felt. Other times, I have not come out. Not out of fear, but perhaps I was questioning if it was really necessary.

This year I decided to be more intentional. To not just let it happen, if it came up in the conversation. I included that part of myself in my first night introductions, sandwiched in between my work experience, my areas of study, my passion for children’s literature. After all, I deliver trainings to early childhood teachers on working with LGBTQ families, and I also offer workshops to children’s writers on writing LGBTQ characters in children’s literature. Easy to mention, right?

Yes, easy. And so right.

There were the immediate smiles, the nods of recognition. There was the response to the writing prompt “Write about a teacher you admire,” in which a student wrote poetically about how a teacher had changed her autistic son’s life, and how that teacher and her wife and children are now close family friends. There was the ease in which I could connect with a student about the school her son recently transferred to: “My wife works there; it’s a great school.”

Openness invites more openness.

It’s a simple step, one I have taken many times before in my life. But I realize my college students need and deserve LGBTQ role models, and unless I intentionally come out, I’m missing an opportunity to make a difference.

Mary E. Cronin lives and writes on Cape Cod, where she teaches at Cape Cod Community College. Find her on twitter @maryecronin