Gender Spectrum Blog

Gender Spectrum Blog

A Success Story from Navigating a Transition

Friday, 18 April 2014

Recently, Gender Spectrum worked with a school and family in support of their transgender child’s social transition at school. The process involved lots of phone calls and meetings. We worked closely with the school’s staff to plan what the process of telling her classmates would be. We developed talking points for the teachers, and helped draft a letter from the school to the community; the family also wrote their own email to families (after lengthy discussion of the various pros and cons of even writing a letter at all). A meeting was held with the staff in the days leading up to her revelation. Understandably, all involved were very nervous about what the reception would be from her peers and their families.

The day finally came, and the plan unfolded. Armed with talking points, individual teachers shared the information about the student’s identity with her peers. That same day, the school’s communication was sent, and the family shared their story via the school’s parent network. By all accounts, the process proved to be a success. Students’ reactions were positive or more often, nonchalant. Parents from across the school reached out to the family offering their support.

The leaders and staff at this particular school have done extensive work around gender diversity and inclusion. Not only have they supported the needs of transgender and other gender-expansive students, they have included education about gender diversity through the school’s programs and curriculum. Community information events have been held. They exemplify the traits of a gender inclusive school, and were positioned to handle this situation particularly well.

However, we have seen students navigate similar transitions in schools throughout the country that have not been so intentional in their efforts around gender. One of the maxims of the process is that each situation is unique. On a case-by-case basis, issues such as privacy and confidentiality, use of names and pronouns, access to facilities, and other concerns are handled in consultation with the student, and ideally, the parents or caregivers.

But there is one consistent experience we have seen across these individual transitions. When provided with even a modicum of information about gender diversity, the vast majority of the transitioning student’s peers seem unfazed by the process. Regardless of grade level, a typical pattern emerges: many of the students are explicitly supportive, while others maintain a neutral stance. While there have been instances where other students have been unkind, they are frequently outliers. Perhaps most telling, literally within days, if not hours, we have seen schools return to business as usual. In fact, in the situation described above, the student commented, “no one is treating me any different than before.”

What these young people are demonstrating is simple openness and acceptance. In viewing a peer taking a step towards authenticity, they have few of the struggles that frequently arise for the adults surrounding the situation. When seeing another student simply trying to be true to oneself, peers understand the desire on a fundamental level that adults frequently forget. While the teachers, parents and support providers all work fervently to anticipate any and every possible problem, the students typically remain calm, cool, and collected. It is a testament to the understanding, compassion, and versatility of kids today that this transition was such a success. And it's why we are so proud to continue our work to make schools inclusive for all children.

 

Gender Spectrum Blog

Update on AB1121

Friday, 11 April 2014

Gender Spectrum believes that all young people should be referred to by the gender and name they identify with. Bureaucracy can sometimes make it difficult to change government documents to accurately reflect one’s sense of self. Gender Spectrum helps families and young people understand the requirements to formally change government documents to accurately show a child’s gender and name. Young people and their caregivers should know about California Assembly Bill 1121 (AB 1121), signed by Governor Jerry Brown on October 8th, 2013.

Easier to change gender marker

As of January 1, 2014, in order to change the gender marker on a California birth certificate, you’ll simply need to submit a declaration from a licensed physician directly to the state’s Department of Vital Statistics. The documents required to change a gender marker can be found here: http://transgenderlawcenter.org/archives/9597.

Until recently, California required a court hearing before the Office of Vital Records to change the gender marker on a birth certificate. AB 1121 allows California residents to bypass the court and apply directly to the Office of Vital Records to amend one’s gender on a birth certificate. While AB 1121 creates a new option to bypass the court, the court process is still available for those born outside of California or who want extra assurance that any changes to name or gender on a birth certificate will be recognized by other states.

More privacy and affordable to change name

AB 1121 makes the name change process more private and affordable. You no longer have to pay to publish a notice of the name change in a local newspaper for four weeks. A court will now grant a petition for a name change without a hearing so long as no one files an objection.

Additionally, AB 1121 saves a family from court fees, which are currently $435 for a gender or name change petition.

While the gender provision is already in place, the name change provisions will go into effect July 1, 2014.

Other considerations

  • While AB 1121 makes things easier and more affordable, a person under 18 still needs a parent or guardian to request a gender or name change. However, a minor who is emancipated may petition for a gender and/or name change on their own. If you are an emancipated minor and need assistance, contact Gender Spectrum or the Transgender Law Center.
  • AB 1121 also makes it easier to obtain a driver’s license or a passport that accurately shows your name and gender once your birth certificate is changed. Having the right gender and name on documents like a state I.D. or passport will also make travel a lot easier.
  • Having a child’s birth certificate accurately reflect their gender and name is important because it will show up on their public school records, such as their classroom roll call sheet and high school diploma.

You can read more on AB 1121 here: http://transgenderlawcenter.org/archives/9027.

For a state-by-state guide on how to amend the gender marker on a birth certificate, visit: http://www.lambdalegal.org/publications/sources-of-authority-to-amend.

 

Gender Spectrum Blog

What We Mean by Gender Inclusive

Thursday, 03 April 2014

A common thread throughout our work, and throughout our website, is the idea that Gender Spectrum supports creating gender inclusive environments. But what does that phrase mean exactly? And how are our efforts having an impact in creating these spaces?

Inclusivity, in its very definition, means to be open to everyone, and not limited to certain people. From a gender standpoint, this means that these services, establishments, schools, practitioners, government agencies, etc. are all welcoming of all kids, regardless of their gender identity and/or expression.

Gender is all around us. It is actually taught to us, from the moment we are born. Gender expectations and messages bombard us constantly. Upbringing, culture, peers, community, media, and religion, are some of the many influences that shape our understanding of this core aspect of identity. How you learned and interacted with gender as a young child directly influences how you view the world today.

Because of its prominence in everyday life, creating gender inclusive environments, in which everyone is welcome, is critical for the success of the children and teens in your lives. Where everyone is welcome.

What can you do to help create more gender inclusive environments and communities? You can start by providing support, compassion and encouragement to all kids and teens; by teaching them that they matter; by sticking up for them; and by demonstrating support through actively combating gender discrimination.

In order for environments to become truly gender inclusive, it requires all adults and kids of the community to take responsibility for the safety of all children regardless of the clothes they wear, the toys they play with, and other gender expressions.. Moving from the notion of gender as a binary concept to a more expansive understanding of the complex nature of the gender spectrum only occurs with a concerted effort by all adult stakeholders and allies.

We talk about gender inclusiveness because gender affects all kids. And we want all kids to have the opportunity to feel welcome, included, and thrive.

 

Gender Spectrum Blog

Words Matter

Thursday, 27 March 2014

Recently, we received a call from a school principal seeking support around gender issues at her site. During the conversation, as we discussed Gender Spectrum’s various professional development services, this leader used the following terms to describe the students at her school who were perceived to be atypical in their gender: transgender, gender-variant, gender-nonconforming, gender fluid, and gender benders. By her own admission, she did not know how to talk about these students. “What should I be calling them?” she asked.

As the discussion about gender and young people continues to evolve, so too has the language being used to describe them. Knowing the incredible power that language can have in our understanding of and comfort with complex concepts, this conversation has been taking place for many months here at Gender Spectrum as well.

While having used a number of descriptors previously, Gender Spectrum has decided that moving forward, we will use the term “gender-expansive” to help bring more inclusivity to the conversation of gender. We’re using "gender-expansive" as an umbrella term for individuals that broaden their own culture’s commonly held definitions of gender, including expectations for its expression, identities, and roles.

Gender-expansive youth are expressing and/or identifying their gender in a way that broadens traditional, binary gender stereotypes. They may feel that that their birth sex doesn’t reflect their internal gender identity and possibly their outward expression. These youth may identify or express themselves in some conventional ways, yet in one or more important aspect of themselves, they fall outside expected gender norms. The term “gender-expansive” applies to a diverse set of gender experiences.

Our use of this term is by no means an effort to constrain how youth describe themselves. We understand that when youth are asked how they identify their own gender, there’s a rich array of different terms they may use, including agender, androgynous, both genders, gender fluid, transgender, gender queer, genderless, neither, neutral, non-gender, or questioning. These terms, and the many others we know to exist, are wonderful examples of the ways that young people are reshaping understandings of gender, for themselves, their peers and the larger society around them. All of them are included under the umbrella that is “gender-expansive.”

We have chosen as an organization to use this term because we believe it affirms an individual's gender, without the definition being grounded in the limited notions of gender that exist in the surrounding society. Terms such as gender-variant and gender-nonconforming are phrases that use cisgender experiences and traditional cultural norms as the default baseline of gender expression and identity. As we become increasingly cognizant of how youth choose to identify and express gender’s complexity, we are moving away from these terms. By using the term “gender-expansive,” we are instead embracing a more encompassing and empowered notion about gender diversity. In so doing Gender Spectrum seeks to further the conversation and promote evolving understandings of gender.

Joel Baum
Senior Director, Professional Development and Family Services
Gender Spectrum

 

Gender Spectrum Blog

The Importance of Pronouns

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

As an increasing number of gender expansive youth are changing the way they use gender pronouns, some writers and editors, primarily those at media outlets, are struggling to adhere to youth’s preferred pronouns.

When writing a story, it is important to respect an individual’s preferred pronoun. This decision is an important personal choice that an individual makes that is no different than respecting someone’s preferred name. If an individual has made a choice to use the pronoun he, she, they, ze, or whatever they prefer, the writer and editor have a responsibility to honor that choice even if it is different than their own experience or preferred AP style. Purposefully using the wrong pronoun, similar to calling someone by a different name, can be considered insulting and disrespectful.

While there are other resources available as to proper pronoun etiquette (a few are highlighted below), we thought it would be helpful to capture a few positive and negative examples of pronoun uses that have happened over the last few months.

In November of 2013, Oakland teenager, Sasha Fleischman, had their skirt set on fire by another teenage passenger. Sasha identifies as agender and uses the pronouns they and them. The manner in which media handled Sasha’s preferred pronouns varied greatly. Some outlets, like CBS News, ignored Sasha’s preferred pronoun entirely and used he/him. Other media sources, like NBC Bay Area, used quotation marks each time the word “they” or “them” was used. While other publications, such as SFGate, stated the preferred pronoun at the outset of the article and used it correctly throughout.

Blatantly ignoring an individual’s preferred pronoun is obviously disrespectful to that person. While using quotation marks throughout an article is better, it can be interpreted that the individual’s choice of preferred pronoun isn’t valid because it doesn’t follow gender norms.

To view a great example of a journalist handling preferred pronouns in the most respectful way possible, we turn to SFGate again. In February an article written by Suzanne Leigh discussed how young people are exploring non-binary gender roles. At the outset of the article Leigh introduces S.E. Smith and shares that Smith “likes to be referred to with the pronoun "ou" instead of she or he and her or him - and prefers seeing ou name in lowercase”. For the remainder of the article, ou is used without quotation marks, just as the pronoun he or she would be used.

Over time, we expect that writers and editors will become more knowledgeable and respectful to individuals’ preferred pronouns. As we work towards that future, each of us can take the opportunity to respectfully comment in articles. Politely sharing best practices for writers and editors that don’t honor an individual’s preferred pronoun or use quotation marks throughout is an opportunity to explain a different perspective. It’s also important to thank writers that handle pronouns attentively.

For more information on the subject, we encourage writers and editors to review the following resources and articles for more information:

WriteWorld - Using Gender-Neutral Pronouns in Your Writing: Basics for Beginners

Wikipedia - Gender-specific and gender-neutral pronouns

MIT - Gender Neutral Pronoun Usage

NY Times - The Freedom to Choose Your Pronoun

 
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