Hi folks, Background Used to be fairly regular here but haven't been by in a while. Hoping to encourage myself to come back more. I had a conversation with a few folks the other day about gender and pronouns, and thought I'd see if we could make a go of a fairly controversial, but important, topic: Gender identity & pronouns (not the same, but related). First, some background: I've been involved in education for over 20 years, having mostly worked in community-based support programs for kids with more intensive educational and psychosocial needs. I'm a school psychologist by background, so that's my angle. In the past year or three I've stepped back a bit from more direct service, and am now doing more consulting and indirect work, so I'm at a loss in terms of "on the ground" experience with this issue in more recent years. All that out of the way, I wanted to post some thoughts on gender identity and pronoun use to get some insight from educators. I'd love to have my perspective broadened. I've thought a decent amount about this, but something sits a bit uneasy with me as I'm always wanting to be the most supportive and inclusive of students as I can be, and I know that my current thoughts are less inclusive of what certain students may think about this issue. As a final piece of background info, I primarily work with elementary school students, so certainly this topic may have different ramifications for high schools students, etc. Topic We're all familiar with how gender identity and pronoun usage has become a more salient topic recently, and I'm not sure I think a movement by our society toward adopting a theory of gender fluidity and chosen pronouns is either accurate or helpful. First, I firmly believe in gender fluidity from the perspective that one's gender should not and does not determine personality, preferences, behavior, etc. As we would traditionally use the word, "men" and "women" are not defined by those terms of constructs. While research has most certainly identified certain things (e.g., test scores, behavior) that are more common in one gender vs the other, and while this research is still relevant, gender (as opposite to sex) is socially constructed - meaning that gender is more than simply "sex" or genitalia (which itself has more diversity from a biological perspective than we previously knew). As such, any differences that may be found between genders cannot be dissociated with the fact that we have invented and fostered gender. In other words, we aren't studying some sort of natural phenomenon if we are studying the differences in graduate rates between males and females - we are studying how graduation rates differ based on gender constructs that we have created. It's not to say that we shouldn't study or understand those differences, or that there aren't any biological contributions to gender differences, but we need to understand that, to a large extent, studying gender involves a bit of circular reasoning and shifting targets. Society could change (and is currently attempting to change) gender constructs, and as such it may be very likely that perceived gender differences change as well. A core part of this philosophy of gender fluidity is that personality is not determined by gender. On a group level, it may be possible to identify ways in which our social constructions of gender may influence personality, behavior, etc. with some people, but - removing the influence of social constructions of gender on sex - simply having certain genitalia or DNA does not, by and large, contribute to personality. As such, as a child continues to develop, individual personality is certainly influenced by social constructs such as race & gender, but they are not defined by it. This goes both directions - membership of a particular group (e.g., women) do not all share common personality characteristics, and one's personality characteristics do not determine gender. For example, if we identify a personal characteristic of being "sensitive," not all women are sensitive, and being sensitive does not mean that person is a woman. The implications of this from a gender identity perspective, when coming from the way I'm thinking about this, are pretty clear: If personality cannot be associated with gender, what are we talking about when someone says they "identify as a ______?" What are the elements of identity that are being used by the individual to identify as a particular gender? With those elements, are there then universally agreed-upon elements of identity that are associated with a particular gender, or is it up to personal definition. For example, if I identify as a woman, am I personally deciding what elements of my identity lead me to being a woman? Could another person use the same components of personality, emotionality, etc. to identify themselves as a "man." If this last part is true, and everything is relative, then my perspective is that we've rendered the construct of gender useless - being a "man" or a "woman" means nothing at all other than simply a collection of "things" that the person has individually identified. It communicates nothing. Moreover, it's completely redundant - in those situations, individually constructed and defined gender identity is simply individual identify. Calling personality "gender" offers no further level of specificity beyond "personality." Whether we like it or not, these are active conversations we're having as a people - we're now in the middle of a conversation about what we do with the construct of gender. My weigh-in is that moving toward the concept of gender as a stand-in for personality is neither helpful nor accurate. When I was younger, me and my liberal friends very much wanted to move away from the idea that gender defined anything about us. Of course, the goal of not wanting gender to define us is different from reality - the reality is that women have had less opportunities than men in certain areas, and of course many more things. But our vision was that gender was essentially rendered irrelevant - that being a woman or man meant whatever you wanted it to mean. In this way, we shared a lot with modern day folks advocating a progressive gender identity construct. The core difference, from what I see, is that I'd prefer us to move away from gender as defining identity, with more current thought being that we should lean into gender as a way of structuring our identities. The education and child development implications are pretty significant - by our society moving towards gender as a means of conceiving of, defining, and structuring personality & identify, we're introducing an entirely new structure to psychology. We're advocating for a big move away from previous ways of thinking about identity, and attempting to package entire swaths of psychology into "gender." Note that we already do this - ADHD is simply a socially constructed idea to label common experiences of certain people. ADHD is a vehicle of communication, organization, and categorization we use as humans to explain things w'ere experiencing and observing. Doing so has vast implications - we assume that all kids with ADHD must share certain characteristics, respond to particular strategies, etc. Maybe we're more accurate with current definitions of ADHD (debatable), but think about how we've been so wrong in the past - thinking of kids who are left-handed as "sinistrality," kids with epilepsy as being "possessed," and autism being caused by "refrigerator mothers." Even think of the idea of Aspergers more recently - the latest DSM revision has removed it entirely, meaning that a label, disorder, identity component, etc. that we used for a long time has all of sudden been dismantled - it no longer technically exists. Gender identity is simply another one of these "vehicles" - a way of organizing our understanding of ourself and creating terms and labels to communicate them. I've not seen any evidence that any particular construct of gender must exist - that it is a scientific reality that we've just come up with a name for. Just as being of Chinese descent is a biological/geographical characteristic, but being "Chinese" from a cultural perspective is an artifact of social construction, any attempt to structure or define "gender" beyond pure biological definitions is our choice. So...here's the essential question: Is gender really the vehicle we want to all invest in to structure identity moving forward? Do we really want the primary way we refer to ourselves (via pronouns) to be gender? Do we really want for gender to be in the drivers seat? How would we feel if we came up with different pronouns based on race or ethnicity, for example? Wouldn't we see that as regressive and a step backwards if our goal is to allow for the fullest control and autonomy of the individual to determine identity? The alternative solution rather than a hyper-focus on gender identity and associated pronouns would be a move in the complete opposite direction - the removal of gender as a construct we're investing in to communicate our identity. The "Latinx" concept is relevant here - while still a bit cumbersome, it attempts to remove gender from the conversation, rather than investing in further segmentations of it. While I haven't explicitly mentioned chosen pronouns, I think their connection here is pretty obvious: Why are we wanting to redefine our language so as to invest even more heavily into gender as a construct? Again tying this back to school psychology and education, what are the implications for the expectations we have of children if we want to redefine and hyper invest in gender as a vehicle for identity? What are the expectations for a sixth grader related to gender identity - is this something that we're expecting our kids to "figure out?" Do kids need to go through a process, even if less directly, of "discovering their gender." If this is a completely artificial construct, what benefit does this have for students? What burdens do these expectations lay at the feet of students who are already burdened with so much child development over the years? Having a passive option of opting out of a default status and opting into a different one (similar to how a transgender student opts out of one "gender" or "sex" and into another, yet the default option requires no choice) is one thing (perhaps good, perhaps not). But requiring a student to actively choose a pronoun implies and communicates an expectation that the student make some sort of choice in the situation. It implies that part of growing up is choosing a pronoun, and therefore a gender. It forces them to see themselves and their personality through a social lens that others have constructed for them. It is social engineering - not in the sense of forcing a particular choice, but forcing that a choice must be made. To me, these things are very dangerous. At the very least, we ought to have a conversation - an open and inclusive conversation - about these things. We should not assume that any one group or person gets to redefine these things how they choose, then label others who disagree as insensitive, not understanding, or against any particular person. In other words, while I have my thoughts on the matter, and am certainly wanting to expand my understanding, I do not believe that whatever I personally want to happen related to gender identity should be forced upon others. So, now that I've written my book on a Saturday morning (turned afternoon), for the 2-3 of you out there that actually read this, what additional perspectives should I consider? Where am I wrong? How I can be a better educator, school psychologist, and human being as I think through these things?