Unmasking Identities: An Exploration of the Lives of Gay and Lesbian Teachers


We Wear the Mask by Paul Lawrence Dunbar

We wear the mask that grins and lies,
It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,–
This debt we pay to human guile;
With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,
And mouth with myriad subtleties.

Why should the world be overwise,
In counting all our tears and sighs?
Nay, let them only see us, while
We wear the mask.

We smile, but, O great Christ, our cries
To thee from tortured souls arise.
We sing, but oh the clay is vile
Beneath our feet, and long the mile;
But let the world dream otherwise,
We wear the mask!

This is how the preface begins in this timely and evocative book called Unmasking Identities: An Exploration of the Lives of Gay and Lesbian Teachers by Janna Jackson, PHD.

From the back cover:

“Based on a qualitative research study of gay and lesbian teachers, Unmasking Identities: An Exploration of the Lives of Gay and Lesbian Teachers explores how these educators negotiated their gay and teacher identities in a climate where the two have historically been pitted against each other. …Janna M. Jackson demonstrates that these gay and lesbian teachers made direct and indirect connections between their experiences related to being gay or lesbian and their classroom practices of creating safety, promoting social justice, and building on students’ understandings. …Unmasking Identities provides theoretical understandings and practical advice for teachers, administrators and policymakers who are concerned about gay and lesbian issues. This engaging text will appeal to those interested in gender studies and issues in education.”

Janna is an assistant professor in the Graduate College of Education at the University of Massachuesetts, Boston. Prior to receiving her PHD from Boston College, she taught high school English in Fulton County, Georgia.

But more importantly to me, Janna is my cousin. I just got back from a vacation in Florida where I visited my Mom and sister and my Uncle Dick. My cousin Jason and Janna and her wife Carrie and their Aunt Dot were visiting Uncle Dick so I got to hang out with them too, which I greatly enjoyed. Janna and Carrie are wonderful people and a wonderful couple and they were able to marry because they live in Boston where they can legally marry. So few gay and lesbian couples have that option now. Hopefully that will change, and soon.

Janna and Carrie are really unpretentious, down-to-earth, nice people and I really like Carrie. This was the first time I’d met Carrie and she is just as nice and down-to-earth as Janna. Since that is the way I am (well, down-to-earth anyway and I like to think I am nice), we got along right off the bat. Here is a really cute picture of them that I took at Weeki Wachi in Florida a couple of weeks ago:

And here is a picture of Janna holding her book, Unmasking Identities: An Exploration of the Lives of Gay and Lesbian Teachers.

Janna has written a book that not only studies gay and lesbian teachers, but also tells their personal stories. And it gives practical advice to teachers and administrators on how to address this sensitive issue with understanding and in a way that promotes growth and acceptance.

And someday perhaps, we will be able to look at each teacher according to his or her skills and ability to teach and inspire our children, rather than their gender, color or sexual preferences. We have a way to go, but as we open our minds and our hearts, we can do it.

~Susan Mellott

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