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When Robin first told you, how did you react?
She had been so depressed (to the point of hospitalization) that we were relieved to have some answers that explained her feelings.
She doesn’t identify as “gay,” but she knows that we are close with several openly-gay relatives, so she knew that revealing this info would not shock us or cause problems.
What has been the biggest challenge for you and your family?
The biggest challenge for me is the new vocabulary! Robin’s pronouns (her preferred forms of reference) are “they, them, their.”
As an ESL teacher, it’s really hard for me to use the plural pronouns as a neutral singular. She’s also changed her name, so that’s another adjustment. Finally, she doesn’t want me to use “daughter” or “sister” to describe her. So, I’m getting used to saying “This is my child.” (She’s okay with that, even though she’s 19.)
What kind of accommodations has the college made? Has Robin had any trouble with her professors or peers?
I’m sure that most of her peers and professors don’t even know. Robin has days when she identifies as a boy, and dresses in boyish clothes. She is sure that she projects as a boy. But, I doubt that others have this perception. The university has been very accommodating. They provided a single room and allowed her to change her name in their databases. They also placed her on a floor with an RA who is obviously gay. I don’t think this was just serendipity.
What have you learned about transgendered youth? Do you have any advice for their parents and teachers?
I have learned that it is much more common that in the past, perhaps because it is more accepted. I am often amazed at the openness and acceptance of my children’s generation. They are not fazed by having gay or transgendered friends and classmates, which means that transgendered youth are not marginalized as they were in the past. In fact, it is becoming common in some circles for young people to introduce themselves as “I’m ____ , and my pronouns are_______.”
To parents and teachers, I’d emphasize that being transgender or gender fluid is not a lifestyle choice. This is an integral part of a person’s identity. Also, don’t confuse gender identity with sexual orientation. A person’s gender identity is separate from his/her orientation.
Has your own teaching changed at all as a result of your experience with Robin?
In my more advanced ESL classes, I try to be more careful about the examples that I use, e.g. not assuming that all my students are heterosexual. In my basic-level ESL classes, I usually stick with the traditional examples to keep things simple and understandable.
What does “mindful teaching” mean to you? Do you have a mindfulness practice, and if so, how does it help you with your work?
I’ve never thought about whether my teaching is “mindful” or not. I try to include time in every class for student questions and issues that come up. I prefer to address these questions and issues “on the spot” while the question is prominent in the mind of the student.
So, I often end up creating a chart, coming up with a rule, or dropping everything to do a quick exercise on some tangential, but related topic. This approach requires me to be “on my toes,” paying close attention to how the class is going, and being ready to change the lesson as needed.
Outside of class, I am constantly thinking about ways to come at teaching from different angles, especially in order to reach students who are struggling. I can’t read a newspaper article without noticing elements that would be useful examples in a classroom.
By the way, there are many useful resources on gender identity. One interesting place to start is the blog called “Raising My Rainbow” by the mother of a “gender creative” boy (who likes being a boy, but prefers to dress as a girl). You can find her excellent blog and other useful resources on this page: raisingmyrainbow.com
Transgender Children (interview)
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