Pride and Professionalism
The Dilemmas of Gay and Lesbian Teachers
At seven o'clock on a June morning in 2008, I gathered with a group of Los Angeles-area public school teachers and students to march in the West Hollywood LGBT Pride Parade. While conducting research for this book, I had met the members of an advocacy group for teachers and administrators in LA public schools, and they had invited me to join them in marching with several local high school Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) members and their advisers. I arrived at our designated parade lineup position to find a small group of students and teachers milling around, eating doughnuts and chatting in the early morning sun. As more of our marchers arrived, a GSA adviser brought over poster board and markers and set us to work making signs for the march. Students and teachers worked side by side, writing slogans such as "Rainbow Pride," "I Teach Justice," and "Support Gay Teachers & Students." Two students from a high school in Watts, a low-income Los Angeles neighborhood, were attending Pride festivities for the first time and proudly posed for a picture with their spray-painted "Gays in the Hood" poster.
After a couple of hours of restless waiting, the march finally began. Everyone seemed a little nervous, and we smiled tentatively at each other as we lined up to march. But when we rounded the first corner and came into view of the waiting crowd, we were hit with a roar of applause and whistles. Spectators jumped off the curb to hug and high-five us, shouting, "We love gay teachers!" and "Thank you for the hard work you are doing!" As we marched on, this enthusiastic response changed the teachers and students around me. Their nervousness dissipated, and they took longer strides, held their heads high, and waved their signs in the air with beaming smiles.
A few exuberant miles later, we finished the parade route. June, a white lesbian high school teacher who had marched, marveled, "Wasn't that incredible? I feel so proud of the work I'm doing now." She clasped my shoulder and pointed to a group of students crying and hugging a few feet away. "These kids," she declared, with emotion in her voice, "they are from Crenshaw [another low-income Los Angeles neighborhood], and they've never been to a Pride parade before. They've never seen any kind of support for gay people before. They told me they are just overwhelmed by the impact of so much support, and I gotta say-I am, too! Today I am so proud. Proud to be a gay teacher." As I drove away a few minutes later, I realized that I, too, had been affected by the emotional charge of the experience. I had marched in Pride parades before, but I'd never felt the magnitude of crowd enthusiasm that our group had garnered. The adrenaline, emotion, and feeling that I was part of something important stayed with me through the day.
A few days after the march, I went to see June at work. Her exuberance and pride in being an openly lesbian teacher seemed to have faded since the heady experience of the march. Instead, she was preoccupied with a recent classroom incident. During a discussion of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, a student had snickered loudly, "Huck Finn was a fucking faggot!" June's co-teacher, who was leading the lesson, had ignored the crack and continued teaching, even though June was convinced she had heard it. June was conflicted about her own response. She explained, "If [my students] know I'm gay and I'm sitting here and allowing someone to [ignore gay slurs]? Silence is complicity, and I'm not going to allow that to happen . . . in the future, anyway. And I think that as I become more comfortable and confident in my role as a 'gay teacher' here that I will be more demonstrative about it. But then again, at what cost?" Later in our conversation, however, June shifted direction and rejected the label of "gay teacher," saying that she wanted students and coworkers to think of her as a "teacher who happens to be gay." "I'm not a 'gay teacher,'" she reiterated, shaking her head, "I'm a teacher who is gay." Despite her pride in the "gay teacher" label at the parade, June was now markedly more uneasy and distanced herself from the term.
June's conflicting statements suggest ambivalence about commingling sexual and professional identities. There was clearly something about the label "gay teacher" that made her proud and uncomfortable at the same time. At the Pride parade, she embraced the label because she saw herself as a role model to the students there, particularly to those from low-income, mostly Black and Latino neighborhoods. In school, she asserted distance from the label, insisting that her professional identity was separate from and more of a priority than her sexual identity. In this study of gay and lesbian teachers, I argue that the tension June experienced is driven by a fundamental incompatibility between the demands of contemporary LGBT politics, which center on the ethos of gay pride, and the norms of teaching professionalism, which expect teachers (gay and lesbian teachers in particular) to be cautious and self-disciplining about their personal-and sexual-lives. To be a professional in today's teaching context entails constant self-monitoring for any possible breach of propriety. For historical reasons that I will explain in the next chapter, any mention of homosexuality is especially suspect. Meanwhile, since the 1960s, the prevailing politics of gay pride have increasingly demanded that its constituents be "out and proud" in all contexts. Gay and lesbian teachers like June are as subject to this expectation as anyone else. Indeed, they face added pressure from those who argue that out teachers are important role models for LGBT and questioning students. The resulting clash between pride and professionalism significantly influences how they experience their workplaces, communities, and identities.
We are in a pivotal moment in the history of gay rights. Same-sex desire, once the "love that dare not speak its name," is increasingly accepted, celebrated, even considered mundane in many parts of the United States and, indeed, the world. Yet antigay discrimination and harassment, running the gamut from subtle insults to lethal violence, persist, even in this new "gay-friendly" era. Social scientists and the general public alike are scratching their heads at this paradox. Arewe really, as some would say, becoming "postgay"? If so, what does that mean? This book offers much-needed answers to such questions. Analyzing the experiences of gay and lesbian teachers, who work in one of the remaining strongholds of explicit homophobia, makes it clear that the exuberance of the postgay claim is premature. But the problem goes farther than that. It turns out that the "postgay" ideology, which celebrates the assimilation and normalization of LGBTs, can be just as harmful to gay and lesbian teachers as the antigay culture of the schools where they work. Teachers are doubly constrained, on the one hand by the norms of teaching professionalism and on the other by the identity demands of the gay rights movement. This should be a warning to those of us who want to pursue sexual justice in workplaces and schools.
The clashing expectations of pride and professionalism force gay and lesbian teachers into a no-win struggle between their political and professional obligations. Some teachers respond to these clashing expectations by attempting to maintain a strict distinction between their identities as teachers and as gay or lesbian adults, in effect splitting into different selves whose emergence depends on their proximity to the classroom. Others try to knit together these identities into a cohesive whole. Neither strategy fully resolves the fundamental pride/professionalism dialectic, with the result that some quit teaching altogether. This book traces each of these paths and their consequences, as I argue that teachers will not be able to reconcile their political and professional selves until we systematically challenge the ideology that upholds the tensions between pride and professionalism.
While all gay and lesbian teachers must contend with this ideological conflict, its effect on their teaching experiences varies. In this book, I focus on these variations, with a particular emphasis on how attention to place, race, and gender performance helps us understand them. To do so, I draw on in-depth interviews and observations of a range of gay and lesbian teachers in California and Texas, states similar in size and demographics but starkly different with regard to gay-friendly law and policy. By considering the stories of teachers in different legal climates and school environments, with different relationships to race and gender privilege, this book sheds light not only on consistent experiences with the ideological tensions of pride and professionalism but also on important differences that demonstrate how sexuality intersects with other dimensions of privilege and oppression.
Sexuality and Power
A sociological perspective on sexuality is crucial to understanding the experience of gay and lesbian teachers. While sexuality is often treated as a biological given, sociologists tend to approach it as a socially constructed phenomenon. From this perspective, sexuality is not merely a natural drive or orientation but a cultural artifact that reflects the social conditions of any given historical moment. Early sociologists of sexuality drew on labeling theory to make sense of sexual identity. In "The Homosexual Role," for example, Mary McIntosh argued that the label of "homosexual" did not capture meaningful distinctions in sexual behavior but rather was a selectively applied mechanism of social control. The study of sexuality has also drawn heavily on the metaphor of sexual scripts,which, like theater or film scripts, tell social actors what they should say, do, and even feel when it comes to sex. John Gagnon and William Simon, the architects of sexual scripting theory, have gone so far as to argue that no one act or desire is inherently sexual: rather, acts and desires come to be defined as such through the process of sexual scripting, which defines not only defines what sex is but also what it should be.
Gay and lesbian teachers are subject to two contrasting scripts-one sexual, the other occupational. Contemporary scripts for gay and lesbian identity center sexual identity as the most important and essential component of the self. According to this script, gays and lesbians are supposed to feel united with all other LGBT individuals under the banner of gay pride. Coming out, which itself follows scripted conventions, is paramount. The guiding script for teachers, as I will show, comes into direct contradiction with this. Teachers are expected to perform a sexually neutral and gender-normative self in the classroom-and beyond. How teachers juggle these contradictory scripts is the subject of this book.
While labeling and scripting theories were instrumental in establishing the social construction of sex, they are often inadequate for explaining how and why certain labels or scripts come to hold greater cultural sway than others. Since the 1990s, the infusion of queer theory into the sociology of sexuality has helped to explain the emergence and relative intractability of certain scripts. First, queer theory's claim that sexual distinctions lie at the heart of modern systems of power helps to account for the emergence ofsexual scripts, which are instruments of power that organize and regulate sexual behavior and sort us into hierarchies. Gayle Rubin argues that these hierarchies are organized into a charmed circle of "good" sex (for example, married, monogamous, procreative, vanilla) and the outer limits of "bad" sex (for example, homosexual, casual, commercial, kinky). Second, the emphasis on discourse in queer theory, particularly in the work of Michel Foucault, helps to explain the diffusion of sexual scripts, including the validation of some and the marginalization of others. Like McIntosh, Foucault challenged prevailing ideas about the essential nature of sex and sexuality. In particular, he rejected the repressive hypothesis, or the belief that sex is a natural and driving human force that must be repressed and controlled for the good of society. Instead, he argued that in the transition from premodern societies to modernity people gave increasing power to sex, first through religious and later through scientific and medical discourse. A discourse is a formalized way of understanding a particular phenomenon or behavior that circulates and comes to be taken for granted as "truth." Religious, medical, and scientific discourses transformed sexual behaviors like sodomy from mere acts to markers of identity, that is, markers of a person's essential self. Religious practices like confession, followed later by the scientific study of sex, transformed it from something we do to who we are.
Foucault and subsequent queer theorists like Eve Sedgwick noticed that discursive formations tend to develop binaries. Binary logics-either/or understandings of the world-eliminate nuance and uncertainty. They also create power distinctions, where one side of a binary is deemed right/good/healthy, the other wrong/bad/sick. Sexual discourses created such binaries for sexual behavior, the most significant of which was the binary distinction between heterosexual and homosexual. For queer theorists, what is especially pernicious about these sexual binaries is how they control and limit people. What's worse, they are enforced not only externally but internally: we use them to interpret ourselvesand then behave accordingly. The ability to regulate from withinas well as without is what makes discourse such a potent-and dangerous-instrument of power. A significant task of queer theorists, then, has been to consider discourses as mediums of power and control.
The application of queer theory in sociology has shifted how we study and understand sexuality. Sociologists of sexuality who draw on queer theory deconstruct and denaturalize sexual binaries by focusing on the fluidity, ambiguity, and contradictions of people's lived experiences of sex and sexuality. Queer theory also helps us understand the limits of sexual identity politics as a social movement frame. For example, Steven Epstein has used queer theory to critique the contemporary rights-based model of LGBT organizing, which defines its members as a distinct class or quasi-ethnic constituency. This organizing strategy, while effective, reinforces the very homo/hetero binary that created sexual inequalities in the first place. It also creates pressures to pledge allegiance to one's sexual identity over other identities, such as those of race, class, or gender.
In this book, I draw on these insights to make sense of the polarizing influences of teaching professionalism and gay pride. Teaching professionalism demands a classroom presentation of sexual neutrality, which I will argue is actually not neutral at all but rather a sexually normative presentation of self. At the same time, gay pride demands an "out and proud" ethos that is at odds with the realities of most gay and lesbian teachers. Ultimately, this binary opposition-you can be professional or proud-not only hinders the careers of gay and lesbian teachers but masks the messier nature of their actual lives. Further, it hinders teaching and learning about sexuality in the context of schools and obscures the operation of sexuality in this and other professional spaces.
While this book focuses on sexual identity, gender is intimately interwoven with the experience of sexuality. Where popular narratives base gender in the bedrock of birth-assigned sex, sociologists usually think of gender as a thoroughly social accomplishment. First articulated by Candace West and Don Zimmerman, "doing gender" refers to the way gender is both created and heavily policed in everyday interactions, and views gender as a highly routinized accomplishment rather than a biological essence. Through the interactive process, we learn what is expected of us as men and women, and we modify our bodies, speech, comportment, and self-concept accordingly. Those who attempt to transgress the boundaries established through interaction are held accountable. For example, if a man fails to do masculinity appropriately for any given social situation, he may be socially sanctioned with hostile stares, laughter, or aggression.
Doing gender has remained the most popular explanation of gender in contemporary sociology since it emerged three decades ago, but more recent reexaminations suggest some limitations. Barbara Risman argues that the theory's near ubiquity in the sociological literature has diluted its initial value as an explicitly feminist theory of gender. Further, although West and Zimmerman's original formulation offered the promise of transforming gender, the theory has, in practice, been used almost exclusively to demonstrate the intractability of the gender order and gender inequality. As a result, some feminist sociologists have proposed new conceptual frameworks intended to capture more precisely possible challenges to that gender order, including the concepts of undoing and redoing gender. Barbara Risman and Francine Deutsch both suggest the term undoing gender to refer to moments when the mechanisms that sustain the doing gender order are challenged. Through the continued undoing of gender, some argue, we can do away with binary gender divisions entirely. Others add that the visibility and persistence of transgender, intersex, and genderqueer people and politics will ultimately undo gender by challenging the institutional and interactional mechanisms that maintain gender (and sex) as binary. In response, West and Zimmerman question whether gender can ever truly be undone. They argue that the accountability structures that uphold gender distinctions might be redone to support a more egalitarian version of gender but that gender will never disappear entirely.
Along with theories of doing, undoing, and redoing gender, sociologists of gender draw on Judith Butler's theory of gender performativity. Like West and Zimmerman's doing gender, Butler's gender performativity deconstructs the assumed coherence between sex, gender, and sexuality. Butler argues that each of these is constructed on "stylized acts"; she holds that there is no ontological reality to sex or gender, only "styles of the flesh." Whereas the theory of doing gender focuses on the production of accountability structures, gender performativity theory emphasizes the production of discourse. Despite these fine-grained differences, the two theories ultimately make similar arguments from different disciplinary positions and with different analytical foci.
My analysis applies the insights of doing, undoing, and redoing gender theories, as well as gender performativity theory, to the experiences of gay and lesbian teachers. They each emphasize the omnipresence of gendered expectations; even when individuals transgress gender norms, they do so within the context of those very norms, putting themselves at the risk of being found wanting. This is not to say that gender is necessarily performed with conscious purpose; indeed, as I will show, gender transgression can feel as natural and innate to one person as gender conformity does to another. Rather, I mean to emphasize that gay and lesbian teachers must contend with these accountability structures when making decisions about revealing their sexual identity in the workplace. The teachers I interviewed were often keen observers of their own gendered embodiments and considered how things like voice register, mannerisms, clothing, and hairstyle signaled either conformity or resistance to the gendered order. In keeping with emerging theories of undoing and redoing gender, I pay particular attention to how gay and lesbian teachers' experiences are marked both by moments of gender binary retrenchment and by moments that challenge that binary.
Performing gender and performing sexuality are closely intertwined processes. Homosexuality and gender non-normativity were discursively linked in the medical and scientific "discovery" of homosexuality, so much so that early theories of homosexuality argued that gender confusion, not sexual desire, drove individuals to homosexual behavior. In this model, homosexuals were "inverts" whose gender confusion could be corrected through medical and psychiatric intervention. A legacy of this history is the continued conflation of gender performance and sexual identity. To do gender correctly is to perform not only ideal masculinity or femininity but also heterosexuality. When people do gender incorrectly, the common response is still to label them gay or lesbian, regardless of their sexual identity, behavior, or desire. The experience of being a gay or lesbian teacher, then, is mitigated by the process of doing gender, which affects their control over disclosing or not disclosing their sexual identity to administrators, fellow teachers, students, and parents. Teachers who do not want to disclose their sexual identity but perform gender in a way that suggests homosexuality find themselves in a glass closet, where they are inadvertently exposed as gay or lesbian. Conversely, gay and lesbian teachers who do gender normatively are presumed heterosexual until proven otherwise. While this gives them more control over sexual identity disclosure, it also means that if they want to be openly gay or lesbian they must continually come out and contend with any attendant surprise, skepticism, and discomfort. Throughout the book, I pay particular attention to how this interplay between sexuality and gender organizes the day-to-day experiences of gay and lesbian teachers.
The Intersection of Sexuality, Gender, Race, and Class
As I have argued above, it is virtually impossible to understand the social construction of sexuality without considering the social construction of gender, but one cannot adequately theorize either without also attending to the social construction of race and class. Not only are sexualities gendered and genders sexualized, but each is also raced and classed. The interactive effects of race, class, gender, and sexuality are the focus of intersectionality theory. Women of color feminists developed intersectionality in response to feminism's overemphasis on gender (to the exclusion of race and class) and disproportionate focus on issues important to white middle-class women. As a model of conceptualizing identity and inequality, intersectionality does more than just tack race, class, and sexuality onto theories of gender inequality: it focuses explicitly on the intersections of these inequalities and how those intersections produce distinct social experiences.
Intersectional approaches hold that race, class, gender, sexuality, and all other systems of inequality are indivisible from each other. Patricia Hill Collins argues that, in fact, each system of oppression relies on the others to maintain itself. Collins moves away from additive or multiplicative ways of conceptualizing inequality to theorize inequalities as mutually dependent axes within a matrix of domination. This model rejects "either/or" and substitutes a "both/and" conceptual stance rooted in the acknowledgment that "all groups possess varying amounts of penalty and privilege in one historically created system." Context and multiple perspectives become key to understanding how various groups can simultaneously oppress and be oppressed. In this way, intersectionality theory helps answer the question of why oppressed groups are often complicit in-and even perpetuate-the oppression of other groups.
Even before intersectionality was codified into a theoretical perspective, bisexual and lesbian women of color, including Cherríe Moraga and Gloria Anzaldúa, identified a relationship between gender, race and homophobia and critiqued the emerging disciplines of women's studies and gay and lesbian studies for neglecting to attend to race and racism in their scholarship. Their work brought much-needed attention to the ways in which bisexual and lesbian women of color must contend with both racism in LGBT communities and homophobia in communities of color. When Collins later helped articulate the formal theory of intersectionality, she too addressed how sexuality interacts with raced and gendered hierarchies, discussing the hypersexualization of Black women's bodies and the racialized politics of prostitution, pornography, and rape. Later intersectional contributions to the study of sexuality further demonstrate how race, class, and gender shape sexual desire, communities, and identities.
What Roderick Ferguson terms "queer of color critique" provides another key theoretical tool for investigating race, gender, and sexuality simultaneously. Ferguson and others powerfully demonstrate how discourses of racial and sexual deviance are intertwined and how, in fact, race was central to the production of the homosexual as a category. Linkages between the discourses of racial and sexual deviance in the United States reinforced the emerging Black/white and homosexual/heterosexual binaries that have had such punitive consequences for queers, people of color, and especially queer people of color. Social science itself is implicated in this history: Ferguson explains how the liberalism and historical materialism that underlie canonical sociological thought contributed to the privileging of whiteness and heterosexuality and the abjection of queer people of color. It is important to note that these philosophical underpinnings don't just do symbolic violence to queers of color; they also inform the political environment that authorizes literal violence against them. The insights of women of color feminism and queer of color critique are essential to decolonizing sociological theory so it can be used for dismantling inequalities, not buttressing them.
Intersectional studies of schools have emphasized how schools create and sustain hierarchies of race, class, gender, and sexuality. For example, Ann Ferguson's ethnography of a Bay Area elementary school revealed how routine disciplinary practices and daily interactions between teachers and students construct Black masculinity as inherently criminal and endangered, thereby setting up Black boys for failure. Similarly, Julie Bettie's high school ethnography shows how schools use race and class to sort girls into different tracks-and, in the process, very different futures. Such studies also pay attention to how students creatively resist these institutional forces: for example, Lance McCready demonstrates how Black gay and gender-nonconforming students reappropriate school spaces (such as African dance classes and GSAs) to remake them in their own image. An intersectional analysis of schools helps us understand the institutional and individual dynamics that socially construct race, class, gender, and sexuality as meaningful categories.
Intersectionality and queer of color critique are key theoretical tools for understanding the experiences and perspectives of gay and lesbian teachers. The tensions between pride and professionalism are racialized in a number of ways. For example, I found that coming out and performing sexual identity are different experiences for white teachers and teachers of color, who face unique challenges as multiply marginalized teachers. Intersectionality theory and queer of color critique provide analytical frameworks for seeing how these marginalities interact in their everyday lives. Throughout the book, I consider how race shapes the history of teaching professionalism, the experience of coming out, and the everyday performance of gay and lesbian identity.
Further, many teachers I interviewed taught in schools made up largely of students of color; their narratives about role modeling were often predicated on a belief that these students wouldn't otherwise see positive role models, as June's comments about the students from Crenshaw illustrated. In chapter 6, I draw on intersectionality and queer of color critique to understand how assumptions about homophobia are embedded in raced and classed hierarchies that structure how both white teachers and teachers of color think about and experience homophobia. Specifically, many white teachers use race as a predictor of homophobia, in the process constructing a homophobic Other out of the poor Black and Latino families that make up their school communities. Teachers of color also assume that Black and Latino people are more homophobic, but they have different narratives about the meaning and consequences of race and homophobia. The politics of respectability that have developed as a strategy of survival in communities of color inflect their expectations of homophobia within such communities. The differences between how white teachers and teachers of color participate in racialized discourses of homophobia are instructive for understanding how racial formations shape the experience of queer sexuality.
Schools as Workplaces
A key claim of this book is that gay and lesbian teachers must contend with a fundamental incompatibility between the professional demands of teaching and the political demands of contemporary gay and lesbian citizenship. To understand how this tension emerged, I turn to sociological theories of work and professionalism. Historically, with some notable exceptions, organizational theory has given short shrift to the ways organizations both influence and are influenced by gender, sexuality, and race. The predominant assumption of much of the field has been that organizations and occupations are race-, class-, gender-, and sexually neutral entities. Inequalities in organizations are often attributed to individual acts of discrimination and harassment, as opposed to the constitutive elements of organizational logic. Joan Acker's groundbreaking theory of gendered organizations challenged the assumption that organizations are gender neutral. Rather, she showed how the basic elements of organizational structure, like job descriptions and spatial organization, are already imbued with gendered assumptions about the ideal worker that disadvantage women. What's more, she later clarified, work is not just gendered but also raced and classed. Acker has called this the outcome of "inequality regimes," the "interrelated practices, processes, actions and meanings that result in and maintain class, gender, and racial inequalities within particular organizations." While the concept of inequality regimes focuses largely on race, class, and gender, Acker also acknowledges sexuality as a significant contributor to organizational inequalities.
Historically, there were few sociological considerations of how sexuality shapes organizations and vice versa, but this has slowly begun to change. Much of the contemporary scholarship on sex work, for example, explores how employment conditions and organizational contexts (for example, the gendered organization of strip clubs) inform the sexual and gender identities of both sex workers and their customers. Similarly, the sociological study of sexual harassment documents the organizational and occupational variations on where symbolic boundaries are drawn between sexual harassment and "harmless" flirting or fun.
Of particular interest for this book is the sociological literature on LGBT sexualities and work. LGBT employees experience workplace discrimination and harassment in a variety of workplace contexts. Even explicitly LGBT organizations, including activist and advocacy nonprofits, reproduce heteronormative hierarchies internally, despite their intentions to disrupt them elsewhere. To understand how and why the professional expectations for teachers are incompatible with non-normative sexuality, I draw on previous research about the professional lives of gay, lesbian, and bisexual employees. In their now classic study, James Woods and Jay Lucas find that gay professionals experience a pressure to "play it straight" to fit in and succeed in the corporate world. Since their 1993 research, the "gay-friendly" workplace has emerged as an increasingly prominent model of corporate organization. Theoretically, the pressure to play it straight should be significantly diminished in the gay-friendly workplace, where gay, lesbian, and bisexual workers are not just tolerated but welcomed. Christine Williams, Patricia Giuffre, and Kirsten Dellinger find that instead another pressure has developed. Today's gay, lesbian, and bisexual employees are expected either to downplay their sexuality, as Woods and Lucas's research subjects did, or to conform to narrow stereotypes of gay, lesbian, and bisexual appearance and behavior. They are thus forced to choose between acceptance and visibility, rather than achieving true parity with their heterosexual colleagues.
Nick Rumens and Deborah Kerfoot revisited the question of gay men's professional identity formations in this new, gay-friendly era. They found that the ethos of gay-friendliness has allowed openly gay men to feel like valued workplace contributors but that, at the same time, the normatively masculine standards of professional conduct, dress, and comportment continue to clash with the styles their research participants use to express and display their gay identities. Thus they are thwarted in their attempts to identify themselves simultaneously as professional and openly gay. I find that a similar tension exists for gay and lesbian teachers, but unlike Rumens and Kerfoot's research participants, the gay and lesbian employees in my study work in a largely gay-hostile work context. Studying gay and lesbian teachers complements the existing work on contemporary LGBT workplace experiences by revealing how the acceptance/visibility binary plays out under less friendly working conditions. Further, it extends Woods and Lucas's contributions, as well as Rumens and Kerfoot's, by considering how both gay and lesbian teachers negotiate their sexual and professional identities.
Schools as workplaces are unique in that school employment invites a public moral vigilance uncalled for by many other kinds of work. Public opinion idealizes schools as asexual spaces that shield children from the immoral influences of the adult world. Yet sociological examinations reveal that schools are actually steeped in sexuality. In their now classic study, Barrie Thorne and Zella Luria find that institutionalized gender practices in elementary schools inculcate children into an understanding of "'the sexual' [as] prescriptively heterosexual and male homophobic," which in turn influences their sexual understandings and practices later in life. As such, schools are an important venue for messages about appropriate and inappropriate sexuality.
This education in gender and sexual normativity appears to extend into high school. In an ethnography of adolescent masculinity, C. J. Pascoe finds that sexuality is not missing from high school interactions and rituals; rather, it is omnipresent, in discourses, rituals, and interactions that are rife with homophobia and heterosexism. Similarly, in her analysis of class subjectivity among girls, Bettie finds that sexuality is a key symbolic marker of the divisions between working and middle class, arguing that working-class girls use rituals of "heterosexual romance and girl culture" as a reparative strategy against class injury. Jessica Fields's work on sexuality education explores what she calls the "evaded curriculum" of sex ed, the omission of which is just as instructive as what is actually said and done. The evaded curriculum includes gender inequality and homophobia; its erasure legitimates the sexism and heterosexism experienced by students. As these and other studies show, sex is not absent from schools but rather is an important part of their "hidden curriculum" or unspoken socializing objectives. Schools teach children not just language, math, and sciences but the "right" and "wrong" ways to do gender and sexuality. As such, they reproduce the taken-for-granted notions of sexuality that maintain systems of inequality.
Most of the available research focused specifically on the experiences of gay and lesbian teachers comes from education scholarship. The psychological toll of managing one's sexual identity is a predominant theme. The literature suggests that a common strategy for the "negotiation of self" is to compartmentalize roles and identities. As a profession, teaching is characterized by a strict delineation of the "public-private, inside-outside, natural-unnatural, personal-professional, [and] neutral-political"; maintaining these divisions with regard to their sexual identities is a powerful expectation for gay and lesbian teachers. Navigating their positions in the educational system thus entails strenuous emotional labor.
Teachers manage this process by dividing their public and private selves, which enables them to survive the forces that set up "gay and lesbian" and "teacher" as incompatible. Sherry Woods and Karen Harbeck describe a bifurcation of experience among lesbian teachers who feel compelled to split their sexual and teacher identities. Didi Khayatt's study of eighteen lesbian-identified teachers in Canada and Ronni Sanlo's study of sixteen gay- and lesbian-identified teachers in Florida confirm this fragmentation. In all three studies, this identity split had a deleterious impact on teachers' lives and career satisfaction. This book reveals a similar pattern among teachers who try to split their sexual and professional selves, but I find that such splitting is actually one of three strategies for managing the contemporary tensions of being a gay or lesbian teacher. In exploring all three of these strategies, I consider the structural, cultural, and embodied factors that affect which strategies teachers employ, as well as how norms of teaching professionalism and the politics of gay pride shape their visibility as gays and lesbians in schools.
The teachers in earlier studies used impression management strategies to survive the stigma of being a gay or lesbian teacher. In particular, "passing" strategies, which depend on a desexualized presentation of self, helped them avoid drawing attention to their sexual identities. Kate Evans and Janna Jackson both found that gay, lesbian, and bisexual teachers carefully consider the "appearance rules" of hetero/homosexuality and sometimes make conscious decisions to avoid "acting gay" or otherwise signaling potential gender nonconformity. In an autoethnographic account of his experiences as a gay male teacher, Eric Rofes reports similar pressures to enact normative masculinity. I show, however, that gay and lesbian teachers do not all have equal access to these passing strategies. This, in turn, affects the ability to survive in homophobic school environments.
I analyze the experiences of gay and lesbian teachers from a distinctly sociological viewpoint, arguing that their perspectives provide unique insight into the heterosexual norms embedded in schools. First, their distance from heterosexuality gives them insight into the heterosexism of everyday school life, which often prohibits them from talking about romantic partners, displaying family pictures in their classrooms, and seeing themselves reflected in curricula. Exploring that distance provides an opportunity to uncover the taken-for-granted classroom privileges organized by sexual identity. I find these moments especially revelatory for deconstructing the prevailing discourse of schools as sexually neutral institutions.
Second, because they have to make conscious decisions about negotiating their sexual and professional identities, gay and lesbian teachers are more attuned to the role of personal identity in shaping pedagogical practice. As they actively manage two identities socially constructed as conflicting, they offer exceptional insight into more general processes of identity negotiation engaged in by workers on the job. Their experiences thus extend our understanding of how organizations affect the individual enactment of identity.
Finally, teachers offer a perspective on heterosexism in schools that has been missing from the sociological literature. Most of the education literature on teachers is limited to the professional and pedagogical consequences of their experiences. Most of the sociological theory on schools has focused on students. This book, in contrast, sheds new light on how schools as institutions construct sexuality. As such, it offers fresh insights into the interrelated dynamics of gender, sexuality, employment, and schools.
The Politics of Gay and Lesbian Citizenship
Along with the sociology of workplaces, the sociology of social movements is a crucial context for understanding the experience of being a gay or lesbian teacher. Social movement scholars note that the collective shift from shame to pride is the cornerstone of identity politics for social movements against stigmatization. In the history of homosexuality, the concept of gay pride made this shift explicit. The homophile slogan "Gay is Good" laid the foundation for this concept, which was cemented, in the United States, by the Stonewall Riots of 1969. One year after patrons of the Stonewall Inn resisted a police raid on the known gay bar, activists organized marches to commemorate the event. These marches, initially referred to as liberation or freedom marches, eventually became our contemporary Gay Pride marches, parades, and festivals.
Around the same time, coming out of the closet became the primary tool of political action for the emerging gay pride movement. Activists discouraged gays and lesbians from living "in the closet," or keeping their sexual identities concealed from family, coworkers, friends, and the general public. Accepting life in the closet signaled complicity with the idea that homosexuality was shameful. Conversely, coming out of the closet was the ultimate expression of pride. The significance of the act of coming out reached primary and secondary school teachers in 1978, when the Briggs Initiative, or Proposition 6, threatened to ban gay and lesbian teachers from working in California public schools. Along with a coalition of other activists, Harvey Milk, the first openly gay elected government official, organized the "No on 6 Campaign" to defeat the measure. The slogan of the campaign, "Come Out! Come Out! Wherever You Are!" urged people to come out and show California voters that gays and lesbians were among their friends, families, and coworkers. The events surrounding the Briggs Initiative simultaneously reminded gay and lesbian teachers of their vulnerability and encouraged them to come out.
Today, "gay pride" stands as the defining ethos of LGBT identity. The philosophy of gay pride assumes that sexuality not only is but also should be the primary source of identification, community, and self-esteem. The corollary concept of "out and proud" links pride to self-disclosure, so that coming out and pride become nearly synonymous. Critics of this "out and proud" mandate argue that it inappropriately privileges sexual identities above all others, including race, class, or gender identities, and that, in contrast to the deconstructive agenda of queer theorists and activists, it reifies sexual distinctions into essential markers of self.
Queer scholars drawing on affect theory, which explores the connection between unconscious feeling and conscious action, argue that feelings of pride and shame have shaped the collective identity of gays and lesbians. The construct of gay pride mandates the rejection of negative emotions like grief, loneliness, and shame in connection to LGBT identity. Heather Love contends that this suppression of negative affect is dangerous, as it separates us from the realities of a queer past that might be instructive and, indeed, productive for moving a queer politics forward. Paying greater theoretical attention to the moments of shame and humiliation that coincide with the emergence of a homosexual identity makes more space for an internal critique of LGBT politics and identities than the doggedly defensive concept of gay pride does. Shame, as a theoretical and political foundation, might "provide a basis for collective identity [that spans] differences in age, race, class, gender, ability, and sexual practice" and moves away from simplistic pride politics.
Despite the troubling limitations of the gay pride mantra, it continues to have considerable social influence. In many circumstances, anyone who does not comply with the imperative to come out risks being marked as a traitor to his or her sexual community. This directive-be out and proud or else-helps fuels the dilemma faced by gay and lesbian teachers. External and internal pressures to be out and proud in the classroom collide with the countervailing pressure to be professional, which, in the teaching context, usually discourages the disclosure of sexual identity.
Studying Gay and Lesbian Teachers
To find out how gay and lesbian teachers make sense of their experiences as both teachers and gays and lesbians, I needed to capture the complex, messy, and even contradictory realities of those experiences. I approached this goal in two ways. First, I conducted in-depth interviews with teachers, which allowed me to access their own understandings. Interview methods are ideally suited for examinations of social context and meaning making. In in-depth, interpretive interviews, "two individuals come together to try to create meaning about a particular topic." The interpretive method of interviewing encourages the researcher to solicit and analyze stories, metaphors, contradictions, and what Arlie Hochschild calls "magnified moments" of epiphany or heightened emotion. The interviews were semistructured, which means that although I followed a rough outline of questions, interviews were conversational in tone and structure. In the interviews, I asked participants to talk about their decisions to become teachers, their experiences as teachers, and their survival strategies as legally and socially vulnerable workers.
In addition to these in-depth interviews, I also was a participant observer in the workplaces and social spaces of some of the teachers. Participant observation is a highly useful complement to interviews. Robert Zussman argues that the best qualitative sociology considers "people in places"-research participants in their own social contexts-because "places are typically the manifestations, or, perhaps more precisely, the instantiations of institutions and policies." Such manifestations, and the discursive battles that create them, are critical for understanding the dilemma of pride and professionalism confronted by gay and lesbian teachers. For this reason, a closer look at teachers in their actual work and social environments was necessary to this project.
The "people in places" approach helped me to recreate teachers' experiences in more concrete detail. It also allowed me to witness what the research participants described, giving me further insight into their work worlds. Their physical workspaces were an important source of information. The ecology of the classroom is a fascinating site of study, especially given the heightened surveillance in schools today. Teachers are caught in a complex web of constraint, formed by school administrations, educational policies, parents, students, and communities. How they navigate this web on a day-to-day basis is a crucial piece of this research.
In the end, I conducted in-depth interviews with fifty-one gay, lesbian, and bisexual-identified teachers and administrators (twenty-six in California and twenty-five in Texas) between June and December 2008. In addition, I interviewed six straight allies, including GSA chairs and educational advocates, to compare their perspectives. I sought to include participants of a variety of race, class, gender, and age positions and was successful to varying degrees. I was not as successful at recruiting teachers of color as I would have liked, perhaps because their intersecting marginalities as both gay or lesbian and people of color made them less visible as potential research participants and less willing to assume the possible risks of being interviewed by a stranger. The sample did not include bisexual- or transgender-identified participants. While their perspectives are important, their experiences are probably in some respects analytically distinct from those of gay and lesbian teachers. Transgender and bisexual teachers open up additional challenges to the binaries of sexual and gender identity, making their experiences even more fraught. While I initially attempted to recruit them for the study, I ultimately decided to limit my analysis here to gay and lesbian teachers.
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I chose California and Texas as research sites because of their similar demographics and different legal and political circumstances. At the time of my research, California and Texas were both majority-white states with larger-than-average Latino and African American populations. They were home to two of the ten largest US school districts, Los Angeles Unified and Houston Independent, both of which had been pioneers in school policy. Despite these similarities, the two states differed significantly with respect to policy and practice.
California had statewide statutes and local ordinances that protect gay and lesbian teachers from discrimination and harassment. These laws prohibited employment discrimination and harassment on the basis of sexual identity and/or gender expression. In addition, the 2000 California Student Safety and Violence Prevention Act, AB 537, amended the California Education Code to add protection on the basis of "actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity" to existing school nondiscrimination policies. In the Los Angeles Unified School District, districtwide programs such as Project 10, an educational support services program for LGBT youth, and the Gay and Lesbian Administrators Alliance Administrators (GALAA) supported LGBT students and teachers. Local and nationally affiliated teachers unions, such as the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), the National Education Association (NEA), and United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA), had been vocal in their support of LGBT teachers and LGBT rights in schools.
In contrast, Texas had some city or countywide but no statewide protections against antigay discrimination and harassment at work and in schools. A few local school districts did have district-specific protections and policies against discrimination. The Dallas Independent School District, for instance, had a nondiscrimination employment policy that explicitly forbade sexuality-based discrimination and harassment, but most districts did not. The Texas school system further differed from California's in that it was an independent district model (as opposed to California's unified districts), so districts were exempt from municipal regulation and had more autonomy in school policy making. Another difference was that Texas was a right-to-work state, so teachers unions had very little political power. Unlike in California, unions could not represent teachers in labor disputes, including disputes about sexual harassment and discrimination on the basis of sexual identity. Overall, gay and lesbian teachers in Texas occupied a more vulnerable legal position than their peers in California.
While these different political contexts offer the opportunity to make a meaningful comparison, I do not mean to overstate the differences between them. My data suggest that, by and large, gay and lesbian teachers feel more comfortable and secure coming out in California than Texas, particularly when it comes to students. However, they also show that the culture of the schools themselves, as well as individual experiences and embodiments, are often more meaningful factors in their experiences.
Stereotyping California as a liberal "safety zone" and Texas as a conservative "danger zone" is overly reductionist. For example, in 2008, California voters passed Proposition 8, which invalidated same-sex marriages in the state, suggesting that it might not be as politically progressive and gay-friendly a state as it is often characterized. Cultural stereotypes and legal histories do not always reflect the on-the-ground realities. Consequently, this book will unpack differences and similarities between the two contexts, showing how the sociopolitical contexts of schools affect individual experience, while also revealing the contours of the general experience of gay and lesbian teaching in the United States. Both strands of this analysis help us understand the relationships between sexuality, schools, and work. Organizing the book by theme rather than region enabled me to consider similarities and differences in context.
Organization of the Book
In the following chapters, I consider the various factors that shaped the experiences of the teachers I interviewed. In chapter 2, I review in greater detail the history of gays and lesbians in the teaching profession. Teachers are expected to model moral behavior for their students, which has led to strict surveillance of their personal lives, including their sex lives. This chapter considers how this unique professional history affects gay and lesbian teachers today. I also outline the legal history of the rights of LGBT teachers, who have long been subject to discrimination and harassment on the basis of sexual identity and/or gender nonconformity. In the ongoing battle over gay rights, antigay activists have frequently scapegoated LGBT teachers to rally support for their cause, rhetorically constructing gay rights as antithetical to child welfare. I discuss the consequences of this discursive battle in the day-to-day lives of gay and lesbian teachers.
Chapter 3 reveals that gay and lesbian teachers make sense of themselves and their classroom experiences in the context of both their professional expectations and contemporary sexual identity politics. As noted above, the prevailing politics of gay pride calls for being out and proud at all times, leaving gay and lesbian teachers understandably conflicted. They respond to this conflict in three ways-by splitting their sexual and professional identities, knitting them together, or quitting classroom instruction altogether. This chapter explains each of these strategies and argues that the underlying tension between gay pride and teaching professionalism limits the possibilities for challenging heteronormativity and homophobia in schools.
Regardless of the strategy they ultimately choose, all gay and lesbian teachers face initial decisions about coming out on the job, including whether, how, when, and to what extent. Chapter 4 discusses the various ways teachers negotiate this process. Despite some sociological research that suggests the closet is decreasing in power as a metaphor for the LGBT experience, it continues to be a relevant symbol for gay and lesbian teachers making sense of their lives. Teachers make decisions about coming out in the context of interrelated but analytically distinct factors: the legal and political climate of their school, district, and state; the social/microcultural context of their workplace; and their own gendered and raced presentations of self. Teachers must consider how their gender performances affect their intentions to disclose or withhold information about their sexual identities. Teachers of color must negotiate their in-school identities from a location of multiple marginalities, making decisions about coming out and presentation of self with conscious consideration of how race mediates the process.
In chapter 5, I discuss in greater detail how the performance of gender and sexuality on the job affects a teacher's ability to avoid antigay working conditions. The teaching context rewards certain performances of gender and sexuality and stigmatizes others, thereby implicating the embodied performance of gay and lesbian identities in the structuring of inequality regimes. Gender normativity often acts as a buffer against harassment and discrimination for out teachers, while the pressures on visibly gay and lesbian teachers to appear just like their straight counterparts results in the continued marginalization of "deviant" sexualities. This pressure comes not only from the dictates of teaching professionalism but also from the mainstream gay rights movement, which emphasizes normality, productivity, and assimilation as the pathway to equality. This constrained version of gay and lesbian visibility perpetuates what Lisa Duggan calls "homonormativity," a mode of LGBT identity that does not challenge but rather is wholly compatible with the raced, classed, and gendered inequalities of neoliberalism and thus limits the challenge to gendered and sexualized inequalities that visibility hopes to achieve. This "virtually normal" model of LGBT identity comes up frequently when gay and lesbian teachers discuss visibility in the classroom.
While I discuss the intersections of race and sexual identity throughout the book, chapter 6 focuses sustained attention on the ways teachers use race both to anticipate and to discredit homophobia. Teacher narratives often included racialized explanations of potential homophobia, including the expectation that Black and Latino coworkers, parents, and students were more likely to be homophobic. By taking an intersectional approach to understanding these deployments of race, this chapter shows how racism and homophobia are mutually sustained through racialized discourses of homophobia. By perpetuating the linking of gayness and whiteness, this process not only further alienates gay and lesbian teachers of color but also limits the possibilities for coalitional politics that might challenge both racism and homophobia in schools. In addition, many research participants used racial discrimination as a comparative rhetorical strategy to make sense of the discrimination they experienced as gays and lesbians. While this strategy is often useful for combating discrimination, it is also problematic. First, it assumes a false dichotomy between race and sexual identity that further erases the experience of teachers of color, who must contend with both kinds of discrimination. Second, it posits a false equivalence, when in fact the unique histories and operations of each kind of marginality resist such simplistic comparisons.
Finally, chapter 7 discusses the implications of my findings for sociological theory, pedagogical practice, and the political advancement of sexual justice. The findings of this book suggest that sexuality inequality will not be remedied simply through expansion of "gay-friendly" policies and practices, which leave homonormativity and racist exclusion more or less intact and are therefore limited in their reach. I suggest that the bigger and more important challenge is to reach for the possibility of a truly "queer-friendly school." I conclude by explaining how queer-friendly schools differ from gay-friendly schools and offering some suggestions for their realization in the US public school system.
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