A month into my first year of teaching 7th graders in Oakland, Calif., we were in the school library, using the big tables there to spread out as we outlined Africa on poster paper and added geographical features. My students chatted as they worked.
“Are you married, Ms Sokolower?” one of them asked me. My stomach instantly tied in a knot. I was a brand-new teacher in what felt like an incredibly challenging teaching situation. But I knew I didn’t want to teach from the closet. I started teaching at the middle school level partly because it is such a difficult time for kids struggling with their sexuality and there are so few role models. I just didn’t know I would have to deal with this so soon.
“Well,” I explained in what I hoped was a calm voice, “I have been with the same partner for a very long time, but we can’t get married because we’re lesbians. My partner’s name is Karen and we have a daughter. She’s 9.”
Immediately, everyone had questions and comments. “Are you for real?” “How could you have a daughter?” “How do you know you’re a lesbian?” “That’s gross.”
“Right now we’re working on Africa,” I said. “But I want to answer your questions. How about this? You think about appropriate questions and tomorrow we’ll save some time to discuss this. I’ll bring in pictures of my family to show you.”