As a transgender teacher, I socially transitioned while teaching in the classroom. Socially transitioning is a process that a transgender person may choose to do to start living in their gender and not the gender assigned at birth. This can be done by changing your name, pronoun, or gender expression.
I began the process of changing my name and pronouns as I was teaching 4- and 5-year-olds. Naturally, they had questions about this change. After reading a book about pronouns and having a conversation about how we can respect someone by using their correct pronouns, I knew I would have to be ready to answer their questions in a developmentally appropriate way.
I shared with the children that I would like to go by the name Ysidro and that I am now using he/him pronouns. The children asked me things like, “Why do you want to be a boy?” and “What if we forget your new name and pronouns?” I replied that this is the way I feel in my heart, and assured them that this is going to be a change for all of us and will take practice.
I came out to my family as a trans man when I was 25 years old. When I explained to my parents that I wanted them to use he/him pronouns they tried hard to do so. They would often slip at first, but as I noticed them actively working on this change it made me feel heard and safe. That was love to me.
The support I felt from my family to live in my true self was incredible. It is something everyone should feel when sharing themselves with the world. Imagine every single child feeling loved in this way and respected by the power of language.
The words we choose
You may have seen an increase in the number of people sharing their pronouns lately on email signature lines or social media. When cisgendered people (those whose gender aligns with their sex assigned at birth) use pronouns in this way, they support and help normalize the accurate use of pronouns for all.
As children are still learning to use the English language, they often mix pronouns. An example would be a child calling every person they know “she.” Children learn how to differentiate pronouns in the same relationship-based way they learn differences in names.
Normalizing conversations about pronouns is a practice that creates safety in classrooms and school environments. Adults can practice normalizing pronouns around children by introducing their personal pronouns to others. It can be as simple as saying your name “and you can refer to me as” before stating your pronouns.
Common pronouns are she/her/hers, he/him/his, and they/them/theirs, although there are others. This may naturally lead into a conversation with children, when you could ask them what their pronouns are.
To learn more about gender-inclusive practices in the home and classroom is to reflect on your own personal beliefs about gender identity and construction, where those beliefs came from, and whether they create a safe, inclusive environment for children and people who might identify outside the binary of male or female. Talk with educators, parents, and colleagues about these topics and see what different ideas are out there.
Children receive a lot of messages about identity — what is acceptable and what is not — from the adults in their lives. We have the power to create a world where every child is empowered to be their most authentic self — bravely, and without shame. This work starts with us, the adults, first. It is just one small part of the work of humanizing, and creating more dignity and respect for, the experiences of all children.
Resources for families
Here are three books written in a developmentally appropriate way to open up conversations with young children about gender.
- Julian Is A Mermaid by Jessica Love is about a child who explores his own identity and self-image through imaginary play and conversations with his abuela (grandmother).
- They, She, He, Me – Free to Be! by Matthew Sg and Maya Gonzales is about pronouns and different ways to think about gender.
- I Am Jazz by Jazz Jennings is an autobiographical children’s book about one girl’s experience with being transgender and finding her voice to advocate for her identity.