"Uh, hi. You guys already know me. I'm here to talk to you about gender." I was standing in front of my 7th-grade class at my teacher's suggestion. She thought that if they understood enough about gender, the other students would start using my pronouns, which, at the time were they/them. I didn't think it was the ideal way to teach the class about gender, but I just wanted people to stop calling me "she." As someone who had only just realized I wasn't a girl, I barely knew what I was talking about myself. But I thought, nobody else was talking about these things. In my 11-year-old naivety, I thought, what could possibly go wrong?
With my dry erase marker, I drew a line on the whiteboard. On one end I wrote "feminine" on the other I wrote "masculine."
"This is the gender spectrum," I began. "Many people see it as just male and female, but in truth, there is so much stuff in the middle," I said, pointing to the middle of the line. Steady chatter rose above the classroom. Backs were turned as people leaned in to talk to each other. If this were a movie, paper airplanes would have flown. Nobody was listening to me.
I felt more and more nervous. This was my one chance to get my message across, to feel more comfortable at school. "Pronouns are what people like to be called by," I continued, a little louder this time. "For example, girls usually go by "she" pronouns." The noise in the classroom rose. "And boys usually go by "he" pronouns. And some people go by gender-neutral pronouns, like they and them, if they don't identify as male OR female."
It felt like chaos. People were either shouting questions at me or not listening at all. Some things I remember hearing:
They is plural. That's not grammatically correct!
If you're nonbinary, what's in your pants?
You're just saying this 'cause you wanna be a special snowflake.
I put down my dry-erase marker and slid back into my seat at the farthest corner of the classroom. Holding back tears, I watched my teacher get up in front of the class and thank me as the bell rang for lunch.
The school was trying to help my classmates understand me and other queer students, but ultimately they ended up doing more harm than good. Even the most progressive schools need help understanding how they can be supportive while still protecting their LGBTQ+ students.