SARAH REECE AND DAMLA CEHRELI
“A student will have to work hard if he wants to do well.”
“Pair up with a member of the opposite sex.”
“Boys and girls, pay attention!”
“Tell your mom and dad to sign this.”
Everyday, phrases like these are rattled off, instinctual and nondescript, casual and unnoticed by most speakers and listeners. A mouthful of them are tossed in our direction, during every lecture by our teachers, and we are inclined not to question them. They are accepted.
But that doesn’t mean they are right. These are generalizations and assumptions, pushing us with our inherent, legitimate diversities to conform for verbal convenience.
What most of us don’t hear in these phrases is a visceral tug of alienation that some might be feeling.
For a large number of people who identify with genders or sexualities outside of the majority, hearing things like “Men and women are made for one another” can evoke anything from a cringing frustration to a silent wedge, ballooning like a tumor between individual and group.
As part of the Pinewood family, we are also part of the Pinewood bubble. This means we haven’t been exposed to the level of diversity that other schools might possess.
In this article, we hope to gather students, teachers, parents, girls, boys– people– into one united audience for the sake of gaining another necessary fragment of worldly awareness.
Maybe not now, but someday, there will be a little sevie, scared and unsure, hoping this new school will be welcoming to someone who isn’t a he or a she. And when that individual comes, we want to be aware and prepared. We want to be that welcoming school for them. Yes, them.
“They” is a gender neutral pronoun that we can all get used to using. Yes, we’re familiar with it as a plural pronoun, but it can also be used when we don’t know someone’s gender, or when a person defines themselves as neither a boy nor a girl.
Assuming everyone to be “he or she” overlooks those who identify as genderqueer, agender, genderfluid, or any of the many other identities that do not conform to the outdated binary of “he or she.” (If any of these terms fluster you, wewould like to redirect you to the Internet for more indepth information). “They” in this sense is conjugated the same way it is when used as a plural pronoun that we are familiar with.
Take a look: “My best friend is Sammy. They are unbeatable at 2048 and also happen to be non-binary gendered.” See how easy it is? Having “they” in our vocabulary as a gender-neutral pronoun is one very nice way to put one very nice sevie at ease.
Say you are making a new friend, and you aren’t sure of their gender, but you want to find out. Guessing is very possibly offensive, and avoiding the subject could deny you a new buddy. All you have to do is ask.
It’s as simple and awkward as asking your friend’s mom if you should call her Mrs. Jenner or just Kris. You hesitate, afraid she’ll be insulted or annoyed. And yet, when you pluck up the courage to ask her what she’d prefer to be called, she doesn’t bite your head off. She smiles and casually replies and is glad you felt comfortable enough to ask. And now you can be sure that you’re doing the right thing.
Similarly, when you meet someone who is androgenous or transgender, you ask, “What gender pronoun do you prefer?” It’s a simpler question than it sounds, and infinitely kinder than sneering “Hey! Are you a boy or a girl?” A person who sees you approaching a sensitive topic respectfully will likely be much more willing to discuss.
Being more inclusive doesn’t have to be difficult or groundbreaking. It can start with simple little changes in our everyday communication. For example, saying “all genders” rather than “both genders.” Saying “class” instead of “boys and girls.” And when the time for permission slips rolls around, asking your students to “get them signed by a parent or guardian,” instead of by a “mother and father” that not all students may have.
Identity, specifically gender identity, takes on a very simple nature for some and an extremely complicated (even dynamic) nature for others.
Recognizing that humanity is not limited to heterosexual men and women is an easy step to swab ignorance out of our Pinewood family and instead find harmony in our diversity.
*Avoiding the phrase “Men and women are made for one another” is also a very good way to not anger the gays. And trust us, you do not want to anger the gays.