Over the past twenty years or so, our society has begun opening its mind a little bit when it comes to gender differences. Lawsuits are finally being brought forth regarding the sexual abuse and harassment of females. People are being held accountable for their derogatory and horribly offensive actions. Schools, stores, and businesses have begin making changes to their bathroom policy so that transgendered individuals, or those questioning their gender, have a safe place to relieve themselves. More women are being appointed to positions of much power while some women are earning equivalent salaries to their male counterparts. Times have certainly changed as equality is becoming more widespread.
Like all things in life, some thrive and survive while others die or transform into invasive species, sucking the marrow out of all living things nearby. While most people in our world are beginning to open their minds to possibility and difference, there are still some folks who live in ignorance. Some people struggle to accept others who are different from them. They combat knowledge and openness with hate and bias. I’m hopeful that as the world continues to change and evolve, even those people who live in denial or a state of perpetual prejudice will learn to accept all people for who they are no matter how they may express themselves.
In the classroom, I make it my personal mission to help bring light to the darkness. I work hard to educate my students so that they see people for who they are and not what they look like. I want my students to feel safe and know that they can express themselves in any way that feels right for them. If they feel like a male but are born with the reproductive organs of a female, I want them to be comfortable expressing their gender in an appropriate and male way, for them. I want my students to accept all people as they learn to embrace the differences that make the world so fun and interesting. In order to live meaningful lives in a global society, my students need to understand the importance of seeing all sides and perspectives of an issue or person.
Today during health class, we discussed the difference between gender and biological sex, as I want my students to see that gender isn’t about the reproductive organs one is born with; it’s about how one feels. The boys asked some curious questions, as they do every year. They often become fixated on gender versus sexual orientation. One boy today asked, “If a girl feels like a boy and is attracted to girls but then gets the surgery to become a boy and is still sexually attracted to girls, is that person gay?” So, I broke down the question into its various parts as I helped the boys to see the differences between biological sex, gender, and sexual orientation. I then walked this student through his scenario to help him answer his own question. The students seemed to understand these complex ideas as they began opening their minds to the possibilities that exist.
Then came the fixed mindset, which happens every year. There seems to be one student in every class who carries his biases with him into the classroom. It can be difficult for people to open their minds and broaden their perspectives if they wear a shield of close-mindedness. While this one student did attempt to pose his thoughts to the class in an appropriate manner, I could see the thinly veiled bias and fixed mindset through his words. He said, “All this gender and transgendered stuff seems to be very opinion-based. Why should the world change just to suit the requests of other people who feel different? Why can’t those people figure it out and learn to fit in like everyone else? I don’t think we should be talking about such a controversial topic.” Rather than flip out on this student, I paused for a moment before responding, and then said, “While there is much opinion involved in talking about issues of gender, the reason we are discussing it in class is because it’s controversial. I don’t want to hide the truth from you. I want you to see the world for all its beauty. Differences make the world go round.” I then addressed the idea of having a fixed mindset when discussing and learning about issues of difference, especially around sexual orientation and gender. Another student then added to the conversation by talking about how gender is an internal feeling and people can’t always control how they feel. “People need to be able to express themselves according to how they feel,” he said. This was great, as it wasn’t just me addressing this one student who seemed to possess a bit of a fixed mindset regarding today’s topic. At the end of class, the student who seemed a bit closed to new ways of thinking did come and speak with me about what he had said, to clarify confusion. I had a good chat with him about differences and why it’s so important to accept people for who they are no matter what they may look like on the outside. He seemed to get it. I love it. It’s nice when students are able to move from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset.
As this issue of gender and sex is still quite the hot topic in society today, it’s my job as a teacher to help my students become aware and knowledgeable on all of this information. This does mean that I do need to challenge some of my students to see the world from another perspective. Not every person is going to be open and accepting of everything I say or try to teach them, but I do need to help all of my students see the power in education and acceptance. The more we know, the broader our flashlight beam of perspective will be as we navigate the world around us. I want to be sure that my students are prepared to interact with all types of people while feeling comfortable digging into big and personal issues regarding sexual orientation and gender.