Ask Gender Affinity

Gender Affinity is an affinity on Westridge campus dedicated to creating a space for those who do not identify as cisgender women. 

 

This column answers questions posed by the Westridge community about gender. The purpose of this column is to inform. Because many of the issues and questions we will be dealing with are very nuanced, instead of having one answer per question—which could oversimplify the big picture and individual experiences of the trans community at Westridge —this column includes multiple answers from different members of Gender Affinity.

 

All contributors to this column are using pen names in order to maintain privacy and anonymity with respect to how out they are to members of the Westridge community, family, and outside friends.

 

If any of the terms you see below are unfamiliar to you, check out our glossary of terms.

 

With that in mind, we hope you find this column interesting and informative.

 

With love from, 

Niko, Blue,  JH, EL, Jaime, R, TN, and CranberryJuice (Gender Affinity)



 

This issue of Ask Gender Affinity will cover asking pronouns, why trans people choose to stay at Westridge, how to balance using someone’s pronouns and/or name with their out-ness status, and name use.

 

Is it rude to ask someone their pronouns? 

 

Not at all! Asking someone their pronouns is more polite than accidentally misgendering them. In fact, some people quite like it when people ask their pronouns because the pronouns they use are not apparent from their appearance, and it shows that even if someone is confused, they are considerate enough to ask. However, pronouns aren’t really something you should ask a stranger, especially one who very clearly presents as a certain gender. For precisely this reason, some (mostly binary) trans people dislike it when their pronouns are asked because they feel that they are presenting in a way that should make their gender obvious to you and by asking their pronouns it means that they are not passing, and it could make them dysphoric. To avoid making anyone uncomfortable, we recommend introducing yourself with your pronouns. When you meet someone you could say something like: “Hi my name is ______. I use ___/___ pronouns. What pronouns do you use?” By providing your pronouns, you also normalize people saying their pronouns when they meet so that its not just a “trans” thing. Note: when you ask someone their pronouns, it is also important to ask someone about who they are out to so that you don’t accidentally out them to someone if they are not out to them. Outing someone is both rude and inconsiderate even if it isn’t on purpose; someone else’s gender identity is not your thing to share. Also, if someone chooses not to share their pronouns with you, it’s probably not about you, but rather that they aren’t sure yet or don’t feel comfortable or ready to come out yet.  - JH, Niko, and EL

 

If you’re referring to someone in a context of before they were out/transitioned should you use their dead name? Or their name now?

 

You should use their name now because that is their name, and they are the same person as they were before they came out/transitioned. Also, depending on the situation you especially don’t want to out them as trans if the people participating in the conversation are not aware of their trans identity. At best this could make the person uncomfortable, and at worst this could put them in danger if someone they get outed to is transphobic. If you are going to be in a situation where the person has yet to start using their new name, ask the person what name they would like you to use; this also prevents them from being outed. -JH, Niko, and EL and TN

 

How can you balance respecting someone's name/pronouns but also being aware of who they are out to at school?

 

From personal experience, I know that respecting both a trans person’s identity and their level of out-ness at school can be extremely tough to navigate, especially if you aren’t that experienced with trans people. First of all, I would recommend asking the person in question details about their specific situation. For example: exactly who are they out to? Is there potential danger for this person if they get accidentally outed? What is their level of comfort with being misgendered for the sake of safety? I know this may seem like a lot of hassle, but especially if this person has an unaccepting family or community outside of school, being aware of how out they are can have a profound effect on their mental health, quality of life, and safety.  -JH and Niko

 

If someone has come out as transgender, why would they come to or stay at our all-GIRLS school?

 

I personally decided to go to Westridge because of the people and the English department here and not for the fact that it is a girls' school. -Jaime

 

I decided to stay at Westridge after I came out because I really liked the teachers and all of my friends are at Westridge. I also felt more supported in an all-girls environment rather than a co-ed environment. Before I came to Westridge, I was unaware of the possibility of being non-binary and didn’t have the language to express how I felt; I just thought that I was a tomboy. -Niko

 

Westridge is my home and my school no matter what my gender is. This is where I belong. -R

 

When this school year started, it was really rough. I was dead set on switching to a co-ed school next year. However, I met some new people, and, dare I say, made some new friends. I think if I left I would regret it. Being called “girls” or “ladies” makes me cringe every time, especially when I come back home and all I hear is “she” and my deadname. It’s tough. It’s really tough. Having great friends I (have) met here makes it totally worth it because I still get gendered correctly every day, and all my teachers call me my name, though they still refer to me as “she.” I think I'm going to stay at Westridge until I graduate, even though I may have to lie about what school I go to until then. - TN

 

I personally don’t care too much about the “all-girls” aspect of Westridge. I think it’s a great place to be able to learn in a safe environment (away from cis men), but I sometimes am bothered by the way teachers use gendered language to talk about the students. I hate it when teachers refer to a class as “ladies,” and I’ve even been casually called “young lady” by someone while walking into school. I think I would also be uncomfortable with this if I was a cis woman. I love the idea of Westridge being a learning environment for marginalized genders and I think the administration should think about this as we continue to have this conversation. -Blue

 

There can be many reasons for choosing to stay at Westridge despite being transgender, and it’s a tough decision for many people. My thought process in choosing to stay is as follows:

Short answer: the pros outweigh the cons. Pros: theatre, math, science, the humanities, Latin, my beautiful and loving friends, my teachers, the location, ceramics, and the incredible community. Cons: dysphoria, being called a girl, and anxiety telling friends outside of school that I go to Westridge. Nonetheless, I have found ways to cope with these struggles, and I am happy here. :)

Long answer: In eighth grade, I was set on leaving Westridge for precisely the reason that it is an all-girls school. I applied to a few schools but only got accepted to one. Therefore, at the end of eighth grade I had three options: stay at Westridge for high school, go to the school I got into, or transfer to my local public school, Blaire High. Because of academics and location, I decided to stay at Westridge for freshman year and apply to more schools, hoping to transfer sophomore year. At this time in my life, I had grand dreams of transferring high schools, completely socially transitioning to male, and pursuing a medical transition when I turned 16. However, that summer, when I finally came out to my parents, those hopes turned out to be entirely infeasible due to my parents’ rejection of me being transgender. The summer before freshman year, I became aloof and cold, hoping to make it through my last year at Westridge (or so I thought) with almost no friends. However, I soon found a loving group of friends in high school, and things began to brighten up. My parents’ lack of acceptance of me being transgender forced me to find ways to cope with my gender dysphoria in and out of school, and I soon came to the conclusion that even if I transferred schools, I would still be treated as a girl and would not be able to socially transition because of my parents, thus making my experience essentially the same as it was at Westridge, except without all the wonderful things about this school, such as the theatre department (I love you guys!!), the humanities, my math and science teachers, and most importantly, my wonderful friends whom I love eternally.  -JH

 

 I guess I should start with I could never truly put into words how special Westridge is to me and how I would never willingly leave, so I’m gonna keep it short and sweet. The main reason I have decided to stay at Westridge is because here is where I feel loved and accepted. I am not currently out to my parents, but I am to many of my teachers as well as most students, so Westridge has become a second home to me. Westridge is where I found the people I now consider my chosen family, these being people who have had a profound effect on me and have immensely changed me for the better. Without getting into too many details, I was recently going through a very tough time, and since I had the support of a few staff members and the ability to create a space for myself where, if only for a few hours a day, I could be seen as a guy, it did wonders for my mental health and ultimately got me through the toughest of those days. I suppose I’ll end with thanking those special people (you know who you are) and thanking fate for letting me come to this amazing school. -EL


 

If you would like to submit a question go here: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSdHSKT3Pd1c6p58-fXonCyECmBtpqkxUG6ttCCDSSt4Tw4SpA/viewform?usp=sf_link

 

If you have any comments or questions feel free to email us at gender@westridge.org