An under-examined aspect of safety for youth is being safe to be themselves in emotional and mental ways, and that includes having people in their lives who use the language that resonates with who they are – be that gender designations, names, or labels.
Despite what parents, teachers, and kids in the schoolyard have said for generations, sticks and stones may break my bones, but hateful words can leave deeper wounds that are slower to heal. And yet, many people resist something that costs them nothing: using respectful language.
In Victoria, the Greater Victoria School District has created a library of helpful resources for those who want to understand the terminology of sexual orientations, gender identity, and gender expression.
A great place to start is with their “Bite-Sized” lesson on the difference between sex and gender: Sex v. Gender. Understanding the difference between sex (a biological fact) and gender (a cultural construct) is essential to understanding the diversity of human experiences related to
- sexual orientation (who you are attracted to, if anyone),
- gender identity (whether you feel “feminine” or “masculine”) and
- gender expression (the way you present your “femininity” or “masculinity” to the world).
One of the most embarrassing moments of my adolescence was when a museum cashier asked my dad how old his son (meaning me – his 12-year-old daughter) was. In a moment, I can still return to that moment, to hating how I looked and wanting to disappear, and to my Dad’s anger at the stranger who made the mistake. It’s a very small step of empathy to understand the sense of being invisible, or just somehow “wrong” for youth who see themselves as one gender to be called another.
That’s why the “Bite-Sized” resource on names and genders is so helpful: Names and Pronouns. Now you never again have to make the mistake of assuming someone’s gender – and you know what happens when we assume.
The school district’s whole library of resources is really helpful for those who are interested in learning: https://learn.sd61.bc.ca/sogi/. You can take the learning at your own speed, but know that every time you take the moment to learn, you create safer spaces for emerging 2SLGBTQIA+ youth.
About that acronym:
Yes, we know it’s getting long. No, we aren’t going to simplify it. Different people may choose to emphasize different groups by placing them first, or they may leave some of the letters off. At Threshold we follow the lead of the Victoria Pride Society in using 2SLGBTQIA+
Let’s break it down
2S stands for Two-Spirit, the identification of individuals who were neither male nor female in some Indigenous cultures. We list Two-Spirit first as an act of respect and decolonization, recognizing that Two-Spirit people existed on this land before English arrived.
LGBT – Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transexual. These three sexual orientations and one gender identity are the core of the original acronym and have long served as a short-hand for a whole spectrum of human experience.
Q – In some writing, the 2 is linked to the Q. It can stand for either Queer (an umbrella identity that includes sexual orientation and gender identity/expression) or Questioning. NOTE: At various times in Western culture, both Gay and Queer have been used in a derogatory way. This The Safe Zone Project post can help you decide if you want to use it: Isn’t “Queer a bad word?
I – Intersex, the biological sex that is neither male nor female. It replaces earlier terms that included hermaphrodite and androgyne.
A – When relating to sexual orientation, the A stands for Asexual, which means not experiencing sexual desire for other people. In gender identity and gender expression, the A is for Agender, meaning a person is a person and doesn’t have a strong sense of being either male or female. Similar terms would be gender fluid, non-binary, or genderqueer.
+ – the plus at the end of the acronym represents the fullness of human experiences that are included in sexual orientations, gender identities, and gender expressions.
People are not only one thing – we are more than who we are attracted to or if we see ourselves as male or female. This PRIDE season we hope you’ll take this little lesson as a chance to get to know the broad experience of humanity for yourself.