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Many transgender and gender nonconforming (TGNC) students dread the first day of classes. There are so many opportunities to be called by the wrong name, misgendered, or put on the spot. Educators know that anxiety can disrupt student learning and that helping students feel "a part of" can go a long way to combat that. Further, feeling unsupported while undergoing the process of transition can impede academic performance among TGNC students.
We’ve talked before about how to help students feel a sense of belonging, but what if they’re feeling separate because of their gender identity? We put together this quick guide for how to prepare an inclusive classroom for TGNC students for the coming year:
Creating an inclusive classroom for transgender and gender nonconforming students starts before you even meet your students.
This is multifaceted. Learn about the issues that affect your TGNC students both inside and outside your classroom and institution. Learn about what resources are available in your region, school, and department. But also learn about the TGNC people and history within your field. Regardless of what you teach, there is likely to be a history of TGNC people contributing to the field. You don’t need to become an expert, but you should be aware of their often-erased contributions and history. It is particularly important to seek out this information from TGNC activists, journalists, and scholars, to ensure you are getting accurate, first-hand information.
How to include TGNC representation will depend on your subject, obviously, but there are TGNC people in all fields, many of whom have been historically overlooked. Literature teachers can include books written by or about TGNC people, history teachers can include TGNC history relevant to the subject or era, science teachers can include the contributions from the numerous TGNC scientists of the past or present, and so on.
Stating your pronouns is a small, easy way to show your support and allyship. Add your pronouns to your syllabus, alongside your email, office hours, and so on. Add your pronouns to your email signature. Not having to assert, or even think about, your pronouns is a privilege cisgender people don’t often think twice about, so the simple act of acknowledging them can speak volumes.
The first day of class can be nerve-wracking for TGNC students. Will their teachers and peers be supportive? Will they be misgendered or called the wrong name? A friendly, supportive ally in the midst of that can go a long way.
If you call roll, just call last names. Eschew using gendered honorifics like Miss or Mister, as these still assume the students’ gender matches their records. (If you can’t resist using an honorific when calling last names, you can always have some fun using fake, gender-inclusive ones like Captain, Doctor, and Lieutenant.)
If you have the students take turns introducing themselves, encourage them to say their name and, if they are comfortable, their pronouns. Set an example by introducing yourself with your name and pronouns. If a student doesn’t offer their pronouns, don’t press them; it’s possible that they aren’t sure what their pronouns are. Avoided language like “preferred pronouns” or “chosen pronouns” as these can be seen as delegitimizing or trivializing TGNC people’s pronouns, implying that their gender identity is a choice or preference, much like one might chose to wear jeans or khakis.
Similar to the previously mentioned guidance to avoid gendered honorifics if you do not know your students’ gender identities, it is helpful to avoid binary and gendered language. Instead of using phrases like “Ladies and gentleman” or “You guys” when addressing the whole class, consider using alternatives like “folks” or “y’all”. If you want to have fun with it, there are many lists of suggestions for gender-inclusive greetings, some more appropriate than others.
If you or someone else makes a mistake with respect to a student’s name or pronouns, a simple correction can mean a lot. Often, TGNC people have to bear the burden of educating and correcting others, which can be both mentally and emotionally exhausting, as well as frustrating. The allyship of correcting a mistake in their stead is simple but powerful. There’s no need to make a production out of the correction – in fact, that can be more frustrating. Just something as simple as, “As Leslie mentioned, he feels that– I’m sorry, they feel that having a review session would be beneficial.” This guide offers helpful suggestions on correcting yourself and others in a supportive manner.
If you have a self-identified TGNC student – that is to say, an individual who has disclosed their identity to you or the class at large, not one that you assume to be transgender or gender nonconforming – reach out to them to ask how you can be supportive. Don’t assume that one student’s preference is the same as another’s. TGNC people, like all other demographic groups, are not a monolith. While this guide aims to cover the basics of creating a supportive and inclusive environment for TGNC students, each individual may have different preferences or comfort levels, and it’s important to determine what is right for each of your students.
There’s no need to wait until you know you have a TGNC student to make your classroom a safe space for them. In fact, being proactive could help a student who is actively wrestling with their gender identity and set a general tone and expectation of inclusivity for the year to come.
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