The response was overwhelmingly positive, and I’m glad I did it. I heard from a bunch of people I hadn’t spoken to in years, and a couple of teachers contacted me to say that they were struggling in their public schools and hoping for a chance to safely come out to their communities without risking their jobs.
I decided early on that I would never be a teacher. In fact, I was so afraid of the idea that I purposely did not get a teaching certificate in undergrad. It was a decision that flummoxed my parents, who were both life-long public school educators. It wasn’t that they needed me to continue some kind of legacy – it was that I had started a “safety” teaching certification program and then abandoned it after a particularly difficult English grammar class. I was like: I’m moving to Georgia instead.
At 19, grammar crushed me. But also, coming out as queer just kind of erased the possibility of success in the school-business. My dad always called it the school-business.
What kind of future could a butch lesbian really see for herself in public education? My handsome, mulletted high school coaches had to live their lives in cities 50 miles away from where they taught. They all had mysterious boyfriends in the Army or living abroad in the Peace Corps. They showed up to chaperone prom in heels and tuxes as a joke. I loved every one of them, silently, from across the dance floor.
By the time I graduated from undergrad in 1998, I’d been out as a lesbian for three years. I knew I was never going to prom in heels and a tux. I knew I was never going to lie about my girlfriends or pull just the back of my hair into a ponytail if I could possibly help it.
So I moved to Atlanta without a teaching degree. For the next six years, I did what I could to stay afloat: I sold books and then I sold blood diamonds. I apprenticed under a goldsmith and then worked on GPS mapping for phone-repair trucks. I worked nights, which starting messing with my head at the three-month mark. I went to a training at Kinko’s. I was fired twice. All the while, I was out and unapologetically butch. Also, completely lost.
After a breakup that wrecked me hard, I moved back to Texas and applied for MFA programs, thinking that if I went back to school, nobody would expect me to figure my shit out for another three to four years. I started teaching at Texas State, and knew after the first few practicum classes that there was nothing else I wanted to do. Not only was I good at it, I was genuinely enjoying myself: lesson planning, lectures, powerpoints, awkward discussions in which no one has read the book, office hours, faculty meetings in which I had no say, department drama, all of it.
Even though I knew I couldn’t afford to teach at Texas State for long, I decided to stick around and wash windows on the side while I figured out if teaching was really for me.
Part 2: transitioning, full time teaching, and endless side hustles