LGBTopics: Sexuality and gender fall along spectrums, not into boxes

Our school community is more gay-friendly than many. Coming-out Facebook posts receive a clamor of “likes” and positive comments, many of our classrooms sport “LGBT safe zone” signs, and an enormous crowd shows up every year to the Day of Dialogue assemblies that raise awareness of LGBTQ topics. However, it is important that students not take these things to mean that the school is sufficiently educated about or accepting of members of the LGBTQ community.

hile we have taken significant steps forward in the past few years, we still have a long way to go. One key idea of LGBTQ advocacy is the “spectrum,” which recognizes that there are infinite ways that any given individual may identify between the extremes of “masculine” and “feminine” or “gay” and “straight.” There is so much nuance that only a gradient can accurately represent a human being. People do not fit into tidy, oversimplified systems of boxes. They are much too complex, too amazing, to be confined to such limitations. Some students at the high school are able to see beyond the two-box system of only recognizing straight, cisgender males and straight, cisgender females (“cisgender” refers to those who identify as the gender associated with their reproductive organs), but few fully understand the essence of this gradient called the spectrum. Rather, many people tend to create additional boxes: one for gay men, one for lesbian women, and maybe two more for bisexual men and women, leaving out people who identify with many other sexual orientations and the entire trans* community.

The word “trans*” is an umbrella term for anyone who does not identify as cisgender. The “*” is symbolic of the gender spectrum, representing all of the identities that do not fit into the cisgender binary, such as: transgender; genderqueer; genderfluid; and agender (and many more). In other words, it is not enough to add a few more boxes for transgender individuals.

We need to completely transform the way that we think about gender and sexuality in order to accommodate everyone, eliminating the box mentality.

There are several indications that our school community still operates in boxes. Trans* students and staff have to deal with the lack of gender-neutral bathrooms (aside from the one on the fourth floor), “male” and “female” checkboxes on official school forms and cis-normative conversation in the halls and classrooms. Day-to-day affairs are made difficult for people who do not conform to societal assumptions surrounding gender.

There have been conflicts regarding the bathroom situation in the past, as cisgender students have been hostile at times toward trans* students’ use of bathrooms that match their gender identities but not necessarily their reproductive organs. Trans* students also struggle regularly with “male” and “female” checkboxes on forms for gender-based divisions in official school activities. They can feel uncomfortable checking off either box or joining either group. Details like these, although they may seem minor, can be seriously harmful, invalidating identities and degrading trans* students to the point of feeling like second-class citizens.

Of course, this issue is not limited to the trans* community. There is a broad range of sexualities, too, not just gay, straight and bisexual, but also pansexual, asexual, aromantic and more. No number of boxes can adequately define the variety of sexualities that are represented at the school and in the world any more than they can adequately define gender identities.

Our community needs to push beyond the box mentality. Students and teachers must strive to see gender and sexuality as spectrums, and every individual as having a unique place on those spectrums. Strict definitions limit our capacity to understand each other and to be truly accepting of all our differences.

Ben Gladstone can be contacted at [email protected]