(title courtesy of Nancy Flanagan)During the early summer heat wave in Europe, stories were turning up all over the Internet about boys wearing skirts to school and men wearing dresses to work. Jake Steward (our English Department Chair) sent me an email one day with a link to an article I hadn’t yet seen (though it began to crop up increasingly frequently), “ Teenage Boys Turn Up at Devon School Dressed in Skirts.” At one level, these boys may not have made that choice if (in order of ease of remedy) a) their schools had a dress code that permitted boys to wear shorts, b) their schools had air-conditioning, and/or c) climate change wasn’t contributing to ever more extreme weather patterns. But at another level, there was fairly rapid and widespread buy-in to the skirt protest. I’m honestly not sure that would have been true just five years ago, no matter what the weather.
It was a beautiful sunny Wednesday. My wife was away on an administrators’ retreat as her school was preparing to start the year, and I needed to focus on preparing for the upcoming NENTS 2.0 conference (designed for inexperienced teachers who have spent at least a year in the classroom) that I was co-facilitating. I hopped in the car and drove up to Charlottesville.
“Well, maybe we'll still make the keynote,” I said to my student as we began the 10-minute walk from Wheelock's main campus, where I had attended last year's GLSEN Massachusetts Spring Conference (GLSEN being an organization that supports LGBTQ+ students and educators as well as their allies), to Wheelock's Brookline campus where, it turned out, this year's conference was held. They (the pronoun this student uses; here is a list of common choices) answered cheerfully, “Oh, it's okay. We'll get there.”
Recently, a colleague shared out an article with the unfortunate headline, “My Daughter Is Not Transgender, She’s a Tomboy.” The author, Lisa Selin Davis, seemed to be saying she wished people would stop questioning her daughter’s gender identity based on her gender expression, including not only people who have fairly limited ideas of how boys and girls look and/or should look but also well-meaning people who wondered - repeatedly - if she was transgender and what pronouns she used. Ms. Davis wrote that she appreciated both the well-meaning question of whether her child might be transgender and the sensitivity to pronouns, objecting rather to those times when people seemed skeptical of the answers and/or kept re-asking the questions. I shared the article on Twitter, adding the comment, “Seems like the underlying message is adults need to listen to kids about how they view who they are w/openness to all genders/expressions.” And several of my colleagues told me they enjoyed the article, thinking in particular of their own daughters who are frequently mistaken for boys.
Since the rescinding of Obama-era guidance extending Title IX protections against discrimination to transgender and gender non-conforming children, there has been an outpouring of support for LGBTQ+ kids. TransLifeline saw their website crash under the weight of donations pouring in, multiple organizations have shared ways to protect, support, and reassure transgender and gender non-conforming children, and governors, other elected representatives, parents, and citizens have shared their own words of support and comfort.
You all probably know the poem,
- “First they came for [group of people] and I did not speak out, because I was not [part of that group of people]...
- then they came for…
- and then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak for me.
She was about six. Pink was the dominant colour, from the shoes on her crossed feet to the bow in her hair. But the white letters stood out on the black t-shirt, announcing she was “training to smash the patriarchy.” I clicked to “Like” the photo and commented that, very loosely paraphrased, that’s basically the mission of our school. One person told me that was awesome and asked where I worked. And most everyone was supportive of the mom who had posted the picture.
This past Saturday, at a memorial service for a college friend, I shared stories of her ability to stand up for herself “with just the right touch of defiance,” of her deep seated insistence on being her own authentic self, of her feminist affirmation of women.
During the all-school meeting last Friday in which we held an open discussion about the range of thoughts and feelings following the election, one of our students shared her belief that women as a whole need to believe in themselves and their gender more strongly than they now do. After the meeting, I came across this quote (abridged here) shared on Gloria Steinem's Facebook page: “So while I do not pray for anybody or any party to commit outrages, still I do pray, and that earnestly and constantly, for some terrific shock to startle the women of this nation into a self-respect which will... give them the courage and conscience to speak and act for their own freedom, though they face the scorn and contempt of all the world for doing it.” I shared it with that student, wanting her to know not only that her voice had been heard but also that she had echoed the thoughts of a feminist icon.
Over the weekend, I came across an NAIS blog post by Debra Wilson on “Taking Steps to Support Transgender Students and School Communities.” I know that for national organizations, policy statements on transgender people can be fraught with difficulty as some member schools may be part of communities who simply do not accept trans identities. (Just the other day, at the AISNE Diversity Conference, several people in a session on supporting trans students said they as LGBTQ+ adults did not feel safe coming out in their schools. And that’s in New England, a region generally considered to be more LGBTQ+ friendly than many others.) I wondered what path NAIS had chosen. It turned out to be, perhaps unsurprisingly, a somewhat tentative middle ground.