Check The Appropriate Box
By now, many of your know I live and work in the state of Alaska. We don’t have to answer the same types of questions when registering to attend conferences and conventions as many in the contiguous states require.
In the past year or two, I’ve found it difficult to fill out many of the registration forms because they require I decide so many things I’ve never considered prior to this point. For instance, I am now asked about my gender as many forms list more than just male and female.
In most villages, those are the only two choices acknowledged. You are one or the other. If you are homosexual, gender fluid, bisexual, or other choice, it is not acknowledged as a choice. I’ve had students who would classify themselves as one of the above given a choice but in the villages, it is never discussed. It is assumed you fall within the heterosexual perimeters so if you are anything else, its never discussed. Villagers live with the “Don’t ask, don’t tell rules”.
Then I hit the pronoun question which is again something I’m not used to. I didn’t know till a couple years ago, a person can choose the classification of they. I thought they referred to a group containing at least two or more people . Now I find out you can be a single person with that pronoun. Again, most villages operate with only he or she based on what they were designated at birth.
The last event I registered for asked for something I’d never seen before. They had a question asking if I was an “other”. My first thought after “other?” was something like “Are they asking if I’m an alien or an animal.”. I had to look on the internet and even after reading definitions, I still had no idea what they meant so I just chose N/A.
When I went to an event last year, everyone wore tags with their name and preferred pronoun but some added one more thing, the letters CIS. I finally found out it means that you identify with the sex you were born with. Again, using these letters to identify yourself is something foreign to what I’m used to.
Yes, it is hard for me when I leave the village and hit the wider world. As a friend said, I go through culture shock every time I go out to a conference. I also realized about the same time that I don’t connect gender identify or pronouns with my students because I don’t care about their sexuality. I care for them as students.
I had a student who loved trying out makeup. Frank (name is made up) always shared pictures of his latest look with me and I told him, he should think about becoming a makeup artist. When Frank was a senior and so close to graduation, he got a severe case of senioritis. I used samples of eye shadow, blush, and other products to motivate him to graduate. I saw Frank as Frank complete with his wonderful makeup skills and I never once tried to classify him into any particular box.
On the other hand, my father would have assumed he was “queer” because of the makeup and other things but my father came from a family who used that and other derogatory terms. For many years, I tried to get my father to see they shouldn’t be referred to that way but he never changed his ways. It was ingrained in him. In fact, if he went somewhere with people listing their preferred gender and pronouns, he’d be using those boxes to make derogatory comments against them.
I honestly believe that by having people check all these different boxes, they are giving people like my father a chance to refine his prejudices so he could focus on very specific groups. He would not make comments directly at them but he’d mutter comments under his breath or to my mother when he got a bit away.
However, I tend to not worry about anyone’s gender identity, orientation, or pronouns because I see people as individuals. I tend not to use he, she, or them but try to use names only. Oh, don’t think I don’t know how a students identifies themselves, or their orientation because other teachers generally make sure I know. I don't care, I want to get to know their personalities. I realize, I may get some feedback about my attitude but it’s who I am. I hope readers accept me as I accept my students. Let me know what you think, I’d love to hear. Have a good day.