When it comes to beginning the process of educating people on gender identity, I believe that one of the more important parts is knowing the difference between the terms “sex” and “gender.”
A person’s “sex” is descriptive of the physical traits with which an individual was born, while “gender” is more about their identity.
According to Medical News Today, as we accept and acknowledge the differences between the terms more as a culture, we’re understanding and using the words more appropriately.
Personally, I do not struggle with gender identity—nor do I know anyone close to me who does. However, my classmates and I spend the majority of our time at school, and there could be students who do not feel as if they can show or be their authentic selves.
Unfortunately, I have seen incidents in which educators at my school have expressed their thoughts on the transgender community through public social media, calling identification as transgender “mental illness” and “gross.”
This situation is not only complex because the views are ignorant, but also because these teachers hold the obligation to make sure students feel safe in the school environment.
But despite what someone’s views are on gender identity, there is one important reason that schools should teach gender identity on the national level: support.
Supporting students through gender-identity education will lead to more acceptance and understanding of children, teens, young adults, and anyone who is working toward becoming who they want to be—or who they already are.
In my mind, it makes sense for our educators and faculty to lead the way in initiating education on gender identity. Because teachers are often the adults students listen to the most, I truly believe they will be most efficient in guiding young children and young adults to seeing those around them in a new and accepting light. Everyone deserves to feel validated in who they are, and that is especially important in education.
California already understands the importance of teaching gender identity in schools.
In May of this year, the state proposed and succeeded in making changes to the Health Curriculum Framework (specifically to sexual-education guidelines), including “the use of gender-neutral and LGBTQ language,” according to the Los Angeles Times.
Although the subjects added to the guidelines include more than just gender identity, I personally see the gender aspect as a quality example of how the topic can start being added to school systems and their educational framework everywhere.
While other states need to follow California’s lead and work on being more inclusive, there are steps we are taking as a culture to make sure everyone feels a sense of belonging. I think these improvements are creating a more open atmosphere all around us and will directly influence how schools outside California can educate students on gender identity.
One of these steps includes simply reevaluating words and word choice. As of September of 2019, Merriam Webster has added “they” as a nonbinary pronoun to their dictionaries. Merriam Webster explained that any new words have to “meet three criteria: meaningful use, sustained use, and widespread use.”
Not only do I see the addition of “they” as a task that needed to be done, but I also can see how these three pieces of criteria relate to how useful the addition of teaching gender identity in the school system would be:
- Meaningful use: Knowledge is powerful, no matter what knowledge, and therefore meaningful.
- Sustained use: Our culture is growing to recognize the gender-identity spectrum, and that will continue to grow.
- Widespread use: If the majority of schools begin to learn and implement some type of gender-identity study into their school systems, it will break down barriers that once made students feel restricted, trapped, and misunderstood gender-wise.
Even as some states, and our culture as a whole, are catching up to reflect gender identity, it’s clear that there are still people out there who object.
For example, a columnist for The Washington Post wrote his opinion of California’s proposal, detailing that “the idea that 5 year-old children, can be trusted to ‘know’ their gender identity is unbelievable…” While I respect this opinion and I do not believe that younger children should be taught the same details as older high schoolers, younger children are more accepting in general. I also do not think educating children on gender identity is for the sole purpose of understanding their own gender.
I believe gender identity can be discussed with kids, and I think it should be discussed with everyone.
I am actually optimistic that one day education systems everywhere will speak with students about gender identity. It may not happen immediately, but the progress we’ve seen in our culture is a promising first step. In order to pursue a future that’s more accepting and understanding of those who just want to express themselves in the ways they know they are meant to, I think education is the right place to start.