I had been aware of my bisexuality all throughout my entire time in college, but I was always uncertain about how to approach being with another woman, mainly due to the fact that I was smack dab in the middle of my transition from male to female. In later years, I realized that my reluctance to publicly acknowledge my attraction to women stemmed from some misguided notion that being attracted to women while being a trans woman somehow took away from my gender identity.
It wasn’t until I had graduated from college and had fully transitioned that I finally decided to act on my attraction to women, something that I had no idea how to do after so many years of only allowing myself to have sexual relations with men. Looking back, my fear of how to approach another woman was nothing short of sheer insecurity, but back then I felt that woman would have much rather been with a cisgender woman than with someone who was transgender, such as myself. For some reason, I felt more confident with men than I did with women. I rationalized thinking that in comparison to a man, I was far more feminine and he wouldn’t think twice about the fact that I was a woman, whereas, I felt that another woman would surely take note of what aspects of my body were more masculine than her own. Unfortunately due to the fact that I passed up four years of prime opportunity to explore my identity under the inclusive tribe of fellow LGBT individuals while in college, my options were fairly limited in the small North Carolina town that I had moved to in order to teach high school theatre arts.
Up until that point, I had regularly relied on Tinder to provide a steady stream of male suitors, and after nearly a year’s worth of frantic swiping in order to try to find a woman in the nearby area that shared the same inclinations such as myself, all I came up with were more men. The idea of trying to pick up someone at a bar seemed highly unlikely to me, and I didn’t know where else to turn so I called up my best friend from college, Nadine, who I had set up with an old friend of mine years earlier and someone who I considered to be the perfect lesbian. She was someone who I wanted to be like in each and every way. From the way in which she talked to other women at parties to the way she effortlessly rocked flannel button up shirts, she could do no wrong in my opinion, and she was just the person to turn to in a dire time of need. Nadine had several years’ worth of firsthand knowledge about how to find and retain the perfect woman, if she couldn’t help me, then no one could, I thought.
“Do you use HER?” she asked as though the three simple letters contained all of the answers to my romantic woes.
Her question greatly confused me. At the time, I had no idea about the dating app HER or the possibilities that it held. Nadine informed me that she frequently used the app when she and her girlfriend were on breaks in order to connect with other women, and that it was simply the best way to cut through all of the noise of social and dating apps that were initially designed for straight people.
After downloading the app, I uploaded several pictures that I thought highlighted my best assets, and crafted a simple personal statement. I was reluctant to broadcast my trans status right off the bat, and decided to do the same as I did when I hooked up with guys on Tinder, and simply disclose my trans status to the individual if I felt our conversations were headed in a promising direction. I had always been squeamish about including anything overly embarrassing in personal statement, mainly because I’ve always found blunt personal information to be tacky beyond belief, and thank goodness for my modesty considering what followed.
After less than a week of being on HER and a handful of pleasant conversations with women who lived in the closest metropolitan area, Greensboro, something concerning presented itself in one of my classes. The class mainly consisted of freshman and was the most rambunctious of the semester. On the particular day in question, I had the students circled around in the middle of the room while we were discussing Elizabethan theatre, specifically Christopher Marlowe, my favorite of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth century European playwrights. For some reason, I found the life of the questionably bisexual young playwright to be far more interesting than the overexposed William Shakespeare.
Just as I was getting into all of the gritty details of how Marlowe was stabbed to death by a local businessman, I heard Taylor, a particularly high-strung student who loved to stir gossip, loudly whispering to several other students. At first I didn’t pay much attention to the content of her conversation. I simply urged her to stop talking and to focus on the passage at hand, and continued on with my lecture.
To my frustration, she only took my advice for roughly thirty seconds before returning to her previous state of gossip. I specifically decided to ignore her loud whisper instead of acknowledge it further, which I assumed would only ratchet up her defiance even more. As I tried to talk over her, I was able to make out some of the things she was eagerly telling to the other students around her. To my surprise, I heard her say, “Someone who works at the school is on HER.” My heart sank. I knew without a doubt that she was talking about me. She proceeded to inform the other students what HER was, specifically emphasizing the fact that it was predominantly a lesbian dating app.
Although in hindsight I probably tipped my hand by doing so, I quickly turned to her and asked, “Are you gossiping or listening to me?” As though the fact that she had something on me empowered her to do whatever she desired, she flashed a sinister look my way, and proceeded to pull out her phone and showed a screenshot of my profile to the students around her.
“Taylor,” I called out in my best rendition of an authoritative voice.
She then smiled at me with a knowing grin and said, “Oh I’m just telling them about a teacher that’s on a very interesting dating site.” I could tell she was trying to undercut me.
Unsure as to how to play the situation, I simply said, “Oh.” I tried to calculate the situation, taking into account my personal observations of her classroom behavior pertaining to a student who had come out as female to male trans earlier in the semester during a monologue assignment that I had given the class. The more I thought about it, I realized that she was fairly accepting towards other students based on all accounts that I could think of, but considering the fact that I was the individual in question, an authoritative figure who regularly had to call her out for her immature actions, I knew that she was out for blood.
“A lesbian dating site,” she added rather loudly, which garnered the attention of most of the class.
The last thing I wanted was for it to come out publicly in the middle of class that I was on a lesbian dating app, especially considering the state’s well-known track record of LGBT issues, most notably with HB2. Since starting teaching, I had managed to successfully conceal my trans status, and even though I thought the public knowledge of my attraction to women would have gone over far better than being outed as trans, I still feared that the relatively conservative town would have been up in arms over the fact that one of the teachers was a known lesbian, not to mention that she was actively pursuing a relationship. All I could think to do was come out swinging and to deflect.
“How do you know that someone who works at the school is on a lesbian dating app?” I asked her. “I guess that means that you spend a lot of time on lesbian dating apps yourself.”
The class erupted into a thunderous fit of laugher at Taylor’s expense. The minute the words slipped out of my mouth, I felt guilty for going after a student so strongly, but more importantly I felt horrible over the fact that I raised the notion that a lesbian dating app was something to take pause over, which of course they aren’t.
Feeling as though I had just managed to avoid a major catastrophe, I promptly took down my profile and decided to leave romance up to a chance encounter, which of course hasn’t yet happened despite all of the feel-good life lessons that my addiction to romantic comedies have engrained into my mind. Immediately following the class, I was terrified that I was going to receive a bunch of angry phone calls from parents or a visit from the overly religious principal as a result of word getting out that I didn’t fit the heteronormative cookie cutter mold that all of the other teachers at the school did.
Taylor and I didn’t dare mention our usage of HER or anything that didn’t directly relate to theatre for the rest of the semester. No one seemed to pick on her despite my snide remark. It was as though the whole class period had been one big nightmare because no one as much as whispered anything about HER in my classroom ever again.
Looking back, I now know that I should have taken a stand for both my identity and dating life. I shouldn’t have deflected away from myself only to out a student, instead I should have embraced the moment in the hopes that today’s youth aren’t nearly as judgmental as the people I went to high school with. I should have also kept my profile up, because who knows, if I had, I might have met just the right woman.
Back in my day, we had to discover our teacher’s profiles on non-mobile devices on planetout.com. I remember doing a lot of snickering with my burgeoning queer friends about a teacher describing her gender expression as “All over the map” (a standard option on the site, I think). We never confronted the teacher we saw, but we did giggle behind her back and we were, in our own ways, totally awful. That said, it assured me that grown ups could be gay, could be single, could be looking to not be single and in a way I think I’ve always found it comforting to have found her on that site. What I never knew how to do was to open up a conversation with her and god knows if I’d tried it probably would have come out something like “Isn’t it totally embarrassing when your student finds you on a gay dating site?”
As a gay drama teacher, I feel your struggle! Before I was married, I didn’t talk about my dating life or anything at all – there’s this unspoken stigma against unmarried teachers discussing any partnerships, I feel like, whether they are hetero or no. So when I got engaged, I was open about it. There was definitely this RISK of feeling like I could be attacked (and I still wonder if I’ll be called on it someday!) It was hard at first, but I feel like it’s important to be able to be myself. It’s definitely easier when you’re partnered because I just have a picture of my wife on my desk and talk about her as a normal part of my life. And I live in a blue state in a small college town that’s a bunch of liberal hippies, which definitely contributes to my safety. (I always say that if anybody really did come out to attack me in being gay, those liberal white Bernie-lovin’ allies of my district will need to put their money where their mouth is and actually protect me. We shall see.) But, like coming out in general, it allows me to be myself with my kids and live my life. I feel like I can show them that you can be a gay “normal” grownup who just has a dog and a job and a partner. I don’t often present as a lesbian so kids are usually surprised. Of course, that’s easier said than done, and I’m a white-passing, cis woman in a liberal community. I feel your fear and validate it!
I’m sorry that happened to you with that kid. It’s so hard to stand up to kids when they’re being like that, especially when it’s so personal. Sounds like you are a newer teacher (sorry if I sound patronizing!) but one way of dealing with that kind of stuff or misappropriation jokes is to ask them to explain why it is a joke or they find it interesting. “Hm, why is that funny? Can you explain?” I play the super dumb adult and force them to explain their thinking. Usually they struggle. Or if they say something cruel, then I’ll say something like, “you know, that’s pretty hurtful and in this class, I expect respect and compassion. We can talk more after class.” Don’t fight them in front of everyone! That’s a recipe for disaster!
Anyway thank you for sharing your story. We all have moments as teachers we aren’t proud of – but we are just people too, doing the best we can.
Oh my goodness, as an unmarried queer teacher in the Bible Belt this hit me where it hurts. I’ve only been teaching for two years, and for the first year I was completely closeted until a student found my HER profile. By the time she found it I wasn’t even using it anymore because I had started a relationship, but the damage was done. A student told their parent who told the staff so it circulated through co-workers long before it passed through the kids. M coworkers knowing and asking questions was honestly the most awful part of it, and since my profiles been found a couple people have openly mentioned how they don’t feel like queers should be working with children. I honestly just felt really lucky to work in a place where I can’t be fired for being gay. I don’t really address it unless asked by an adult, and my kids haven’t been so bold to ask or mention. They just ask “Do you have a boyfriend?” and when I say “No” there’s usually a little laugh or noise through the class. I’m pretty strict on talking about my personal life, and I have no idea what I would do in this position. I can imagine the guilt and shame about not being forthcoming, but also wanting to leave your personal life to yourself. Just as Kay aptly said, “We’re just people too, doing the best we can.”
Hey Alina! Loved reading your response to this, and wanted to let you know that as a result of a recent study we did (with teachers specifically) we are in the process of rolling out Incognito Mode on the app. We understand that people are in situations that sometimes need to be more secretive, but we still want to be an active part of the community! We’d love to have you test it if you are interested – just reach out at email@example.com!
This was interesting to read. I don’t think any of my teachers in HS or Middle school were out, nor was there a way to find out really. I went to middle school in the late 90s so we used Yellow Pages to see if we can find stuff or see if teachers full name @aol.com was there’s or not. Usually yellow page searches at best just told us if they had family in the area and emails never got a respond back, probably for good reason. If the teacher didn’t mention they were married we just used guess based on stereotypes(butch cut), or clues like when one of the 7th grade teacher forgot her lunch and a woman brought for her. I was told she introduced her to the class as her roommate, which one student told me was code for being gay. It was the 90s version of gal pal, but since I didn’t see the person I can’t say if it was her partner to just an actual roommate.
Side note, but HER has a bit of a problem blocking trans women off after transmisogynistic women, and transphobic women report it. Plus, for an app called HER they they did oddly enough open their app to people who ID as men.
Hey Al! In our community we would never remove anyone for being trans, any account that is found displaying transmisogynistic or transphobic behaviors are the accounts we look for in the reporting software. We review each report that is made by the community, and are sure to fix the problem as soon as we have reviewed it! We are sorry that it comes across this way, and welcome with open arms any trans, non-binary and gender non-conforming person to the community! Please let us know if there are any ways you feel we can better address this problem, we love hearing feedback from the community!
Not to get too off-topic, but I know a few trans women who were banned from using app(they think transphobic people reported them for being men). After getting banned the app asked me to picture of my state ID, which is a bit of a problem as not everyone has their ID changed, or is lucky to be in Oregon, D.C. and later on in California where X is an option. Support was at the time was no help as they asked to see state ID also.
When I was in secondary school (high school), I had an English teacher who was gay. He was bullied a bit by some of the kids in the school – he was quite small, and a bit weedy, and there were rumours that he was gay, and he was a bit of an easy target for kids who liked to give their teachers a hard time. He then appeared on a BBC TV programme called ‘Would like to meet’, which was a reality dating show. I thought it was the most incredibly brave thing for him to do. At the time, I also thought it was a pretty crazy thing for a teacher to do, to put themselves out there on national television. At some point during the episode, he ended up crying, because the consultants on the show had told him that he needed to get rid of his single bed. It just seemed like the potential for students to give him a hard time about it was so big, I have so much respect for putting himself out there. He also happened to be an absolutely fantastic teacher.
I am so afraid of this. Even though I set my age range pretty narrow, I’m young enough that I could theoretically show up in an upper-level student’s search, since I don’t think there’s a way to change who you’re visible to, only who you see? I know my straight colleagues have seen their students on dating sites. I don’t think anything would happen if they recognized me, but it still freaks me out.
I quit using HER because it was the most confusing app to navigate, and I couldn’t figure out how to adjust the age range of the profiles I saw. I kept seeing profiles of and getting “likes” by so many people who were 10 or more years younger than me and I was terrified a student would show up.
I don’t teach in a public school anymore, but I still work with kids and it is a little disheartening that sometimes I feel like I can’t be my whole self. I wonder sometimes what will happen if I’m on a date after dinner and I am spotted by a student or child I know from work.
Teenagers are the worst though and they’ll take advantage of any moment to embarrass a teacher, and we’ve all had a moment in class where we didn’t respond so gracefully…once in my first year of teaching, a boy came out as bisexual during the middle of high stakes, school-mandated test and I was so frustrated everyone was talking I blurted out something like “we all love you for who you are, but not if you keep talking during the test!” I followed up with him later and he thought I was hilarious, but it definitely did not feel like the most sensitive approach!
That is an amazing response! Not only are you acknowledging it, you’re also validating it by not treating him differently! I would have loved that!
This article hit me so close to home.
I happened to be attempting to become a teacher just after I fully came out to myself as a trans woman. The whole experience working as a teacher was painful in the extreme. I didn’t know how to respond to this closet I was in as students attacked me, reading me as a gay male. Innocent but frequent compliments on “finally having a male teacher” that turned me inside out. Then finally when I came out as transgender, I was told I was no longer needed.
I recognize that I am just not built for being a teacher. I was quite overwhelmed by it all. But in all the ways I and society screwed up, I have the hardest time forgiving myself for the time I used a homophobic comment to redirect some chatty kids.
I’m probably living in my preschool fantasy-land to imagine that you could possibly revisit this incident during a non-charged moment, and open up the conversation with your students to say some of the things you actually wanted to say about it?
as a closeted teacher at a catholic high school, i fee your pain. It sucks. I can’t be out and if a parent finds out and complains I would get fired. I asked my boss and she was blunt.
I have seen one of my teachers at gay parties and I only told my gay friends about it (they know that she’s gay anyways). I think it would be extremely disrespectful of me to tell others and raise attention to her sexuality. So I can’t really understand why your student tried to gossip about your her profile, in case she really was gay, she should have been able to emphasize with your situation more or less.
It is strange, but nowadays some students are quite shy… Recently I needed to write an abstract on one not very decent book (I will not name the title, but it is really indecent book) and I could not do it because of my tightness. Fortunately, I found a ranking of the best writers on the WritingJudge site and turned to a dedicated service for help. This decision saved me, because without the help of specialists, I could fail this task.
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