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What it Means to Be a Queer and Trans Teacher: A Reflection from a Preservice Teacher

Earlier this year, a gay music teacher in Iowa was pressured into resigning from a private school after being outed1. As a queer nonbinary Iowan and a preservice teacher, I am continually reckoning with my place in education. My education has and continues to be engulfed in heteronormativity. Elementary school through college, I have heard about Mrs. Y’s husband. I had Ms. Z as a permanent substitute twice because Mrs. X was having a baby. Mr. W often placed an open call for babysitters because he and his wife were having a date night. The narrative of a happily married husband and wife with children was and is so common it erases other ways of being. Indeed, I was shocked to discover during high school that my Kindergarten teacher was gay. He is one of two LGBTQ+ teachers I have had. I distinctly remember the relief of knowing that queer elementary teachers exist. If Mr. Knoer could be gay in 2006, I can be queer and trans in 2022.

Nevertheless, I question how sustainable teaching is for me. Will I be able to be a queer trans elementary school teacher? When I reflect on Mr. Knoer’s classroom, I am worried. Though my parents knew he was gay, I did not. I remember trying to figure out this unmarried man’s romantic life. Despite my pestering, Mr. Knoer did not acquiesce whether he had a girlfriend. How will I answer similar questions in my future classroom? Will school districts even hire a nonbinary elementary school teacher? My teacher education program has yet to shed light on these questions. I fear I will be pressured into silence and let the veil of cisheteronormativity drape over me. Even now in my teacher education program, I must actively fight for my identity.

Despite communicating my pronouns, teachers, and peers consistently misgender me. I am forced to interrupt lectures and conversations to correct their pronoun usage and I am always met with confusion. Queer identity is never discussed or mentioned. In my orientation class, my professor informed the class of the need to keep personal life private to ensure student teaching placement. I felt the need to clarify whether my queer identity would jeopardize my student teaching placement. Though I was assured it would not, I am still concerned with how the program will advocate for queerness. The secrecy of personal life is an example of how advice is geared toward white cis straight women with little thought given to other identities. My professor did not imagine that her advice would be interpreted as closeting queerness.

Though I am pessimistic, I still look forward to teaching. Transness and queerness will be fundamental to my success as a teacher. I wish my queer teachers could have been more open about their lives. I wish my teachers could have templated the vast sea of possibility. As a queer nonbinary teacher, I hope to offer my students the ability to be whoever they want to be.

Tommy Stevens is an elementary education preservice teacher at the University of Iowa.

1 Kauffman, Clark, et al. “Gay Teacher Forced to Quit after Being Outed by a Blackmailer on Facebook.” Iowa Capital Dispatch, 25 May 2022, https://iowacapitaldispatch.com/2022/05/25/gay-teacher-forced-to-quit-after-being-outed-by-a-blackmailer-on-facebook/.

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