In Humanities 7 classes, the students design most of the units and, along with group work, choose individual Focus Questions to explore. For a recent unit on Education, Beatrice '20 chose "Should we teach gender in schools?" and created the essay below as a basis for her in-class presentation, which generated a thoughtful and moving discussion.
At Stoneleigh-Burnham, we support religious freedom and ask that all members of the community be treated with respect. I should be clear in that context that Beatrice pointed out during her presentation that she does not believe the family mentioned in the first paragraph represents all Christians, or even all Catholics. And later on, the point was specifically made that many Christians embrace the full spectrum of gender and sexuality with love.
As does this class.
With Beatrice's permission, then, here is her essay.
- Bill Ivey
“Gender needs to be taught in schools, the earlier the better. My death needs to mean something,” was written in the suicide note of 17 year old transgender girl, Leelah Alcorn. “My death needs to be counted in the number of transgender people who commit suicide this year. I want someone to look at that number and say ‘that’s f---ed up’ and fix it. Fix society. Please.” Leelah was a mistreated girl from an oppressive Catholic family. Her family's disapproval of her transgenderism caused her to commit suicide last year. It was this and even more recent death of a transgender boy named Zander, that ignited something in my mind. A fire called injustice burned. They weren't even adults yet and they died because of ignorant people, bullying, and no one being there to help them. This turned something over in me because I knew that this wouldn't have had to happen if someone had helped them and accepted them. Why no one did, I don't know. So should we teach gender in schools? There are positives and negatives to teaching it. But think, if kids were taught how to deal with this in school, how to help friends with their problems then maybe we could start on 'fixing society' as Leelah requests. But on the other hand, considering this would be an entirely new topic, how can we teach to young kids and explain to them what it means to feel that you are not who your chromosomes tell you to be?
Trans girl Leelah Alcorn felt the same way. I said quite a bit about her already, but I'd like to go into specifics on her death and reasons surrounding it. Like many people, Leelah feels she was born the way she is, as a girl not a boy. For a long time she kept the "girl" in her silent, repressing her transsexualism. At the age of fourteen, she learned what it meant to be transsexual and cried of happiness. There was finally a word to describe her and she immediately told her mother. Leelah's mother reacted adversely. Her parents didn't believe in transsexualism, denouncing it as a phase and saying that God doesn't make mistakes. "Even if you are Christian or against transgender people don't ever say that to someone, especially your kid. It won't do anything but make them hate them self." She was depressed from her parents telling her she was wrong and repressing her. Leelah was taken to Catholic therapists who only repeated the same things her parents did, "You're wrong and selfish." It was this, she said, that caused her to consider taking her life. On December 28, she walked into oncoming traffic and died on impact. To this day her parents continue to be misguided and address her by the birth name of Josh. It was her parents, she wrote, that caused her to die. Possibly if her parents had learned how to deal with this then they could have helped her through this.
The main pro of educating children is that they will be taught how to help friends or family through coming out and transitioning. The support of others is what matters most when you're making drastic decisions and changes in your life. Also, learning at a young age what other ways you can identify is beneficial for children who know when they are very little that they are LGBTQ. As many people have said, "I knew since I was a kid that I was different." There is actually some science proving this. Gender comes from from the mind, not necessarily the body and from the first few years of life children can recognize and identify with gender. (Good Morning America news broadcast about gender.) So kids can identify at young ages and helping them then is better than only recognizing it at a later age. This is not only beneficial to LGBTQ kids, it also helps straight/cis kids. When cisgender people are educated on diversity within gender they are more likely to accept transgender people. This is important for a positive future with less discrimination for LGBTQ people. Also, we need to teach this to prepare children of all gender identities to be safe and responsible within their identity. Or, "To only teach about one sexual orientation, to ignore gender minorities, and to suggest that a heterosexual marriage is the only acceptable relationship for sexual activity makes invisible the experiences of LGBTQ people and presents an inaccurate view of human sexuality," as it was put best in the Huffington Post article, 5 Reasons Schools Should Adopt LGBTQ-inclusive Sex Ed. My final reason why gender should be taught in school is that it can help people clear up their own questions of their identity. When you are in Middle/High School, you are growing up and learning about your identity and where you stand in the vast gender spectrum. To teach gender in schools, people with questions would learn the correct terms and find names for what they feel. Also, they have the resource of teachers and guidance counselors to aid them on their journey of finding who they truly are.
This is actually one of the reasons that we shouldn't teach gender in schools. If gender was taught in schools and children were bombarded with terms and new ideas, they might start doubting themselves. To some, it might be a revelation, uncovering something buried deep inside you. To others, it might be terrifying, or even a mixture of both. My experience with thinking of the 'what if…' is that it's scary, thinking, "How will my parents, friends, family, and church react?" and knowing that it would be negative. If this idea was brought to young children who speak their mind constantly, this could be a problem, as a child's spur-of-the-moment decision could change how the relatives and neighbors look at them and the next decision would change everything again. Along with this, there is violating religious beliefs. Some religions teach that anything other than cisgender is bad and should be frowned upon. If kids are being told that transgender should be accepted and embraced then they could be violating their families' faith. As the old saying goes, "Better safe than sorry." Then comes the idea of creating a new curriculum for that is appropriate for kids, trying to decide what can be included and what should be left out. Making this brand new lesson from scratch will be difficult for school boards where some of the adults are as new to gender as diversity as the kids. Do we really need to go through all this for the new generation? We've been doing okay without. In this age of the Internet and Wikipedia, gender variant pre-teens have access to the sources to learn about it themselves.
Is it worth it to teach gender in school? Though I do believe myself that gender is something that should be at least touched on in schools, both beliefs are valuable as opinions, with points as possibly offending parents of a different religion and helping kids through transitioning. But we must remember that even if you believe that everyone is cisgender you don't treat any trans person badly. They are still people. Leelah and Zander were still people, people who were more than just a label; they had friends, feelings and personalities. "People say 'it gets better' but that isn't true in my case. It gets worse. Each day I get worse." said Leelah. I hope no one will have to say that again. I hope that one day, through education, we can overcome biases and live peacefully alongside the LGBTQ community.