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The Gender Spectrum The Gender Spectrum

Move beyond the pink/blue binary to support students who dont conform to
narrow gender norms.

When we meeL a newborn baby, mosL of us ask Lhe same
quesLlon: boy or glrl? CfLen, Lhe answer ls easy. CfLen, buL noL
MeeL Alex, a fourLh-grader ln Madlson, Wls., wlLh long, blond
halr, a lanky bulld and a broad smlle. When you meeL Alex, you
see a clever, confldenL kld who can move a mlle a mlnuLe. ?ou
see whaL ls obvlous.
8oy or glrl?
When we meeL people for Lhe flrsL Llme, we look for gender cues
ln a way so auLomaLed we don'L even know we're dolng lL. Long
halr? uress? Makeup? lemale. 8uzz cuL? 8road shoulders? 8all
cap? Male. We make Lhese caLegorlzaLlons ln a spllL second
dozens of Llmes every day.
1hen someone llke Alex (we used a pseudonym Lo proLecL Alex's prlvacy) walks lnLo Lhe room, and
everyLhlng we LhoughL we knew abouL gender flles ouL Lhe wlndow.
Cender may seem slmple, buL Lhe myLhs surroundlng Lhls concepL mask lLs Lrue complexlLy. LxperLs who
work wlLh youLh and gender lssues Lell us Lhe Lwo mosL common myLhs are Lhese: llrsL, gender ls blnary,
offerlng only Lwo opLlons, second, gender and sex are Lhe same Lhlng. Summed up, Lhe myLh goes llke
Lhls: Lvery person ls elLher male or female, and Lhe dlsLlncLlon ls based on LhaL person's anaLomy.
ln Lhe parlance of gender developmenL, sex exlsLs beLween your legs-lL's your blology, your
chromosomes, your anaLomy. Cender exlsLs beLween your ears-lL's how you feel abouL yourself. klds
develop a sense of gender ldenLlLy by age Lwo or Lhree, says ulane LhrensafL, auLhor of !"#$"% '(%#)
!"#$"% *+$".
lor mosL klds, blrLh sex and gender ldenLlLy maLch. 1hls populaLlon ls referred Lo as belng clsgender. ln
some cases, Lhough, chlldren's gender ldenLlLy-how Lhey feel abouL Lhemselves-dlffers from Lhelr
blology. Some klds know Lhelr gender ldenLlLles and blrLh sexes don'L maLch almosL as soon as Lhey
begln Lo Lalk. lor some lL ls as slmple as wlshlng Lo swap one gender for anoLher-l was born a glrl, buL
l'm really a boy." lor oLhers, Lhelr sense of gender exlsLs somewhere beLween male and female, aL
varlous polnLs along whaL ls known as Lhe gender specLrum.
1he Lermlnology used Lo descrlbe Lhese ldenLlLles ls vasL and evolvlng. Cender nonconformlng and
Lransgender (Lhe 1" ln LC81) are common Lerms. lncreaslngly popular are such phrases as gender
lndependenL, gender creaLlve, gender expanslve and gender dlverse.
1he common meanlng of Lhese Lerms: 1he rlgld expecLaLlons of my blrLh sex do noL maLch my
undersLandlng of who l am.
Alex has adamanLly shlrked gender boxes slnce Lhe age of Lhree, refuslng Lo be called boy or glrl. Alex
doesn'L mlnd alLernaLlng beLween gendered pronouns, he" or she," Lhough Alex feels mosL
comforLable chucklng pronouns alLogeLher. Alex's preferred gender descrlpLor ls gender fluld.
Cender-dlverse klds llke Alex face a pleLhora of blnary gender expecLaLlons ln school: glrl/boy llnes,
seaLlng charLs, baLhrooms, locker rooms and dress codes. 1here are rules abouL who can play Annle" ln
Lhe school play, wear a Luxedo Lo Lhe prom, Lry ouL for Lhe fooLball Leam or be voLed homecomlng
1hen Lhere ls Lhe conflaLlon of gender ldenLlLy-how we feel on Lhe lnslde-and gender expresslon-
how we presenL our gender Lo Lhe world Lhrough halrsLyle, cloLhlng and behavlors.
Cender expresslon ls ofLen curLalled by our socleLy's gender norms-Lhe expecLaLlons and assumpLlons
LhaL govern how a glrl or boy ls supposed Lo look, acL, dress and play. 1hese arblLrary norms are
ublqulLous: Chlldren's LooLhbrushes come ln plnk or blue, Lhe Loy alsles ln blg box sLores are labeled ,-%.
(full of dolls and klLchen seLs) and /(0 (full of Lrucks, LLCC seLs and Loy Lools).
Mlrlam Pall, a conLrlbuLor Lo Lhe anLhology 1%+#234-#5 6 !7-$" 8(% 9+:-.0 +#$ 9%-"#$2 (8 1%+#2,"#$"%
;"(<.", shares Lhe sLory of a frlend's 11-year-old son who dresses ln plnk and loves sparkles and dolls.
Pe ls very clear aL all Llmes LhaL he ls a boy," says Pall.
When people mlsLake hlm for a glrl, he says, 8oys geL Lo be llke Lhls. Anyone can be llke Lhls. uon'L llmlL
me Lo whaL you Lhlnk boys are."
Compared Lo Lhe general populaLlon, gender-dlverse klds face drasLlcally lncreased raLes of bullylng,
assaulL, depresslon, school drop-ouL, drug abuse, self-harm and sulclde. A 2009 reporL from Lhe Cay,
Lesblan and SLralghL LducaLlon neLwork palnLs a grlm plcLure. nearly 90 percenL of Lransgender youLh
surveyed had experlenced verbal harassmenL aL school because of Lhelr gender expresslon. 1wo-Lhlrds
expressed feellng unsafe aL school, more Lhan half experlenced physlcal harassmenL. A quarLer
experlenced physlcal assaulL. MosL of Lhese lncldenLs were never reporLed Lo school offlclals.
SLudenLs ln Lhe sLudy who experlenced hlgh levels of gender-ldenLlLy harassmenL were more llkely Lo
sklp school for safeLy reasons and Lo have slgnlflcanLly lower grade-polnL averages Lhan Lhelr peers who
experlenced llLLle Lo no harassmenL.
1o proLecL Lhelr chlld from Lhese negaLlve ouLcomes, Alex's parenLs choose Leachers carefully and prep
Lhem ln advance. Lven so, Lhere have been growlng palns. AfLer an lncldenL ln Lhe boys' baLhroom early
on, Lhe school agreed Lo leL Alex use a unlsex sLaff baLhroom ln Lhe upper-grade wlng. Alex knows every
clrculLous rouLe Lo geL Lhere wlLhouL belng slngled ouL or Leased.
lor Lhe mosL parL, Lhe school has reacLed Lo Alex wlLh an openness LhaL wlll hopefully lnsplre oLher
communlLles. Cone are Lhe boy/glrl llnes, Lhe gendered play areas and pronouns. 8ecenLly, Alex's
moLher, kaLherlne (also a pseudonym), overheard a Leacher casually refer Lo anoLher chlld as gender
expanslve. 1haL word wasn'L ln her vocabulary before," kaLherlne says. 1hls ls a [ourney, and everyone
ls learnlng."
SLlll, every day for Alex lnvolves some form of navlgaLlon. SubsLlLuLe Leachers, cusLodlans, school
vlslLors, new klds, school forms wlLh gendered checkboxes and resLroom dllemmas on fleld Lrlps-Lhe
quesLlon reappears over and over agaln ln Lhe gendered expecLaLlons of people and socleLy: Are you a
boy or glrl?
A gender-dlverse chlld's besL predlcLor of success ls wheLher LhaL chlld recelves supporL aL home and
from Leachers. CfLen, famllles push schools Lo make Lhe necessary changes for Lhelr chlldren. 8uL for
klds who don'L have supporL aL home, lnformed and sympaLheLlc educaLors are Lhelr only chance for a
safe place.
SLudenLs have a beLLer chance of success when Lhere are avallable resources and supporL, wheLher lL's
a clearly ldenLlfled Leacher wlLh a 'Safe Zone' sLlcker on Lhe door, an LC81 resource person on sLaff or a
secLlon of Lhe llbrary wlLh resources for gender and sexual ldenLlLy," says SLephen 8ussell, a professor of
famlly sLudles and human developmenL aL Lhe unlverslLy of Arlzona whose work has shed llghL on Lhe
gender experlences of chlldren.
Cne modesL buL lmporLanL sLep educaLors can Lake: Make expllclL aL Lhe sLarL of Lhe school year LhaL ln
your classroom, everyone deserves respecL and LhaL maklng fun of people based on gender ldenLlLy or
expresslon won'L be LoleraLed.
lf your school or dlsLrlcL offers reslsLance, requesL professlonal developmenL Lo educaLe Leachers abouL
gender dlverslLy. 1he ma[orlLy of our Leachers were Lralned aL a Llme when Lhls was noL parL of Leacher
educaLlon or Lhe norm ln publlc schools," says 8ussell.
We have a culLural lag, and Leachers are caLchlng up. lL's Ck Lo say, 'l need Lo sLop and flgure Lhls ouL.'
!usL remember, Lhls lsn'L abouL your values. lL's abouL your legal and moral obllgaLlon Lo supporL every
chlld as Lhe besL Leacher you can be. ?ou don'L have Lo be supporLlve of gay rlghLs or gender fluldlLy Lo
be a resource for a gender-fluld kld-LhaL's a very lmporLanL message for Leachers Lo hear."
l know Lhls ls ouL of a loL of people's comforL zones," says kaLherlne. SomeLlmes l Lhlnk people would
be more comforLable supporLlng a kld [who] wanLs Lo swlLch genders Lhan a chlld who ls nelLher one."
8lghL now, Lhough, kaLherlne's chlld ls slmply a 10-year-old looklng forward Lo an evenlng aL a frlend's
house. Alex's blggesL worry rlghL now ls flndlng Lhe mlsplaced proceeds from a crafL falr, where Alex and
a frlend sold hand-woven frlendshlp braceleLs. 8lghL now, Alex ls as well-ad[usLed and carefree as
fourLh-graders come.
So, boy or glrl? erhaps we've been asklng Lhe wrong quesLlon all along.
!"#$"% '()"%*(+,- ./%$* 0/1 23/14$ 5#/6
7**(8#"$ !"#$"%- 1he gender a baby ls glven upon blrLh, usually based on Lhe chlld's blrLh sex.
!"#$"% 9$"#+(+,- Pow we feel abouL our gender ln our hearLs and mlnds.
!"#$"% :;<%"**(/#=!"#$"% >%"*"#+?+(/#- Pow we show our gender Lo Lhe world Lhrough exLernal
cholces (e.g. dress, behavlor, halrsLyle).
@(*8"#$"%: uescrlbes a person whose blrLh sex and gender ldenLlLy allgn.
A(%+3 2";=A(/4/8(B?4 2";: A speclflc seL of geneLlc, chemlcal and anaLomlcal characLerlsLlcs LhaL we are
elLher born wlLh or LhaL develop as we maLure.
A(#?%, !"#$"%: 1he faulLy concepL LhaL Lhere are only Lwo genders: male and female.
!"#$"%C1""%: A broad descrlpLor many people use Lo lndlcaLe a person does noL ldenLlfy as elLher male
or female.
D%?#*8"#$"%: uescrlbes anyone whose gender ldenLlLy and blrLh sex do noL allgn. 1he word should be
used as, Lransgender," noL Lransgendered." lor example, My broLher Sam ls Lransgender. Pls blrLh
name was SamanLha."
>%"E"%%"$ >"%*/#?4 >%/#/1#*: ln addlLlon Lo Lhe LradlLlonal pronouns (he/hlm, she/her, Lhey), some
people prefer Lo use gender-neuLral pronouns, such as ne, ve, ze/zle and xe. lf you don'L know a
sLudenL's preferred personal pronoun, lL's always besL Lo ask.
@%"?+(#8 ? !"#$"%F9#B41*()" @4?**%//G
=7"2>-(#2 >( ?(#2-$"%
1eachers can make a blg dlfference ln Lhe llves of klds by dolng really slmple Lhlngs," says !oel 8aum,
dlrecLor of educaLlon and Lralnlng aL Cender SpecLrum, a naLlonal organlzaLlon LhaL helps schools creaLe
gender-lncluslve spaces for all klds.
@>+%> /0 +2A-#, 0(7%2".8 + 8"B C7"2>-(#2D
- WhaL ls my gender sLory? Pave l ever experlenced llmlLaLlons because of gender norms? uo l
have any gender blases? (Addresslng your own lssues flrsL can help clear Lhe way for auLhenLlc
relaLlonshlps wlLh your sLudenLs.)
- uoes my dlsLrlcL or school's anLl-bullylng pollcy expressly proLecL sLudenLs from harassmenL
based on gender ldenLlLy? (MosL don'L. 1he ones LhaL do have Lhe besL resulLs.)
- uoes my currlculum lnclude neuLral or poslLlve menLlon of LC81 people?
- uo l communlcaLe a nonblnary undersLandlng of gender Lo my sLudenLs Lhrough Lhe vlsuals on
my classroom walls, Lhe books on Lhe shelves and Lhe language l use? (lor example, ln place of
calllng boys and glrls" Lo Lhe rug, lnvlLe all readers.")
- uoes my school have a Cay-SLralghL Alllance (CSA) and, lf so, does lL work Lo acLlvely lnclude
gender-dlverse sLudenLs? lf noL, do l have a Safe Space" sLlcker on my door, so sLudenLs know
Lhey can Lalk wlLh me? (8esearch shows sLudenLs who have access Lo CSAs do beLLer ln school.
8eslllency sLudles show LhaL ofLen klds need [usL one openly supporLlve adulL ln Lhelr llves Lo
overcome obsLacles.)
- Am l worklng wlLh parenLs and sLudenLs Lo ensure Lhe safeLy of gender-dlverse sLudenLs? (Many
parenLs may be supporLlve of gender dlverslLy aL home, yeL prevenL Lhelr chlld from expresslng
nonblrLh gender aL school for fear Lhelr chlld may noL be safe Lhere.)

1eachlng 1olerance
number 44: Summer 2013 [3]
13 May 2013
Carrle kllman