GENDER NONCONFORMING CHILDREN IN SCHOOLS

Mansi Gupta

INDEX

  1. Cover      Page……………………………………………………………………………....01

  2. Index…………………………………………………………………………………….02

  3. Abbreviation…………………………………………………………………………….03

  4. What is Gender      Nonconforming?................................................................................04

  5. GNC      Discrimination……………………………………………………………………05

  6. Socially assigned GNC &      School Violence……………………………………………05

  7. Childhood Gender Nonconformity-      a risk indicator………………………………….06

  8. Promoting Gender Equality      through Schools………………………………………...08

  9. Conclusion/Suggestions……………………………………………………………….09

ABBREVIATIONS

  1. GNC

Gender Non-Conformity

  1. LGBT

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender

  1. PTSD

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

  1. SAGNC

Socially Assigned Gender Non-   Conformity

  1. What is gender      nonconforming?-

“A gender-equal society would be one where the word ‘gender’ does not exist: where everyone can be themselves.”

-Gloria Steinem

The struggle of two facets of ‘gender’ for equal rights, fair representation, for abolishment of gender discrimination etc. has been there since time immemorial but because of this only, we almost forgot the existence of transgender, gay, lesbian, asexual etc. communities. Achieving gender equality is more than a single goal, in fact it is bigger than the challenges of poverty reduction, building good governance and promoting sustainable development.

Any individual is most vulnerable in their young growing ages because most of them does not even get a chance to explore or talk about sex or sexuality in their home, schools or peer groups let alone realizing the differences and challenges they come with.

Gender nonconforming (hereinafter, GNC) or gender variance is said when gender presentation defies the expectations of which a particular gender behaves for example, a boy or male in most of the societies is not expected to keep long nails or put nail paints on their hands. Therefore, an individual is taken into account as gender non-conforming if their looks or behavior isn’t what would be expected for somebody else with their same gender or sex. But this does not necessarily means that non-conforming would lead the child to become a transgender or gender diverse in adulthood. People can be cisgender or grow up to be gay or lesbian but still be gender non-conforming and similarly, if given opportunity to affirm their gender, transgender people can be highly gender conforming.

There are many factors that affect gender variance as it varies across time, place, culture and society. A man in skirt may be seen as gender on conforming by some but some may say he is wearing traditional garb. It is culturally build and on the basis of culture and type of non-conformity, it could be perceived in positive or negative ways.

  1. GNC discrimination-

The vast majority of children are taught about traditional gender roles globally and have heard negative opinions about people who do not conform to them. This may add up to the beliefs that it is acceptable to bully or mistreat children who are gender non-conforming, even among those children who have been bullied or mistreated for some level of gender variance. That’s why it becomes necessary to empower educators to discuss, debate and normalize gender non-conformity from an early age.

Research suggests that gender non-conforming youth are more likely to experience abuse and other adverse childhood events. Numerous studies have also shown that GNC people of all ages are at an increased risk of bullying, stigma and discrimination.[1]

Bullying directed at GNC people is often because of assumptions that they are sexual or gender minorities and this leads to reinforcement of social norms about gender and sexuality. The acceptance of such abuse has therefore been understood as the acceptance of racialized assault, or lynching.[2]

Gender nonconformity is not a medical issue. However, exposure to bullying & discrimination is related with an accumulated risk of both physical and mental health concerns.

This can be explained by the minority stress model, that looks at how being part of a stigmatized group will impact different aspects of health and well-being. Gender atypicality has additionally been shown to be paired with social anxiety, possibly because of the ways that social interactions have been experienced in the past.[3]

  1. Socially assigned GNC      & School Violence-

School violence is physical (like having been in a fight) or psychological violence (having missed school due to fear for one’s safety) perpetrated by teachers, students or other school staff intended to harm physically or emotionally or both. School violence affects one’s behavioral, social, cognitive, and emotional well-being and is associated with absenteeism and academic failure. Experiences of school violence have been found to result in negative health outcomes including depression, suicidal ideation, and substance use and therefore needs to be addressed.[4]

Little is known about the experience of GNC students with school violence but as per a study on lesbian, gay and bisexual adults’ retrospective recall of their childhood gender expression found that for those reporting childhood socially assigned GNC, there was an increased prevalence of verbal, physical and sexual violence compared with those who refused to report.[5]

Representative school samples demonstrating the prevalence of Socially assigned GNC, sexual orientation and individuality as specifically measured and therefore the relationships between socially assigned GNC and exposure to varied forms of school violence controlling for alternate known correlates of school violence are required.

Furthermore, school violence has been found to be consistently associated with age and gender across samples internationally. For example, adolescent girls and older aged students encounter less physical violence in comparison to younger adults and with boys.

Marginalized racial and ethnic groups are found to experience increased levels of bullying, though data are inconsistent and also the continued careful consideration of race and ethnicity in studies of school violence is indicated.[6]

  1. Childhood Gender nonconformity      (GNC)- a risk indicator-

Childhood GNC has been associated with unpleasant relationships with parents, friends and other relatives. Exposure to childhood physical, psychological, sexual abuse and probable PTSD were higher in youth with gender nonconformity as compared to children who show gender conformity. There are also chances of lifetime PTSD in youth after adjustment for sexual orientation.

Children who are subject to such bullying and lynching in schools just because they do not conform to the generalized notion pay a heavy price in their lives both through physical and emotional aspects.

Physical Effects- Most of the time we tend to simply look into the psychological trauma that GNC children undergo however the physical harms of the chronic bullying are often quite severe. Bullying starts from acts of pushing, shoving, punching and kicking and ultimately may lead to sexual assault or rape. Keeping aside the bodily injuries, these physical bullying can lead to a lot of more frequent childhood health complaints like headaches, abdominal pain, nausea, sore throats, tract infections and palpitations. As a result these bullied children tend to score poor in health related quality of life questionnaires.

The news becomes more troubling when these children are actually being killed on the basis of their nonconforming gender expression. The tragic story of 15 year old Lawrence King in California shook everybody. On February 12th, 2008, King was shot twice in the head by his other 14 year old classmate in a room full of students. But what could attract such violent response? King’s only mistake was being a proud gay and his “effeminate” behavior.[7]

Such stories are rare but it does not take a murder to create a dead body. Incidences of suicide among children who have been bullied on the basis of nonconforming gender expression are plentiful. Refer this story -On Apr 6th, before dinner, Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover, a Massachusetts boy who had endured relentless homophobic taunts in school, wrapped an electrical cord around his small neck and hanged himself. He was just11 years old. His mother had to cut him down from the ceiling.[8]

Such consequences can be explained by the fact that bullying often produces feelings of hopelessness for the bullied child, with research showing a strong correlation between such feelings and thoughts of suicide. According to professor and psychologist Dr. Betsy Kennard, “youths typically don’t have the long-term view of the world that adults do. They may think their despair won’t go away, so there’s more hopelessness.”[9]

The deaths that result from chronic bullying sometimes does not only include victimized students but many more. The 1999 school shooting at Columbine High School is the example of this. There were fifteen people (including the two teenage perpetrators) who got killed and twenty-three more were wounded. Since this horrific event, many in the United States have come to believe that Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold (the two perpetrators of the school massacre) were simply “reacting to years of bullying, rejection, and abuse by their peers.” Specifically, during a videotape that was created a night before the shooting, Klebold explained that, for years, he had received “constant gay-baiting, being referred to as ‘queer,’ ‘faggot,’ ‘homo,’ being pushed into lockers, grabbed in hallways, and mimicked and ridiculed with homophobic slurs.”[10]

Gender theorists have time and again pointed out the role gender plays in explaining that such violent consequences are the result of bullying in schools.

Emotional effects-

“First they bully you, then you bully yourself”

The sense of isolation is not just responsible for the high rate of suicide among chronically bullied children but this is also responsible for a whole lot of severe emotional problems. Numerous theories have emphasized the importance of supportive peer relationships and a sense of belonging for individuals’ well-being and development. In fact, many additionally believe that chronic bullying is particularly destructive mostly because of the manner in which bullying can inhibit the formation of supportive peer relationships. For those who do develop feelings of isolation, however, the resulting psychological harm can be quite ground shaking experience.

There has been a significant relationship between bullying and a variety of psychological distress, including loneliness, acute anxiety, and moderate to severe depression. Perhaps one among the foremost damaging harms that can result from chronic bullying, however, is traumatic stress. Clinical psychologist Dr. Herbert Gravitz says: “Trauma is learning to have so few wants or needs that you can’t possibly be disappointed. It is praying every night to a god who never answers and feeling abandoned and disconnected from life’s beauty and mystery. Trauma is the constantly breaking heart.”[11]

As a result of such trauma, a child’s self-esteem becomes seriously eroded which can later show up in addictions, compulsive behaviors, depression and anxieties. And these behavioral problems are not limited to schools or childhood instead they form persistent scars which can haunt victim throughout the rest of his life. One study found that boys who had been bullied during middle school showed higher levels of depression and self-esteem issues as young adults over a decade later.

These risks are particularly higher for kids showing GNC. They suffer long lasting psychological damage because of the peer rejection, taunting and bullying. The homophobia that diffuse our culture also infect our families, schools, courts, and child welfare organizations. As a result, many of these children lack any kind of support network, even at their homes. Even if these children get supportive family network, they are not willing to take advantage of this support or talk about it because they are too ashamed about it. More often it seems like a humiliating admission of their own weakness or admission of their unpopularity. In sum, all of these effects on victims, including effects on academic achievement and physical and emotional well-being, stem from the way in which chronic bullying leads to an “erosion of self-confidence and self-esteem.

  1. Promoting gender      equality through schools-

Education should have been made instrumental to achieve the goals of gender equality but somehow it has impeded the goal here. We all are familiar of the phrases like – “he is so uninterested in sports unlike other boys” or “Girls do better in arts subjects rather than technical subjects like Mathematics or Science.” We also see the seating arrangement based on the segregation of the gender and boys doing jobs which require or seem to be require physical strength. These are the ways in which gender inequality is perpetuated in schools. Schools are the place where children learn and shape their minds and personalities so why not inculcate these gender equality norms in them since their nourishing years.

Some of the ways through which we can reach closer to this goal are-

A. Establish and publicize a school policy that specifically prohibits harassment on the basis of gender including gender-related appearance and behavior.

Implementing policies that disallow discrimination based on gender identity and expression is a very important initial step for making positive school environments. However, policies alone don’t seem to be enough - the policies should be implemented. Further, students feeling that their school was safer for gender non-conforming students if their schools had harassment policies that specifically enclosed gender identity and expression.[12]

B.  Teacher intervention in harassment makes a difference. The teachers and staff should be trained to stop slurs & harassment.

Harassment is less common when teachers step in to stop negative comments and slurs based on gender non-conformity.

C. Ensure that students know where to go for information and support related to gender identity and expression.

If students know from where to get information and support (related to gender identity and expression) then this can be linked to feelings of safety for students. Feelings of safety at school are stronger among students who know where to get information and support about sexual orientation and gender identity.

D. Introduce curriculum that includes LGBT people and information about sexual orientation and gender identity.

Imparting education about LGBT issues is linked to feelings of safety at school. Students who have not learned about LGBT issues in school are more likely to be harassed for not adhering to predetermined notion of being feminine or masculine.

  1. Conclusion/Suggestions-

Schools are for wholesome development of children and not render them with scars on their souls for life. As we have already said that gender nonconformity varies with culture and society so the attributes may seem unpopular to some but that does not mean that they are unacceptable. The school needs to inculcate this acceptance in their students and especially in teens. The schools could also request training on preventing harassment and discrimination due to gender identity and gender nonconformity. Teachers could set the environment of the classrooms in a way that students get to know that bias related harassment and slurs are not acceptable and if it ever happens, then treat them on priority with seriousness. Existing curriculum can be modified by integrating representations of LGBT people and discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity.

Children can also contribute by just being a little aware and responsible. They can speak out if they hear slurs or negative comments related to GNC. They can find out or make a complaint when harassment towards a transgender or gender nonconforming individual occurs. One can make a complaint about harassment even if that person isn’t the target of it. Reach out in support of specific steps that schools can take like publicizing and enforcing anti-harassment policies, providing resources to students, training teachers and other staff, measuring biased harassment in your local school district.

[1] Elizabeth Boskey, What Is Gender Non-Conforming?, VERYWELL HEALTH (December 12, 2020), https://www.verywellhealth.com/gender-non-conforming-5087006

[2] Roi Jacobson et. al. Gender Atypicality and Anxiety Response to Social Interaction Stress in Homosexual and Heterosexual Men, ARCH SEX BEHAV., 713–723 (2016)

[3] Higdon MJ, To lynch a child: Bullying and gender nonconformity in our nation’s schools, 86, INDIANA L.J. 827, 851-856 (2011)

[4] Cary Klemmer et. al. Socially Assigned Gender Nonconformity and School Violence Experience Among Transgender and Cisgender Adolescents,JOURNAL OF INTERPERSONAL VIOLENCE, 36, 15-16 (2019)

[5] Id.

[6] Id. at 4

[7] Anonymous, See The Shame of Our Nation, DAILY WORKER, Feb 13th, 2008 at 18.

[8] Charles M. Blow, Two Little Boys, N.Y. TIMES: BY THE NUMBERS, Apr. 24, 2009.

[9] Matthew Haag & Jessica Meyers, Questions, Grief Follow Suicide, DALL. MORNING NEWS, Jan. 23, 2010, at B1

[10] Id. at 3

[11] Herbert L. Gravitz, Mental illness and the family: unlocking the doors to triumph, 135 (2004)

[12] Russell, S. T., McGuire, J. K., Toomey, R., & Anderson, Gender Non-conformity and School Safety: Documenting the problem and steps schools can take, CALIFORNIA SAFE SCHOOLS COALITION (2010), http://www.casafeschools.org/CSSC_Research_Brief_12.pdf