Gender confidentiality is the right to decide how, when, if, and to whom a person shares their gender identity with. The Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD) currently has a guidance that advises staff members to not reveal a student’s gender to anyone without their consent (unless legally or contractually required). The Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL), a Milwaukee-based conservative group, has challenged this guidance and has threatened to sue MMSD. MMSD has reaffirmed its support for the trans or gender-expansive community and is standing by the guidance.
We live in a transphobic world. Every day, transgender and gender-expansive individuals face discrimination for being themselves. Part of this harassment is due to the lack of support for how trans individuals decide to navigate this bigotry. One path is through gender confidentiality; by choosing when, where, how, to whom, or if you reveal your gender, you can limit transphobic harassment, be able to explore your gender without outside pressure, and feel confidence and comfort with your gender before needing to open the door to discrimination.
It would be virtually impossible to spend a day at JMM without hearing a transphobic comment. Now, this might be a microaggression– a small insult which may not even have the intent to hurt others –but still a reminder that transgender persons are not recognized nor welcomed. When your teacher welcomes ladies, gentlemen, boys, and girls they erase any enby, agender, or other gender-expansive individuals. When a teacher says they do not want anyone to take too long of a bathroom break, they fail to recognize that the two– yes, only two –all-gender stalls may be occupied. When someone misgenders you or uses the wrong pronouns, they erase you. When this transphobia is intentional, that pain is even more excruciating. Gender confidentiality is a way to prevent that targeted harm.
Sadly, violence, self harm, and homelessness are not uncommon. According to the Dane County Youth Assessment, those identifying as non-binary, gender fluid or other have hurt themselves at a rate 31.9-38.6% higher than cisgender students. The average student body are 35.1-39.2% more likely to have attempted suicide within 12 months before the surve and 8.3-13.5% have been physically harmed by their parent or guardian. These numbers are staggering. Gender confidentiality is a way for individuals to protect themselves. We must support their choice because doing so supports their safety.
Gender confidentiality also allows individuals to learn more about themselves and regain self-confidence without outside pressure. Everyone has a different experience with their gender identity and respecting the individual journey of discovering more about one’s gender is personal. That discovery can provide confidence for those who are overwhelmed with the newness and vastness of their gender identity. This path takes time and space, which can be difficult for some to find. Gender confidentiality ensures these are respected since there is no outside pressure or feeling the need to include loved ones in this process.
One big misconception about gender confidentiality is that it is malevolent. Some see gender confidentiality as intentional lying about gender identity; when in reality, it is protection from hatred. Gender is confusing. It is an ever-changing multi-dimensional spectrum that is too difficult to explain in an entire book, let alone a high schooler’s opinion piece; that is exactly why we need gender confidentiality. People need time to find themselves in this terrifyingly large sea of possible identities. People need time to build up their defences against the bombardment of hate and unacceptance that will inevitably come. People need time to prepare themselves for the possibility that their closest friend, their parent, their community will not welcome them with open arms. It’s scary, even in the most loving environment.
We are kids whether we want to be or not. Our new-found independence is incredible, but we are not invincible. Gender confidentiality is not a lie, rather, it is armor. It is part of the defences that trans or gender-expansive individuals use against physical and verbal abuse. It is a device that pauses time, allowing for the preparations of the impending harm. It is the bubble that pushes away pressure from others and oneself. It is the magic that against all odds lets the protagonist finish their quest and find the confidence they never knew they could have. By letting others have gender confidentiality, you are supporting them in the most meaningful way possible. If and when a loved one is ready, they will tell you if they have found or are still finding their gender. But for now, simply wait.
By Amira Pierotti