By: Carly Boies
To respect the privacy of the students in this article, all names are pseudonyms.
The concept of gender identity is very new in our society. In many cultures, gender fluidity is an accepted identity, but it seems the United States is still trying to catch up. While gay rights progress, transgender, nonbinary and genderqueer people have been left behind. The same pattern is true at East. While most of the people at school are accepting of homosexuality, the concept of pronouns, transitioning between genders and gender fluidity are still not well understood or accepted by most of the student body.
Quinn, a nonbinary student at East, shared their thoughts on East’s lack of genderqueer awareness. “A significant number of people don’t seem to understand what pronouns are,” they say. “When someone identifies as nonbinary it can mean a lot of things.” Gender and gender identity can mean so many things for so many people, and it is often oversimplified.
“It’s a spectrum,” Jess, a junior at East, remarks. “If you think of gender as a line with female on one end and male on the other, you get a more accurate representation of the concept of gender. People can fall anywhere on this line, anywhere from the middle to the far right or left.” Yet, society is still trying to grasp this more fluid interpretation of gender and break out of the binary. “Gender is a social construct whether you like it or not. The gender binary literally does not exist so we are not the weird ones,” explained Morgan, a student at East.
And while most of the people at East are accepting, some people still believe being nonbinary is somehow weird or unnatural. When asked if they felt students at East respected their gender identity, Jess and Quinn said yes. “Generally people put in effort to use correct name and pronouns,” Morgan adds. “Some people in my classes are jerks and ignorant but I have built a system of peers and adults who will stand up for me.” Quinn also mentioned that the size of East helped, saying it was easier to find a group for accepting people when the school has a large population.
But despite the more forward-thinking student body, prejudice against the nonbinary community is still very much present at school. “While it has never happened to me, I know people who have been treated horribly because of their gender identity,” Quinn continues. Treatment of gender non-conforming students at East can, in many cases, be hurtful and cruel. And unfortunately, the disrespect and hate does not just come from the students.
While the large majority of the staff at East respect the gender identity of their students, some teachers ignore the pronouns students have asked them to use. Jess explained that older staff members generally have more trouble getting pronouns right and remembering to use them. It is not open disrespect, they said, just ignorance. Morgan continued by saying, “I have had a couple teachers who respect my pronouns, but for the life of them they can’t get them [the pronouns] right.” In many cases, well-meaning adults will not understand and do not put in the effort to respect their students.
While respect from the student body is important, it is even more crucial that staff members do not misgender students. “When a teacher misgenders me in front of the class, students will think it’s okay to do,” Morgan remarks. Teachers set the standards in their class, and when they slip up and do not correct themselves, it gives students the illusion that pronouns do not matter. Teachers need to understand and respect pronouns so students will, and it is not an option for them to blatantly disregard a student’s pronouns.
Disrespect of someone’s gender identity goes beyond bullying. By refusing to acknowledge a person’s pronouns, people begin to believe nonbinary people are somehow less worthy of respect than cisgender people. No matter a person’s gender, they deserve the respect we would give to a cisgender person. “Respect is not f—ing optional. Pronouns matter. Names matter. And if you don’t respect that you are transphobic and I don’t have time for you,” Morgan concludes. It is easy to be accepted as cisgender because it is the societal norm, and because you have that privilege you have the obligation to make an effort for people outside the gender binary.
What can we do the support the nonbinary community at East?
1) Make an effort: The best thing you can do is use the right pronouns. If you slip up, apologize and correct yourself. Do not be afraid to ask a person what their pronouns are, people will never get mad at you for asking. It is much better to ask a person what their pronouns are and use them correctly from the start than to misgender someone.
2) Introduce yourself with your pronouns: This is an easy step that anybody can take. It helps to normalize pronouns and conversations around gender.
3) Correct other people: When somebody misgenders a genderqueer person, correct them. However, only do this if you have asked the permission of the the genderqueer person before hand, you do not want to out somebody.
4) Have substitute teachers call role by last name: Very often when people come out as nonbinary they will change their name to a more androgynous one. The old name is called a dead name, and that is usually what is listed on the rosters. If subs call role by last name, students do not have to correct the sub and they can keep their dead name private.
If you are struggling with gender identity or disrespect around your gender identity, reach out to the QSA (Queer Student Alliance), or a staff member who you feel comfortable talking to. Remember, you have allies at East, and there are people who accept you for who you are.