Why I Choose to Put My Pronouns
On My LinkedIn Profile
Biologically, Simon (not his real name) was born female. But ever since he was two years old, he knew he was a boy. His moms, attuned to his developmental and psychological needs, raised their little girl as a boy – because he self-identified as a boy. He entered kindergarten as a boy. The staff and teachers knew he was a transgender boy; many of the parents knew as well. As far as all the kids were concerned, Simon was a cisgender boy.
When I was hired at the school as a sixth grade humanities teacher, Simon was in third grade. I was told about his transgender status. As a member of the teaching staff I now had privileged access to this information. There was nothing I needed to do with it; just be aware.
I didn't know Simon very well because he was three grades below me, and I had very little interaction with him. Every recess he played basketball on the courts right outside my classroom, so occasionally I'd say hello. He was very polite and seemed very comfortable talking to adults. Over the next three years, while he was in third, fourth, and fifth grade, the basketball court was the extent of our relationship – a quick "nice shot" over my shoulder, or maybe a couple free throws or a give-and-go.
In sixth grade, Simon was in my class. Before the school year started, the sixth grade teachers and the school heads met with his moms to make sure everyone was on the same page. The basic message from his moms was that he was well-adjusted, comfortable with who he was, and that no extra special considerations were needed. He was good at these subjects, needed extra attention with those ones, had lots of friends, and love playing basketball more than anything.
As the school year started, I found Simon to be a very pleasant student – a healthy mix of engaging with me as his teacher and keeping his distance, preferring to hang out with his friends. His best friend, a boy, was in my class as well. And the word got around that he had a girlfriend too, another wonderful student in the other sixth grade class. Academically, he needed some encouragement and support with writing, and sometimes he got behind on his homework, but otherwise did well.
Until the spring. I started noticing some changes. He walked around with an aura of worry and he paid less attention to his schoolwork. He said nothing was wrong, but I knew enough about kids to know this wasn't true. Perhaps he was having social issues, maybe he broke up with his girlfriend, or were there problems at home? Or maybe it was just the typical twelve-year-old existential growing pains of trying to figure out who you are in the world.
We met with his moms again. They said Simon wanted to reveal to his classmates that he was transgender. He felt the time was right, and that he was tired of living a lie. The burden of keeping his secret to himself and a few select adults was weighing him down. But naturally he was nervous. Even in a progressive school and supportive community environment, a revelation like this could be traumatic – what will his friends think? Would they feel betrayed? Would they resent him? Would they see him differently? Would he lose his friends completely?
We consulted with a gender specialist. The adults in his life made it clear that we were there for him, that we would support him before, during, and after his revelation. He could confide in us, come to us with questions or concerns, cry with us. We wanted this to go well just as much as he did. We were all in this together. We were his allies. He could count on us to stick by his side no matter what happened.
The plan was to gather all the kids on a Friday afternoon to say that Simon had an announcement. We intentionally wanted to make this announcement as low key as possible – "no big deal." We went over what he was going to say, and had prepared some answers to questions the kids might ask, and reminded him that these were a great group of supportive kids.
The day arrived. My teaching partner and I gathered all the sixth graders on the rug where we had our class meetings, and said that Simon had something to share with them. We didn't hype it up, make any extra demands, or ask for special considerations around respect. We just said he had an announcement.
Simon told the class his story – when he knew he was a boy at age two, and how has felt totally comfortable being a boy ever since. He talked about the support his moms gave him, and about the hormones he was starting to take as he was entering adolescence. He said that nothing's different about him now, it's just that everyone now knows the backstory. A few kids asked some questions and he answered them.
After at most fifteen minutes on the rug with a few dozen eleven- and twelve-year-olds who had just learned that their classmate was transgender, they got a little antsy – after all, it wasFriday afternoon. We asked if Simon had anything more to say or if there were any more questions. Just one: "Can we go out to recess for the rest of the day and play some basketball?" Simon liked that idea. And so did everyone else.
And that was it. He didn't lose his best friend. No one thought he was weird. No one batted an eye. This revelation was simultaneously a really big deal and no big deal at all – just as it should be.
I can't ever know what it's truly like to be transgender. But I can take the perspective of someone who is, and I can empathize with their situation. I can listen to their story, and I can support them in their journey. I can realize that my norm is not the norm, and that Simon's norm is just as valid as my or anyone else's norm. I can work to normalize the experiences and thoughts and feelings that people who are transgender may be having.
I can show that I am an ally with my words, actions, and behaviors. I can use some of my privilege, and give up some of my power, to support those who don't have as much privilege and power as I do. I can live by my values of inclusion and equity and empathy and compassion.
I can decidedly choose to be an ally, even if – especially if – I risk losing some social capital. I can challenge people to engage in uncomfortable conversations and reflect on uncomfortable truths about themselves and their views.
I don't have to do any of this. I do it because I want to.
People who are transgender often get misidentified with pronouns that don't match their gender identity, and then face the awkward or shameful experience of having to correct people, or just live with the pain of using pronouns that people use for them.
Putting my pronouns on my LinkedIn profile is one small way that I show I am listening and validating the lived experiences of people from the transgender community.
Playing basketball on the schoolyard with a twelve-year-old boy was another.
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