In Their Own Words

From a student…


I’m not sure if this email is still active after almost 3 years, but I figured I’d give it a shot. My name is Heather* and I last emailed you about 2/3 years ago after you had come to my school and given your presentation on Gender Identity. I wanted to thank you so much for that. So much. I honestly do not think I would be the same person now, had you not come and spoken with us that day.

After leaving middle school, I went to the local high school, where I found absolutely no education on gender identity or any related topics. With Caitlyn Jenner’s coming out in the news recently, I’ve seen so much misinformation and lack of knowledge on the subject of transgender and gender identity on social media sites. I know you’ve certainly dealt with people who are stubborn in their views or just have a lack of information regarding the subject, and I wanted to thank you for spreading the knowledge that you have with younger people.

At the time of your visit, I was 13 years old and identified as what would be a straight cisgendered female. Since then, I’ve continued to learn about sexual identities and gender identities and orientations and now identify under the umbrella term of ‘queer’.

I’m so thankful for your program; I was so confused for so long about why I didn’t feel like I always fit in. Throughout my freshman year of high school I went through a major depressive episode in which I questioned everything I knew about myself. Two years later I’m now openly fluid in how I express my gender, no longer worried about whether or not I “look like a boy,” which I was told repeatedly throughout middle school. I am slowly learning to become comfortable in my skin.

I wanted to thank you for introducing me, and others, to topics that I would have otherwise had little to no information about. I consider myself to be a so-called ‘social justice warrior’ and even though my tactics of trying to inform my peers about the issues they’re arguing about aren’t all that successful, I’m going to continue trying.

Thank you so so so much. Please continue what you’re doing for as long as you can.

Thank you again,

* student’s name has been changed

From an administrator…

Three years after Jennifer Bryan’s visit to our school, one of the 8th graders she had worked with during her visit reached out to Jennifer.  She  wrote about how Jennifer had given her a way to think about her unexpressed struggles, confusion and feelings of being “different.”  She wrote that Jennifer’s influence had made a dramatic difference for her at a time when she most needed it.

With this student’s permission, Jennifer shared the email with me.  I was moved by knowing that in the time of adolescent growth, discussion around gender identity had made such an impact.  We just weren’t aware that this student was struggling with feeling different or with her gender and sexual identity. This drove home for me the importance of having discussion and curriculum around all issues of identity –  about the importance of training teachers and parents to be open to our students’ questions and feelings – and about how important it is to give students a framework for understanding and a voice.  I am so thankful to Jennifer for the help she has given all of us at Robert C. Parker School!

Meg TaylorHead of School

From a 4th grade teacher…

I’d like to think that we don’t underestimate our kids when it comes to their learning. But when Jennifer Bryan was scheduled to speak in our rooms, Ben and I weren’t quite sure how the kids were going to react to the subject of gender and sexuality diversity. To be honest, we got stuck trying to figure out what we should write o the daily schedules on our whiteboards. It turned out we had no reason to worry. Our students’ ability to think deeply and critically about this topic was very impressive. In my class Jennifer used historical biographies to introduce the concept of the gender spectrum. The kids were so engaged they didn’t even notice that recess had started. In Ben’s class, Jennifer led a lively discussion on the social, legal, and political ramifications of same-sex marriage. Our fourth graders were a mere 24 hours behind the United States Supreme Court….

Charlie Burkland4th Grade Teacher, The Meridian School

From a parent…

In response to the Parker School video:

The most resonant, first impression take-away from Dr Bryan’s featured presentation for me is the reminder of that undeniable truth: how UNIQUE every single child is (like all the varieties of the Zebra Finch shown in video) and how generally unwilling our society is to value and/or even acknowledge unique-ness in certain categories.
There are aspects of being an individual that are socially pleasing and acceptable and others that aren’t…yet. Schools like Park work tirelessly to break down that stifling, stereotypical mindset but we as parents (who may be consciously or unconsciously conflicted as we try to raise children who will “succeed”) lead the way at home.
I LOVE how Dr. Bryan calls attention to the perpetuation of certain belief systems and stereotypes from birth…in early childhood classroom settings as well as on the big screen. Disney IS one of the biggest culprits (again, watch this video and see how much “sexual content” IS in all of their G movies). Makes we want to boycott Disney World…ugh.

Kate GilbanePark School parent

From a conference organizer…

I first heard Dr. Jennifer Bryan speak in 2005 at the AIMS Annual Conference. At the time, those of us working in schools got diversity bonus points for knowing what the T or Q in LGBTQ stood for. We might have even known that children could begin to understand their gender identity and sexual orientation at 4 years old. What we were still trying to figure out was how to support those students, you know, the ones who were different. That’s why I’ll never forget the looks on the faces of the educators and administrators in 2005 when Dr. Bryan presented her New Diagram of Sex, Gender and Sexuality at that AIMS Conference. Just imagine the surprise when folks suddenly began to learn that they might be a little bit gay or a little bit straight, or a little bit more feminine or masculine than they ever realized. It was then that I knew Dr. Bryan was onto something: the world did not have to be defined by checkboxes or labels.

Indeed, to say that Dr. Bryan’s work on gender and sexuality diversity has revolutionized the way we can see ourselves and each other would be an understatement. She has spent over 13 years researching gender and sexuality and providing schools with accessible tools to discuss these ever-changing topics. She’s published articles and books, including a children’s book The Different Dragon and more recently, From the Dress-Up Corner to the Senior Prom. Her latest position paper, Beyond Tomboys, Sissies, and ‘That’s So Gay’ is a must-read for any educator committed to teaching the whole child.

Today, I once again look forward to what Dr. Bryan will help us uncover and ask us to think about as we delve into brave conversations about sexuality and gender.

Opening Remarks for AIMS “Making Schools Safe:  Brave Conversations about Sexuality and Gender” Conference

Adriana MurphyFriends Community School, College Park, MD

From a Spanish teacher…

From the first time Jennifer Bryan came to Shore Country Day School I was impressed by her messages, her openness, and her willingness to share her experiences with others to make all children feel good about themselves and welcome. So, when my student, Alba Clarke, expressed an interest in translation, I immediately thought of asking Jennifer if she might be willing to let her translate The Different Dragon into Spanish under my guidance. I was thrilled that Jennifer gave us permission. During Alba’s seventh grade year, she and I worked closely together with the language to find words that honored the intention of the original story. Alba is very aware of the transformative power of literature, and I knew that giving Spanish speaking children a story like this would be special and meaningful. It is my hope that the translated story will bring messages of gay rights and the roles of children to the Spanish speaking world. I am grateful to Jennifer for the chance to do this project, and you can look for the next versions in Chinese and German!

Pamela Torres Instructor of Spanish at Shore Country Day School

From a Middle School Spanish teacher…

It’s important to know that I use stories with recurring language to teach.  This group was studying has a girlfriend/boyfriend, goes to, and is feeling angry.  As you can imagine, the narrative possibilities are rich!  It’s also useful to know that the class suggests details (locations, descriptions, etc.) to create the story.   I just have the outline but the action is really theirs.
Our story:
 Juan has a girlfriend who is stolen from him by his brother.  He doesn’t like conflict so he goes somewhere else (the moon) and meets another girl who decides that she wants to be his girlfriend.  His brother discovers that Juan has a new girlfriend and goes to steal her away from Juan.  Juan feels angry but doesn’t like conflict so he goes away and ignores the situation.  He goes to Texas.  
At this point, students are excited to tell me about Juan’s next love interest, and somehow it comes out that it’s a man.  I paused, said in Spanish “it’s ok for Juan to have a boyfriend?”  The students looked at me, looked at each other, shrugged, and said “why not?”
So Juan had a boyfriend, his brother tried to steal his boyfriend away from him, but Juan outsmarted his brother, and Juan and his boyfriend were happy.
For me, this was telling.  I don’t think I would have been comfortable talking about boyfriends and girlfriends in the context of a story before spending time in your seminars.  I might have edged around it- for instance, Juan might have had same-sex parents, but for some reason I don’t think I would have been comfortable including a character with multi-dimensional sexuality in stories.  I keep thinking about the developmental appropriateness of boyfriends and girlfriends in 7th grade, and I think it’s great to have in the class, even just as a part of one story on one day.
Señora Elicia CárdenasMiddle School Spanish