Saturday, January 19, 2008

Gender Issues

One of my poor students struggles on a lot of fronts. Academics are not his strong suit, but I would argue that a lot of his barriers to academic success come from what's going on with him socially and emotionally. From the beginning of the year, he's made no pretense of to deny the fact that he's attracted to other boys, and this in itself has caused its share of teasing, exclusion, etc. Fortunately, a lot of students, especially the girls, stand up for him. I have always suspected that there is something more going on with his identity than just being gay. He and his friends asked me what "transgender" means, he asks a lot of bordering-on-inappropriate questions about what it's like to be female, and he's told me things like "I don't like who I am, but I can't be the person I want to be."

Then last week he showed up to class wearing a wig and girl's clothes. My first reaction was to be proud. It takes a lot of courage as a high school freshman to show up like that. But I immediately turned to worry and fear, for the exact same reasons. How would the other students react, and what would that mean for his safety, both physical and emotional. Despite living in one of the most gay-friendly cities in the world, despite having a staff and administration that is diverse and supportive with respect to gender and sexuality, despite having a having an active and well attended GSA, despite having a mural in our front hall of influential gay Americans, our school still feels very homophobic and certainly very transphobic. I call students out on a daily basis for using "That's so gay" or similar slurs. Gay students are definitely not accepted on a mainstream level.

So I was not surprised when my kids flipped out upon seeing a boy in the wig. My brave student reacted mostly by trying to ignore it, which I know is hard. I was impressed when he continued to wear the wig after what I know must have been a difficult day. On following days, other kids calmed down somewhat, but there are still comments and looks that I see. It's quite difficult figuring out how to best support my student. I of course call students out for inappropriate comments and I've told my student (who is getting a lot of staff support) that he is always welcome to talk to me, but I'm struggling with what proactive steps I can take to create a safer environment. It's not enough to wait until a student comes to school in a wig and girl's clothing to begin to address what it means to have an inclusive community, and I feel I have failed in this respect.

1 comment:

Jen of A2eatwrite said...

What I would think he most needs is a place where he can talk to/get support from other transgendered folks. I don't know if you'd need to contact his parents first before giving out that kind of information, but certainly there is a center where he could get support somewhere in SF? Also, if you send me an e-mail, I'll send you an absolutely amazing youtube link that might help him to know there are others his age struggling with this. (I don't have your current e-mail)