Yesterday, Saturday, March 19th, I traveled down to Albuquerque to attend The Trans + Queer Thrive Education Conference (TQ Thrive). This event, sponsored by the New Mexico GSA Network and GLSEN – Albuquerque, focused on supporting trans and queer youth and the adults who work with them. TQ Thrive is unique in how it brings youth and adults together in the same space to create a space of empowerment to learn with and from each other. This was the first event like this I’ve been involved in since I left state government and went out on Disability back in late September of 2009.
In addition to attending a couple workshops I also participated as part of a Trans 201 panel on working with Trans youth in an educational setting. I discovered that I was the only Non-binary/Genderqueer panelist so I basically let the adults know that non-binary gender identified youth are the vanguard of a movement many schools are unprepared for. Using some recently released statistics from a survey of Millennials and Generation Z by The Innovation Group which presented it’s findings March 11th in Austin at South by Southwest Interactive in a panel titled Generation Z and Gender: Beyond Binaries? I will discuss this study more in depth in a forthcoming post but here are some highlights:
- Fifty-six percent of 13-to-20-year-olds said that they knew someone who went by gender neutral pronouns such as “they,” “them,” or “ze,” compared to 43 percent of people aged 28 to 34 years old.
- Over a third of Gen Z respondents also strongly agreed that gender did not define a person as much as it used to. This figure dropped to 23 percent among millennials who were 28 and up.
- They also felt strongly that public spaces should provide access to gender neutral bathrooms, with 70 percent of Gen Zs coming out in support of the move compared to 57 percent of 21–34-year-old
This slide from The Innovation Group, with the responses when participants were asked if they agreed with statements about gender, is emblematic of the survey’s results:
I talked very briefly about my long history working as an advocate for LGBTQ youth going back to my work with an LGBTQ youth group back in Worcester, Massachusetts in the late ’80s through the Summer of 1996 and my work as a member of the Massachusetts Governor’s Commission on Lesbian and Gay Youth where me and Grace Sterling Stowell had to fight for any inclusion of Tranś youth. When we did get a section in a report about the population we had to call the population “Gender Non-Conforming Youth.” If I had not been pressed for time I would have said, ironically “gender non-conforming” is now the phrase often used now to describe non-binary gender identified youth in policy recommendations for schools. This implies that non-binary youth are nonconformist cis gender youth rather than people with a distinct, well thought out, gender identity. As a non-binary activist I find this a bit insulting as it implies that non-binary genders are not “real” trans people. In reality anyone who’s gender is not aligned with the gender they were assigned at birth is a Trans person!
I also talked a bit about how the internet in general and Tumblr in particular have played a major role in this increased awareness of non-binary gender identities. Youth who are questioning their gender identity are able to turn to numerous support blogs on Tumblr where moderators and amateur peer counselor swill respond to questions and assist youth in their journey to find a gender identity that makes sense to them and of them. I reported that I attempted to count the number of Tumblr blogs that dealt with non-binary gender identities and stopped counting once I got to 200 and the number continued increase. I have discovered that one of the best ways to get in touch with youth culture is to explore the Tumblr blogs created by generation Z.
Adrien Lawyer, my friend and the co-director of the Transgender Resource Center of New Mexico, who moderated the panel, then added that in schools where once teachers and faculty could identify 1 – 3 Transgender students, a few years back, are now reporting their are now dozens or even dozens of dozens Trans students. This marked increase is due to the rapid rise in students discovering and adopting non-binary gender identities.
I am increasingly convinced that what we need is a national or perhaps an international non-binary gender advocacy organization. We also need to make sure that non-binary activists are included on the advisory boards and committees of existing LGBTQIA+ and Trans specific organizations. Non-binary students need to be included to any new policies and procedures adopted by schools, school districts and statewide governmental and community educational departments organizations. Yes this will mean discussion of gender neutral pronouns and inclusion of gender neutral restrooms available for non-binary students while we also make sure trans girls/young women and trans boys/young man are allowed to use the restrooms consistent with their gender identities. It will also mean learning a new glossary of terms related to non-binary gender identities.
I came away from the conference with a renewed determination to step up my advocacy for non-binary gender identified individuals in general and non-binary youth in particular. This is a movement that has come of age and is now ready to expand from Tumblr to the public sphere. I plan to be one of the voices advocating for change and inclusion. As Bob Dylan once sang:
Come mothers and fathers
Throughout the land
And don’t criticize
What you can’t understand
Your sons and your daughters
Are beyond your command
Your old road is
Please get out of the new one
If you can’t lend your hand
For the times they are a-changin’
– Bob Dylan – The Times They Are A-changin’