No group of human beings is a monolith. Transgender students are no exception to that. This Transgender Awareness Week (and all weeks) it’s on us as cisgender adults to do the work to learn how cool these kids are. We need to show them a variety of options to follow their dreams, to be adults, to live meaningful lives.
I’m just a dopey, cis, hetero, white guy. But I have known a number of transgender people in my time, ranging from acquaintances I give high fives to at punk rock shows to former classmates to friends I cherish more than family members. I’ve asked them for recommendations. I’m no expert by any means, but over the years I’ve put in some of the work necessary to discuss these topics intelligently and with kindness.
These are resources and educational pop culture my colleagues and I have found helpful to better get to know the transgender people in our lives. Whether they lead to educational breakthroughs or not, the following things are a good way to tell students you see them and are thinking about all the ways to help them succeed on their terms.
“Pet” by Akwaeke Emezi In this 2019 novel for young adult readers, Akwaeke Emezi tells the story of Jam, a teenage transgender girl, going on a supernatural adventure. Angels and demons and monsters, oh my. But more than those fun genre elements, there’s a deeper idea of acceptance running beneath the surface. “Hormone blockers and treatments ensue, followed by surgery when she turns 15, all with the support of her loving parents and the acceptance of her community,” wrote Ibi Zoboi about the novel in the New York Times.
“Nevada” by Imogen Binnie Imogen Binnie’s 2013 novel, “Nevada,” is about a young transgender woman leaving her city slicker problems behind her in New York City to hit the open road. The book asks questions like, as The Michigan Daily’s Emily Yang described, “How do you become a person when you’ve been avoiding yourself for so long before transitioning?” For the trans, or gender non-conforming, or questioning students in your classrooms, these are the questions that can help them understand themselves. Having students who are confident in their identities means you have students who are ready to learn.
Laverne Cox’s Speech at Variety’s Power of Women. Award-winning “Orange Is the New Black” actress Laverne Cox didn’t waste time when delivering a speech at Variety’s 2016 Power of Women event. “It’s a big deal that I’m here,” she said. “It’s a big deal when a transgender woman is included in women’s spaces and is honored alongside other women.” That part of her speech may resonate with any students who have felt marginalized, whether they identify with Cox’s life as a trans woman or not. The whole speech is worth a watch to prime all students, the vast majority of whom will not be transgender, for why it’s important to highlight—and celebrate—those who are different.
Adira on “Star Trek: Discovery” The current season of “Star Trek: Discovery” has added the character of Adira, a wide-eyed young prodigy who just so happens to remember multiple past lives. Using “Star Trek” alien tropes as a storytelling vehicle, the writers have crafted an arc for Adira—and the non-binary actor who plays Adira, Blu del Barrio—to explore life through the eyes of gender non-conforming young people you may know in your classrooms. The recent Adira-heavy episode “Forget Me Not” may help your students who are dealing with identity questions—plus, bonus representation points for a science fiction adventure franchise building a big-budget CGI sequence around a non-binary cast member coming to terms with their identity.
Gender Spectrum’s Educator Resources Page If you’re here, you likely want to create gender-inclusive environments in your school communities. Gender Spectrum has been helping educators build those for years. Their findings, which they call the “Principles of Gender Inclusive Health Education,” can be found here.
These are just a few options. What are your ideas?