This is for every teacher who refuses to be blamed for the failure of our society to erase poverty and inequality, and refuses to accept assessments, tests and evaluations imposed by those who have contempt for real teaching and learning.
I have a lot of different girls and boys in my classes.
In fact, some of them are neither girls nor boys.
Does that mean they should be discriminated against? Does it mean we should judge them, tell them they’re somehow less valuable than the other kids? Tell them who they are by telling them where to pee?
Some kids don’t feel comfortable with a traditional gender identity. And it’s more common than you’d think.
It’s certainly more widespread than I ever would have thought until a little girl taught me a lesson… well, not a little girl, really.
A few months ago, I would have said she’s the cutest little girl in the lunch line.
Bright, vivacious, always a friendly smile and a kind word.
But she’s not a little girl.
And I didn’t know until she told me.
As a teacher given the unenviable role of line monitor, I have to find the bright spots where I can.
Letting only two hungry 5th graders in to get their lunch at a time and making the rest wait does not make you popular.
“Aaaargh! Why you always stopping me!?” They often say.
“Because you were third,” I reply.
“But why?” They often insist.
“It’s not personal. It’s numerical.”
And I let them through to continue the game tomorrow.
It goes on like that for about a half hour with little variation – until she gets to the front of the line.
“Hey, Mr. Singer!” Big smile and a wave.
And we’d be off on a conversation. She’d ask me how my day was, what I was teaching my students, how my daughter was. I’d ask how her day was so far, about pets, homework.
She’s actually not in my class. I only see her at lunch, but she always brightens my day.
For months, it went like clockwork. Until a few weeks ago when she appeared at the front of the line with her long hair chopped off into a bob.
“Nice haircut,” I said encouragingly.
“Thanks,” she replied. “You want to know why I got it?”
“Oh,” I responded cluelessly. “What’s that?”
And she proceeded to explain that she didn’t feel comfortable identifying as male or female.
I nodded and then it was time to let her get her lunch.
I’ll admit it was unsettling. Here was this cute little thing and I didn’t even know what to call her now.
But the next day things progressed as usual. Ze came through the line with the same big smile. We had the same innocuous conversation and ze went to eat.
It made me think.
I’ve been teaching for more than a decade. Ze was probably not the first transgender student I’ve met. And when I thought back to all the children who’ve come through my classes over the years, faces started to pop up and hit me.
Gender is not black and white. (Come to think of it, neither is race.) No one is 100% male or female. I mean, sure people have a fixed range of sexual parts, but gender identity is more than that.
We each feel comfortable acting and identifying certain ways, and if you think about it, some of those ways don’t always line up with our cultural gender designation.
For instance, I cry my eyes out at certain movies. My daughter – who’s 8 – heard the song “Boys Don’t Cry,” the other day and said, “Well that isn’t true. Daddy cries all the time.”
Moreover, my wife loves football, basketball and hockey. Me? I could take them or leave them. If she wants me to watch the game with her, she’s got to beg or promise or put out the right snacks.
Wouldn’t it just make sense that some people are much further to one side or other of the gender spectrum than others? Wouldn’t it just make sense that sometimes your identity and your physical parts don’t match? Or maybe you’re so in the middle that it makes no sense to take a side?
I say again, I teach in a public school. We don’t push any kids away. We take everyone. And that means taking those kids who aren’t so easy to label.
I teach middle school. Transgenderism doesn’t come up too often.
Last year when bathroom bills were all the rage, some of my 8th graders brought it up during our Socratic Seminar discussion groups. And I let them talk about it.
We talked about why some people might think this is a good idea, why some might oppose it, etc. There were some boys who were hysterically against trans students using the bathroom with them, but most of my kids had zero problem with it. In fact, they knew that it had already happened.
Trans students are everywhere. You just rarely hear about them.
I don’t know which bathroom my lunchline buddy uses. I wouldn’t presume to ask. But it hurts me that there are people out there who want to limit hir.
These children have rights. They are little sweethearts. They’re full of life and joy. We should respect their humanity.
And to those who say letting them use a bathroom that corresponds with their identity will lead to kids being molested, let me ask – has that ever really happened?
The way I see it, the problem is people – any people – molesting others, no matter what room they do it in, no matter if they’re transgender or not.
This has nothing to do with children. It has to do with old men and women who refuse to broaden their views about the world. It’s about the ancient making the young do as they say regardless of how doing so may trample on their right to be themselves.
Well, I won’t be a part of it.
You want to attack my trans students? You’ll have to do it through me.
I’m a guardian of kid’s rights. I’m a defender of children from whoever wants to do them harm.
I’m a public school teacher. That’s just what we do.