California Educator

March 2017

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is 13. S h e l o v e s p h o t o g r a p h y, d a n c e cl ass and g ymnastics. S h e i s fri end ly, s m a r t , a n d l i k e m a n y g i r l s h e r a g e sometimes giggly. W h e n s h e w a s b o r n , h e r p a r e n t s assumed she was a boy. But deep inside, she "always knew" she was a girl. Even at age 2, she wanted to dress up as a prin- cess and play with dolls. At age 4, she informed her parents that she was a girl, not a boy, and they accepted her as a daughter. " We didn't know what to expect, but Lilly, with all her strength and courage, brought us along," says her father, Eric Ni l sson , a form er t each er and retired school principal . "She told us, ' This is who I am.' She led the way." Her mother, Julie Nilsson, a Title I coor- dinator and member of the Chico Unified Teachers Association (CUTA), was also supportive of the transition. "It's not a choice," she explains. " We have to honor a child who expresses who they are and how they want the world to see them." Classrooms more gender-diverse Tr a n s g e n d e r s t u d e n t s l i k e L i l l y a r e becoming more common in classrooms, expressing their authentic selves at ear- lier ages, sometimes even in preschool, say CTA members. ere is no hard data on the numbers, but a 2015 survey in Wis- consin found that 1.5 percent of students identified as transgender. People who are transgender identify dif- ferently from the sex they were assigned at birth based on their anatomy. Some c omp are it to b ein g " trapp ed " in th e wrong body. When a student transitions to the gender they identify with, they often change their name, pronoun, hairstyle and clothing. Their transition may include taking hormones to prevent the "wrong" puberty from taking place, or surger y. However, not all transgender individuals seek medical care as part of their transi- tion or have access to such care. "At the beginning of the year, I learned that I had a transgender student in my classroom," recalls Dawn Davis, an English teacher at Chico Junior High, located in a rural Northern California college town. "Shortly afterward, I had another trans student come out to me. Later, I was introduced to a third. Two of the three were female to male. Prior to this year, I had never been aware of any trans- gender students." D a v i s , a m e m b e r o f C U TA , d o e sn' t a sk stu - d e n t s a b o u t g e n d e r o r separate them into boys and girls when l i n i n g u p o r c h o o s i n g t e a m s . W h e n Lilly shared at at the beginning of the year th at sh e wa s tran s gen d er, D av i s reacted positively. "I said, 'at's fantastic! What can I do to help you feel safe and comfortable at school?' at was a gift she gave me — the gift of trust." Where students fit on the gender spectrum People who are transgender have received lots of media attention, but it is just one option on the gender spectrum, which has expanded from the binary system of two genders (male and female) to being "gen- der expansive" with a range of identities and expressions. Students may identify: • As "gender nonconforming," because their gender expression falls outside what is considered typical for their assigned sex at birth. • With both genders as "ambigender." • With neither gender as "agender" or non-binary gender. • As "gender fluid," not having a fixed gender. • As "questioning," which means they are unsure of or exploring their gender identity. " It 's something I think people should know about , so they can understand. We are just like anybody else — and want to be treated like anybody else." — TRANSGENDER STUDENT LILLY, AGE 13 THE PRONOUNS Feminine: she, her, hers, herself Masculine: he, him, his, himself Gender-neutral: they, them, their, themself; ze, hir, hirs, hirself (pronounced zee, hear, hears) 21 March 2017

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