|I was very far away. My real life had gone underground and could not be seen by anybody. The person at the surface that everybody saw was no longer me.
–Philip Ó Ceallaigh
I became a teacher in 1977, when I was a graduate student in mathematics at the University of Oregon. I spent five years there earning my PhD before moving on to the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee for three years, during which time both my parents died. That sort of put the kibosh on me getting enough done to earn tenure there…and my mentor (E. H. Feller) died as well…so I moved on to the University of Central Arkansas, where I taught for 16 years.
It was while I was at UCA that I transitioned, halfway through my time there. If I do say so myself, I was a damn good teacher during that time…and transitioning didn’t change that. But it became apparent to me that my vocation had changed a bit. I mean, I was going to remain a teacher. There was no doubt about that. “Teacher” was my number one descriptor. But no longer would I have a full-time commitment to teaching mathematics. I would have to engage the more difficult task of teaching people about gender variance. If the world was going to change sufficiently to embrace people like me as viable human beings, I was going to have to accept the mission of teaching the people in that world about who we were and display that we were deserving of respect and equal treatment. If not me, who? If not now, when?
And that’s what I have spent my life doing ever since.
In 2000 I moved on to New Jersey in hopes of finding a better climate and am now in my 11th year at Bloomfield College, located a little north of Newark. And my teaching about gender and people like me is now conducted online…mostly in this place.
So I’ve taught about who we are, what it means to be one of us, and how we are mistreated, discriminated against, and/or disrespected. A question will therefore come to some people’s mind is, given that we are aware of how we will be viewed and interacted with, why do we go through this?
Shakespeare said it best, I think…with Polonius delivering his words to Laertes in Hamlet, Act I, Scene 3:
This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.
Farewell, my blessing season this in thee!