Thursday, April 25, 2013

IT'S A LIVING

While my 2.5 hour-commute to work is typically a focused rush, I had an opportunity to pause this morning. That’s what happens when the car doesn’t start and you have to wait for roadside assistance. It was a lovely morning, the perfect time to linger along the waterfront, gazing out at boats in the marina as the sun shone brightly and seagulls flitted about in the sky. No need to stress over being late to work. Life happens.

The mechanic arrived and quickly replaced the battery. When it came time to pay, he ran my credit card through one of those handy little machines and then attempted to print out my receipt. Unfortunately, the paper jammed.

“Stupid fuckin’ piece of shit.” Not me, the machine.

Immediately, I had job envy.

I have no desire to try to fix cars. I don’t like motor grease on the hands. And it often takes me two tries just to pop the hood. (The first attempt usually opens the trunk.) I stress just adding air to the tires. What if it’s too much and they explode? My father earnestly tried to pass on the garage-is-my-sanctum gene but my body rejected it.

“Fuck! Fucking piece of shit.”

More profanity. On the job. How refreshing.

Okay, I’m not actually one to swear a lot. I can go days, even months, without cussing. (It all depends on how long I go without banging my foot on the bedpost.) Some people are not meant to swear and apparently I am one of them. When I say the F word or the Sh word or even the harsher version of “heck”, people laugh. It just sounds funny coming out of my mouth.

So I am not making myself clear here. I don’t want to be a mechanic and I do not long to swear like a sailor (or a mechanic). The job envy comes from the fact this guy can show up for work and just be himself. No filter, no concern with how he might be perceived. How freeing!

I began this blog hiding my identity under the name Rural Gay. (Many other titles came to mind, but they were already taken by bloggers. Dear Gwyneth, “goop” was supposed to be mine, all mine!) In time, I also set up a Twitter account as Rural Gay, but I attracted very few followers. Apparently tweeps were reluctant to follow someone with a cryptic name and an image of scenic British Columbia. My follower count languished below 150 for over a year. Eventually, I dared to refer to myself as James Gregory and include an extreme close-up head shot. I now have more than 2,300 followers. Even on something as relatively anonymous as Twitter, people want to have some sense of who you are.

James Gregory is a pseudonym. I do not use my real name because of my job. I do not want my employer to know that I have struggled with an eating disorder, but more importantly I do not want my bosses or other stakeholders to read about my dating experiences and ongoing travails as a gay man.

While I live in a country where gays and lesbians have had the right to marry since 2005 and there are provincial and federal antidiscrimination protections pertaining to sexual orientation, I suspect that an unfiltered gay me would be problematic.

I am an elementary school principal. Everything I say and do comes under scrutiny. I hear myself quoted as I stroll down the hallway and, when I run into parents outside of school, I often get, “We were just talking about you...” I have been told it wasn’t principal-like to show up at work with a few blond highlights. (This from a colleague with far more obvious streaks of blonde dye in her hair.) While very few Canadians spew vile about gays being pedophiles, there remains some discomfort with gay men being teachers or principals. This is a society which still tolerates the Boy Scouts’ No Gay Adults rule.

I have no doubt that many staff members, parents and perhaps even some students know the truth. I do not ooze oodles of testosterone (as evidenced from the fact I just used the word “oodles”). I have some voice inflections and hand gestures that may even be regarded as effeminate. I’m past the point of caring or, God forbid, self-monitoring every utterance or movement. It’s basically a don’t ask, don’t tell existence. Everyone’s happy.

Except me.

As a writer, there are several projects I am working on that would present an extreme disconnect from my life as a principal. One manuscript centers on a young gay man’s dating experiences, including comically sexual mishaps. Should it be published, I would not share it with my family and I certainly would not want members of the school board to have it on their Kindles. There remains a clear divide between my work life and everything else.

I know there are openly gay teachers and principals. I follow a blog by a grade six teacher who has no qualms with blogging about his dating life. Some people are more courageous or perhaps they are just better supported. Years ago, I worked at an elementary school with four gay men on staff. It was far easier to be completely open, at least among colleagues. Every work setting is different. It makes it disheartening, however, to find myself retreating to the closet as my career “advances.”

While I am highly skilled and respected at work, dissatisfaction creeps in when my life is rigidly compartmentalized. We’ve all seen how Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was a step, but not an endpoint.

Ideally, I would love to abandon the career, one that I have so loved but that now keeps me in a box. To write full-time or to eke out a living as a barista while writing on the side feels like a daring, exhilarating dream. As long as I still have a mortgage, a radical pay cut is out of the question. It’s just another reason I feel desperate to sell my house.

For now, I continue my muted existence in a career that I am otherwise passionate about.

It’s a living. But sometimes I wonder if it really is.

2 comments:

JustAMike said...

Everyone’s life unfolds on its own timeline therefore no one should judge you for your decision to come out, or not to come out. Goodness knows it took me 36 years to do that.
I think, however, intuitively you know that it won’t be a problem coming out at work. I’m not a teacher but I work in a male dominated public service and I stressed over my decision to come out at work. It turned out to be for naught. I have not had one shred of trouble. Now, that’s not to say that people aren’t judging me harshly through their programmed filters but they do not act upon it and I happily walk down the halls at work thinking that I don’t care if they have a problem with it or not. It is so much easier being out; there is no doubt about it.
As for the School Board, they have a legislated obligation to protect you at work. They know that. The district administration knows that. Being gay is ok – especially here on the wet coast of Canada. I actually came out to my boss as a way of inoculating myself from any sort of harassment. There was no way he could feign ignorance of the fact. Turned out to be a great decision too (even though I had previously witnessed a gay slur from him). The issue might be in what you post (not that I have issue with any of it, but as you say, others may). I’m in the same predicament so I have chosen not to share the fact that I blog with anyone other than a very few (a VERY few) close acquaintances.
I am the Chair of my son’s high school PAC. I have not passed out cards saying “Hi, I’m gay” but neither have I denied it. Recently I became Facebook friends with another PAC parent. I thought, “what the heck, I don’t care if she sees I’m in a same-sex relationship”. We seem to have become pretty good friends since that. My son has no trouble telling his buds that Dad is gay. That means their parents probably know too and as I run into them at the grocery store, it’s not a problem (happened yesterday when I ran into my son’s best friend’s Dad at Safeway – and he has known me since I was married to my son’s mother).
Anyway, James Gregory (pseudonym), thanks for sharing this story and your angst. I hope your path as a Rural Gay Guy is filled with happiness and peace . . .
Mike :-)

Rural Gay said...

Hi Mike,
So good to hear from you again. I really appreciate your thoughtful comment which should encourage me to be more open at work. I'm nowhere near getting to that point; rather, I am far closer to changing careers.

It is amazing how quickly acceptance is coming when we look at the way things were twenty or thirty years ago. In a few years, this post will seem silly, even to me. At now, however, no amount of logic or encouragement seems to shake me from the situation I am in. Perhaps I'll reread your comment near the end of my summer break and find myself inspired to make a change for the better.

Thanks again, Mike!