Pronoun introductions offer greater range of student gender identities

Jake Brodsky, News Editor

From Day of Dialogue to an ever-increasing presence by the GTSA, transgender and non-binary students are making their voices heard in the high school. This year, the GTSA has taken an active role in influencing how students initially identify themselves to peers and teachers.

On the first day of school, in advisory and classes, students were asked to share their gender pronouns. This was part of the Gay Trans Straight Alliance’s (GTSA) longtime effort to offer a safer transition for those who use non-binary pronouns.

“There’s not a graceful, easy opportunity for those students to be able to tell their peers or to even tell the teacher that they want a different name or pronoun unless there’s something that’s built into the introductions of the class,” GTSA adviser Leslie said.

Leslie, co-GTSA adviser Christien Polos and student members presented the idea at the annual school-wide faculty meeting in early September. While the presentation was well received, some faculty members were worried about implementing pronouns on the first day.

“If someone made a comment or a snide remark in that day one, a teacher is immediately having to be on the offensive in terms of shutting down a disrespectful comment, and that’s hard,” Leslie said.

Other potential problems could have come from teachers using the pronouns incorrectly due to lack of experience, Leslie said.

Freshmen English teacher Jen Rose-Wood said that she was also worried that the system could potentially lead to kids being outed.

“If you ask your class a blanket question, ‘Would anybody like to specify what their pronouns are?’, then you’re effectively asking that kid to come out in front of that class, and that may not be a safe environment,” Rose-Wood said.

Despite these initial worries, Rose-Wood said the presentation was definitely strengthened by student voices. Above all, the presentation was informative for teachers.

Senior Jory Cherry, who spoke at the presentation on behalf of the GTSA, said that the teachers’ response has definitely improved from past years.

“Many of the teachers were eager and enthusiastic, while the rest respectfully listened and at least took in what we said,” Cherry said. “The year prior, we sent out an email to all the teachers about doing pronoun introductions, but none of them did. Having a face to face conversation with them all was successful.”

According to Japanese teacher and former Gender and Society teacher Rachel Eio, the presentation quelled faculty apprehension.

“I think that their goal was make it something that didn’t have to be a big deal, so it just became part of a way that you introduce yourself,” Eio said.

Both Rose-Wood and Eio were impressed at how maturely their students handled the pronouns introduction.

“I was actually really impressed by how comfortable my students were,” Eio said. “I modeled it for them, I had another student model it for them and then everyone used it very easily.”

Eio said that in her three classes on the first day, seven students used pronouns that she did not expect. Especially for those 9th graders who were new to the school, she said that her students were incredibly courageous.

“If nobody asks, then everyone makes some assumptions that probably aren’t true,” Eio said. “I think it’s great that kids were brave enough and strong enough and bold enough to come out and be who they are.”

Rose-Wood acknowledged how far ahead the current generation of students is, even compared to the faculty.

“We look to you to keep pushing us because there are important steps that we can take,” Rose-Wood said. “For example, in English teaching, writers who are gay and lesbian or trans, I’ve never done that, and that’s on me.”

However, Leslie said there is more to be done. To start, the GTSA will set up Transgender Awareness Week, which occurs right before Thanksgiving break.

“The GTSA has really incredible leadership this year, and they are really interested in doing a lot more action and outreach,” Leslie said.

By working with the GTSA and speaking at the Day of Dialogue, Cherry said they have become more open about their gender and helping others at the high school.

“I’m generally quieter and more introverted, but I’ve taken it upon myself to be really outspoken about my personal identity with people here, so that other kids can too,” Cherry said.