A Small, One Sided Chat About The Colors of Our Worldview

I recently witnessed a conversation between some friends about whether or not someone they knew, who worked as a tenth grade civics teacher (please, don’t ask me what exactly “civics” is, I’m sure I don’t know), should come out to his students.  One of my friends made the point that he should, because he shouldn’t have to hide his sexuality, and that it would make it easier for students to see where he was coming from because it was a part of his identity and it colored his worldview.  My other friend responded to this by saying that by coming out, this guy risked being labeled the “gay teacher” and on top of that, it couldn’t possibly influence his worldview that much.  And then this second friend added that “It’s not like straight teachers have to come out as straight, so there’s no reason for a gay teacher to come out as gay”.

Well of course straight teachers don’t come out as straight.  One of the hallmarks of our society is a concept of heteronormativity, which causes us to assume that everyone we meet is heterosexual, unless we are otherwise informed.  But that’s not really what I wanted to discuss here.  What I really want to delve into is this: does sexuality really color our worldview, and is it something to be shared?

The answer to the first part of that should be clear: yes.  There are two different ways to look at this situation.  First, I could tell you that it makes a huge impact on people’s lives, because being gay could be considered a master status (sociology speak for “primary way you identify yourself”, usually a profession.  Ex: I am a student, I am a writer, I am an activist, etc.  The one we most identify by is our master status.)  And this may be because our society so singles out these people.  But I think that it is not as often the case that people give themselves the master status of “gay” as it is the case that others label them by this characteristic, rather than looking at the person as a whole.  The second way to look at it is to say that while sexuality does color people’s experiences, it may not be a primary factor in developing one’s viewpoints, while other characteristics such as race or religion might.

As to the sharing thing, I think this is obviously a personal choice.  But if it IS a primary way that someone sees themself–if they would self-identify as a gay activist, for example, then it may be something important.  Sexuality is as much a part of one’s identity as is gender, race, religion, ethnicity, or socioeconomic class.  The difference is, I can’t hide the fact that I’m white.  Friends of mine who are other races cannot hide these facts either.  I also cannot hide the fact that I am female.

And whether or not we are conscious of this fact, these identity factors DO contribute to our understanding of the world we live in.  Take it from someone who has definitely been judged by the color of her skin (even though, as I already told you, I’m white.  I have a profile picture.  You can clearly see that I am white), told that “a white girl couldn’t get it”.  Couldn’t get what?  And why is being white the problem?  Race obviously colors our experiences, but amazingly, even white girls get lectures from their parents when they bring home bad grades, and even white girls are sometimes told that they’ll never amount to anything.

Gender also colors our perspectives.  What’s acceptable behavior?  What isn’t?  How do we dress in the morning?  What’s considered normal and what’s weird?  Most of my male friends have never been asked to go make someone a sandwich; they aren’t called a slut for making out with someone whose name they don’t know; they have never had anyone just stare at their chest instead of looking them in the eyes; and they have never been told that they should just step back and let someone else support them (while those are not all of MY personal experiences, I do know people who have had each of the experiences I just mentioned).  And remember, gender totally intersects with sexuality.  If my female best friend and I curl up together under a blanket watching a movie, that’s fine, but if my two male friends do that, they’re suddenly being forced to defend their sexuality.

Especially with identity factors that cause us to become targets, we find that how we define ourselves shapes how we see the world.  Society is ready to accept the idea that being poor shapes one’s experiences and opportunities, or being Latino, but somehow does not seem to see that being a woman or being gay can also have a major impact on one’s worldview.  And since these things are not all separate, but intersect with each other, they make up threads of the tangled webs that are our identities.  So I don’t know that this guy my friends know should come out to his students, but I do know that we also can’t pretend like he doesn’t have an angle he’s coming from when he discusses things, or that this angle is not at all influenced by sexuality.  Who we are intersects with all of our relationships and with everything we do, whether we want to admit it or not.

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~ by Randi Saunders on August 31, 2011.

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