Alex Blaze

Unconventional wisdom on trans stories in schools

Filed By Alex Blaze | January 10, 2011 1:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: education policy, gender policing, Joanne Herman, schools, transgender, transphobia, transsexual

Joanne Herman on the Huffington Post argues that children should be introduced to the concept of transsexualism in schools:

Canadian School Bus. Woodstock , Toronto . March-2006Critics will cry that introducing all children to the concept of transgender people will cause children to "become transgender." But the authors found that schooling has little impact on gender identity development in children. In fact, children who develop a transgender identity seem to do so in spite of often unwitting but nevertheless pervasive efforts by schools to enforce gender conformity.

Kennedy and Hellen believe that school efforts do have a consequence, however. Transgender children learn very quickly that being transgender is "not acceptable," and so they conceal their identity, even from family members, to avoid suffering socially. As a result of fearfully suppressing their identity for such a long period, "many of these children achieve well below their abilities at school, leave school early, are more likely to self-harm or attempt suicide, and more likely to suffer from mental health issues in early adulthood."

By having schools introduce the concept of transgender people to all children, the authors assert, transgender children will "feel they are not alone and that their gender identity is as valid as any other." This will, in turn, greatly diminish the damaging consequences currently observed as these children mature.

Judging from the comments there, this isn't something people are ready to go along with, but I'm really wondering why. Do they think that reading a story about a trans person, even once in 12 years of education, will turn kids trans? Or is it more like the objections to gay men in teaching, about recruitment, if you know what I mean....

I'm a big advocate of public education and public education being used to its fullest. A decent education isn't just about teaching kids to read and fill in the right bubble on a standardized test (not that there's anything inherently wrong with standardized testing). It should also help kids grow up into well-adjusted adults who are at least aware of the other people who they're going to be sharing the planet with throughout their lives.

So I don't blame the schools quite as much as Herman does for fostering gender policing when it's clearly a larger problem that has its sources elsewhere. It's not like people go to school as completely blank slates on LGBT issues and then learn what's acceptable behavior there. Schools are filled with people who get their ideas elsewhere and often try to avoid topics that will get mean phone calls from parents, even if those parents are wrong. But, just like when it comes to homophobia, schools are in a unique position to fight the transphobia that comes from the rest of society.

And schools can help young people who are themselves transgender at least have some understanding of what they're feeling. The study Herman cites says that there's "an average delay of 7.5 years between becoming aware of one's transgender or gender variant nature, and learning any words with which to describe it," and there's no reason for that. Reading a book about a trans person might help those kids better understand what's going on, which, while not one of the three R's, is kind of the whole reason there's literature.


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Great points, thanks Alex

I feel very lucky to be in a University setting where my peers and I can find language that was denied to us during our K-12 education. I don't take it for granted.

I think most ppl who oppose teaching acceptance of transness want the same thing as those who oppose acceptance of gayness: To maintain the pressure on gay/trans kids to never, ever come out, but to live as good little str8s, and to teach the str8 kids to keep the pressure on in the next generation.

This issue is directly leading to many children who are trans to feeling suicidally isolated and helpless. It's my belief (based partly on my own experience) that a sizable number of child/teen suicides are by kids who are trans but can't even wrap their own mind around it much less tell others what's going on. They die and adults or friends (who don't really know their situation) just mutter "oh, he kept to himself."

I recall lying in bed at night shivering and feeling scared my parents would throw me out of the house if they know what I really was. And, as the study says, it can take a long time for trans people to have any idea about why they're so miserable. The Internet helps but, unfortunately, if you Google transsexual, you're going to get a whole lot of porn links, snarkiness and people who aren't even trans. It's an overwhelming place for a child to find information about their most vulnerable feelings.

No, schools are overwhelmingly hostile places for trans issues both from school boards, administrators and teachers, and the overly protective parents who try to filter the real world from their children.

Definately Gina.

The evidence presented to the NSW Parliamentary Forum on Homophobic Bullying In Schools by Liz from the Gender Centre and Gina Wilson of OII was that indeed the impact on Transgender (broad spectrum Transgender, not just Transsexuals) and Intersex was very much connected to the suicide rate in those communities. The forum heard that violence experienced by Transgender and Intersex youth was more frequent and more extreme than that experienced by GLB/Same Sex Attracted youth, and that's just after we had sat through a shocking amount of data and experiences of how bad that was. The role ignorance about Trans and Intersex students played in leading authorities like teachers to exacerbate and worsen the problems of TG and IS students and the harm done from the exclusion of TG and IS in many of the studies and efforts and programs to that point was also made clear.

Currently the NSW state Teachers Federation are working on their own programs to tackle these issues and from what i've heard so far from a friend who is a teacher involved in that programs development hopefully it will be properly Trans and Intersex inclusive. As for an official State Department of Education response well that will likely not be till after the upcoming election. I'm also waiting to hear back on a federal level after my local MP who happens to also be one of 3 Independants holding the balance of power in a hung parliament sent on my concerns on the matter of funding proper inclusive programs to the federal school funding inquiry and he has promised to pass on to me any reply once he receives one.

I find it curious that you use the term "transsexualism", Alex. Personally, I welcome that, I think. I have read Joanne Herman's last two articles. She never uses anything but "transgender". I have found that upsetting, especially in light of the fact that GLAD worked very hard to have Gender Identity Disorder written into U S law. I understand all the arguments but I am still convinced this is not a good thing.

I, also, find it very ironic that today you wrote about the third gender designation written into Nepalese law. I went to bed last night upset about Joanne Herman's article and an article that appeared in The Edge Boston:
http://www.edgeboston.com/news/114760/
about Norrie May Welby, where Walter Bockting, the expert witness in the U S Tax Court decision from WPATH, is quoted and, seemingly, enthusiastic about the notion of a third sex. There are some who are very critical of WPATH for seeming to be engaged in a concerted effort to erase the concept of transsexualism. I am one who does not want to be herded into a third sex category and that is what I hear in the expression transgender when it is used to replace the word transsexualism.

Herman links to a paper by Natascha Kennedy where she uses the expression "transgendered" which a lot of people, who consider themselves transgender, find upsetting. All these things are confusing and work to make a person, like me, very anxious, who has spent a lifetime reading between the lines trying to grasp inferences into what people are saying and who has also had trouble with the gendered labels imposed upon them. I have wasted a good part of another day trying to determine just where all this is going to leave me and anyone else who feels like I do, whether they are young or old.

I was born in Tennessee where they will not allow a change in sex designation on my birth certificate. Aleshia Brevard was the last one to have hers corrected. I think that was in 1977. She has been legally married a few times, I believe. It seems all of these things were a lot easier to sort out in the beginning. Just have your sex change, live in your new sex and work out your sexual orientation from there, except for the fact that people weren't as prepared for the possibility they might be born transsexual or transgender and be able to do something about it as we are able to, today.

But, getting back to transsexualism in childhood, Joanne Herman's HuffPo article, how early transsexualism manifests itself, and how to distinguish between transsexualism and effeminate, feminine, tomboyish or masculine behavior confuses me. Kenneth Zucker has been criticized for what amounts to engaging in gay reparative therapy among the very high percentage of children who are brought to him who eventually turn out not to be transsexual but most often gay.

Bottom line for me is that I think sex education is important. I think the study of the wide variety in human sex diversity should be required in biology class at the high school level and begun in middle school. There are many chromosomal and genetic variations which are glossed over. I think diversity in sex orientation should definitely be covered, along with intersex, transsexualism, transgender expression and the differences between between all these things. I think Heather and Her Two Mommies could be adapted to a story about a child who had two parents where one or both had a sex change or was intersex and maybe adopted or simply where one or both liked to dress up in clothes of the opposite gender, to prepare children for any and all the possibilities life offers in a non-judgmental way.

I'm very old, however, and still confused about what people mean when the conflicting terminology that exists is used. I don't think the friction that exists between everyone over terminology and concepts is helpful toward anyone young or old understanding who and what they are.

I'm sorry about another long reply but I think, transsexualism, transgender expression, intersex and sexual orientation are all words and expressions which represent concepts along with the concepts of "third gender", gender binaries, and gender spectrums . What is it we should be teaching children about these things in the first place? If there were more unity with an acceptance of each other's differences and needs, I think it would be much easier to confront the elements in society who resist.

Do Bi-Gender Identity people not face this issue too? I can tell you from personal experience that yes they do.

Does the Identity of my friend norrie and do I and does my partner and many of my friends not have the right to having our identities recognised too?

It's worth my pointing out that I know Intersex people with Bi-Gender Identities.

Thats not about erasing anything, it's about recognising the reality of Bi-Gender Identity. If you think about it what would a moderate or mild case of Transsexualism seem like? After all Autism for example occurs in degrees.

Be sure to read this http://aebrain.blogspot.com/2008/06/bigender-and-brain.html

What are the differences between Intersex Transsexualism and Transgender? I know people who fit in between and/or across most ways of defining these categories. But teaching diversity, presenting children with multiple examples, that's not so hard.

After all with 1 in 500 people estimated as Transsexual (Lynn Conway), with 4% of people being born Intersex (Peter Koopman), with at least 3% of schoolchildren surveyed identifying other than male or female (Writing Themselves In 3, Lynn Hillier, LaTrobe University), with at least 2%-3% of males being crossdressers (APA) and other figures going as high as 10%-20% (Thai school principal of the school that put in a transgender toilet) then it's safe to say this is an issue for every single school.

Hi Bayne,

I wanted to let this thread go. I went back to it to go over my writing errors. I am aware of all your figures. I am simply concerned about the imposition of a third gender when humankind is still sorted out into two sexes. Believe me, I have given this plenty of thought. Transsexualism exists. The proof is in the pudding. It is not the same thing as transgender. I don't understand why Norrie feels the way she does. She, as is everyone else, entitled to be who they are. I am not questioning that. I have friends who are karyotypically intersex who feel a balance between the feminine and masculine or feel themselves something akin to what might be understood as two spirit. There's a difference, however.

I don't understand Norrie's situation very well. I mentioned her story because of the context in which it appeared along with the comments by Bockting, the organization he is involved with, his testimony for the legal group Joanne Herman represents, the way "Gender Identity Disorder" has been written into U S law as a possible legal precedent, it's implications involving sex determination, etc.

The standards of care are written under the guidance of the endocrine society which is intimately involved with LWPES which was the force behind the Chicago Consensus Statement on the Management of Intersex "Disorders", which is all about sex assignment, which has many implications that reach much further than "gender expression". "Third gender" according to these doctors means that you're still a boy if we get together and say you are, or vice versa, but we'll let you revel in your fantasy, maybe.

If you will notice, there is a recurring motif. Anything that contradicts the constructs of the medical profession is a "disorder". So, I don't know how off topic I have gone. Everything holds together, it seems to me. Joanne Herman is talking about education. She represents an organization that promotes the idea that people who are transsexual, intersex and transgender are "disordered". My question remains the same. What should we be teaching school children?

I have been reassigned female. The state of Tennessee won't recognize that fact. It isn't right that they won't. How many more people should I have to contend with? If the issue is sex assignment, I wish people who are transgender or bi-gender or what have you, consider binary sex classification oppressive, it should be taken up with the public at large, who seem very content with their assignments and question the validity of those assignments; rather than dissecting, by inference and dismissiveness, the bodies and brains of those who have been made male or female through modern medical techniques. It is not just transsexual people who are only "so male" or "so female" and it isn't only in their heads that they are.

The main question would be when do you provide the education age wise. I remember reading about a study following 54 or so male children identified at an early age as non-conforming to traditional male gender expression at an early age. Later in life 44 or so grew up and identified as gay and only one (1) identified as transgender.

The homobigots would have a field day. And as we have seen, for some, training at home can overcome education at school. Since gay self awareness, from some studies, forms at a later age than gender identity, transsexuals would be aided the most with early training. For me, my gender identity has been male, but it was not until my very late 20's that I identified that my gender expression has been heavily female, and that was why I had trouble finding a girlfriend and later a wife.

So the education could help some kids realize who they really are, but it also gives the kids being taught by their homobigit parents more fodder for bullying. Some kids may also lose some hope when they see they are not "normal" but are instead transgendered. I didn't know I was transgendered, I just thought I was a little bit different, and like so many on crossdressers.com, I thought marriage or a girlfriend would cure me. But that kind of TG training is beyond education schools could provide, so is some education OK even if it may create lies of omission due to constraints?

Starting in kindergarten I was around Intersexed kids. Some were more, some less. A few of us went a long ways before we learned words like
'Intersexed' and 'Transgendered'.
Would it have helped if those schools that I had the most problems with had some kind of ciriculum and additional training for the teachers to make my life a little bit easier when I needed it most.

Also, I did make a post at Huffington Post but made it past the mod's. ...gotta love that...

All I can contribute is that a family member who teaches 7th and 8th grade English had her first trans (MtF) student last year, and right away turned to a (you know who) family member for advice.

My point, then and now, is that the best way to handle it was to treat her like any other kid in the class, in the identity she self-identifies in, as a way to make sure that she was *not* targeted for being treated differently because she was different. Leach the situation of drama, provide strong moral leadership, and people adapt.

I won't pretend to know every outcome would be great, but it appears this one went really very well. At the end of the year, the student was very grateful to my cousine in particular, because she had been the teacher who accepted her as normal, and moved on.

Wish there were a like button, Christina - uplifting story.

Because of my age, I have an opinion that I believe is worth sharing. During my early years I thought I was the only person in the world who now would be considered to be trans. The first I knew there were others was when I learned of Christine Jorgenson in 1952. A couple of years ago when I attended a luncheon at the Southern Comfort conference with hundreds of other transpersons, I was nearly overwhelmed by the sight of so many other like-minded persons.

In my opinion, teachers need to be trained to recognize gender variant students, and there needs to be more resources available to address these issues so the children can avoid alienation and bullying. Our right wing friends need to know that being gender variant is not a moral issue. It simply is who we are.

My first thought is that this might be the best way, educate the teachers. Lets just hope the teachers use it positively and not against the children.

Alex, the link to Joanne's article didn't seem to work.

Just a girl...

I was born a girl.

The first time I found out that there were other girls born looking like boys "down there" was a David Susskind Show that aired at 2:30 AM on a Sunday morning. Material not suitable for prime time, much less morning talk shows.

I also learned, at that time, that there was a word for us, transsexual. So that much was settled.

I, too, am glad to have the word resurrected, as I do not identify as trans or transgender. I identify as a woman. A girl all grown up and still growing.

Alex, download Writing Themselves In 3 by LaTrobe University. You'll find that worth reporting on too!