ToolKit & Resources – Gender Identity – Full description
What is gender identity?
Gender is a range of characteristics pertaining to, and differentiating between, masculinity and femininity. The traditional binary nature of gender does not account for those young people that do not conform to such tradition gender roles. It therefore makes sense to consider gender existing on a spectrum.
Someone’s gender identity does not describe the way other people perceive them but the way they feel inside. It describes how a person feels they belong to a certain group, or not. This may be male, female, both of these, or something else. Young people of any gender identity have a right to good mental wellbeing. To achieve mental wellbeing in schools it is helpful for teachers to understand a few key terms relating to gender identity.
Those who feel that their gender identity matches with their biological sex, that is their physical anatomy and hormones, may be referred to as cisgender people.
Sometimes an individual may feel like their gender does not fully fit with their biological sex. These individuals may choose to identify under the umbrella term of as trans. This is an umbrella term, and covers other terms such as transgender, non-binary, gender fluid and gender queer. Remembering the gender spectrum idea, individuals may feel that they identify as a completely different gender, or that their assigned gender is not a perfect fit for them.
Why is it important for teachers to know about gender identity?
A child can start questioning their gender at any age. Therefore, it is crucial that schools know how to support pupils that are questioning their gender identity, whether they want to ‘out’ this to other students, or whether they would prefer not to.
Young people who are questioning their gender identity are at a greater risk of bullyingdue to the discrimination they face.
Although those who are trans or questioning their gender identity may experience discrimination, if you are properly informed about gender identity you can help them by dealing with transphobic comments when you hear them.
Bullying can be huge issue with students that are questioning their gender identity, or are trans. As of 2017, almost half of LGBT students said they had been bullied about being trans at school. Further still, half of these pupils never told anyone about being bullied.
Young people may dress a certain way, act a certain way, prefer the company of certain people, or different toys or games without being trans. This is all part of exploring their identity, and is perfectly normal.
Try to think of the common stereotypes you might see at school, or in the media
What things might schools and teachers have to think about when it comes to gender identity?
Some schools may have had experience with a trans, LGBT, or questioning student before, whereas for others this may be all new. Think of it like teaching maths: some prefer the grid method, some like chunking and others use their fingers – we are all different!
Mental health and gender identity
Due to the increased risk of mental health difficulties in trans people, it is even more important that teachers know how to support students who are struggling.
Trans is covered in the Equality Act (2010) as a characteristic protected from different treatment based upon their gender identity, or sexuality.
To reduce discrimination in the school environment it is best to take a whole school approach towards an inclusive school environment. This can be achieved by growing confidence: confidence in the staff to support trans students, and confidence in the students to talk freely about their gender identity.
Take a look at our pages on anxiety, depression, self-harm and suicidefor support on issues that trans individuals are more vulnerable to. Familiarising yourself with gender identity, and common mental health problems, is a big step towards a staff body that feels confident in supporting their pupils.
Pronouns & preferred names Pronouns are words we use to refer to people’s gender in conversation.
Always ask in private what pronouns a gender questioning or trans student prefers, and what their preferred name is. They may find telling every member of staff and student their pronouns exhausting, and a challenge each time, so ask them for their consent to share their preference with other staff members and their peers.
You could also consider changing registers, and student databases to include the preferred name, suffix, and pronouns.
School uniform, toilets and changing roomsThe department of education outlines that it is the school’s choice as to what toilets and changing rooms they can provide, and their uniform policy.
If you wish to do so, a school uniform list could include a list of clothing, rather than gendered lists of clothing. Providing gender neutral, or non-binary, toilets and changing rooms may work for some schools, and not for others. An alternative may be using an accessible toilet, or the facilities matching the pupils’ gender.
Some young trans individuals may feel singled out by these changes. Each school is individual, and we know that teachers are best placed to take into account the pupils’ and parents’ needs, and the school’s practical constraints.
Stereotypes and educationBuild into the curriculum education and exploration on all kinds of prejudice including against sexual orientation, gender, or gender reassignment. Ensure rest of curriculum is free from gender stereotyping – they can be lurking in unconscious worksheets or textbooks.
Your school could celebrate events such as LGBT History Month, to become a more inclusive environment. This could be announced to parents through newsletters that signpost them to resources to help them get involved too. However, do consider how this may impact any trans or questioning students, for example by not planning lots of activities around LGBT immediately after a pupil has come to you.
Gendered activities If we consider that gender is a spectrum then splitting a class into girls and boys, and p.e. classes into male and female, presents a challenge.
Try not to split classes by girls and boys, but rather down the middle, or into 1s and 2s. Language can have a huge impact on young people, something as simple as ‘right, boys and girls’ reinforces a gender binary, rather than a spectrum. Try addressing the groups by common characteristics such as ‘right year 3s and 4s’.
A common issue with P.E. lessons is that teachers feel that the males and females have different abilities. It is important to remember that there are differing talents and abilities within each group anyway, and teacher’s will often split these groups further into ability. If possible, listen to the student and their preference for which group they join.
Don’t spread news of someone’s gender unless asked to do soA young person may feel you have broken their trust or ‘outed’ them before they are ready. If asked to keep the information private it must only be shared with individuals that the student has consented to sharing with.
Sex or Reproductive Education Talk to child and parents before sensitive or triggering topics are discussed. Every schools is different, and many schools still split their students into male and female to have these classes, however if appropriate, you could consider whether students are able to hear the alternative talk too.
What if I make a mistake?
We all make mistakes , but when we make a mistake with names and pronouns it is important to always apologise and recognise when he have got things wrong. Many children won’t like extra attention being drawn to this mistake, so you could apologise quietly at the end of the class or day, when students are packing away. Move on from the mistake and don’t beat yourself up about it, mistakes are normal, and we can only try our best to use the preferred pronouns and name in the future. Every child deserves an education where they feel comfortable and supported, and using someone’s preferred pronouns can help achieve this.
Gender is not only described on a spectrum, but also as fluid. This means that your gender identity may not be the same for your whole life. If a student wishes to change their gender identity after an initial change, it is best to let them do so without being made to feel they are inconveniencing people. This is a normal part of questioning and exploration of gender.
Talking to parents
Just like any other difficulty a child may be facing the best support comes when students and teachers and parents/carers talk to one another.
Most parents are supportive of their trans or questioning child. But some parents may still struggle to understand their child or feel disappointed; these are normal emotions that may be experienced even if they still support their child.
Parents have very good imaginations, and may jump to the worst-case scenarios. Many will have fears that their trans child will be left out or bullied by other students, or may suffer from poor mental health. Although being trans can mean that a child is more vulnerable to mental health difficulties, this is due to the reaction of the people around them, rather than actually being trans. It can be helpful to reassure parents about any anti-discrimination and policies you have in place that will protect their child from negative outcomes.
The topic of gender identity should be approached with compassion, and without breaking confidentiality. Try not to decide what support the student needs without the student able to give their say – they are the experts here! Lots of open questions can really help all parties understand what is going on for the individual, and what practical help they would like.
The best thing you can do for this student is ensure that you and your school are a safe space for students to explore their identity, and how it is making them feel.