On being a non-binary teacher

Anonymous asked:

Hello, I’m sorry if this is only vaguely related to the use of non-gendered pronouns but I’m in a spot of bother with regards to my general gender-based bewilderment. I am trying to train as a primary school teacher and have recently been increasing my preparatory teaching experience. I am somewhat androgynous and use the title Dr so children are intrigued to know if I am m/f. When they ask what I am, I can’t tell them, but know non-binary should be explained. How do I address this?

Hello Dr. Anonymous! (hehe)

First, congratulations on the Dr. situation! I often joke that getting my doctorate was primarily motivated by the gender-neutral title, which I sprinkle with gay abandon on all airline tickets, phone bills and the like.

I work in the field of teacher education, so your question is of great interest to me. In my life, it’s true to say that being a non-binary transgender person has diverted me away from K-12 classroom teaching and into higher education for equity and mental health reasons. There may have been pockets of acceptance around the time when I was thinking of entering a B.Ed. program but by and large K-12 schools have been and continue to be some of the most gender-normalizing places. This was my impetus for getting involved in teacher education practice and research on gender and sexual diversity: to open the doors for people like me to make choices other than the one I made out of concern for my own safety and well-being.

Of course, there are many queer and/or transgender teachers out there (including non-binary ones), and many are rocking it out as best as they can and having all kinds of wonderful impact in the lives of children and youth. However, to my knowledge, the greatest success and longevity in the career still come to those who benefit the most from homonormativity or gender normativity (e.g., a cis-gender woman monogamously married to another cis-gender woman, or a heterosexual transgender man, or people with children they can talk about). This doesn’t mean being a teacher isn’t hard for these folks (it is), just that it’s differently hard given that their life stories are often more intelligible to the wider world. (Intelligibility can, however, be its own curse and mental health risk if what you ‘pass’ as doesn’t match your identity.)

All this is to say that I hear you loud and clear. And I completely agree: non-binary should be explained to children. Full stop. Moreover, what should be explained to – and modelled for – children is that gender is an all-you-can-eat buffet. You shouldn’t have to be a boy or become a boy to do the things that you’d like to do, unless being a boy is something that you really, really want. Kids in a school with a lot of support for transitioning students (but that only recognize kids who desire a binary transition) and schools where the wonderful, life-giving possibility of binary transition is completely unthinkable – both may be at risk of shutting down many kids’ gender-diverse desires. Let us as teachers throw open the gender gates for every child by, for example, not setting up free-time as a choice between soccer and art, but between clay and painting. Let’s put out different kinds of toys on the carpet depending on the day so that sometimes everyone plays with trucks, and everyone with dolls. Let’s point out how gender is at work in a story about a two-parent, heterosexually-headed family and not just read the Sissy Duckling. And let’s do these things before and regardless of whether any transgender kid ever appears in our particular school or classroom.

Dr. Anonymous, when you say “I can’t tell them” I’d like to know more. I’m lucky to live in Ontario, Canada where we have protection from discrimination on the basis of gender expression and gender identity aka the professional and age-appropriate disclosure of one’s gender identity to a child who asks about it would likely be protected under the law. Someone telling you not to do this would be running afoul of that law. However, it sounds like you might not have any such protection to fall back on.

Even before these laws were passed, however, kids would consistently ask me the question “are you a boy or a girl?” and I would reply ‘neither,’ or ‘I haven’t decided yet today. Will you ask me again later?’ or something else that wasn’t necessarily true (I generally wake up feeling like a non-binary transgender person). The point wasn’t that it was true or false, but that it opened the gates and caused a lot of productive thinking/face-scrunching. It also meant that I didn’t always have to launch into a giant explanation of what ‘non-binary transgender person’ means. This is one route. Or, you could deflect with a question: “why do you need to know about this? What else would you like to know about me? What would it mean if I said I was a girl or a boy? How would that change how you think about me as a teacher? Why do people have to be one or the other?” In other words, this can become a teachable moment, to whatever extent you are comfortable.

Pronouns are another matter, and teaching remains a fairly conservative profession. If you feel comfortable and supported by your program, you could work with your practicum coordinator to find a school with a queer- and trans-positive culture where you could be out and have your preferred gender pronoun respected. Regardless of the law, there could be internal diversity and equity policies in your university that you could cite when arranging a meeting about this, and even a diversity officer whose support you could draw on. If you don’t feel supported in your program, your practice teaching placement could be difficult and require some tough choices. If you bond with your supervising teacher and want to enlist their support, you could access some of my other resources on coming out, particularly this one on explaining preferred pronouns to someone with little knowledge of gender diversity issues.

To close, I’ll say that the problem you are facing is real and that there is a whole constellation of lovely folks working on this, who I’m proud to call my colleagues and friends. The hope driving my academic teaching and research is that questions like yours will become unnecessary, and that the teaching profession can be a gender buffet some day.

Warmly, and write back anytime,


On having to pick a ‘gender’ box

Anonymous asked:

“What do you suggest for when a person who identifies as gender neutral must pick either male or female for official documents and such. Thank you!”

Hello there!

This is a tough one. With the exception of Australia (please correct me), I don’t think that there is a governmental bureaucracy with official gender options other than the old M or F. I know many folks whose ‘gender’ on their driver’s license (etc.) doesn’t match their gender identity and/or gender expression. This causes all kinds of problems and leads anyone with your ID (etc.) to wrongly presume what they should call you (Ms., Mr., etc.) and how they should treat you. Often online bureaucratic forms don’t even let you refrain from selecting a ‘gender’ option but prevent you from submitting the form unless you put yourself in one of two binary gender boxes. Ugh. I feel your frustration.

I’m afraid I don’t have anything terribly insightful to offer to you in the short term, Anonymous, other self-care and taking the path of least resistance: to try your best to remember that this is ridiculous and dumb, that it’s something which other people think they need to know but they really don’t, that it has no reflection on who you are as a person, but that any inconsistency across governmental records would likely cause you many problems in accessing services you need. (Of course, it is well-documented that precisely this problem prevents many of us from accessing services at all.)

However, I’ve been speaking so far about governmental institutions. Private and even some public sector institutions might be more flexible. To the best of your ability, ask if anything can be done or if you can just ask for ‘gender’ to remain blank. Universities and colleges, for example, often have equity officers or LGBTQ resource centres who likely know a lot about how this battle is and/or has been fought in their institution. Other people under the transgender umbrella likely do as well. So my last piece of advice is ask, ask, ask! Ask the bureaucrats and ask the community, and perhaps something can be done until the gender splendour revolution arrives.

As for long term advice? Smash the (non-consensual) gender binary!



Toward a gender-neutral customer service experience for everyone

blucitrus asked:

I work at Starbucks and I’m always trying to find ways to connect with the customers but it is very difficult for me because I never know which pronouns to use. What gender neutral pronouns could I use instead of ma’am and sir and things of the sort? It’s been bugging me for quite some time. Help!

Thanks for your question blucitrus!

I (and other Starbucks-frequenting GNP users) truly appreciate that this is something you are concerned about. It shows that you’re committed to making your workplace somewhere that every client will want to come back to. And believe me – this is something that is noticed and communicated among GNP users and other trans* / non-binary folk: that your place is a good place for us.

As far as pronouns are concerned, if you have to refer to a client within their hearing range (e.g., to a co-worker), I suggest using singular they or ‘this/my customer’ or ‘this/my client.’ This takes practice, but can also be a fun daily challenge to yourself and a co-worker who’d also like to get on board. There many tips on this blog to help you out.

Regarding single-person address, avoiding the use of sir or ma’am is a great place to start but, as you say, it’s hard to know what to do next. Sir/ma’am are used to convey respect and welcome, but these can be conveyed to someone without using words. Think about how people use their body language, vocal pitch and intonation to convey respect and welcome. We incline our heads, make eye contact, listen intently, nod, smile and speak clearly in order to indicate that someone has our full attention. Of course, what ‘respect’ and ‘welcome’ look/sound like differ across contexts, but they can be performed. I’d argue that sir/ma’am are frequently used as shortcuts in busy customer service environments when these other more intentional strategies could do the job even better and more authentically, all without gendering.

Regarding plural address (i.e., to refer to groups of customers), avoid ladies, gentlemen, guys, girls, etc. and instead use terms like everyone or – if you are working in a casual customer service environment or with younger clientele – friends or folks. As above, I believe you can also welcome/show respect to groups of customers without using any of these terms at all. Think of a server saying “Good evening and welcome to our restaurant” while acknowledging each member of a group with brief eye contact and a warm smile. This is likely much more effective at conveying respect/welcome than a disinterested “Hello ladies.” Consider trying these strategies for a few minutes or a few customers every hour and seeing how they affect your (and their) experience of your interactions.

Other helpful gender-neutral phrases that convey respect (when paired with attentive body language, vocal pitch and intonation) include:

Can I help the next guest?

And for you?

What will you be having today?

Will you all be having dessert (etc.)?

These are not revolutionary or terribly insightful – just a starting place. With all of this being said, however, I have a caveat to share.

In the quest for gender-neutral public space and language practices, one casualty is affirmation for people who thrive on being (correctly) gendered by others. There are many people who enjoy being ma’am-ed or sir-ed; this is of course true of some cis-gender people but also of some transgender spectrum people. At times when I am identifying as more masculine and signalling this to the world with my grooming, clothing and behaviour, it is tremendously affirming to be seen and addressed appropriately as “sir.” However, I know many people with similarly masculine gender presentations who do not like this at all. There are also many transgender spectrum people who are in the process of or have completed a medical gender transition; for some (by no means all) of these folks, casual correct gendering by strangers can be a daily affirmation. Some years ago I heard a hilarious monologue by transsexual stand-up comedian Red Durkin in which she is yelled at by an irate cashier for moving too slowly in the check-out line: “MA’AM?? EXCUSE ME, MA’AM? HURRY UP!” Instead of being offended by this rudeness, Red replies with a swoon at the sound of this (to her) beautiful word: “Ma’am…you could scoop the honey out of that word with a bucket…”

Sometimes when I meet someone making a clear effort – e.g., with grooming, clothing, behaviour, etc. – to be readable/read as belonging in a particular gender category despite some physiological dissonance, I make a conscious choice to use the gendered title and pronoun that correspond with his or her deliberate gender presentation. However, this is an imperfect strategy to be used only with considerable caution and mindfulness, as well as humility if one makes a mistake (as are all of the things that I offer on TIMP).

So, I offer what I know to be true (for me and many others) with the caveat that these strategies won’t meet the needs of all people.

I hope this helps, blucitrus!






Gender is ridiculous: On messing up our own pronouns

Anonymous asked:

hi! i recently had big realisation regarding my gender & am slowly shifting to use ‘they’ with friends and some colleagues at work. everyone so far has been very accepting, but i am terrified that -i’m- going to slip up! this seems ridiculous cause ‘they’ just feels so right to me, but it’s also been over 20 years of being ‘she’ and i rarely use third person about myself. i don’t want to make a mistake and invalidate everyone’s opinions of me – is this a common concern?

Hello there Anonymous friend!

First of all, congratulations on making this social transition at work and asking for your needs to be met – this is very brave!

This is a very common concern, but we have to be willing to do our best and acknowledge the ridiculousness of gender when we – WE! – make a mistake due to many years of conditioning.

I was a guest in someone’s class last week and referred to myself as a Debbie Downer, which is a feminizing term that doesn’t fit with my identity at all, but is just so ingrained in North American Standard English. So, I laughed about it, commented on how unconscious these things are, and also commented on how hard is to find alternatives! Some members of the group even tried to help me come up with a gender-neutral version of this old chestnut, which was hilarious. In that particular situation, what was truly helpful and teachable was that gender and pronouns became the thing at-issue and the object of exasperation, not me and my needs around gender.

Gosh, sometimes I even misrecognize my own pronoun! Sometimes I arrive at a party, event, work, wherever and someone says of me “they just got here” and I exclaim “I came by myself!” and it’s hilarious because then I realize that, well, the person is just doing what I want!

So, slip-ups can be okay and even productive sometimes. Your concern is very valid, but a slip-up doesn’t have to invalidate the hard work you’ve been doing to be recognized. It can instead show how ridiculous and arbitrary our language is.

Hope this helps, and write back,


Clueless yet well-intentioned: Tips on changing pronouns at your office

vulvalove asked:

“hello! i currently work as a low-level staffmember (& only employee doing LGBT work) on a progressive college campus with a bunch of moderately conservative administrators. many are very well-intentioned, & all lack education about trans* communities & gender. students get it, but staff/faculty/admin are clueless. i’ve begun to shift my pronouns in my personal life & want to use “they” at work. how would you recommend i “rebrand” myself where i work with hundreds of clueless people? TYSM! :)”

Hi vulvalove!

I really appreciate this question, particularly because I too work on college campuses. I don’t think that many people who are fairly conservative about gender would describe themselves that way, particularly because ‘gender’ is something so ordinary and ingrained that most don’t even think they have views or feelings on it at all! Good intentions are nice, of course, but they really have no effect on what comes out of one’s mouth.

First, I’d suggest taking an audit of your supports and options, if you haven’t already done so. Is there a diversity officer on campus? Is there a ‘safe space’ etc. organization on campus (e.g., McGill Safe Space) that could come in and do (some of) the heavy-lifting for you in the form of a workshop for your co-workers? (Um or given what you said about your job, is this you?) Do you have the support and understanding of a supervisor? Would that supervisor be open to learning about gender diversity and inclusion issues as a springboard to making change more broadly? Would your organization like to contract me to come in and give a workshop on shifting pronouns (joke)?

Second, I’d consider how overt you want this ‘re-branding’ (love it) to be. My suggestions above are all about education, and that can be helpful. However, you want people to use your pronouns and not just expand their minds – the first is a practical goal and the second is a nice incidental benefit of working with you (yes, they are fortunate). On the practical goal front, I’d suggest putting it on the table at a staff meeting and telling people what it means (with the support of your administrator, if possible, who stresses it as an equity issue). You can give them options like just using your name, and guidelines like (if appropriate) ‘don’t include me in events, photos, messages, etc. that are just for women / just for men’ and ‘don’t refer to me as a woman, man, etc.’ depending on your needs. I believe that being as practical as possible with otherwise non-knowledgeable people is key. At the meeting, you can have some resources ready (like this blog) to hand out, too.

To the extent that you feel comfortable, the options are limitless in terms of other more direct action point-of-service things: make a sign for your desk, wear a button, give out candy for a correct gendering (I’m an extrovert so I might try this one as people usually enjoy a bit of camp). Of course, these suggestions all depend on what kind of environment you work in, how safe you feel there and how many strangers you see on a daily basis. Are pronouns your first/worst problem or is it the ‘hello young lady / hello young man’ variety of comments that also trouble you? The first is probably a co-worker issue, and the second probably more of a public issue.

Please keep asking questions or Tweet me or whatever you like. TIMP and I are here for you.

Hope this helps,


Mr. or Ms. or Mx? Formal titles for gender-neutral pronoun users

Anonymous asked:

“I hear tons of talk about pronoun sensitivity, but what about a gender neutral word Mr. or Ms.? I work in a very formal environment, and so titles are a big thing.”

Thank you for asking, Anonymous!

I think that formal work environments are a major ‘frontier’ for gender-based language changes, particularly because formal authority structures are so wrapped up in the correct use of language and related protocols e.g., you can’t just revert to using someone’s first name when you don’t know their gender preference regarding formal titles (or honorifics, as they are sometimes called).

Many people have started to request Mx. to be used when they don’t feel like identifying either way in a titular sense, but I also am unaware of whether this is a verbal or just a written form of address. The UK city of Brighton has this year announced its intention to add Mx. as an option for those accessing city council benefits and services. Wikipedia tells me that Mx. is pronounced ‘mux’ or ‘mixter’ (??) but it’s clear we are a long way off from having something widespread and workable.

If this is a situation that affected you directly, i.e., you would prefer to be called something more they-ish than Ms. or Mr., I wish you the best of luck and can only say that your personal level of comfort at work (professionally and personally) will have to be weighed with your need for gender recognition. I am currently applying for tenure-track jobs, and I have been split down the middle on whether to ask my referees to write letters with ‘they’. Some have done wonderful backflips with language and written letters without any pronouns at all, even after I told them that I’m tending toward using a gendered pronoun and beginning the work when I get there in terms of educating my (fingers crossed) future colleagues. But this is entirely up to one’s field and one’s own preferences.

Thank you for your question, and please ask another anytime!


Resource: “Trans Talk: How to use pronouns” (video by Buzz Slutzky)

A helpful, quirky and honest introduction to pronouns, how to know what pronouns to use and when, and how to be nice to people regardless of their pronoun. From Buzz’s Vimeo page:

“I made this video for my colleagues, in order to encourage them to learn more about trans identity and pronouns so that our department grows increasingly supportive of trans students and faculty.”

When to use single or plural verb forms with singular they

Anonymous asked:

“When one is using “they” as a singular pronoun, is it better to use singular or plural verb forms? I ask because while I usually hear it with plural verb forms in casual speech, I’m writing a story in which a character prefers “they,” and it has led to things like “Smith SAYS, ‘It’s all lies,’ as they TAKE the book from the shelf,” with a number switch between the two verbs. Is the plural verb form still correct when “they” is not used as an indefinite pronoun but for a specific person? Thanks!”

An excellent question! I’m sort of a writer too (academic) and I empathize.

Writing with plural they is hard and about more than grammar; in my experience sentence construction has to shift around in order to make things as smooth as they would be with a binary gender pronoun in use. This might also mean using more instances of the person’s name, or avoiding (in places) some more familiar forms of attribution (like the one in your example) until your reader can acclimatize (i.e., not on the first page, perhaps).

Grammatically, yes, your example is incorrect. However, I firmly believe that language is not only a set of written rules but a living, breathing organ that shifts with us. Chances are by this point in your story your readers will have had to do the work of acclimatizing to pronoun use and can handle it. And I’m afraid that, at this point in the ‘movement’, the fact that you use a gender-neutral pronoun will be a standout feature of your piece (I say ‘I’m afraid that’ because you might feel it distracting if that’s not the point).

In my own life, there are moments of glitch where I notice a grammatical error brought on in someone’s speech because they are referring to me and we have to make do. I find this to be funny, but I also think about humour as a teaching tool ( I’m in an educational field). In some ways, then, gender-neutral pronouns throw everything into relief, including how rule-bound we are without thinking (even they-people like me). I think that is nice.

I would love to read your story! 🙂 (no presh, however, and good luck)


TIMP in the media! J-Source article on singular they featuring Lee

Check out this piece in the online journalism trade publication J-Source about gender-neutral pronoun usage for writers and journalists, featuring Lee and TIMP.

Reproduced here are journalist Katie Toth’s compiled dos and don’ts, from the article:

Do: know your readership. If necessary, quickly inform your reader that the subject of your article prefers the gender-neutral singular pronoun.

Don’t: Undermine your sources’ authority. If you’re writing a piece about environmental science, explanations about a source’s sexual identity are sensationalist and off topic.

Similarly, a review that describes an artist’s chosen pronoun as ‘awkward’ may be funny to you, but it’s alienating for many readers. “I’d feel that the writer was invalidating their gender identity,” says trans woman Lucy Wallace. Wallace says she would be uncomfortable speaking to reporters or reading from outlets that had dealt insensitively with someone’s chosen pronoun in the past. “I’d feel that they don’t know enough about [trans and gender issues] to …write about it for a wider audience,” she says.

Do: Value accuracy. If someone identifies as ‘they,’ then ‘he’ and ‘she’ are the wrong pronouns. If you use them, you are not doing your job.

Don’t: Try to commiserate with your sources or bond over the challenges of pronoun use. It’s unprofessional and people who use ‘they’ as a singular pronoun have heard it all before. “If I tell you I use ‘they,’ practice not reacting as though that’s awful,” Airton said. “Stop complaining to me about how you have trouble with ‘they,’ please.”

Do: Come to your sources with some available options. Instead of gaping in wonder at this linguistic quagmire, Airton would prefer to see reporters suggesting some options that work for their paper. “The interaction styled as ‘this is a problem, let’s accommodate this problem,’ is always off the table,” Airton said. “Why not say, ‘Okay, would you be comfortable with me also referring to me by your position? By your name or last name? May I also do those things?”

Don’t: Neglect an extra copy-edit when using this pronoun. You may have to further simplify your language and shorten your sentences. Lesley Fraser, copy editor at Xtra! Canada, recommends using the plural form of the verb conjugation for ‘they:’ ‘They say,” for example, or “they note.” James McCarten of the Canadian Press has an alternate suggestion: keep use of the pronoun to a minimum, and write attributions for the story in the past tense: “they explained,” rather than “they explain.” Whatever you choose, be consistent.

Do: Bring up discussion around the use of the pronoun ‘they’ with your outlet’s style committee now, rather than later. Have some guidelines that allow reporters to better relay to their sources how they can expect to be portrayed.

Do: Ask your sources what pronoun they prefer, if you’re unsure. “Keep it open ended,” said Airton. “Not, ‘Do you prefer they’ or ‘Do you prefer he or she’, [but] ‘What is your preferred pronoun?’”

Pronouns at work: Coming out as a ‘singular they’ user

One of the reasons I started this blog about practical gender-neutral pronoun usage is because in about eighteen months (if all goes well) I’m going to find myself on the market for a tenure-track academic job. I have had mixed success with people using my pronouns professionally, whether in queer networks or no.

What I am most worried about is the blank look I will receive when I request my pronoun from people who do not know me or who are not in my milieu, or when I feel compelled to correct someone in a position of power in my job search. I wonder whether I will be able to hold on long enough to get a job and then begin the project of changing my pronouns at work. Once people begin using one pronoun, the transition can be slow and painful.

I am worried about being perceived as strange or as having needs that no one understands as needs. But I am constantly reminded that people do.

One of my students used my pronoun when referring to me in my presence (like, telling me howI had come up in conversation with another student) and I kind of died. I pointed it out to her and she said that she had a friend who used ‘they’ who reminded her of me. I had not requested my pronouns of my students, something which I will do this year (probably by referring them to this blog, in fact). But her use was conscious, intentional and seamless (except that it jumped out at me for its sheer loveliness).

This made me wonder whether people who use he or she actually notice when ‘they’ is used for them instead: when it functions as a default. I doubt it. I do know that users like me notice, and that it makes a big difference.

So why do we imagine that ‘they’ always sticks out like a sore thumb? The ordinariness of singular they – it is everywhere – is forgotten, when in fact it might be less noticeable than you think.

Perhaps we could do an experiment. Practice using ‘they’ for he-or-she-using people in your personal or professional or other lives. See if anyone notices. If no one does, maybe let people know you have been using a gender-neutral pronoun for them/others all day long, and point out that no one noticed.

If this happens a great deal, worries like mine – about the future, about leaving the nest or the bubble where people use the language I need – could be a little more unfounded.