Music, Masculinity & Queerness: The lived experiences of four gay male music teachers and the role of music education in creating safe(r) schools


Nicholas Ryan McBride, The College of New Jersey


Research in music education has recently begun to explore how LGBTQ music teachers negotiate personal and professional identity within school settings (McBride, 2016b; Palkki, 2015a; Paparo & Sweet, 2014; Talbot & Hendricks, 2012). Often, such contexts require gay teachers to remain closeted for the purpose of aligning their LGBTQ identity with discourses of “good” teaching that run counter to heteronormative notions of acceptable teacher behavior (Blount, 2000, 2005; Connell, 2014; McWilliams, 1998). Within choral music classrooms, the challenges of this negotiation process may be compounded by a professional obligation to perform traditional masculinity in order to preserve an adolescent male presence in school choir programs (Demorest, 2000; Harrison, 2008; McBride, 2016a; Palkki, 2015b). These conditions produce an especially difficult environment for gay male teachers to navigate when attempting to successfully meet the demands of their work, while also endeavoring to simply exist – proudly or modestly – as themselves when in the role of choral music teacher. While this research area continues to grow, there is room for additional discussion regarding how music, music teachers and the music classroom may play pivotal roles in disrupting school cultures that promote and maintain a status quo of traditional masculinity and heteronormativity.


Using a narrative ethic, semi-structured interviews and ethnographic observations, this study sought to explore how four self-identified gay male choral directors working at middle and high school levels contend with and navigate the conditions of public schools, and how music and music education may function as part of a counter narrative of vulnerability and openness to dominant masculinity and latent homophobia. The participant’s experiences may aid music teacher education programs in addressing issues of LGBTQ identity, diversity, and difference in music classrooms and school spaces. The findings of this study suggest: 1. That choral music served as a type of surrogate of emotional identity in place of music teacher’s gay identity. 2. Like their students, gay teachers need open – not necessarily “safe” – spaces in which to discuss intersections of their sexual and teacher identities. 3. And, that choral music education may play a critical role in reshaping perceptions of gayness, queerness and otherness in school spaces, when (and if) permitted to “come out.”




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