My daughter’s school does a lot to try to get and keep families involved. They know that the more parents are engaged in their children’s school experience, the more kids will be too, and so they hold regular events to keep the parents feeling connected to the community. Having been here in our new home for just over a year, we have now gone through a full cycle of these events, and as the school year came to a close, I was aware that there was something that wasn’t sitting right with me. Every year, the school holds ‘donuts for dads day’ and ‘mother’s visiting day.’ These are lovely, fun opportunities for parents to participate in the school day – but the events are gendered.
Now, our school is a lovely, warm, and inclusive community. They go out of their way to make everyone feel welcome, and the diversity among the kids is one of the reasons we chose this school. And to the average parent, there might be nothing amiss in the framing of these events. Most children have mothers. Most children have fathers. Gender seems baked in, right?
But it bothered me. Aside from the obvious fact that not every child has a living (or present) father or mother, for queer families and, in particular, for parents who identify as nonbinary (read: may not connect with a ‘mother’ or ‘father’ identity at all), it seems problematic.
Where do these families fit in?
I thought about it for a bit. And then I sent an email to the head of the school. It wasn’t an angry email. It wasn’t a demanding email. It said, respectfully, that I had some concerns about the use of language and the attachment of gender to these parent events. It said that I knew that the goal for this community was always to be thoughtful and inclusive. And it asked, again respectfully, whether we could consider changing the language accordingly.
And she wrote me back. Now, it was a yes or no question, so I expected a yes or a no answer. What I got instead was an invitation. An invitation to a conversation, in person, in which I could help her understand the relevant issues and she could share with me the reasoning behind the current wording, and we could have a respectful dialogue about the whole thing.
And so, we did.
She listened as I talked about the feelings of ‘otherness’ and exclusion that queer, trans, and nonbinary people navigate daily. About the heterosexism and cisgenderism on which our society is built. She explained that, in the past, since she knows the specific situations of the children in her class, she has simply reached out to families with same sex parents or single parents, or those with other situations that would make these things complicated, to make sure they did feel included. And she wondered if that might be sufficient to address the issue. So, I explained that microaggressions like these are like death by a thousand paper cuts, and that her calling is a thoughtful and much appreciated band-aid, but that the goal of making the change would be to avoid causing the wound in the first place. And she understood.
This is a small thing. A really small thing, at one small school, and by which almost no one will be affected. But it matters.
We live in a time when the rights of transgender and non-binary people are being targeted, attacked, and dismantled in broad daylight. Where it is no longer safe to be a trans person, never mind a trans child, in so many parts of our country. When lawmakers and lobbyists are ignoring the data, ignoring the professional opinions, ignoring the voices of the people themselves in the hopes that, at some point, trans folks’ very existence will be eradicated.
We KNOW that it matters to affirm identity.
We KNOW that it matters to be inclusive, not exclusive.
We KNOW that it matters that folks feel seen, heard, and respected for who they are.
And we know that the alternative leads to increased depression and anxiety, increased suicide attempts, increased homelessness, and increased despair. The 2022 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health (ages 13 – 24) reported that 53% of transgender and nonbinary youth considered suicide within the past year, and 18% attempted suicide. That’s almost one fifth of transgender and nonbinary kids who tried to end their lives. This is more than double the percentage of youth in the general population. And that’s just youth. And that’s just last year.
Wouldn’t it be lovely if, instead of treating these complex issues like a yes or no question, these lawmakers and lobbyists, these folks who are working so hard to eliminate anyone who doesn’t conform to the agreed-upon gender binary, could sit down and have a conversation? If they could issue an invitation with respect and curiosity, and could listen to those with different life experiences than they? And maybe even come to some new understanding? Wouldn’t that be lovely?
Everywhere, every time.
2022 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health: https://www.thetrevorproject.org/survey-2022/