Celebrating Trans/Nonbinary Educators

With the crucial need for diverse representation and inclusivity in education, two innovative teachers are making an impact in their fields of teaching. I had the pleasure of working with Linden, a science educator from Boston, and Bill, an English language arts teacher in San Francisco, during their residency years spanning from 2017 to 2020.

In honoring trans/nonbinary educators, I captured our discussions, highlighting key themes on the challenges and opportunities they have faced, as well as how they have both transformed their classrooms into safe and supportive spaces for their students.


Bill: I always feel like I resonated with being nonbinary, but there was never a word for it. I remember being a kid and getting really upset that there were different bathrooms but not really understanding. And then, as I grew up, I was very [much a] tomboy, and I got made fun of a lot. What ended up happening is that nonbinary became a term younger people were using (I’m a young millennial, and it was a Gen Z thing), and I was like, “I resonate with this!”

Linden: Six years ago, during my residency program, I was out as bi only to friends. I had a couple of conversations with friends about gender, and how I hadn’t quite identified as female for a long time. But, it wasn’t something that felt super important to me at the time. Coming out as nonbinary started to matter to me around spring of 2020. The timing lined up with the shutdown. That’s when I started changing up my appearance to try to feel more comfortable in my skin. Now it feels like when people see me they have some kind of heads-up that something’s going to be a little different for them, that some of the games they expect me to play socially just aren’t going to happen.

Bill: I’m 32, and I came out as nonbinary when I was 25. At first, I was like, “I don’t know if I want to say I’m nonbinary, because I don’t want to be ‘they.’” At the time I was thinking of it in a very binary way; I thought it was something that wasn’t fluid — that you had to choose and that was going to be the thing. But there came a point where I was like, No, this is just who I am. I know what I’m doing. Me choosing to be Mx. wasn’t challenging, because it was already the way I was being perceived. And I knew I wanted to be honest about it.

Linden: When the concept of trans was first explained to me, I definitely thought of it as a binary concept — going from one place and transitioning to another. But more recently, I’ve thought of it as an umbrella term that includes nonbinary. Summer of 2020, I felt like I wasn’t ready to change my pronouns until I was ready to change my first name. There was a month where I was so full of anxiety, trying to figure out my new name. Once I did, it felt so good. The next day, I made a new Facebook account and sent emails to all my friends and family being like “Hey, here’s the deal.” I talked with my therapist a few days later, and she was like, “Wow! That’s so exciting. So, are you thinking about how to come out?” And I was like, “Already did! I just came the F out,” ha.


Bill: Before I was a teacher, I was a paraprofessional, and I was “she.” But I was looking very much like a trans man — shaved head, and I would bind and stuff. And I was a para for kindergarten, and it was the most resistance I’ve ever had in my profession, being a para perceived as a trans masculine. There was a lot of stuff like, “You’re confusing the kids,” and having people assume that it’s not safe for me to be around young children. I wanted to teach kindergarten and younger grades, but I was like, “This is a lot of resistance for just starting out.”

Linden: My colleagues and admin are generally very good and stay away from problematic territory, but a lot do not seem to know what gender means. When I ran my introduction to students (which mentioned gender and sexuality) by my principal, the response was, “That’s not how I would introduce myself to a class.” No one has explicitly told me not to bring my sexuality up, but they did tell me not to use it in my intro. So, the gender piece they’re okay with, but the sexuality component, they seem very uncomfortable with.

Bill: That example of people saying, “You’re confusing the children” probably hurt the most. It hurt because I wasn’t expecting it. They would be like, “The parents are talking about you,” but they wouldn’t tell me who. And then my supervisor blew it off. They were basically like, “Well, you should be concerned about those things.” And I thought it was so interesting, because it’s always the adults who have the problem with it, not the kids. Kids don’t care.

Linden: The worst thing that happened was a classroom interaction when a student just straight-up asked me in front of the whole class, “Are you gay?” And because of who I am, I just said, “Yes, I am a member of the gay community.” The queer clique then led the whole class in a round of clapping, and one kid accused another of saying that I didn’t belong there — which almost turned into a fight. The kids went to administrator offices, which is how my vice principal came to the understanding that I had randomly announced that I was gay in class, and students had a fight over it, which is not what happened. Very unpleasant interaction for me.

Bill: Last year was the first year I hadn’t experienced — I don’t want to say hate crimes — but like some sort of tagging on my door, or something like that. I have the trans flag outside my room, and I’ll have kids who throw things at it, or try to pull it down. But I expect that kind of resistance, so I’m like, Okay, whatever. I care more about my students experiencing those things. I have way more students who are protective of the trans flag and protective of me. And, more often, I’ve had to stop fights because of actions from those students in my class. They’re very protective.

Linden: I had one parent call me, because I’m her daughter’s home room teacher, and she said she’s not comfortable with her daughter learning about gender and sexuality — that in her culture, they don’t do these things. For some reason, she had not picked up that I’m queer, ha. I just reassured her, and she never followed through on removing her daughter.


Bill: I’ve gotten lots of really sweet shout-outs from kids, like over the intercom (embarrassing, ha). Or, you know, sweet letters. We read The Outsiders, and I had one student come out as nonbinary and start going by Johnny, which I think is adorable. Lots of positive things [resulted], like cool drawings, cool story ideas that my students come up with, students sharing books that have queer characters in them. And my students are very good at correcting people when they use the wrong pronouns for me — much better than adults. It’s much more normal and casual for them. So just hearing them do that is cool.

Linden: Actually, when you [Christine] mentioned during my residency year how important it might be to students to share stories in the classroom or talk about identity in the classroom — if you’re gay, or if you have a different gender identity — that’s what spurred me to find ways to talk about being bi with my students; that mattered so much to some students — like they hadn’t met an adult who was gay or bi before, and they cared so much. They felt safer. They felt a connection that was just amazing to see and to find out.

Bill: I’m the faculty advisor for a huge GSA group, 40-45 kids. We have a space where we can all use our pronouns and not be harassed for them. We draw and make bracelets and watch whatever shows they want to watch — just hang out. It’s a safe space for us. A lot of my students don’t use “they” outside of this space; they just use whatever pronouns people expect them to have in class.

Linden: I have a girl who is now out to her friends as lesbian, but before, she was in my home room, and she hadn’t told anyone. She made a little cartoon drawing with two girls holding hands and was like, “What do you think of my picture?” And I was just like, “It’s beautiful. It’s beautiful. You keep doing that.” Another girl has a cousin who’s nonbinary, and she has one of those little rubber bracelets in the nonbinary flag colors, and she’s really invested in wearing it. I’ve also had a few parents who are super positive and supportive. One wore an “I support trans kids” t-shirt to the first day of school to meet me.

Bill: My school is very supportive of me, as far as admin is concerned. They always check my pronouns and will email teachers if they make a mistake, which is nice. They’re trying. We have had lots of conversations. I’m constantly going into the office saying, “What is going on about this?” They let me sit in on their conversations about how they’re going to handle things. Next year, I definitely want to do more of that.

Linden: After I had that conversation with my vice principal about that classroom interaction that went south, and I explained how important it is to my students that I’m out, he advocated to add these issues to our health curriculum. One of the topics they cover now is gender and sexuality. He heard me when I suggested something that would help students, would help me, and would help other coworkers who are not out — and he advocated for a change.


Bill: In the beginning of the year, I’ll say, “I’m Mx. B., and these are my pronouns.” And then I’ll have the students fill out a survey, where they tell me their pronouns, how they want me to communicate with them, and what they want me to use in class. I don’t ever have kids say it out loud, because I remember that’s something people would do to me all the time, and it’s so awkward. Everyone stares at you, and it’s like, “God, I was just trying to say my name!”

Linden: I remember a faculty meeting where there were people I had never met before, and the first thing they asked was to introduce yourself to the entire group and say your pronouns. That’s when I realized that it just killed me to have to lie about myself and be like, “I’m she/her,” when I’m not, and I haven’t been for a long time. And even though it was intended to create a safe space for people who use other pronouns, that wasn’t the right time to come out and tell co-workers, some of whom had known me for three years — plus new people who’ve never met me. I didn’t want to be this dramatic person who drops a bombshell in a meeting and then moves on with no conversation about it. So, I just didn’t say any pronouns, like I was some kind of conservative, and I walked out of the room and cried.

Bill: It’s one of those things where I see the effort, and I’m glad that we’re putting the effort forward, but especially with kids — like I can get nervous, and I’m a very confident person! So, yeah, that’s why I have a whole Google Doc for my students (fed by that form). Then I know their pronouns, and what they want me to refer to them as (in class and in front of their parents), and whether they want me to correct other students in class. And those things might change throughout the year. I keep checking in with them.

Linden: It depends on where in your journey you are. If you’re out, and you really want people to know how you’d like to present, it’s helpful to have everyone provide their pronouns, so you’re not the one person in the room who does. But that meeting was so hard for me. I was just in this place where I wasn’t ready, and I didn’t know for certain, and I didn’t want to take a stand about it. It’s a weird way to have gender discrimination, trying too hard not to discriminate. I think having people already in the organization, maybe in leadership, who are comfortable sharing their pronouns can set the example but never make it required.

Bill: My advice is to set very early on the standard of, “We respect everyone in this class.” Emotional, spiritual, and physical safety is the one standard I really set. And then we create other norms around that. Make sure you know your students’ pronouns for sure, and check in with them about that — super important. And talk about what your pronouns are, even if you’re a cis person, so that gets normalized. And then actually listen to your students. I get a lot of my trans students telling me their teachers are not listening. And then just offer a lot of choice in your assignments, so your students can have queer characters and stories and talk about their lived experiences. That’s important.

Linden: Realizing how much it’s for the kids and not for me really helped me see the value in coming out. I’ve considered from time to time stepping back from being out and just passing as female again. In some ways, that would be easier for me, but I definitely see a loss to the students if I make that choice. Kids need teachers who are out and who explain their experiences — how to be this thing. I would have been out as nonbinary when I was sixteen if I’d had a teacher, or literally anyone in my life, who was nonbinary and showed me it was an option. It would have saved me so much trouble. I also think there could be a resource site of materials and stories, where teacher candidates could see examples of how teachers are out with their classes. I got to watch a colleague be out in his own way with his class, and that was really helpful to see.


I hope you enjoyed hearing from Bill and Linden as much as I did. Please take some time today to thank and celebrate the trans/nonbinary educators in your educator preparation programs and in the schools with which you partner. Their stories deserve to be heard, honored, and amplified.

AACTE’s LGBTQ+ Advocacy and Inclusion in Teacher Education Topical Action Group can serve as a resource for teachers and teacher educators who are concerned about integrating LGBTQ+ issues in their classrooms and/or in search of more resources, curricula, or support. Please reach out to co-chairs William Coghill-Behrends (william-behrends@uiowa.edu) and me (cgentry@nyu.edu) for more information.

Christine Gentry is a clinical assistant professor and residency director in the NYU Teacher Residency, where she directs the NYC DOE partnership and leads the data, assessment, and continuous improvement efforts of the program. Before her work in teacher preparation, Gentry taught English, creative writing, and oral storytelling in the public schools of Boston and NYC for 13 years.

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