Who’s Responsible for Educating Whom?

Last week I had two conversations with folks about the work that I do, and one thing that came up in both of those conversations is the question about who’s responsible for educating others about trans issues.

The short and simple answer is this: NOT the trans person. Or the family of the trans person.

The longer and more involved answer is this: we are all responsible for our own learning and growth and finding the resources we need to make that learning and growth possible.

Through my consulting business I educate mostly cisgender people about trans lives, concepts, etc., and that is the work I choose to do.

However, there have been countless times where I have been asked to do the educating as the trans person in a work environment where that was not part of my job title or description.

And a lot of times I have also chosen to do that work in those settings even though it wasn’t part of my job title or description. Because often being the educator made the environment safer for me. But in the end, it wasn’t my responsibility to do that work for those settings.

Many other trans and gender nonconforming people do this too. It is a generous act. It is an act of self-preservation and survival.

A good rule of thumb is this: never make the one person of any marginalized identity do the educating about that identity.

It’s tokenizing. It’s exhausting for that person. It’s inappropriate.

There’s a difference between checking in with that person about language or pronouns. By all means, please make that person the expert on their own experience. But not the expert on the experience of all trans people.

Let them be your colleague.
Let them be your student.
Let them be human.

Whatever privileged identities we hold, it is our responsibility to educate ourselves about those identities we don’t have.

As a White person, it’s my responsibility to examine my own White privilege and the ways I perpetuate White Supremacy. It’s my responsibility to learn about the experiences of people of color and how I can be a better ally.

As an able-bodied person, it’s my responsibility to examine the privileges I have as an able-bodied person. It’s my responsibility to learn about the experiences of those with disabilities and how I can be a better ally.

Does this all make sense?

If you have a student who is trans or gender nonconforming, seek out resources that will educate you on how to make your classroom more inclusive, how you can talk about gender to all students, and how to talk to other parents.

Check your own biases around gender.

Don’t ask the student to educate you. Don’t ask the parents to send you resources.

If you have a trans or gender nonconforming coworker, seek out resources on language, pronouns, and how to be a good ally.

I know that not knowing how to handle a situation or not having knowledge about something that’s right in front of us can feel overwhelming. I know it can make us feel inadequate, ill prepared, bad at what we do.

But here’s the thing: none of us know a thing until we know it. We are all always learning.

I say this in almost all of my trainings: as a trans person, I don’t need you to be perfect. Demonstrated effort and a willingness to take responsibility mean the world to me.

It shows me that you have an awareness and that you care. That’s it. Remember: small things go a long way.

So, when you feel the urge to have someone educate you on the trans experience or the Black experience or the Muslim experience, pause.

Take a breath.

Then take another breath.

And remember that there are a wealth of resources out there (right at your fingertips!) that can give you the knowledge you’re seeking. Take responsibility for your own learning and growth.

Stay the course on your journey to being a good ally.

And remember that we’re all learning. All of us.

With much gratitude,

P.S. Have some questions about making your classroom or academic space more inclusive for trans and gender nonconforming students? Join me next Friday, October 20th at the Social Justice Education Fair!! It’s a day-long conference chock-full of goodness. I’d love to see some of you there.

P.P.S. Have other questions and can’t make it next Friday? Please don’t hesitate to reach out.

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