On Thursday my attention was drawn to a new part of the daily routine for the girl’s kindergarten class. As soon as I saw it I knew I had to do something to have it changed. Today was my first chance.
A simply drawn boy wearing a baseball cap, and holding a bat and ball, coloured blue with the word BOY. His counterpart in pink with a pretty dress and holding a flower with the word GIRL sits beside him. Both on the bulletin board next to the calendar, a counting chart, and other simple items used to subtly teach the kindergarten class basic numerical skills.
The teacher touches the head of each student she deems as “boy”, counting as she goes. “Seven boys.” The number gets written on the wipe off board under the picture representing “boy”. She then touches the head of each remaining child, counting. “Five girls.” That number gets written on the board too. An addition sign gets added between them, and everyone counts on their fingers. “Twelve kids. Seven boys and five girls makes twelve kids.”
Now, my ideal kindergarten is gender neutral. At this age there really is no reason at all to discuss “boy” or “girl”, what each means, and how we each fit into societies gender binary – at least not at school. At the very least, if it can’t be a neutral space, it should be a equal space. And these disgustingly stereotypical figures are far from that. If we must count girls and boys, we need to ask the children “Who identifies as a boy?” Then count the raised hands, marking the result under the word (no picture) BOY. “Who feels like a girl?” Then count those raised hands, marking those results under the word GIRL. But I think we can do better. Why reinforce a false binary by bring gender into question at all? After all, there are more than two sexes, more than two genders (and the terms boy and girl can refer to either gender or sex, which just further muddies the water).
Why not ask “Who likes baseball?” and “Who likes football?” and add those two numbers. Switch it up, and the next day ask “Who likes veggies?” and “Who likes fruit?”. Every day of the week could be a different pairing of questions. After all, we don’t need to come up with the same answer every day. Some kids may vote yes to both, some may not raise their hand at all. This way we practice our early math skills, learn something interesting about our friends, AND we don’t reinforce any false notions about gender or sex – which have no place in a kindergarten class to begin with.
I spoke to kid kid’s teacher about my concerns today, and I’ll be honest. I’m not sure she understood my concerns at all. She thanked me for bringing them to her attention – but it was very much a canned response… what one could expect from someone who has never really given much thought to their own gender or sexual identity, someone with CIS privilege, who has lived in a very small, heteronormative box, their entire life. While I don’t hold this against her, it does mean it may be time for a little educating. Issues of gender and sexual identity are vitally important to the health and safety of our young people (and the adults they will become), and even something as simple as being told they are BOY… simply drawn with a baseball cap, bat and ball, coloured blue… can hurt, when that child knows -inside- it’s not right.
Do I get triple points for coming up with not just one or two O words, but for hitting a homer with three??? I think so. Even if I’m just giving myself the points and they don’t actually accumulate towards a win of any kind. 😉
So, the idea that our sex organs define who we are. It’s a pretty heavy one, and rather long standing. And the longer folks have believed something, the more ingrained it is, the harder it can be to shake it. However, the fact of the matter is that our parts have little to no bearing on our actual sex or our gender.
A person’s “assigned sex” is based on their genitals. It’s when the midwife, doctor, or doula sees a baby’s bits and announces “it’s a boy/girl!” Actual sex, I’m afraid, is a LOT more complicated.
If you want to get right down to it, a person’s actual sex is determined by their chromosomes. And here, many folks would happily jump in with “Okay, so that means it’s XX or XY!” Yeah, but not really. Sure, those are the two combinations we’ve all been taught in grade school… but those are FAR from the only options. It’s not as uncommon as you’d think for individuals to have X0, XXX, XXXX, XXXXX, XXY, XXXY, XYY, or even XY/XXY chromosomes. And unless you’ve been tested for chromosomal abnormalities, you may be XXX or XYY and not even know it.
Still with me? Assigned sex is based on your organs, actual sex is based on your chromosomes, and Gender? Gender is the realm of the philosopher (back in the day, I was either practicing art or studying philosophy). Gender is about how you feel, it’s about who you are. It’s how you define yourself. And with gender there are as many options as there are individuals. No one can define your gender except for you, and it may or may not match up with your assigned or actual sex. Heck, it may or may not be the same from day to day. As we grow, learn, evolve, and change, our gender may do so right along with us, and that’s totally okay.
So our organs really can’t define us, not in any real way. And the idea of a sexual or gender binary? It just doesn’t work. There are more than two sexes (as our chromosomes clearly indicate) and there are more than two genders. Our parts may convince some that a binary view works, but all you have to do is check out the myriad within even the physical bits to know humans are more complex than that. And I, for one, am grateful for all of our beautiful and amazing complexities.
When discussing something, relaying a story, or describing an event the logical place to start is at the beginning. So, with the fifteenth anniversary of Breaking the Silence that would seem to be with Ivan Coyote’s performance on Friday evening. I’ve got a couple clips that I know you’ll love.
…However, that’s not where I’m going to start. I’m going to start at the end. Or, well… almost the end. The last session of the day, before we all gathered for the conference’s conclusion:
“Sex, Gender, and How the Heck I Fit into it All.”
I had printed 25 of the handouts I’d created, expecting 15 – 20 youth. We had 176 (it was 176 or 172, I can’t quite remember) registrants, and five options in each session slot. And with a title like mine, I didn’t expect a huge turnout. Not when competing against some of the amazing options that were presented this year. I figured by printing 25, it would give me a little wiggle room, and also allow me to share a few copies with people who were in other sessions, but were still interested in the topics I addressed.
Walking up the stairs to find the room I was presenting in I passed two people who had veered off into the other upstairs lecture hall – I’d attended a session earlier in the day there (a great one by Jim Drake on personal narrative). I kept walking… And that was when I realized, the throng of folks walking up the stairs with me were headed into room 103… into my session.
The room was already packed when I walked in, and more people kept coming. I was shocked! And I’ll admit it, I was suddenly nervous. My throat swelled, my legs felt weak, my stomach did a little turn. These are not feelings I was used to, however they weren’t entirely foreign either. I remember them well from the days I first entered politics when I feared I wouldn’t be good enough, days long past now.
George Georget, a fellow member of the board gave my introduction. He’d asked if there was anything in particular I wanted him to mention. There wasn’t really, and I told him as much… but I didn’t want to leave him lacking for something to say, so told him he could always just tell them I was a Mom and photographer. I didn’t need to be worried. He had plenty to say, all of it lovely. I thank him for that. 🙂
I began by apologizing for my lack of handouts, and asked that they share in groups of two and three… just so everyone could see what I was referring to. I began handing them out. Then realized it would be a lot more efficient to enlist a little help. I handed some to Chance Briere, an absolutely wonderful young man I met this Summer and am proud to call friend, and some to a woman across the row from him and asked for their assistance.
Still feeling a little shaky, and surprised not only by the amount of attendees by also by their diversity (I was expecting youth only, but there was a brilliant array of ages, it was inspiring to see them all gathered for a session I thought would have such narrow appeal), I began to speak.
It took two or three minutes, but I found my voice… the same as it always was. Honest, open, and willing to talk about anything.
I didn’t expect the laughs, loud and openly shared. I didn’t expect the cheers, unbridled and on point. I didn’t expect the types of questions, asked with heart and intention. I didn’t expect to inspire or to move people… but that seems to be what I did.
Very honestly? I was presenting a mainly informational session. I knew I wanted it to be more of a discussion than a lecture – but I came prepared with an activity, just in case questions were slow to come. I didn’t realize that I would touch lives, or give people hope they didn’t arrive with.
To everyone who came up to me afterwards, to shake my hand, to get a hug (or two or three), to share a story, to ask for help… THANK YOU! I appreciate each one of you. You are truly amazing people. You have touched my life. You have inspired ME. And to all of you who wanted to do the same, but for whatever reason felt you couldn’t. Thank you for being there, for listening, for asking questions, for returning my smiles when I met your eyes during my talk. I know I won’t change the world, but I believe that you can.
Now, for anyone who would like to see it, here is my handout. Please feel free to share it wherever and with whomever you like. I only ask that you refrain from editing it or claiming it as your own. 😛 If there is interest in a printable version (do let me know if that’s something you’d like to see) I’ll find the best way to make that available.