The Elephant in the Room: Teach kids about gender

By Jonathan Steinklein
Blogger

I volunteer at Kidsbridge, a museum that teaches kids from around New Jersey about diversity and equality, here at the College.

Every once in a while I run the Gender and LGBT Room. There, we teach kids that boys can do “girl stuff” and girls can do “boy stuff.” Basically, everybody can do everything: life is your oyster. I like doing this a lot, but I feel like it’s an oasis of awesome in a world of prejudice and discrimination.

Don’t get me wrong, Kidsbridge is amazing because it may be one of the few places children learn about diversity at all. But what happens when everybody reinforces problematic, harmful actions in school and these lessons are forgotten?

Herein is the problem. Children are “coming out” as transgender and gender variant earlier and earlier as time goes on.  I heard about a transgender boy who at age 5 identifies as Tyler and at age 2 was telling his parents he was a boy (Washington Post). What happens to a transgender child in a school setting, though? Statistics show most transgender children experience a hostile school environment and regular harassment by peers (National Center for Transgender Equality). I think we can all agree that is neither right nor fair and needs to be stopped.  But how?

It is generally accepted by most queer theory scholars that gender identity and expression occurs in a spectrum beyond just men and women, or male and female. This spectrum teaches that gender is beyond genitals and can change over time.  The only people who really talk about the gender spectrum are women’s and gender studies majors and minors and queer activists and sympathizers. It  is not known or accepted by the majority of the American population. I think that is a problem.

Me being a post-modernist, I do not think the gender spectrum is more “real” than the gender binary but it includes and recognizes everybody so the idea of the gender spectrum is vital. I think the gender spectrum is so important that we need to teach and promote it to children. I do not think they are too “young” for it; that kind of language is insulting to children. Children are not inherently stupid or immature, I know I talk with them every week. They get that way when their parents, teachers and media assume that about them. Why not teach children that they can do be whoever they want to be?

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