A common sense mini-guide for teachers
Nancy Nangeroni, International Foundation for Gender Education
Transgender folk are no less deserving of respect than anyone else. Though they may not respect themselves as highly as possible, due to abuse and adverse programming over time, help them to respect themselves by showing your respect for them. If you don’t feel it at first, pretend until you do.
Like the first black student in a white school 30 years ago, the transgender student today faces a population that finds them strange and frightening. Perhaps even you find them strange and frightening. If so, try putting your discomfort on hold for awhile, and see if it doesn’t dissipate over time. They’re just people. Different in some ways, but then so are you and everyone else. Don’t tolerate other student’s intolerance for transgender difference, any more than you would tolerate intolerance for racial difference. Instead, teach them respect for individual courage, exploration, and diversity in all things.
If an individual’s mere existence is disturbing to a population, that is an indication of a problem in the beliefs of the population, not the individual. Don’t fall prey to the ages-old trap of punishing the victim for the effects of the conflict they seem to attract. If conflict seems to center around the transgender, remember that an obvious target for abuse can wind up looking like a troublemaker through no fault of their own. Follow the transgender student’s example of courage and stand up for what is right. If they experience repeated problems, be lenient when those problems stem from harassment by others – and take the time to find the truth. Otherwise you allow yourself to be the instrument for victimization of a transgender person by others.
The transgender student will tell you how best to handle themselves. Let them tell you what they want, and accommodate their desire for most appropriate pronouns, grouping (boy/girl), etc. If gendered bathroom and locker room usage is problematic, establish neutral facilities, available to all if possible, that the transgender student can safely use. But allow the transgender student to affiliate according to their own wishes, never by force.
Take the time to find out what transgenderism is all about. Gender is a fundamental component of our personalities that is usually taken completely for granted. Take advantage of the opportunity presented by the transgender student to challenge you and your students’ beliefs about your gender. Note how gender transgression stimulates emotions, and examine for fallacy the beliefs that give rise to the emotion.
As an educator, you are often more knowledgeable about transgenderism and other diversities than a student’s parents. Some parents are terribly cruel to their children who express transgender inclinations. Help them to love their offspring properly, by encouraging them to support their children in leading the most fulfilling life possible. When it comes to gender, this means following one’s heart, so help parents learn to respect a child’s heartfelt gender needs.