Let’s be real here: Biology, anatomy, and sex-ed classes are distressing for trans students. I distinctly remember sitting in freshman biology, a class required for graduation, as a newly out trans guy. I had to deal with gender dysphoria when my teacher constantly used “boys have...” and “girls have…” when talking about body parts. I could not stop myself from fixating on the ways my body wasn’t traditionally male. This was a huge emotional burden, and it was compounded by classmates who sometimes made transphobic remarks. Somehow, I had to try and learn the content.
In part because of my experience in freshman biology, I’m among the 75% of transgender students who have felt unsafe at school because of their gender expression. It’s up to educators to create environments where trans students feel safe and can learn, which includes making sure their classroom culture and curriculum are trans-inclusive.
Not surprisingly, GLSEN research shows that LGBTQ high school seniors whose STEM curriculum included positive LGBTQ content are twice as likely to choose a college major in those fields. Our experiences in classes truly make a difference in how we live our futures.
My experience as a trans student didn’t only make me feel unsafe, it specifically made me decide against taking AP Biology the next year and created a barrier to furthering my education in the STEM field. If trans students like me shy away from biology class, we’ll lack representation in the medical field, because the biology students of today are the healthcare professionals of tomorrow.
Already, doctors are severely unprepared to care for transgender patients. According to a national survey of transgender discrimination: 19% of transgender people report being refused care due to their transgender or gender non-conforming status, 28% were subjected to verbal harassment in a doctor’s office, emergency room, or other medical setting, and 50% reported having to teach their medical providers about transgender care.
Creating the environment for future trans medical professionals starts in schools. For the sake of trans students’ emotional wellbeing, their career aspirations, and the future of healthcare, health educators must work to make their classroom and curriculum trans-inclusive. This can begin with modifying language used in class.
Gender-neutral language is transformational for me and other trans students. After feeling so frustrated with my freshman biology class, I took it upon myself to work with my anatomy teacher to make her sexual reproduction unit gender-neutral during my junior year. Implementing gender-neutral language replaced my stressful experiences from freshman year with a reinvigorated passion for biology. Using the tips from this guide, educators can incorporate gender-neutral language in any biology, anatomy, or sex-ed course. Educators can go a step further and view GLSEN’s other resources for supporting trans students.
By taking the initiative and making science classes more inclusive of trans students, educators lay the foundation for a better future for all.
Nate Fulmer is a member of GLSEN’s National Student Council.