Gender is something which a lot of people take for granted as a simple thing. Society judges people instantly, identifying the gender they are assumed to be based on the sex they were born as, and forms opinions of them partially based on that. For many people though, around the world and at IACS, gender isn’t as simple as people are brought up to believe.
Sex and gender are often used synonymously but in fact have very different meanings. Most people are born biologically either male or female, although not all. These physical categories are called a person’s sex. Gender, on the other hand, is a person’s identity such as male, female, agender, or others. Gender and sex are often the same for people, this is the gender norm.To be non–binary, gender nonconforming, or transgender, indicates that your sex and your gender are not the same.
Coping with having a non–binary identity can be really difficult for people. As sophomore and transgender girl, Allison Frechette said, “Everything in my life is related to it [my identity]. I have to think and breathe trans at this point, in order to just stay sane and safe. Everything is a struggle.”
Being outside of the norm of what most people expect or having a non–binary gender is something which terrifies many people, both those who are and aren’t transgender. This fear can result in of bullying, unkindness, and prejudice towards people who don’t conform to the gender binary.
Gender is all around us, from bathrooms to clothes to so much more. Because gender is so ingrained in society, if you are different in some way from what people expect it is not something that you can ever forget. “I think it is just a really hard thing to have your identity thrown in your face constantly,” said IACS Teacher and Leader of the IACS Gay Straight Alliance (GSA), Conor Weiss.
Discovering your identity is something which all people go through in one way or another, especially as teenagers. The process of realizing that you don’t conform to the gender norm is different for every person who goes through it. For Sophomore Ryan Lefrancois, who identifies as agender, it was a matter of meeting someone else who had already broken through gender barriers. “I met someone from outside of school and they said that they were transgender and explained it all to me and that it made me really happy and I was like, ‘Yeah that’s what I am.’”
Transgender at IACS
Although The Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) reports that 80% of transgender students feel unsafe at school because of their gender expression, transgender students at IACS have reported differently.
“At school I feel like I’m getting a lot of support and it’s really nice.” said Lefrancois.
Kai O’Fallon, who identifies as agender, and prefers the pronouns “ze, zer, zeir, and zim” has said, “Teachers have been very respectful of my preferred name and my preferred pronouns which is been so fantastic and actually a great surprise. I didn’t expect as much support especially from authority figures so it was very nice having that support.”
.“With people who I’m not really that close with, it’s mostly been like they haven’t caught the memo that I changed my names and pronouns and such but when they do they are respectful of it so overall it’s been a pretty supportive and surprisingly pleasant experience.” said O’Fallon on how zer peers interact with zim.
“It’s been really good, this is the first place I’ve come out (aside from coming out online), everyone was pretty accepting, they knew what I was talking about even though I barely knew anything, it was a normal thing at that point. There’s the issue with a few people not being accepting, but for the most part it’s been good,” said Sophomore Allison Frechette, who recognizes as female.
On March 11 of this year, the staff received training on transgender and gender nonconforming students. It was led by GSA Advisors, Conor Weiss and Lise Brody.
“I had heard students talk about how they didn’t feel completely comfortable and safe in their classes. I didn’t think any of my colleagues had been intentionally disrespectful but I felt like I had some expertise I could share that would help to raise awareness and help my colleagues to make their classes feel like a more comfortable space for gender nonconforming kids.” said Brody when asked about the reasoning for the training. The training was engineered to help the school improve its classroom environments for transgender and gender nonconforming students.
The training addressed ways in which teachers could make their classrooms safer and more supportive places. The lesson included a section about taking gender assumptions, such as assuming what gender a person identifies as based on their appearance without confirmation from the individual. One of the most important parts of the training was about respect: respecting identities, choices, and modeling respect for students.
“I think the value of it [the staff training] was really setting a high standard for our faculty in terms of how we take care of our students, and to honor and recognize all genders. Some things that we took away from the training were acknowledging what’s safe for some students in some spaces might not be safe for some students in other spaces, and to really just go to the student and ask them what they prefer, and that no matter your own personal beliefs, that our job as teachers is to support students, including of course, transgender students,” said IACS History Teacher Beth Olesen.
Weiss and Brody left the training feeling confident. “It was great. Everyone on this faculty is great, and I felt like everyone was there in such a open minded and open hearted way, and everyone there wanted information that can help our kids.” said Brody.
“I think that as a faculty, anytime you invest time and energy in doing a training, it’s a statement as a community value, and so to state as a community we value taking care of transgender students I think is an important thing,” said Olesen.
On May 28, Head of School Greg Orpen emailed the IACS Community informing them of gender–neutral bathrooms coming to our school.
“One of the biggest challenges that students who identify as transgender face on a daily basis, in school and in other public places, is making a choice of which bathroom to use. Nationwide these experiences can range from confusing to embarrassing to unsafe. To that end, we are in the final stages of converting a bathroom, previously assigned to boys, to a gender neutral bathroom” the email stated.
“Although bathrooms may seem like a small thing, part of every day, something that not many people want to do in school, that little thing can help someone get through their day,” said Sophomore Katherine Shapiro. Shapiro is on the guiding committee of the GSA which helps to make decisions for the LGBTQSA choice block and lunch group, which pushed for the gender–neutral bathroom.
There has been a large amount of controversy among IACS students over these bathrooms. Many people have been misinformed about various points.
Expense, for example, was a question for many people. No bathrooms will be built, no plumbing will be changed.
Some people also think that the bathrooms are only going to be for transgender and gender nonconforming students. In fact, according to members of LGBTQSA, the bathrooms are intended for everyone. They are meant to be a safe space not just for transgender kids but for all students.
Many people have expressed discomfort with the idea of a bathroom like this in the school. Although the bathroom will be open to everyone, nobody will be required to to use it. Only the third floor bathrooms will be converted. Every other bathroom in the school will stay the same.
The White House has also recently added their own gender–neutral bathroom. Bathrooms like these have been spreading. Many colleges have one, or even all of their bathrooms gender neutral. (See page 2 for The Innovator’s stand on gender–neutral bathrooms)
IACS is working hard to make the school more aware of and safer for gender issues. Through staff training, new bathrooms, and extensive work by the school’s GSA, a lot of change has come to this school. “There’s always more that can be done around any issue, but I think we’ve taken some great steps this year.” said Brody.