When I first started as Residential Faculty I kept encountering students who identified as transgender and they would let me know their preferred pronouns. When they approached me I gave off the appearance of knowing what they were talking about, but I had no clue. I have to admit that I felt a little ashamed not knowing, I consider myself to be a pretty woke person and I realized that I was clueless in this area. So what did I do? What any teacher would do, I educated myself on the subject and I realized there was even more that I didn’t know.
On my quest for education, I googled “What is transgender?” I found myself on the transgender FAQ page for GLAAD, an organization that centrally focuses on acceptance of the LGBTQ community. They not only explained what it means to be a transgender person, they also had headers like “What name and pronoun do I use?”, “How do I treat a transgender person with respect?”, “Why is transgender equality important?” How did I not know this? One thing that stuck out to me was the sentence where it mentioned the anxiety a transgender person could experience when they are associated with the birth name they do not identify with. After visiting the page, I visited other sources that would help me to understand my students even more. I went even further and attended a workshop at SMCC where the focus of one of the break out sessions was gender identity, expression, and the LGBTQ community.
One thing that is important to me is creating and cultivating a positive, constructive learning environment for EVERY student. I currently address students by their preferred name and pronoun of he/him/she/her/they/them. At the end of the day it’s not about me, it’s about the student and their experience in the classroom. I’ve been doing it ever since I started my journey into educating myself about transgender people years ago. On the first day of class, I ask my students to let me know if they have a preferred name/pronoun during roll or after class so that I can address them appropriately. Students do mention it during roll, or come up to me after class and let me know their preferred names/pronouns.
Now some real talk, it took me a moment to adjust. There have been moments in the first couple of weeks where I accidentally call my students their roster name or I get the pronouns wrong. There was a moment in one class when I did that and I talked with the student after class and apologized, and let them know that I didn’t mean any disrespect in that moment. Despite my mistakes, I think what matters most is that I’m trying and I’m continuing to learn and grow. I’m making an effort to create an environment where students feel like they matter and feel like they are included.