Parents with gender-fluid kids often work with schools, churches, and other institutions to use alternatives to gender for organizing kids in the classroom. Rather than dividing kids by boys and girls, use birth months or sneakers vs. sandals, or some other arbitrary distinction or characteristic. Sometimes schools are willing (and even grateful for the tip, which had often never occurred to well-meaning teachers to be problematic). Other times, schools are really uncomfortable with any implied ambiguity of gender. The same feelings are expressed that commenters here often report feeling:
*Why do you have to make such a big deal about it – are you just trying to attract attention, or letting your kid attract attention to him/herself? *Is this spoiling – no one student should get to throw a wrench in the cogs of the school day for everyone else. *Aren’t kids this age too young to even be thinking about their gender, let alone changing it? *If they are actually transgender then they should be accommodated but if it’s just a boy who wants to wear dresses or a girl who wants short hair and a tie, then they should just go with the flow.
Of course, the irony here for us parents is that we are trying to let our kids figure out who they are without pushing them falsely or prematurely into decisions about being transgender. It’s precisely their presence in a liminal space between clearly defined end points that creates discomfort. And we are trying to help keep our kids from standing out like a sore thumb. By and large, our boys and girls would like to stand out because of their excellent dance, drawing, or sports skills rather than because they look different.
Most of the time the other kids in my son’s first grade class or Sunday School group probably don’t even think about whether he’s a boy or a girl. So why draw their attention to it — an opportunity to remind them that, hey yeah, he is that boy with the really long hair who wears pink. So I was interested to read about a study recently that highlights other problems caused by drawing attention to gender in the classroom. When Teachers Highlight Gender, Kids Pick Up Stereotypes describes a study that showed kids adopt more gender stereotypes when teachers lined kids up by gender — or even said, “Good morning, boys and girls!” While that might seem surprising at first, psychologist Lynn Liben, who conducted the study, points out, “”You would never say ‘good morning black children and white children,’ or have white and black kids line up separately.” (Here’s a blog post from a female engineer talking about how those gender stereotypes have tracked her from childhood.)
Liben (a professor at Penn State) is also a co-author of the 2008 textbook, Gender Development. “The book’s primary focus is on gender role behaviors – how they develop and the roles biological and experiential factors play in their development.” This might have to go on my wish-list!
- Council may bar school kids from lining up by their sex.
- Boys and girls together: Improving gender relationships in schools.
- Consciously Parenting Facebook page