Sunday, February 7, 2021

Supporting Trans and Non-Binary Students

In 2012, I wrote an article for Teaching Tolerance (now called Learning for Justice) entitled When Boys Love Barbie. It told of a young boy in my preschool class who loved to wear a shimmery wedding gown. He also wanted a Barbie doll for Christmas. This caused some conflict within his family because he was not conforming to societal expectations of what was appropriate behavior for little boys. 

I like to think that in the intervening years there has been a shift in understanding and acceptance of gender non-conforming students. I'm not sure that this is generally true, but there are certainly more resources (websites, children's books, workbooks, etc.) available to address the topic of gender expression. 

One is a reflective workbook by D. M. Maynard for teachers and support staff designed to help them "navigate supporting the gender journeys of their transgender, non-binary, and/or gender questioning students." It's an area many of us are unfamiliar and/or uncomfortable with for myriad reasons - the unknowns, the sensitivities, the fear of saying or doing something that is unintentionally hurtful or offensive. 

This workbook educates through games, exercises, and vignettes. It leaves us no room to close the door and pretend that issues surrounding gender do not exist because this workbook takes away the power of our excuses. It leads educators gently through the labyrinth of unknowns. These issues exist. Shouldn't we all be equipped to provide the support, guidance, and respect our students deserve. It may not be easy for us, but it's not easy for them either.

Of course, near and dear to my heart are children's books and D. M. Maynard even includes several titles in the Resources section, such as It Feels Good to Be Yourself: A Book About Gender Identity by Theresa Thorn and Be Who You Are by Jennifer Carr. 

I also have some other children's books that can help open up a discussion with students about their own attitudes and viewpoints on issues of gender expression. 

They include Julián is a Mermaid and Julián at the Wedding by Jessica Love. They are exceptional in showcasing unconditional acceptance and support in the face of nontraditional expressions of gender. 

Sparkle Boy by Lesléa Newman and Annie's Plaid Shirt by Stacey B. Davids are both great for breaking gender stereotypes around clothing and what it means to be a "boy" or "girl". They allow us to see that gender identity is what you feel and not what you present.

Finally, check out Bunnybear by Andrea J. Loney. Bunnybear was born a bear but feels more like a bunny inside. He is misunderstood by the bears and the bunnies. He must try to find a way to fit in, while also staying true to who he is on the inside. 

As a student, Tiana, in my children's literature course wrote last semester about the book, "It is a great introduction to discussions on gender and identity because it allows for the initial conversation about feeling different than others without having to explain or go into depth about specific gender identities and terms. It brings up interesting questions like 'How do I stay true to myself' and 'How do I make friends with people who aren't like me' for students to think about and discuss before diving deeper."

Kudos to D. M. Maynard on her three-book series for partners, parents, and teachers of transgender and non-binary individuals. You can learn more about her books, workshops, retreats, and speaking engagements by contacting her at  


Debby said...

I live in a rural area. One of my friend's children is transitioning. While Silas' decision is supported within his own family, school has been difficult. A teacher stood before the class and stated matter of factly that he was homophobic. The children in the classroom turned to Silas to see what his reaction would be.

The decision has been made to homeschool Silas. He is taking a lot of guff from some of the other kids (last year he was a cheerleader). But when the adults cannot be trusted to handle the situation, what hope is there for the kids? I'm going to send a link to site to my friend.

Gary said...

Hi Debby,

The actions of the teacher are disturbing and unfortunate. Attitudes are slowly changing and folks are getting more educated, but society has barely placed a toe on the road to tolerance and acceptance. Please do have your friend check out D. M. Maynard's workbooks. They will lead to other sources of information as well.

I hope things work out for Silas and he finds happiness and support. Having his family support him will give him more courage and peace.



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