Written by Laura Barr, in collaboration with Bethany Todd
We have recently talked a lot about creating a culture for inclusion. Recent events and discussions surrounding transgender and bathrooms is no different. So, let’s talk about it. WHAT DO YOU DO WHEN your elementary school child tells you that a child is transgender and will be using the “girls” bathroom? At e.Merging, we suggest families do two things, Educate and Talk. Educate yourself on the topic, then have a conversation with your children.
Learning about a topic is critical. Check out our resources below and consider what we’ve learned:
Being a boy or a girl, for most children, is something that feels very natural. Most children’s gender identity aligns with their sex assigned at birth. However, for some children, the match between their sex assigned at birth and the gender identity that they feel inside is not so clear. Children, as young as two or three years of age, may consistently and persistently communicate that they are or wish to be a different gender, that they are in the wrong body, or that their outside (physical sex characteristics) does not match who they feel like they are on the inside (gender identity.) There are also children who feel they are both male and female or feel they are neither and do not want to have to choose.
When most people think of gender, they think of two distinct categories – male and female. More recently, people are recognizing that gender is not binary, but rather, a continuum. For example, if you think about the adults that you know or see, you can probably think of some women who seem very feminine, some who seem more masculine in appearance, interests, or manners, and many who are somewhere in between. At the same time you can probably also think of men who fall along a range with some who seem very masculine, some who do not, and many in between. These are the many ways that people experience themselves and express themselves in a gender spectrum. The same is true of children.
To assume that we can separate boys and girls into discrete categories goes against what we now know about gender identity development as children express themselves. There is an increasing amount of research showing that when children are not allowed to express their true selves, they become depressed, have a harder time focusing on learning, and in some cases will think about or complete suicide.
Definitions and understanding difference the between sex, gender identity, and gender expression:
The classification of people as male or female. At birth infants are assigned a sex, usually based on the appearance of their external anatomy. This is what is written on the birth certificate. However, a person’s sex is actually a combination of bodily characteristics including: chromosomes, hormones, internal and external reproductive organs, and secondary sex characteristics.
One’s internal, deeply held sense of one’s gender. For transgender people, their own internal gender identity does not match the sex they were assigned at birth. Most people have a gender identity of man or woman (or boy or girl). For some people, their gender identity does not fit neatly into one of those two choices. Unlike gender expression (see below) gender identity is not visible to others.
External manifestations of gender, expressed through one’s name, pronouns, clothing, haircut, behavior, voice, or body characteristics. Society identifies these cues as masculine and feminine, although what is considered masculine and feminine changes over time and varies by culture. Typically, transgender people seek to make their gender expression align with their gender identity, rather than the sex they were assigned at birth.
Talking to your child about difficult subjects can seem daunting, but it is the most effective way for them to receive clear and accurate information. Begin a conversation with your child. Ask them about how they feel. Consider teaching empathy, compassion, and different perspectives. Help children expand their possibilities – academically, artistically, emotionally – and see that there are many ways to be.
Where to Begin:
at home or in the classroom
● Use inclusive phrases to address your class as a whole like “Good morning, everyone” or “Good morning, scholars” instead of “Good morning, boys and girls.” You could also choose and use a name for your class that brings to mind positive attributes — like the Dolphins or the Owls.
● Group students in ways that do not rely on gender such as: students whose last names begin with A- H or I-Z, or students who are sitting in a particular part of the room, etc. Avoid situations that force children to make gendered choices, such as boys line up here and girls line up there.
● Develop classroom messages that emphasize “All children can…” rather than “Boys don’t…, Girls don’t…” Increasingly put more emphasis on the inclusive term “children”.
● Provide role models for all children that show a wide range of achievements and emotions for all people. Review the books in your classroom to ensure inclusion of good role models. Read books that encourage discussion of gender assumptions. Have students write biographies or create posters for hallway displays featuring people who have moved beyond traditional roles and have excelled in their chosen fields.
● Be a role model! When possible, give examples of how you or people you know like to do things outside of gender stereotypes. For example, if you’re a woman who likes carpentry, do a math problem related to woodworking. If you’re a man who likes to cook, create a math problem utilizing measuring recipe ingredients.
● Use lesson plans designed to expand understanding of gender. Provide opportunities for students to look at the qualities all children share. Help them to see the limitations of gender stereotyping. Welcoming Schools is an organization that has developed lesson plans for teachers in order to help facilitate the conversation in the classroom and aid in creating an inclusive environment.
● Work with the students in your classroom to help them think of ways to be allies when someone is teased or bullied for any reason. Can they try to stop it directly? Should they talk with an adult? Can they talk with the student who has been harassed? Explore, with students, different options and actions.
● Be an up-stander yourself. Stop hurtful teasing or name-calling based on gender and other bias. Interrupt student comments based on gender stereotypes. Engage in discussion with students. Use these situations as teachable moments.
● Encourage students to find activities that they enjoy and that respect their interests. This will help them connect to other students with similar interests and fit in socially.
● Be aware of whether your students feel safe both inside and outside of the classroom. In the lunchroom? Recess? P.E? Special education classes? In the bathroom? On the school bus? Use the “Name-calling”and “Feeling Safe at School” lesson to engage students on where they feel safe and what makes them feel safe.
● Be ready to support families with gender expansive children. Help parents/guardians see their child’s strengths – academic, artistic, athletic, dramatic or interpersonal.
Resources for Families
● The Center Advance LGBT Colorado: Transgender Programs
● PFLAG Denver
● Gender Identity Center of Colorado
● TYES of Colorado: Trans-Youth Education and Support of Colorado
● TSER: Trans Student Educational Resources
● National Center For Transgender Equality