Although I'd like to think of myself as being knowledgeable about gender identities and the social issues that go along with them, it wasn't always this way. Back in sixth grade when I had sex education in school, my peers and I were never even taught the difference between "sex" and "gender" — terms that are still (incorrectly) used interchangeably today. Back then, I didn't consider what sex-ed must have been like for someone who was queer, or a person who identified as transgender. Because a heterosexual relationship between two cisgender people was all that was ever touched upon. Which is exactly why this gender-inclusive puberty education guide should be the new norm.
As the understanding of gender continues to shift in the United States, it only makes sense that educators would want to also change their approach when it comes to puberty and health education. So it's encouraging that Gender Spectrum — a national nonprofit that focuses on children, youth, and gender — has created the first-ever comprehensive guide to incorporating gender inclusion into these classes.
"This new resource gives educators the overarching principles that they can use now to bring gender inclusion into their current puberty education curricula," Joel Baum, senior director of professional development at Gender Spectrum, said in a news release. "Every child will travel a unique road as their bodies develop, so it is vital that students understand that there are many paths to a healthy adulthood."
The new guide was released on Tuesday, March 5, and is called Principles of Gender-Inclusive Puberty and Health Education. It was created with the help of organizations such as: Advocates for Youth, Answer, GLSEN, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) Foundation, Planned Parenthood, and the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS,) according to a news release.
"Done well, sex education can create a foundation for sexual health throughout someone's lifetime," Nora Gelperin, director of sexuality education and training at Advocates for Youth, said in a news release. "Transgender young people have the right to lead healthy lives, and they need and have the right to puberty education that addresses their needs and answers their questions."
The guide acknowledges the diversity of pathways to adult bodies and families — and it affirms the experience of every student. This can be critical for transgender and other gender-expansive youth. Stephanie Brill, the founder and board chair of Gender Spectrum explained:
Simply stated, gender inclusive puberty and health education is life-affirming for all students, and life-saving for some.
Considering the alarming rates of attempted suicide by transgender teens, more inclusivity — along with a better understanding of gender identity by all — is never a bad idea. A study published by Pediatrics in October found that more than half of transgender male teens and 29.9 percent of transgender female teens who participated in a survey reported attempting suicide. Additionally, 41.8 percent of non-binary teens had attempted suicide.
Although our society as a whole seems to be slowly waking up to the realities of gender identity, a guide like this one is an added boost in the right direction. Hopefully, it will help more transgender/non-binary teens feel less alone — and help more cisgender teens to better understand their transgender and non-binary peers.
If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text HOME to the Crisis Text Line at 741741. You can also reach out to the Trans Lifeline at 877-565-8860 or the Trevor Lifeline at 1-866-488-7386, or to your local suicide crisis center.