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Dublin: 11°C Tuesday 11 May 2021

'Every time another engagement or wedding is announced I feel more like an outsider'

Teacher Paul Knox says he doesn’t want to be sitting at other peoples’ weddings for the rest of his life. He one day wants to sit at his own.

Paul Knox

THERE IS MUCH talk about how LGBT teachers might find maneuvering staff room conversations akin to a delicate tight rope balance, especially in certain schools.

But this is not the case in all schools.

What if you love who you are and love being exactly that person in the staff room because of the inclusiveness and respect your teaching colleagues show you? That’s what most LGBT people want, right? What if you have that, like I do?

But what if it’s not enough? Well, that’s what I want to talk to you about today.  I want to tell you it’s not enough and you can do something about it.

Staff room buzz 

After the Christmas holidays I walked in to the staff room at little break. The place a buzz with gossip and detoxing.  However everyone is crowding around one of my teaching colleagues cooing and laughing. I wonder what’s going on.

Maybe they’re chatting about a night out or talking about something funny that just happened in class. All these things I experience too, so I rush over to become involved in the fuss. Except it’s actually something I can never experience for myself.

It’s something I’m not allowed experience. A teacher has pictures of her wedding day.

One of my teaching colleagues is pretty much the same as me. We both hate planning, we both love having a laugh with our principal about it and we both have horrendous lunches because we both have not mastered the art of planning ahead.

Yet he and most of my staff have and can marry who they want, but I cannot. It’s kind of a big deal.

Wedding talk 

For me at least, working in a primary school, there seems to be a colleague getting engaged or planning a wedding every other week. In my school there is a running joke that I hate wedding talk and wedding pictures. I roll my eyes dramatically on hearing these conversations in a faux exaggeration of the persona I have created.

It comes across as funny because I’m the young single gay guy who hasn’t settled down. Some lament that they would love to be like me. But as much as I want, I can’t be like them. I can’t be like you. I can’t get married to someone I love. And every time another engagement is announced or another wedding conversation takes place, I feel more and more like an outsider.

All I’m doing with my jokes is concealing a deep divide between you and I. With you on one side with the choice to marry who you choose because you are straight and me on the other, not allowed to marry who I choose because I am gay.

Being young and having fun on the town most weekends, with very few cares in the world, you probably think I don’t want to get married. It probably doesn’t look or sound like I do. I’ve probably convinced myself  that I don’t either and because of this, I act the way I do in my staff room around the topic.

I am excluded from for simply being myself

However it’s not true. Yet in your world, the very typical is but a mere dream for me. A world that I am excluded from for simply being myself and a world where if you are straight, was made for you and not me.

I grew up in this world that wasn’t made for me. Well, it wasn’t made for the gay part of me. I never saw myself in books in school. I was never spoken about in the curriculum. I wasn’t on television.

Consequently I couldn’t dream like you could. I couldn’t dream because I didn’t exist in any form as I looked out and absorbed everything I saw and heard. I never dreamt of marriage or the wedding that you dream of because I wasn’t in a fairy-tale story or a magazine getting married like you were.

I said I didn’t want to get married because I couldn’t. I didn’t dream of the moment I would say I do and commit my life to the person I wanted to spend the rest of my life with.

But it’s not true. Inequality may have given me a chance to dream, but not anymore. I want to be able to say I do. I want to dream too. Like you. Let me dream like you do. Let me imagine getting married someday to a person whom I love, like you can. I don’t want to be sitting at your weddings for the rest of my life. I want you to be sitting at mine.

Walk down the aisle 

I want my Dad to walk me down the aisle. I want my Mum to get a big day out and an excuse to buy a beautiful floral frock that screams “Irish mammy at a wedding!”.  I want to spend days contemplating centre pieces and seating plans. I want the trouble of figuring out where Aunty Patsy will sit because nobody likes her jokes. I want the joy, I want the pain, but most of all I want the choice.

My parents gave lots to me, just like your parents gave to you. They instilled me with the values of kindness, hard work and honesty. They worked hard to give me opportunities.

Except I want one other very simple opportunity they had. I want to marry the person I love, make a home, and grow old with that person, that man. On May 22nd they have a chance to afford me that opportunity. You have that chance too. Not just for me but for your friends and many people you do not know.

In your staff room do you ever wonder about this when you share your wedding photos, wedding plans or engagement ring with me or someone like me? You do your best to include me in conversations, invite me to your weddings and make me part of your world. But it’s not enough to close that divide.

Maybe someday when you enter the staff room and see the cooing and laughter that signals an engagement or wedding pictures, when you run over to get involved and see what the fuss is, the person with the wedding pictures is actually me or someone gay like me. It’s not enough to be accepted in your world anymore, I want to experience your world fully, so it can be my world too.

Paul Knox has been a primary school teacher for more than seven years in Dublin West. He is originally from Kilkenny. He is also a member of the INTO LGBT teachers group. This article was originally published on the Not a second class teacher blog.

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Paul Knox

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