Saturday, July 26, 2008

Newsweek, Take a Hike

The recent Newsweek cover story about the murder of Lawrence King is outrageous. Apparently the article’s author, Ramin Setoodeh, never got the “gender identity and expression aren’t always the same as sexual orientation” memo. (This indicates that Setoodeh managed to avoid any and all up-to-date queer, gender literature in researching this piece.) Setoodeh seems to have written the article in large part to indict and cast scrutiny upon Lawrence King’s gendered behavior: “[King] thought nothing of chasing the boys around the school in [high heels], teetering as he ran… Larry King was… a troubled child who flaunted his sexuality and wielded it like a weapon.”

Who knew that a single middle school student, and the victim of a murderous hate crime, had such power to shake the foundations of society? Setoodeh’s words carry an edge of paranoid fear that I’ve heard all too many times before; he sounds like so many men, straight and gay alike, who fabricate a (nonexistent) image of the terrifyingly feminine “male” in order to justify violence against male-designated, gender non-conforming individuals (particularly trans women). How many female-designated individuals in King’s middle school chase boys around and “teeter” in heels, wielding their sexualities “like a weapon”? Setoodeh doesn’t mention this, but apparently he doesn’t find that relevant in conversations about the “performance” of femininity. (If only Setoodeh could have seen the way I teetered the few times I was forced to wear heels in middle school, he might reassess his overly simplistic notion of authenticity.)

Blaming a fifteen-year-old’s femininity and flamboyance for his/her death does not encourage dialogue and prevent violent, transphobic hate crimes in schools. Setoodeh seems puzzled by the discrepancy between King’s death and his own observation of increased tolerance of gay people in the United States. He writes “California’s Supreme Court has just legalized gay marriage. There are gay characters on popular TV shows such as ‘Gossip Girl’ and ‘Ugly Betty,’ and no one seems to notice. Kids like Larry are so comfortable with the concept of being openly gay that they are coming out younger and younger.” Where does Setoodeh get his definition of “comfort”? And to whom is he referring when he says that “no one seems to notice” mainstream representations of gay people? Who knows.

Unfortunately, what “no one seems to notice” are the numerous murders of trans and gender variant people, particularly people of color, that have occurred in the past few months in the United States. In his rush to sugar-coat news and media representations of “gay people” – which, when examined closely, reveal themselves to be archetypes and caricatures of what straight people think gay people should look like - Setoodeh clearly missed those, too. Young people such as King are not the only gender non-conforming victims of violent crimes. Just two weeks ago, on July 17th, a trans woman named Angie Zapata was murdered in Denver. Sanesha Stewart, a trans woman who lived in the Bronx, was stabbed to death just a few months ago. The list of recent tragedies continues. (For more information, read the article “Queer, Dead, and Nobody Cares” at

What many people, Setoodeh included, haven’t observed is that increasing acceptance of “gay people” does not necessarily mean that anyone, adult or child, is becoming more aware of gender variance. Many self-identified gay individuals harbor intense and violent transphobia, as exemplified by transphobic gay and lesbian individuals like Janice Raymond and Jim Fouratt and the trans-exclusionary policies and sentiments that persist at many “women’s” events like the Michigan Women’s Music Festival.

Well-funded gay rights organizations routinely and unapologetically abandon transgender people. The HRC recently refused to include “gender identity and expression” in its nationwide push to protect LGBT people from employment discrimination. As justification for this omission, the HRC claimed that many unspecified “people” in the United States aren’t ready to respect transgender people’s rights, and therefore it’s better for the HRC not to advocate for them, either.

Suffice it to say, transphobia is prevalent in some gay and lesbian communities, and there’s a history to that. Since the 1950’s, and possibly earlier, gender non-conforming people have been denied seats at LGBT rights tables. The reason? Our supposed failure to assimilate to mainstream norms threatens the ability of wealthier, mostly white, college educated, gays and lesbians to access all of the resources they wanted for themselves. The Newsweek article applies that same, deeply hypocritical “logic” to label Lawrence King “troubled” and his behavior “harmful.”

Are schools prepared to tackle the topics of gender variance and trans-awareness? Unfortunately, most schools are as far behind in confronting gender variance as Setoodeh is. At my school, several colleagues and myself are trying to push for more dialogue around gender and gender expression; but it’s challenging when I can’t even share an article about King’s death with my students without being admonished by administrators and fellow teachers because they claim the topic is “too mature” for twelve-year-olds. I will say this much, though: A Newsweek article blaming a fifteen-year-old for his own death when trans and gender variant people across the nation (particularly trans people of color) are being killed left and right does not do a damn thing to help.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

PFOX Statement On LGBT Youth Suicide

Portland, OR (July 19, 2008) -

TransActive works closely with children, youth and their families as well as with organizations such as GLSEN and the GSA Network to provide education and resources that will help overcome the ignorance, prejudice, harassment and violence directed at children and youth who may be, to one degree or another, gender non-conforming. This discrimination and bullying affects all youth, regardless of their sexual orientation or their gender identity.

As part of our advocacy and education goals, we make every effort to respond to misinformation disseminated by individuals and organizations opposed to equality, respect and supportive care for gender non-conforming children and youth.

On Friday, July 18th, 2008, an ideological Judeo-Christian news distribution service, published the contents of a press release from the organization Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays & Gays (PFOX). In their preface to the PFOX statement, referred to “a recent study” that PFOX claims links an increased risk of suicide with young people who identify themselves as gay or transgender before achieving full maturity. They go on to imply that Gay/Straight Alliances (GSA’s), which they refer to as ‘homosexual clubs”, bear some degree of responsibility for this increased risk of suicide by “encouraging” young people to self-identify as gay, bisexual or transgender.

The “recent study” was actually a June 1991 article that appeared in the Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, vol. 87, pp. 869-875. It was written by Gary Remafedi MD, James A. Farrow MD, and Robert W. Deisher MD.

Their sense of what qualifies as recent/breaking news, while disturbing from a journalistic perspective, may be an accurate indicator of where they are at in their thinking. About two decades behind the rest of us.

In the PFOX press release, PFOX Executive Director Regina Griggs references a recent article in the Washington Post about a 15-year old gender non-conforming youth and how Gay/Straight Alliances help teens such as him deal with discrimination and bullying in high and middle school.

"What the article failed to describe," said Griggs, "is the danger of young sexually confused teens self-identifying as gays at an early age. Research has shown that the risk of suicide decreases by 20% each year that a person delays homosexual or bisexual self-labeling. Early self-identification is dangerous to kids.”

The research referred to by Griggs is that “recent study” discussed above. While we strongly disagree with Ms. Griggs characterization of LGBT youth as ‘sexually confused”, we will set that aside for the moment in order to address her misguided interpretation about what the 1991 study by Dr’s. Remafedi, Farrow and Deisher indicated. In fact, the position stated by PFOX appears to be simply a regurgitation of a statement from James Dobson’s group, Focus On The Family earlier this year.

The following letter was sent by Dr. Gary Remafedi to James Dobson and Focus On The Family in May, 2008. This information originally appeared in an article written by Andy Birkey for the Minnesota Monitor (

"I want to draw your attention to a gross misrepresentation of our research at the website of Focus on the Family," wrote Remafedi. A section of the site called "Myths and Facts" makes the assertion that sexual orientation is easily swayed in adolescence and that "homosexual activist groups" and a culture supportive of gay marriage can influence teens to become gay.

Dr. Remafedi says his research doesn't say anything to that effect. In fact, he wonders if James Dobson [or PFOX/] even read his research.

"Had the authors of 'Myths and Facts' actually read the article, they would have found no support for their contention that 'many children experience a period of sexual-identity confusion when they can be influenced in either direction," wrote Remafedi. "The word 'confusion' does not appear in our article; nor did we find that anyone can influence a young person's sexual identity."

“The purpose of our study was to explore patterns of sexual orientation in a representative sample of more than 34,000 Minnesota students in grades 7 to 12. We found that the percentage of students who reported being "unsure" about their orientation steadily declined with age from 25.9% in 12-year-old persons to 5% in 18 year-old students (p. 716). Youth who were "unsure" were more likely than others to entertain homosexual fantasies and attractions and less likely to have had heterosexual experiences (p. 720). These and other data suggested that uncertainty about sexual orientation "gradually gives way to heterosexual or homosexual identification with the passage of time and/or with increasing sexual experience" (p. 720).”

Gary Remafedi,
M.D., M.P.H.
Professor, Department of Pediatrics
University of

Remafedi also sent his letter to Wayne Besen of Truth Wins Out, a watchdog group that monitors instances where research is used erroneously against gays and lesbians.

"Focus on the Family has engaged in a disturbing pattern of misrepresenting the work of legitimate researchers to further their anti-gay agenda," Besen said in a press release.

In the PFOX statement Griggs said, “"Schools should not be encouraging teens to self-identify as gays, bisexuals or transgendered persons… sexual attractions are fluid and do not take on permanence until early adulthood.”

We suggest to Ms. Griggs that unless she is referring a group of gay or queer youth, gay is not plural, nor is bisexual. And the word is “transgender”… no one has ever been ‘transgendered” - No more than anyone has been “straighted” or “Democrated”. It is not something that is done to someone, thereafter rendering them ‘transgendered’.

It should be pointed out that sexual attraction (and gender expression) is indeed fluid throughout adolescence and adulthood. There is no permanence achieved at some arbitrary point in one’s life. To imply otherwise flies not only in the face of accurately reported research, it perpetuates destructive stereotypes that can damage one’s self-esteem.

Ms. Griggs says, “Rather than affirming teenagers as 'gay' through self-labeling, educators should affirm them as people worthy of respect… to wait until adulthood before making choices about their sexuality. If teens are encouraged to believe that they are permanently 'gay' before they have had a chance to reach adulthood, their life choices are severely restricted and can result in depression."

We agree wholeheartedly with her opinion that educators (and others) should affirm teenagers and pre-adolescents as “people worthy of respect”. We hope to see PFOX, Focus On The Family, the Traditional Values Coalition and others take Regina Griggs plea to heart.

Neither sexual orientation or gender identity are choices that children or youth make. They are who they are. If there is a choice to be made, it is ours in that we can choose to nurture, support and, as Ms. Griggs stated, respect who these children and youth are, rather than harass and oppress them into becoming what some might ‘wish’ them to be. If we as a culture and society do that, then we can remove many of the restrictions and causes of depression alluded to in the PFOX statement.

Griggs also notes that, "GSA clubs and their teacher sponsors make schools unsafe for anyone who has rejected the 'gay' label in their lives or who believes in ex-gay equal rights. Former homosexuals and their supporters should have the same kind of access to public schools that GSA clubs currently enjoy."

Couldn’t that sentence also accurately be stated as “Heterosexuals and their supporters should have the same kind of access to public schools that GSA clubs currently enjoy”? And if so stated, isn’t the question itself ridiculous? The last time we checked, heterosexual and gender conforming children and youth (and their supporters) pretty much have free reign within our public schools. There is no discrimination (overt or covert) against straight/gender conforming children and youth in school activities, including sports, arts, academics, chess clubs, journalism or other events.

It prompts the question; is there something about the ex-gay lifestyle that we are missing? Do ex-gays get together and reminisce about the days when they were still gay? Do they compare notes on how much less discriminated against and victimized by bullying and violence they are now compared to when they were still gay? Do they critique each other on their gender conformity, or lack thereof?

Perhaps they talk about how difficult it is to keep up the pretense of being something they’re not, simply because they’ve been shamed, oppressed and coerced into believing there is something wrong with them? Maybe they discuss how they continue to get teased, bullied and harassed because others who don't know of or fully appreciate their ex-gayness still perceive them as overly feminine if male or masculine if female? If so, then we most definitely want to reach out to them compassionately and respectfully. If they are interested getting out of the destructive ex-gay lifestyle, they can contact PFLAG at Gender non-conforming youth can find support and acceptance by contacting us at For trans adults, there is the PFLAG-Transgender Network.

PFOX reports that an organization called the National Education Association Ex-Gay Educators Caucus (NEAEGEC) recommends diversity and inclusion of the ex-gay viewpoint in public schools. There is absolutely no mention of such a caucus on the NEA’s official website. In doing a Google search for the organization, TransActive staff was successful in finding only 6 entries referencing such an organization.

1. (This article)

2. (A 2006 article on this evangelical news website accusing the National Education Association of pushing the “homosexual agenda”. They quote the former chair of the NEAEGEC, Jeralee Smith. (As far as we can tell, Ms. Smith is the former chair and only member of the NEAEGEC.

3. This is the website for the Concerned Women For America, an organization which states as one of their goals “to bring Biblical principals into all levels of public policy.” The NEAEGEC is referenced in a letter as having published a piece of so-called “balanced literature” entitled “Respect and The Facts”. In following the link at to download the literature, I was taken to Dr. Warren Throckmorton’s website. Dr. Throckmorton is a well-known advocate of therapy designed to change the sexual orientation or gender non-conforming identity of children and youth. If you click on the link to this literature at his website, you are taken to another site which promotes a variety of health and medical related products…none of which are “Respect and The Facts”.

4. This personal website describes itself as a “Christian & American Heritage Resource”. This link quotes former NEAEGEC chair and member Jeralee Smith as accusing the NEA of engaging in a “big misinformation campaign”.

5. The lone reference to the NEAEGEC here comes in a reader response to a March, 2008 article by Amanda Godfrey in the Sandusky (Ohio) Register.

6. This is the site for Exodus International, an organization that claims to be able to “lead” people out of the “gay lifestyle”.

We encourage all organizations dedicated to improving the lives of transgender and gender non-conforming children and youth to challenge these purveyors of misinformation, misrepresentation, obfuscation and outright lies with the facts wherever and whenever possible. Our children are depending on us to protect them from those who would perpetuate intolerance, fear, religious bigotry and misogyny. If we remain silent in the face of opposition, then the voices of our children and youth may never be heard.

Peace & Unity,

Jenn Burleton
Executive Director
TransActive Education & Advocacy

# # #

Mission Statement
TransActive Education & Advocacy (TEA) provides education & advocacy services in support of families of gender non-conforming children and youth, and the child’s right to freely express their true gender identity.

For general information, please contact us:

TransActive is a non-profit educational and advocacy organization. While we depend on service, speaking and presentation fees as well as the financial support of our allies, TransActive will not turn down family support, educational or advocacy opportunities due to lack of ability to pay.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Newsweek Gets It Backwards

Newsweek's cover story this month is entitled "Young, Gay and Murdered: Kids are coming out younger, but are schools ready to handle the complex issues of identity and sexuality? For Larry King, the question had tragic implications." [ ]

The reporter, Ramin Setoodeh seems to me to have concluded that it was because Larry came out and because he dressed in a vampy way and directed sexual and romantic comments toward boys at school that he was gossiped about, harassed and finally murdered. I would question the chronology. I am totally skeptical about the assumption that his behavior led to the other boys' hostility rather than their hostility fueling his behavior. Because it’s the latter that I have seen so often. A little kid starts out gender variant by nature, even in pre-kindergarten. But often subtly so. Then other kids' discomfort and grown-ups' refusal to address their discomfort or teach about stereotypes leads to their excluding that child from play and refusing to sit with the child at lunch. The teachers continue to hope the problem will go away.

In each grade, the class' meanness grows and teachers still don't talk with them about gender as a continuum rather than a binary concept. They don't even bring up female athletes or male dancers. In each grade, the targeted child tries new strategies to manage the hurt. One year, they will hardly talk at all. Another year, they'll talk nonstop. Often, eventually, they will become defiant and exaggerate what comes naturally: a gender expression others find discomfiting. Their peers' meanness -- and adults' refusal to address it in meaningful ways -- often accompanied by isolation from healthy well-adjusted LGBTQ role models -- precipitates the targeted child's using bitter humor and dramatic flair as a defense. And sometimes that works. Once you are clearly not trying to hide your sexual orientation or gender identity or whatever about you is different, it sometimes makes calling you "gay" anti-climactic and gets kids off your back. Sometimes, it doesn’t work. It didn't work, in the end, for Larry.

Know that I am not saying that transgender youth are necessarily exaggerating anything. I have no idea if Larry would have eventually identified as trans or not. I just imagine that, in time, Larry's spike heels and glitter might have given way to more garden-variety femininity or andogyny. If it hadn't, so what?

The point is that Setoodeh infers from his interviews, especially with Brandon's father, that the way to protect Brandon would have been to change Larry's behavior. But liking someone and wanting them to like you back is not a crime. Middle school is the time when most kids get crushes and tell friends. It doesn't sound to me as if Larry's behavior had risen to the level of stalking at all. If it did, then why haven't all the girls on that pre-Valentine outdoor quad been charged with stalking? Their behavior and Larry's appear to have been the same.

Maybe, rather than changing Larry's behavior, the most effective way to protect Brandon would have been to help him see someone's flirting -- even another boy's -- as flattering instead of insulting. We let homophobia and transphobia go unchallenged all the time and then we seem shocked when a young person becomes enraged at the thought that his peers might think he was gay. We let Brandon down not by failing to prohibit Larry from saying he liked him. We let Brandon down by letting him grow up believing that who Larry was (and who he would be by extension if he liked Larry back) was the worst thing a person could be.

And we let Larry down by letting his whole school grow up hating his difference and making his life there hellish. His femininity and his getting a crush didn't lead to his murder. Brandon's soul-searing transphobia and homophobia did. And adults' behavior, in turn, led to that.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Civil Unions? Yes, Please!

The past few weeks have brought some good news for queer parents. According to a July 5th editorial in the Washington Post, the federal Office of Legal Counsel recently ruled that the child of a same-sex couple could receive child’s insurance benefits due to one of his mother’s Social Security Disability benefits.

Two women – whom the Post referred to as Monique and Karen - received a civil union when they first moved to Vermont with their son Elijah in 2002. According to the editorial, that civil union ensured that Karen legally qualified as a “parent” to Elijah despite the fact that she is not his biological mother. When Karen started receiving Social Security Disability benefits and stopped working, she requested that Elijah receive Social Security child’s insurance benefits as compensation for the loss of family income – and the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) determined that the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) does not prohibit such benefits. The Post editorial quotes Deputy Steven A. Engel of the OLC as writing that “Although DOMA limits the definition of ‘marriage’ and ‘spouse’ for the purposes of federal law, the Social Security Act does not condition eligibility for [child insurance benefits] on the existence of a marriage or on the federal rights of the spouse in the circumstances in this case.”

The most important factor, it seems, is that the law in Vermont recognizes the minor (Elijah) as the child of the adult in question (Karen). Deputy Elder and the OLC imply that the decision in this case had little or nothing to do with Karen’s status in a same-sex partnership, and that Karen’s right to confer her Social Security benefits to Elijah is contingent on the state of Vermont’s recognition of Karen as a legal parent to Elijah. However, Karen’s status as a “legal parent” appears to be irrevocably intertwined with her status in a legally recognized partnership.

The ability of a non-biological parent in the United States to attain the legal status of “parent” is inconsistent and dependent on a variety of factors: access to resources, race, gender identity, sexual orientation, location, income, among others. Had Karen and Monique not had the opportunity to receive a civil union and procure that legal recognition of their relationship, would Karen have legally qualified as Elijah’s parent? I’m not sure anyone could say for certain.

While civil unions do not directly help single parents, they have shown – in the case of Vermont, for example – to ensure rights that can be extremely valuable to a wide array of LGBTQ people. There are many issues facing LGBTQ people that will not be solved via civil unions, and there are serious limitations to how effective nationwide civil unions would be; however, a case like this one in Vermont could be seen as a step in the direction of accounting for the needs of LGBTQ couples and parents who receive benefits from the government. The OLC’s decision to uphold the right of non-biological parents to confer benefits to their children could be important for many queer and non-queer people alike. It could register as particularly significant for transgender people who are, in many states, essentially required to seriously impede – or even eliminate – our ability to biologically reproduce before we can be recognized as our desired gender.

Legal relationship recognition is not purely symbolic, as many “HRC gays” obsessed with the institution of marriage would have us believe. It’s not even necessarily about the legal rights conferred to spouses, though that is clearly one potential positive attribute. For people who live off the government, it can be about having the right to provide for, take care of, and have children. Queer and trans activists can build off Monique’s, Karen’s, and Elijah’s victory and focus on the significance not of marriage, but of the economic benefits for adults and children that can accompany legal recognition of LGBTQ parents and their relationships.

If this nation isn’t “ready” to acknowledge LGBTQ individuals’ right to get married, why not push for civil unions that would open economic doors for LGBTQ people to be recognized as parents and take care of our children? Many queers and trans people have criticized Barack Obama for his views on “gay marriage”, for example, but I think Obama is correct in focusing on the economic inequalities underpinning legal recognition of couples in this country instead of getting wrapped up in the hype around the religious institution of marriage. I’d take a civil union any day – and, it seems, so would my children.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

'And Daddy Makes Three' is delightful.

On This American Life, Chicago's Public Radio, available online through their free podcast and heard on more than 500 public radio stations around the USA and seen as a television show on Showtime.

And Daddy Makes Three
Six-year-old DJ has two dads, Dan Savage and Terry Miller. DJ is being raised by two gay men, but he has a preschooler's understanding of what gay means. Which is to say, he doesn't understand it at all. Though he does oppose gay marriage. Dan, the author of the syndicated column and book Savage Love, tells the story. His latest book is Skipping Towards Gomorrah: The Seven Deadly Sins and the Pursuit of Happiness in America.
Listen to this American Life Episode 293: A Little Bit of Knowledge which originally aired 07.22.2005.

Click on 'Full Episode' to listen online. Act Two: 'And Daddy Makes Three' is 11 minutes long and starts at 18:02 of this podcast. There are several places where music might make you think it is over. Be sure to listen to the whole.

Friday, July 4, 2008

3 Simple Rules for Politicians (and others too!)

The Safe Schools Coalition doesn't endorse political candidates because of our 501(c)(3) status, but we do talk to them and educate on the issues that concern us because of our mission statement and the work we do.

I found an excellent article I wanted to share:
I've been around a lot of politicians in my day. Whether City Councilors, County officials, state legislators or Congress members, there are some basic rules that transcend the status of the office when it comes to gay rights.

After spending time at the Indiana Democratic State Convention last weekend hobnobbing with our state's queer-friendly politicos, one thing became crystal clear: More and more politicians are willing to reach out to LGBT voters, but they have no idea what to say.

I thought I'd start an official list of suggestions for politicians on how to interact with our community. Maybe if I offer some assistance more politicians can get a quick grasp of the basics.
Rule #1 - Acknowledge Your Audience

Last weekend's convention really put this first rule squarely in the forefront of my mind. Several politicians stopped by - from the candidates for Governor and Lt. Governor to a local City-County Councilor. Some made a good first impression; others didn't.

Why? Several speakers didn't even bother to use any of the following words:
  • Gay
  • Lesbian
  • Bisexual
  • Transgender
  • Diversity
  • Sexual orientation
  • Or any acronym like LGBT, GLBT, etc
If you are willing to step into a room and ask for our vote, at least have the common courtesy to acknowledge the tie that binds. When a politician speaks in generic code words like "civil rights" or "equality" without so much as mentioning who should be equal, it's just insulting. It shows us that you don't really care about us so much as you care about our votes.

While LGBT rights aren't the only topic our community thinks is important, it is the elephant in the room.

and ...

Rule #3 - Know the Lingo

Nothing will turn off queer voters more than using rightwing talking points in front of a liberal audience or in the media. When speaking to an LGBT group avoid words like:

  • Sexual preference
  • One man and one woman
  • Lifestyle choice
  • Family values
  • Gay marriage
Let's use an example. Polly Politician doesn't think gays and lesbians should be able to get married, but supports civil unions. She is perfect on every other issue. When asked the question, "Do you support gay marriage?" should Polly answer:
  1. I think marriage is between a man and a woman.
  2. I think marriage is a state's rights issue. Each state should decide on their own.
  3. I believe gays and lesbians are entitled to the same benefits and privileges. I know we still have some disagreements over wording, but surely we can work those out as we tackle other problems together.
Which do you think makes the best impression?

While this was written with politicians in mind, these are good rules for others to follow as well - such as teachers, administrators, staff and others who want to be known as allies.

I recommend reading the whole article: 3 Simple Rules for Politicians
Filed by: Bil Browning - The Bilerico Project - June 26, 2008

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Educators' Never-Ending Process of Reflection

Last week, I had a conversation with a middle school student who attends a relatively wealthy public school in New England. She related a story to me about a teacher at her school whom she characterizes as "funny" because of the easygoing and sarcastic tone he takes with his students. A few weeks earlier, a boy in this student's class had made fun of her notebook because she had sketched dresses all over the cover. The teacher had responded to the boy by teasing him "Well, I bet you'd look really good in that dress, Adam." Though her teacher resorted to a transphobic joke that reinforced stereotypical gender norms, the student with whom I was speaking considered it not a non-offensive, well-intentioned effort on the part of the teacher to defend one of his students from harassment.

My immediate response is to think: For every teacher who assumes that no middle-school-aged "boy" would want to wear a dress, there is a student sitting silently in the corner of the room who gets the message that what she/he wants is ridiculous. This scenario works itself out in many ways in classrooms. My conversation with this student connected to my recent thought processes about assumptions teachers often make about students, and the many limitations of our perspectives as educators.

Last week I breezed through a young adult novel called Keeping You a Secret, which, in combination with my week spent around people who do not yet know about my transition, reminded me of how exhausting and devastating it can be to withhold information about one's identity on a daily basis. Keeping You a Secret is a compelling description of the coming-out process of a high school lesbian that captures how emotionally and psychologically taxing it can be to stay silent about an aspect of oneself. The book avoids being a purely "tragic queer" novel while still tackling the many issues encountered by young, queer people who often rely very heavily on the support offered by their families and people in their schools.

Gender- and sexuality-proscriptive interactions among teachers and students, such as the one that the middle school student told me about last week, happen all the time in public schools. I imagine most teachers often don't even realize the weight our words can carry in these conversations. As an educator, I'm learning that it is crucial to keep in mind that I don't really know what's going on in students' minds or lives. It is my professional obligation to try to avoid making assumptions about what students may or may not be going through, because it is very possible that nobody knows except for they themselves. Anything I say and do as an educator could affect my students, whether I realize it or not – so, no matter what my intentions are as a social-justice-minded or radical educator, it is my responsibility to continually examine my own assumptions and internal biases to ensure that I am not unknowingly taking them out on any of my students.

Along this line of thought, I've recently started to re-evaluate some of my own negative assumptions about straight male sexualities and the ways my personal biases could potentially have the effect of "closing down" conversation and discussion in my classroom. This reflection process was sparked by an incident last week when I saw several teachers at my school separate two eighth grade students, a boy and a girl, who were kissing during our semi-annual trip to Prospect Park in Brooklyn. The act unsettled me with its undertone of sexual policing, and I found the "white teachers, Black students" racial dynamic of the interaction deeply problematic.

This prompted me to think about my positioning in my classroom, as a white Yale graduate teaching mostly students of color in a Title I school. If I exude discomfort with or disdain for straight male sexualities, even without intending to, what effects could that have on dialogue in my classroom? For a specific example, what effects could that have on discourse about oppression and the many stereotypes and stigmas confronted by straight men of color?

While many LGBT people and LGBT youth face challenges that many straight individuals do not (which is a questionable generalization), the last thing I want to do as an aspiring social justice educator is shut down avenues of conversation and intellectual thought about the challenges and pressures my students – straight or gay, male or female or trans - face. I'm only just beginning to understand that to open dialogue in a radical way and encourage critical thought in my classroom, I must constantly reassess the limits of my own perspectives about sexuality, gender, and the many facets of my students' identities.