Watch Sage and Karen's speaker series recording from 12/1/23.
The Wye River Student’s Whole Authentic Self
The mission of Wye River Upper School is to engage and challenge bright students who experience learning differences by building their skills and preparing them for college and for a fulfilling life.
Part of that engagement is meeting students where they are and seeing their whole authentic selves. This involves understanding and celebrating their diversity in all its forms.
Central to many youths, coming into full awareness of themselves is expressing their various identities, including gender identities. Many parents and teachers were raised in cultural environments that accepted limiting narratives of gender as a binary–only male and female, determined by reproductive organs.
Gender identity is often understood to be the way we feel about who we are, how we live in the world and the way we want others to see us.
By contrast, biological sex is understood as whether we have XY or XX chromosomes, associated with what is commonly understood to be typical male or female reproductive systems. But, even biological sex is more complicated than that.
Both gender and biological sex exist on a spectrum. Gender identity may or may not match our reproductive organs, and may or may not be guided by certain hormones.
For instance, let’s look at four scenarios of someone born with XY chromosomes and has reproductive organs typically understood to be male. This person is assigned the male gender at birth based on these outwardly observable traits.
In the first instance, this person persists through life identifying as male and wants the world to interact with him as male. This describes what we call a cisgender male.
A second person may be assigned male at birth but may grow to identify as female and wants the world to understand that she is female. This describes a transgender female.
Or someone may be assigned male at birth and come to identify as neither male nor female, or as both male and female, or as neither. They may sometimes want interaction as male, other times as female, and many times as neither polarity or as a combination of both. They often prefer the pronoun that best encapsulates this reality: “They.” This describes a non-binary or gender-fluid or agender person.
And in the fourth example, someone could be born with any number of sex chromosomal differences, such as XXY or XYY or XXXY or many other combinations, and may have ambiguous reproductive organs and hormonal makeups. This person is understood as intersex and may identify in any way with regard to gender.
All of these sexualities and gender identities are natural and normal and occur with some frequency in humans and in nature.
Youth expressing these identities must be supported and protected from any cultural or structural bias against them. Transgender youth experience disproportionately high instances of suicidal thoughts–not because of their identities, but because of bias against their identities. Having even one supportive adult greatly reduces this risk.
The Intersection of Transgender Identities with Black and Latinx Identities
The experience of being gender diverse in schools may be even more complicated for students of color.
Black and Latinx trans students are more frequently targeted by the juvenile criminal system and the school-to-prison pipeline. These biases toward Black and Latinx trans and queer students need to be understood and changed.
One of the most important things that educators and caregivers can do, is to listen to the child’s expressed needs. And educate yourselves on the impact of intersectionality on youth of color. This research is a good place to start.
Learning Differences and Gender Identity
Neurodiverse youth are as likely as any youth to express their gender identities in many ways. Some neurodiverse youth are already comfortable navigating their lives outside of typical conventions and social norms. Scientist, transgender and autistic advocate Dr Wenn Lawson, puts it this way, "The non-autistic world is governed by social and traditional expectations, but we may not notice these or fail to see them as important. This frees us up to connect more readily with our true gender."
In some ways, this freedom to understand and express gender diversity may help neurodiverse youth to feel comfortable with themselves. In other ways, some youth with high-functioning autism and learning differences may need specific interventions to ensure they are cognizant of personal safety and able to recognize the cues they need to move safely and confidently in public spaces.
Likewise, parents, caretakers, and educators need to understand gender diversity and the love, support, and human and civil rights each transgender, non-binary or intersex child deserves.
Some resources to assist in this include:
The Human Rights Campaign’s Welcoming Schools program:
More Welcoming Schools resources:
GLSEN, 4 Ways to Support Transgender Youth of Color:
Schools and Black and Latinx youth:
Gender Spectrum: creating gender-inclusive spaces for children and teens
SMYAL: creating safe spaces, opportunities and leadership skills for LGBTQI+ youth in the greater DC metropolitan area:
National Center for Transgender Equality
Gender Identity and Autism
The National Black Justice Coalition,
Sage's Recent Production for The Nation Black Justice Coalition, "Flowers"
A sampling of books by and about trans people of color:
–some books specially for teens:
Further reading, by Sage and Karen: