BTiTC: Trans Students Part 1: The Basics.

(full discloser: I might mess this up. feel free to correct me in the comments.)

I am starting a series called Building Trust in the Classroom. It is about intentional things I do to create community.  If you have things you do and want to guest post or post at your blog, let me know and I’ll link to it.

Our classrooms are diverse places.  From learning styles to home lives to race to gender no two students are the same and yet we still often split the room by things we consider binary like gender (or sex). This problem exists in my text book:

Screen Shot 2015-08-01 at 12.03.55 PM

It’s a fine problem.  It leads in to some great exploration of matrices.  Except in order to do it you have to take a visual poll where girls and boys raise their hands.  What if you don’t feel like you fit in to one of those categories? What does it mean to be male?  Are talking sex or gender?  I don’t know.  Are you talking shoe gender? Because all my kids wear Vans which are UNISEX. Or they are men’s shoes that women wear? I don’t know.  I got real grumpy when I taught this.

I could go into a bunch of other examples of explicit gender roles showing up in math class but I think this post is already going to real long so I’ll hold off.  There are a million places in a day where students are asked to classify themselves.  I am hoping we can work to make math class a safe place. In order to do that I’m going to start with a bunch of the basics and straight forward information.

First off, in the next few years you will almost definitely have a trans student in your classroom.  This is just what it is.  Especially if you teach in a magnet, charter, or private.  Parents are looking for safe spaces for their children.  Let’s try to be that, okay?

Okay, basics. Definitions:

Biological Sex and Sex Assigned at Birth: “Sex” refers to one’s body – the physiological and anatomical characteristics of maleness and femaleness with which a person is born or that develop with physical maturity. Biological sex markers include internal and external reproductive organs, chromosomes, hormone levels, and secondary sex characteristics such as facial hair and breasts. Sex assigned at birth is the sex category (almost always male or female) assigned to each of us on ID documents, beginning with the birth certificate.

Gender expression: refers to appearance and behaviors that convey something about one’s gender identity, or that others interpret as conveying something about one’s gender identity, including clothing, mannerisms, communication patterns, etc.

Gender identity: refers to people’s own understandings of themselves in terms of gendered categories like man and woman, boy and girl, transgender, genderqueer, and many others. Gender identity cannot be observed; the only way you can know someone’s gender identity is if they tell you. Some people’s gender identity is consistent for their whole lives; other people experiences shifts in their gender identity over time.

Transgender (adj.): Can be used as broadly as trans*, but more often refers specifically to trans* people who have an experience of transitioning (socially, legally and/or medically) from living as one gender to living as another gender. Tip: Transgender should almost always be used as an adjective. As a noun (e.g. “she’s a transgender”) it sounds disrespectful to many people, and as a past-tense verb (“transgendered”) it does not make any sense.[1]*

There are a bunch more definitions in this resource.  You should read them.

So, the reality is in the next few years you will have a student in your class whose gender expression does NOT match their biological sex or whose gender expression doesn’t fit in any box. And how are you going to handle it?  The answer is not perfectly. I know I didn’t.

Now that we know some language if you’re decided you don’t want to read this whole series of posts here are the major things you can do in your classrooms to make sure you aren’t massively fucking up:

  1. Call students by the name and gender pronouns they prefer.  Every time Jenny has to correct you that they goes by JJ you lose capital. Every time you call Josh a she you break his heart and he does not want to learn for the rest of the day.
  2. Include in your opening survey, “What do you like to be called?” “Is there anything else I should know?”
  3. Avoid call outs like Ladies or Gentlemen.  Stick to gender neutral call outs as much as possible.  I like y’all and dudes (I live in SoCal).  Maybe you can add some you like in the comments?
  4. Don’t play games that separate the class by gender. This seem obvious but the number of girls v. boys stuff that I see in classrooms is staggering.
  5. Be a safe space to the best you can.  If this is uncomfortable for you I’m sorry, but remember it’s way way harder on the kid.  You don’t have to be the person this students talks to about everything but you do have make sure they are safe enough to learn.
  6. Remember you are a teacher because you love kids. Everything else makes sense when you put it in the lens of loving kids.

I try to keep my posts at less than 1000 words so I’m going to stop here.  The next two posts (I hope) will include some personal experiences and resources for where you can get more information or training if that’s what your school is looking for.

[1] Gender and Sexual Orientation Terminology,

*edited to change to def of transgender instead on trans after conversation.


9 thoughts on “BTiTC: Trans Students Part 1: The Basics.

  1. Thank you for this post and the ones to come! Per your number 3, my most oft used group word is ‘folks’. I will also occasionally use ‘mathlings’.


  2. Bless you! I hate gendered questions. I would definitely have changed that one. My son loves Vans. I wouldn’t say they’re unisex – their website says Mens and Womens. But maybe closer than most shoes. Yay for that.


  3. I’ve tried to make that move in the past, but not always successfully. I’ve managed to drop “you guys” from my vocab and use “y’all” a lot, but I find myself using “Ladies and Gentlemen” often, usually when I am trying for their attention. I think it must be something about the cadence that makes me go for it so automatically – by the time I finish, they are more likely to be listening. I definitely need to make a better effort to swap that out next year. Maybe replace with something like “Mathematicians,” which is almost as long.


  4. Ooh I like mathematicians. I use you guys a lot. I never thought of it as being gender associating but I guess it is. Thanks for your post – awesome. In that shoe lesson I asked them to raise their hands if they bought men’s shoes regardless of gender but I agree – it made me feel ncomfortable too. Looking forward to your next posts!


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