Gender Spectrum and School


In our schools, gender awareness and the fluidity of gender attitudes are evolving. The understanding and acceptance of this gender continuum can be a barrier to student learning. This post is to help illuminate concepts, tools, and strategies to help ensure students are supported on campus.

Big Reads

A Resource Guide to Families of Transgender Youth

Glossary of Terms – Transgender

The classification of a person as male or female. At birth, infants are assigned a sex, usually based on the appearance of their external anatomy. (This is what is written on the birth certificate.) A person’s sex, however, is actually a combination of bodily characteristics including: chromosomes, hormones, internal and external reproductive organs, and secondary sex characteristics.
Gender Identity
A person’s internal, deeply held sense of their gender. For transgender people, their own internal gender identity does not match the sex they were assigned at birth. Most people have a gender identity of man or woman (or boy or girl). For some people, their gender identity does not fit neatly into one of those two choices (see non-binary and/or genderqueer below.) Unlike gender expression (see below) gender identity is not visible to others.
Gender Expression
External manifestations of gender, expressed through a person’s name, pronouns, clothing, haircut, behavior, voice, and/or body characteristics. Society identifies these cues as masculine and feminine, although what is considered masculine or feminine changes over time and varies by culture. Typically, transgender people seek to align their gender expression with their gender identity, rather than the sex they were assigned at birth.
Sexual Orientation
Describes a person’s enduring physical, romantic, and/or emotional attraction to another person. Gender identity and sexual orientation are not the same. Transgender people may be straight, lesbian, gay, bisexual, or queer. For example, a person who transitions from male to female and is attracted solely to men would typically identify as a straight woman. 
Transgender (adj.)
An umbrella term for people whose gender identity and/or gender expression differs from what is typically associated with the sex they were assigned at birth. People under the transgender umbrella may describe themselves using one or more of a wide variety of terms – including transgender. Some of those terms are defined below. Use the descriptive term preferred by the person. Many transgender people are prescribed hormones by their doctors to bring their bodies into alignment with their gender identity. Some undergo surgery as well. But not all transgender people can or will take those steps, and a transgender identity is not dependent upon physical appearance or medical procedures.
Transsexual (adj.)
An older term that originated in the medical and psychological communities. Still preferred by some people who have permanently changed – or seek to change – their bodies through medical interventions, including but not limited to hormones and/or surgeries. Unlike transgender, transsexual is not an umbrella term. Many transgender people do not identify as transsexual and prefer the word transgender. It is best to ask which term a person prefers. If preferred, use as an adjective: transsexual woman or transsexual man.
Used as shorthand to mean transgender or transsexual – or sometimes to be inclusive of a wide variety of identities under the transgender umbrella. Because its meaning is not precise or widely understood, be careful when using it with audiences who may not understand what it means. Avoid unless used in a direct quote or in cases where you can clearly explain the term’s meaning in the context of your story.
While anyone may wear clothes associated with a different sex, the term cross-dresser is typically used to refer to men who occasionally wear clothes, makeup, and accessories culturally associated with women. Those men typically identify as heterosexual. This activity is a form of gender expression and not done for entertainment purposes. Cross-dressers do not wish to permanently change their sex or live full-time as women. Replaces the term “transvestite”.
Altering one’s birth sex is not a one-step procedure; it is a complex process that occurs over a long period of time. Transition can include some or all of the following personal, medical, and legal steps: telling one’s family, friends, and co-workers; using a different name and new pronouns; dressing differently; changing one’s name and/or sex on legal documents; hormone therapy; and possibly (though not always) one or more types of surgery. The exact steps involved in transition vary from person to person. Avoid the phrase “sex change”.
Sex Reassignment Surgery (SRS)
Also called Gender Confirmation Surgery (GCS). Refers to doctor-supervised surgical interventions, and is only one small part of transition (see transition above). Avoid the phrase “sex change operation.” Do not refer to someone as being “pre-op” or “post-op.” Not all transgender people choose to, or can afford to, undergo medical surgeries. Journalists should avoid overemphasizing the role of surgeries in the transition process.
Gender Identity Disorder (GID)
outdated, see Gender Dysphoria
Gender Dysphoria
In 2013, the American Psychiatric Association released the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V) which replaced the outdated entry “Gender Identity Disorder” with Gender Dysphoria, and changed the criteria for diagnosis. The necessity of a psychiatric diagnosis remains controversial, as both psychiatric and medical authorities recommend individualized medical treatment through hormones and/or surgeries to treat gender dysphoria. Some transgender advocates believe the inclusion of Gender Dysphoria in the DSM is necessary in order to advocate for health insurance that covers the medically necessary treatment recommended for transgender people.


Transgender women are not cross-dressers or drag queens. Drag queens are men, typically gay men, who dress like women for the purpose of entertainment. Be aware of the differences between transgender women, cross-dressers, and drag queens. Use the term preferred by the person. Do not use the word “transvestite” at all, unless someone specifically self-identifies that way.


You may hear the following terms when doing research on transgender issues or speaking to an interview subject. As they are not commonly known outside the LGBTQ community, they will require context and definition if used in mainstream media.

A term used by some to describe people who are not transgender. “Cis-” is a Latin prefix meaning “on the same side as,” and is therefore an antonym of “trans-.” A more widely understood way to describe people who are not transgender is simply to say non-transgender people.
Gender Non-Conforming
A term used to describe some people whose gender expression is different from conventional expectations of masculinity and femininity. Please note that not all gender non-conforming people identify as transgender; nor are all transgender people gender non-conforming. Many people have gender expressions that are not entirely conventional – that fact alone does not make them transgender. Many transgender men and women have gender expressions that are conventionally masculine or feminine. Simply being transgender does not make someone gender non-conforming. The term is not a synonym for transgender or transsexual and should only be used if someone self-identifies as gender non-conforming.
Non-binary and/or genderqueer
Terms used by some people who experience their gender identity and/or gender expression as falling outside the categories of man and woman. They may define their gender as falling somewhere in between man and woman, or they may define it as wholly different from these terms. The term is not a synonym for transgender or transsexual and should only be used if someone self-identifies as non-binary and/or genderqueer.


In 2015, The Washington Post updated its style guide to include the singular they to describe people who “identify as neither male nor female.” It is increasingly common for people who have a nonbinary gender identity to use they/them as their pronoun.

Always use a transgender person’s chosen name.
Many transgender people are able to obtain a legal name change from a court. However, some transgender people cannot afford a legal name change or are not yet old enough to legally change their name. They should be afforded the same respect for their chosen name as anyone else who uses a name other than their birth name (e.g., celebrities).
Use the pronoun that matches the person’s authentic gender.
A person who identifies as a certain gender, whether or not that person has taken hormones or undergone surgery, should be referred to using the pronouns appropriate for that gender. If you are not certain which pronoun to use, ask the person, “What pronouns do you use?”
If it is not possible to ask a transgender person which pronoun they use, use the pronoun that is consistent with the person’s appearance and gender expression or use the singular they.
For example, if a person wears a dress and uses the name Susan, feminine pronouns are usually appropriate. Or it is also acceptable to use the singular they to describe someone when you don’t wish to assign a gender. For example: “Every individual should be able to express their gender in a way that is comfortable for them.”
Some people use the singular they to reflect their non-binary gender identity.
In 2015, The Washington Post updated its style guide to include the singular they to describe people who “identify as neither male nor female.” It is increasingly common for people who have a non-binary gender identity to use they/them as their pronoun. For example: “Jacob writes eloquently about their non-binary identity. They have also appeared frequently in the media to talk about their family’s reaction to their gender expression.”

It is never appropriate to put quotation marks around either a transgender person’s chosen name or the pronoun that reflects that person’s gender identity.”

Terms to Avoid



“transgenders,” “a transgender”
Transgender should be used as an adjective, not as a noun. Do not say, “Tony is a transgender,” or “The parade included many transgenders.”
“transgender people”,”a transgender person”
For example, “Tony is a transgender man,” or “The parade included many transgender people.”
The adjective transgender should never have an extraneous “-ed” tacked onto the end. An “-ed” suffix adds unnecessary length to the word and can cause tense confusion and grammatical errors. It also brings transgender into alignment with lesbian, gay, bisexual, and queer. You would not say that Elton John is “gayed” or Ellen DeGeneres is “lesbianed,” therefore you would not say Chaz Bono is “transgendered.”
This is not a term commonly used by transgender people. This is a term used by anti-transgender activists to dehumanize transgender people and reduce who they are to “a condition.”
“being transgender”
Refer to being transgender instead, or refer to the transgender community. You can also refer to the movement for transgender equality and acceptance.
“sex change,” “pre-operative,” “post-operative
Referring to a “sex-change operation,” or using terms such as “pre-operative” or “post-operative,” inaccurately suggests that a person must have surgery in order to transition. Avoid overemphasizing surgery when discussing transgender people or the process of transition.
“biologically male,” “biologically female,” “genetically male,” “genetically female,” “born a man,” “born a woman”
Problematic phrases like those above are reductive and overly-simplify a very complex subject. As mentioned above, a person’s sex is determined by a number of factors – not simply genetics – and a person’s biology does not “trump” a person’s gender identity. Finally, people are born babies: they are not “born a man” or “born a woman.”
“assigned male at birth,” “assigned female at birth” or “designated male at birth,” “designated female at birth”
“passing” and “stealth”
While some transgender people may use these terms among themselves, it is not appropriate to repeat them in mainstream media unless it’s in a direct quote. The terms refer to a transgender person’s ability to go through daily life without others making an assumption that they are transgender. However, the terms themselves are problematic because “passing” implies “passing as something you’re not,” while “stealth” connotes deceit. When transgender people are living as their authentic selves, and are not perceived as transgender by others, that does not make them deceptive or misleading.
“visibly transgender,” “not visibly transgender”


Defamatory Language

Defamatory: “deceptive,” “fooling,” “pretending,” “posing,” “trap,” or “masquerading”
Gender identity is an integral part of a person’s identity. Do not characterize transgender people as “deceptive,” as “fooling” or “trapping” others, or as “pretending” to be, “posing” or “masquerading” as a man or a woman. Such descriptions are inaccurate, defamatory and insulting. (See “passing” and “stealth” as problematic terms above.)
Defamatory: “tranny,” “she-male,” “he/she,” “it,” “shim”
These words dehumanize transgender people and should not be used in mainstream media. The criteria for using these derogatory terms should be the same as those applied to vulgar epithets used to target other groups: they should not be used except in a direct quote that reveals the bias of the person quoted. So that such words are not given credibility in the media, it is preferred that reporters say, “The person used a derogatory word for a transgender person.” Please note that while some transgender people may use “tranny” to describe themselves, others find it extremely offensive.
Defamatory: “bathroom bill”
A term created and used by far-right extremists to oppose nondiscrimination laws that protect transgender people. The term is geared to incite fear and panic at the thought of encountering transgender people in public restrooms. Simply refer to the nondiscrimination law/ ordinance instead. For additional resources on how to fairly and accurately report on nondiscrimination laws and bathrooms, please see “Debunking the ‘Bathroom Bill’ Myth – Accurate reporting on LGBT nondiscrimination: A guide for journalists.”

At School


Transgender rights at school

What Are My Rights at School?

General Resources

Gender Spectrum Resources for a variety of topics.


Disability Awareness Activities


Building awareness with all kids to help them better understand the world around them is a should be a priority for schools. It is quite normal for kids to be curious about other children who may use special materials / equipment or behave/ learn differently. It is our role as parents, teachers, and citizens to support the kids in their understanding of these differences. Social Emotional Learning under the guidelines of CASEL should be a pillar in your school plan.


Special Education: Promoting More Inclusion at Your School

Disability Awareness- Resources

CASEL guide


Disability Awareness Activity Packet-Activities and Resources for Teaching Students About Disabilities

Understanding Disabilities

Disabilities Awareness Teacher Toolkit

DISABILITY 101: Increasing Disability Awareness and Sensitivity

Teacher’s Reference Book – Special Stories for Disability Awareness: Stories and Activities for Teachers

by Mal Leicester, Jane Dover (Contributions by)

Parenting resources

Disability Awareness: 10 Things Parents Should Teach Their Kids About Disabilities

Teaching Your Child About Peers With Special Needs

walk a mile in their shoes (Bullying Awareness)




Elementary Books

“Andy and His Yellow Frisbee”  by  Mary Thompson   Pre-k -3rd
“Be Good to Eddie Lee ” by Virginia Filling   Pre-k -3rd
“Arnie & the New Kid ” by Nancy Carlson   Pre-k -3rd
“Danny and the Merry-go-Round” by Nan Holcomb   Pre-k -3rd
“Let’s Talk about It” by Jennifer Moore-Mallinos   Pre-K – 3rd
“Leo the Late Bloomer” by Robert Kraus   Pre-k -3rd
“Fair and Square” by Nan Holcomb   1st – 2nd
“I’m like You, You’re like Me” by Cindy Gainer   1st – 2nd
“We can do it!  by Laura Dwight   1st – 2nd
“Rolling Along: The story of Taylor and his Wheelchair”  by Jamee Heelan   1st – 5th
“Adam and the Magic Marble”  by Adam and Carol Buehrens   2nd – 6th

Middle and High School Disability Awareness Book Review

are you alone on purpose?” By Nancy Werlin. Allison and Adam are twins but Adam has Autism and Allison is gifted. Their parents start going to synagogue and there they meet Harry, the Rabbi’s son, who is a bully and very mean to Adam. When Harry is injured and ends up in a wheelchair he becomes more vulnerable and Allison and Harry become friends. This is a moving story about learning about disabilities but toward the end there are a few cuss words. The story itself is marvelous, but due to some harsh language it is more for high school students.

Don’t Stop The Music by Robert Perske. This novel is exciting and a fun adventure that teaches about physical disabilities and perceptions of able-bodied individuals toward people with disabilities. It has a crime mystery imbedded in a disability awareness book. This book would be wonderful for middle school students as well as young high school students.

head above water”  by S.L. Rottman. This novel is about a 16-year-old girl with an 18-year-old brother with Down Syndrome. Their mother works two jobs to make ends meet and therefore Skye takes on most of the caretaking activities with Sunny. This story highlights how it is having a sibling with a disability. Skye has her first boyfriend and having a brother who she needs to take care of gets in the way of her teenage life. There is some serious storyline as her new boyfriend pressures her to have sex and almost rapes her. It is wonderful how Skye defends herself and sticks up for what she believes in, however, this book would be appropriate for high school only due to the mature storyline.

Petey” by Ben Mikaelsen. This novel examines the notion that people with physical disabilities are often assumed to have cognitive disabilities when they often do not. This story starts in the early part of the 1900s and follows Petey Corbin though living in an institution and then a nursing home. It is a delightful journey that clearly shows how non-disabled people often are frightened of people with disabilities until they get to know them. It is a particularly good book for boys and is appropriate for both middle and high school students.

Rules” by Cynthia Lord. This is a Newbery Honor Book and Schneider Family Book Award winner. The story follows a brother with autism and a sister who shares a lot of responsibility for teaching her bother the rules of getting along in a world that does not always have compassion and understanding for someone with autism. Catherine creates rules to help David understand how to live in the world. Catherine also learns a few lessons about other disabilities. This is an excellent book for middle and high school alike.

Views from our Shoes” Edited by Donald Meyer. This is a compilation of forty-five (45) short narratives of siblings of children with disabilities and how they view living with their siblings.
It is a nice view from children as young as four to as old as eighteen. This book is appropriate for middle and high school students.

Wish on a Unicorn” by Karen Hesse. This novel uses imagination and wishes to explore the dreams of children living in poverty with a sibling with a disability. The relationship between the children and how protective they are of their sister with a cognitive disability is heart warming. It would be an easy novel to do writing activities with. What would you wish for if you found a unicorn? How would you handle a bully? This story lends itself to middle and high school students.

The Summer of the Swans” by Betsy Byars. Newberry Award Winner. This novel tells the story of a family that includes a boy with a cognitive disability. This is a short book that easily shows the family dynamics and how it is to be a sibling of a child with a disability. This is a good book for middle school level.


Transgender and Gender Diverse Students

While this is a hot topic politically. In public schools we have been working with diverse populations for awhile. Here is some information to better support Transgender and Gender Diverse students.

Start here:


Some statistics

How many people are lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender?

Increasing numbers of population-based surveys in the United States and across the world include questions that allow for an estimate of the size of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) population. This research brief discusses challenges associated with collecting better information about the LGBT community and reviews eleven recent US and international surveys that ask sexual orientation or gender identity questions. The brief concludes with estimates of the size of the LGBT population in the United States.

Key findings from the research brief are as follows:

  •  An estimated 3.5% of adults in the United States identify as lesbian, gay, or bisexual and an estimated 0.3% of adults are transgender.
  •  This implies that there are approximately 9 million LGBT Americans, a figure roughly equivalent to the population of New Jersey.
  •  Among adults who identify as LGB, bisexuals comprise a slight majority (1.8% compared to 1.7% who identify as lesbian or gay).
  •  Women are substantially more likely than men to identify as bisexual. Bisexuals comprise more than half of the lesbian and bisexual population among women in eight of the nine surveys considered in the brief. Conversely, gay men comprise substantially more than half of gay and bisexual men in seven of the nine surveys.
  •  Estimates of those who report any lifetime same-sex sexual behavior and any same-sex sexual attraction are substantially higher than estimates of those who identify as LGB. An estimated 19 million Americans (8.2%) report that they have engaged in same-sex sexual behavior and nearly 25.6 million Americans (11%) acknowledge at least some same-sex sexual attraction.
  •  Understanding the size of the LGBT population is a critical first step to informing a host of public policy and research topics. The surveys highlighted in this report demonstrate the viability of sexual orientation and gender identity questions on large national population-based surveys. Adding these questions to more national, state, and local data sources is critical to developing research that enables a better understanding of the understudied LGBT community.Source

How to Talk to Kids About What it Means to be Transgender




Other readings:

GLAAD Media Reference Guide




trans children

Policies on Transgender Students for across the United States

 Atherton High School, Jefferson County School District (KY), Policy on School Space (2014), 

 Boulder Valley School District (CO), Guidelines Regarding the Support of Students and Staff Who Are Transgender and/or Gender Nonconforming (2016), 

 California Interscholastic Federation, Guidelines for Gender Identity Participation (2015), 

 Chicago Public Schools (IL), Guidelines Regarding the Support of Transgender and Gender Nonconforming Students (2016), 

 Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, Guidance for Massachusetts Public Schools Creating a Safe and Supportive School Environment Nondiscrimination on the Basis of Gender Identity (2014), 

 Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District (AK), Transgender Student Guidelines (2015), 

 New York State Education Department, Guidance to School Districts for Creating a Safe and Supportive School Environment for Transgender and Gender Nonconforming Students (2015), 

 Rhode Island Interscholastic League, Rules & Regulations (Article I, Section 22 – Gender Identity), 

 Shorewood School District (WI), Nondiscrimination Guidelines Related to Students Who Are Transgender and Students Nonconforming to Gender Role Stereotypes (2014), 

 Washington Office of State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Prohibiting Discrimination in Washington Public Schools (2012),

LGBT Resource List