From a very young age, we are told to be ourselves and that it is okay to be “a little different.” Although we start out learning to be kind to everyone, the way we exclude groups from the conversation enforces the idea that we don’t need to continue that as we get older.
As you grow a bit older, you are exposed to more of others’ views and opinions, mainstream media, and societal norms. Slowly, it is put into your mind that you should not be nice to specific groups of people, whether because of their race, class, sexual orientation, or other facets of their identity.
When it comes to gender specifically, we are taught that there are only two: boys and girls, closed boxes that many are afraid to open. You aren’t taught outside the binary; you learn that “he” and “she” are the only gender pronouns. You don’t learn about “they,” “them,” and “theirs” – the pronouns I identity with as an agender person, or someone who does not identify as any particular gender. We also aren’t taught about “zie,” “zir,” “zirs,” or “xie,” “xir,” or “xirs.” In other words, we’re taught that non-binary folks like me don’t even exist.
But what if schools taught differently?
What if we were taught not to assume identities right from the start? What if at school we learned all about the terms people use to describe their identities? Taught to build relationships so that we can learn each other’s differences and what people need for support? Children are more open to new ideas than anyone, and if students are taught to treat others with respect, students will be less likely to feel invalid or stuck.
The starting point? Taking action. I suggest you use resources at school like GLSEN’s new lesson plans on self-identification and gender stereotypes. Use GLSEN’s pronoun resource. Wear pronoun buttons.
Unlearning stereotypes and unboxing labels requires my allies to listen first instead of stepping in. When warranted, they can also help at events and rallies. If you have the privilege of comfort and safety, support others that might not. It’s great to hear that I have your support, but it’s time for everyone to show it.
Recently it was GLSEN’s No Name Calling Week, and the theme was #KindnessInAction. To me, that means no matter what your identities are, you have to take action to try to support one another. The next step is action.
Con mucho amor,
Cruz Contreras is a member of GLSEN’s National Student Council.
Questions for Discussion:
1. What would your school look like if you were taught gender neutral pronouns from an early age and taught young children not to make assumptions around gender?
2. How can you practice gender neutral language in your GSA and provide access to resources around inclusive language in your school?
3. The author mentions “unlearning stereotypes and unboxing labels.” What are some steps you can take to do these things both within your GSA and as individuals?