Discovering my identity as a nonbinary lesbian female changed how I thought about my place in the LGBTQIA+ community in many ways. I learned that this community is constantly facing inequality. I knew this was the case prior to discovering my own identity, but after coming out, this truth became even more evident. Being nonbinary allows me to express myself differently than people who conform to more traditional gender expression. I may look more feminine one day and more masculine the next, and I choose to use the she/her/they/them pronouns. Coming out as a lesbian gave me the confidence to accept my newfound identity and communicate these identities to others. Being born female has opened my eyes to the differences between traditional male and female gender roles in society. All of these elements of my identity intersect to create the person I am today; I am thick-skinned, strong, confident, and I have the opportunity to speak up for my community and stand up for inequality.
Once I returned to in-person school following the pandemic, I experienced this inequality firsthand. Physical education was the class where I experienced the most misgendering. During my first day of class, I was playing frisbee with a peer who assumed my gender and when corrected, they asked, “Well, what’s in your pants?” After being so utterly disappointed in my peers and their lack of knowledge, I very quickly realized that not all people naturally choose inclusivity.
Clubs and Safe Spaces
Providing a safe space for this marginalized community in public schools is a great way to create inclusivity. These safe spaces can become vital places for students like me to use their preferred names and pronouns without judgment. Members of the LGBTQIA+ community require a space to feel included; therefore, creating clubs or groups within public schools could begin to help these individuals feel more accepted and included in their school community.
One of the benefits of a club like this is privacy. For example, people who have come out to their friends as transgender, but not necessarily to their family, would then have a space where they can openly use their chosen pronouns and names in a safe and supportive environment. Another benefit of an LGBTQIA+ club would be learning vital information about this community that faces harsh prejudice. For example, the club could serve to teach people about the hardships this community has faced, like unfair laws and frequent physical/sexual abuse. This could really help create a culture of acceptance in most public schools.
Pins and Stickers
Pronoun pins and stickers—used to clue others in to your identity choice—are a great resource for people who are publicly out in society and using their preferred names and pronouns. This helps because these individuals then don’t have to correct people when a mistake has been made or verbalize these preferences to others. In addition, people who do not feel comfortable actually verbalizing their identity due to anxiety, fear of nonacceptance, or any other reason can use these pins to minimize their anxiety surrounding this topic.
In my personal life, I have seen people around me make pronoun pins for others so they can feel more included. I have personally wanted to see this more normalized in school, meaning students receive these pins and stickers before they even arrive on the first day of school. I would love to see a pronoun pin for every locker. Seeing this more frequently in public schools would create a more inclusive space for all students, not just LGBTQIA+ individuals.
Ask, Don’t Assume
The biggest mistake cisgender individuals make when talking to individuals from the transgender or nonbinary community is assuming gender, names, or pronouns. One way to avoid making this mistake is to ask questions when you meet someone new. This might look like introducing yourself with your preferred name and pronoun and asking for theirs in return. It might also look like joining physical and/or digital clubs like “Educating Caregivers of Trans and Nonbinary People,” a Facebook page that leans toward supporting parents and adults as their children begin their transition or discover their new identities. It can be hard for people to correct others when they don’t use proper pronouns or when they assume who you are attracted to.
For example, if a transgender person were to be misgendered, it can cause things like invalidation and gender dysphoria. Gender dysphoria refers to the feeling of being trapped in the wrong body with the wrong reproductive system. Sadly, this experience is common for people who fall under the transgender umbrella. Gender dysphoria isn’t always triggered by other people but can be triggered when individuals assume their gender based on how they appear physically. To help minimize the hurt caused by assuming pronouns, genders, or names, ask people for this vital information upon meeting.
Even though the LGBTQIA+ community faces prejudice, violence, and misunderstandings every day in every realm of society, we are still taking steps forward toward true acceptance of this community. Because this terminology and mindset is so new to our current society, the lack of education is understandable. However, we can choose today—and every day going forward—to continue educating students about their peers who are transgender, nonbinary, queer, gender neutral, asexual, and all who identify in other ways and have experienced inequality of any sort. Taking the steps to learn about this community and grow toward acceptance is the next step toward social justice.
Abigail Muirhead is an eighth grader at Waldport Middle School in Waldport, OR.