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The Dangers of Using Derogatory Terms to Motivate

I recently read a post that got me thinking about the dangers of using derogatory terms to motivate. “I don’t want him to grow up as a sissy, but I don’t want him to be bullied either,” the mother says.  She was soliciting advice about sending her child back to school after having homeschooled him for a year. She lamented the bully that had plagued her son for four years. And ultimately her fears about sending him back into the dynamic.

Sissy, wuss, wimp, where do these words come from and why do we use them to describe our sons and our fears? Why aren’t these words used to describe those assigned female at birth? Let’s explore. The Oxford Languages Dictionary defines the word sissy as, mid-18th century (in the sense ‘sister’). In his article titled, This is why so many gay men say ‘sissy’ is a hurtful slur, Cyd Zeigler interviews several men, some gay, some heterosexual who discuss the interplay of homophobia, sexism, and othering wrapped up in the word sissy, “the word’s very roots are homophobia and sexism (which, ultimately, come from essentially the same place).

Just like saying “that’s so gay” or calling someone “queer” — when used in a derogatory manner — we use the word sissy to demean someone by linking them to femininity.” Mr. Zeigler is quick to point out that, just because you don’t know or mean a word to be homophobic or sexist doesn’t mean it isn’t. Friends, there are dangers to using derogatory terms to motivate people.

I’m sure this mom comes from a home where sissy is commonplace. Perhaps she is unaware that it is derogatory. In fact, I’ll bet that many of you have people who have used these words to “motivate” you or your siblings. She went on to say that her son has a “huge heart and is empathetic,” great qualities in a person if you ask me. The feminist inside of me can’t help but think of an exercise involving a piece of paper that teachers use to teach empathy. Perhaps you are familiar?

Take a piece of paper and wad it into a tight ball. Now open the paper and try to smooth out all the wrinkles. Each time a person shames another human you place a wrinkle in their paper. With time and hard work, the wrinkle could become less prominent, but it will never disappear. Shame is defined as “a painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behavior.” Shame is the opposite of pride. It is that feeling of being less than others because of who we are or the choices we make. It’s destructive. As you can see, there are dangers to using derogatory terms to motivate.

The words we choose are powerful, especially those spoken to or about our young children. Locker room talk is no excuse for toxic masculinity in the name of motivation. My readers, please think about your words. Think about how they make you feel and choose wisely. Shaming men and boys by calling them feminine should not be a slur, but it is. And don’t forget, using femininity in a derogatory reference harms the women in the room too. During this National Bullying Prevention Month please make sure you are not your child’s first bully.

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An Educators Role In Affirming Transgender Youth

A national survey by GLSEN has found that 75% of transgender youth feel unsafe at school.

The survey concludes that those who persevere have significantly lower GPAs.

These students are more likely to miss school out of concern for their safety,

They are less likely to continue furthering their education after high school. 

So, what do these statements mean for educators? 

Educators have a unique and prominent role in the lives of these children. For some, teachers are the only safe adults in their lives because their parents and siblings are non-affirming. Moreover, teachers are the first adults to see bullying and hostile treatment from other students. And they are the first people who can respond in a way that makes a transgender child feel validated and safe. Below are 5 simples ways to affirm transgender children in your classroom.

  1. Use identified pronouns and names. This is a simple yet impactful way to validate these children for who they are. When in doubt, have courageous conversations with the child about which pronouns they prefer. 
  2. Acknowledge and react to mistreatment from other children. It is no secret that mental health is a serious concern in the transgender community. One cause of depression and suicidal thoughts in transgender children is bullying. Do everything you can to prevent it. 
  3. Focus on the whole child. Transgender children are so much more than a pronoun. Find out what gives them joy. Talk with them about books, hobbies, or other activities they enjoy. Praise them for the beautiful person they are. 
  4. Educate your colleagues. Sometimes, people’s bias is unintended and comes from a place of misunderstanding or the consumption of disinformation. So, do what you can to educate your peers. Share resources and information that support the affirmation of transgender children.
  5. Think of creative ways to divide your classroom activities. Even after she transitioned, my daughter was instructed to line up in the boys line in gym class. Her reaction was embarrassment and hurt feelings. The gym teacher publicly shamed my daughter in front of her peers. It persisted despite a 504 instructing the teacher to devise creative ways to divide the class. Ideas can be anything from your favorite color or guess the number. Have fun with it. Dividing into the binary is so 2000.
  6. Don’t overthink everything. Above all, transgender children want to be loved and accepted, just like every other child in the class. Therefore, sticking to this basic principle will yield dividends in terms of a trusting, reciprocal, healthy relationship with your student. 

For more incredible suggestions, subscribe to one of my favorite newsletters targeted toward educators. Time To Thrive is an annual conference held by the Human Rights Campaign. Their monthly newsletter is a bright spot in my day. Most important, in your classroom, make sure all are welcome.