Before I socially transitioned as Gender Non-Conforming (GNC), my transness held little consideration in my advocacy work. I made parts of myself invisible out of self-hate. I grew up Black, queer, and transgender in the South. In my town, hate and underrepresentation of my sexuality and gender expression caused me to avoid parts of myself. As a trans educator, I have experienced isolation to its fullest extent. From this, I am imbued with a sense of responsibility to center dialogue in my school community on queer and trans experiences that have remained hidden because of social stigma and hatred.
My experience as a GNC or trans educator is one of constant discrimination in schools. Trans and GNC educators are often treated with skepticism, made invisible in curriculum and instruction, given little to no space for programming or extracurricular engagements, and pushed out of school communities because of discrimination from faculty or the student body. Based on my experiences, when schools attempt to include transgender identities in curricula, we are often tokenized and these methods are inconsistently reinforced. These issues are deeply-rooted, intentional, and institutionalized. They are also microcosms of the larger social stigma of transgender identities in American society.
Too often, the focus of discussion around transgender and GNC discrimination in schools is the use of pronouns and gender inclusive restrooms. This limited focus does not consider the holistic impact of transgender identities in and beyond the school environment. In my experience, so many individuals in schools focus on how to appropriately pronounce my honorific, “Mx.,” or feel the need to announce that they are “getting used to my pronouns.” These comments, devoid of intention, signify that people assume that my desire for inclusivity can be achieved through their correct pronunciation of my honorific. I also have a desire for more support from school leaders around my ability to self-define.
Rather than “getting used to” trans and GNC individuals, support them authentically. Ask them if they feel safe in your community. Ask them if community members are displaying attitudes of acceptance. While bathroom use and pronouns are important issues, recognizing one’s existence and validating their belonging sends a powerful message about that transgender person’s right to fully access the school space. Transgender individuals are humans. We are not single stance issues to choose a side on in political discourse or an uncomfortable object around which you must wrap your mind. For those who are willing to recognize the fullness of transgender and GNC community members’ humanity in a school environment, I would suggest that you all attempt some of these steps:
1. Be aware of the issues that face trans and GNC students and educators in and beyond school.
Try watching videos and reading blogs at www.glsen.org/trans.
2. Survey the GSA clubs in your school to gather evidence of the climate for LGBTQ youth and ask your LGBTQ+ faculty their opinions with earnest intent.
Find GSA resources at glsen.org/gsa.
3. Make space and programming on transgender experiences accessible for all faculty and students.
Check out GLSEN’s LGBTQ history resources and Unheard Voices curriculum.
4. Ask people how they want to be identified, leave it at that, and deal with your confusion on your own.
Learn more with GLSEN’s Gender Terminology Visual and Pronoun Resource.
Consistent efforts toward transgender inclusion are challenging and should be treated with diligence. Remember, your school is working with a human population and not with objects of fascination. All humans deserve adequate attention and validation. Indifference toward or ignorance of the discrimination against transgender lives bolsters the power of hate and perpetuates the current system. We need all individuals to be stakeholders in our liberation.
Mx. Marvin D. Shelton Jr., M.S.Ed., Middle School English Teacher, Riverdale Country School, Pronouns: They, Them, Their