Closets and Classrooms: Age

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about how all of the LGBTQ teachers I had interviewed had expressed feelings of fear regarding being open about their sexuality at school. Another common theme that I found across several of my interviews is the concept of age. While the interviewees saw their age affecting their comfort with being out at school in different ways, the idea that age played a role in their being out or not being out to colleagues and students came up in interview after interview.

Olivia, a middle school band teacher in her mid twenties explained that she saw her young age as an advantage, helping her gain acceptance at school. As someone who started teaching in 2016, she considered herself lucky because the beginning of her career came on the heels with the LGBTQ movement winning the fight for marriage equality, which normalized queer people in a lot of ways. She explained, “I just rode that wave of marriage equality… I’m just lucky. That’s just it. Yeah, my age is just—it just worked out. And… I have privilege there. Certainly.” Olivia contrasted her experience with that of an older lesbian teacher at her school who had been teaching for around 15 years, saying “she just had to have gone through more struggles, you know? Like if I have like any struggles, she has a million more.”

Not all of my interviewees saw youth as an advantage, though. Heather, a high school history teacher in her mid fifties, told me that she saw getting older to be “liberating.” She explained that, because of her age, she’s “not seen as a sexual being… And that, I mean, it makes a huge difference.” She continued, saying that a twenty-four-year-old gay man would have much more trouble convincing parents and administrators that he was not a sexual threat to students than she would as “a fifty-four-year-old woman who just had a kid graduate from that school.” Heather also mentions that, because she is older, and has taught for over twenty years, she is much less bothered by what other people may think of her and the risks that that may bring. This confidence was truly captured when she challenged a hypothetical administrator, saying, “I’d like to see you try to fire me, you know? I’ll bring down a load of crap on your head if you try.”

The interpretations that Olivia and Heather present around the effect their age has on their ability to be out at school are directly contrasting. Olivia sees youth as a privilege, while Heather sees age as liberating. What is similar, though, is that both these women (and several other of my interviewees) saw that their age influenced how they experienced their lives and how they approached their careers.


  1. kaylacahoon says:

    This is a fascinating topic, and one that I had not considered within the realm of issues adult LGBTQ individuals face. I notice that both of the subjects mentioned in this post are cis-female. Do men feel the same way? I know the k-12 teaching profession is predominantly female, were you able to interview any men? If so do they reflect these points of view? This is very interesting! I look forward to your results.