Trans-Inclusive Physical Education
Genevieve Altomare, M.Ed.
University of Northern Colorado
In moving towards trans-inclusive physical education (PE), we must first recognize the number one barrier in doing so. PE classes have a long history of being cis-heteronormative, meaning the culture is not known to be welcoming and accepting toward transgender or non-binary youth. Since PE has not been taught any differently before, PE teachers struggle to find and learn inclusive teaching practices toward transgender and non-binary youth (Devis-Devis et al., 2018; Drury et al., 2022; Neary et al., 2021). The purpose of this article is to illuminate the adversities faced by transgender and non-binary youth and to assist PE teachers in supporting these individuals.
Transgender and non-binary youth face a variety of challenges that differ from their cisgender or lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) peers. Studies regarding lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) youth have grown over the last several years but often fail to focus on the unique challenges that transgender and non-binary youth face (Devis-Devis et al., 2018, Drury et al., 2022, Neary et al., 2021). This is because gender identity is different from sexual orientation but often, the two get lumped together as one. Gender identity is a sense of one’s gender that may or may not correlate with one’s biological sex at birth.
Although resources are limited, we do know specific health risks that transgender students face different from cisgender and LGB peers. A recent study reported that 2% of high school students identify as transgender and 27% of them feel unsafe at school (Johns et al., 2019). This study also reported that 35% of these students are bullied at school and 35% of them have attempted suicide (Johns et al., 2019). Knowing that many transgender and non-binary students are struggling, this further demonstrates the need to bring awareness and find solutions for trans-inclusive PE in Colorado and beyond.
The first way you can begin to make your PE environment safer is to educate yourself. Learning in the beginning can be intimidating, especially if this is an entirely new topic for you. Do not let the intimidation or feeling uncomfortable keep you from learning! Let’s briefly discuss three topics pertaining to transgender and non-binary youth that can be a starting point for your trans-inclusive education. The topics are preferred pronouns, chest binding, and gender dysphoria.
1) Respecting one’s preferred pronouns fosters an inclusive environment and affirms one’s gender identity (Devis-Devis et al., 2018). This can be done by asking each of your students which pronouns best suits them. By assuming one’s pronouns, one is conforming to cisnormativity that we have been conditioned to see as, “normal”. As a PE teacher, you can add your own pronouns to your staff badge, your nameplate in your office, and/or on your email signature. This will help students feel safer sharing their preferred pronouns with you.
2) Chest binding can make someone feel more comfortable by compressing their chest. Transgender males or non-binary individuals typically begin using chest binders in adolescence which is a critical step for their positive mental health (Peitzmeier et al., 2021). Why should a physical educator know this? While a chest binder can help a child feel more confident, wearing a binder while exercising can be unsafe. It can damage one’s tissue, muscle, or lead to rib fractures if worn for too long, while doing excessive movements or breathing, and if it is not sized properly (Peitzmeier et al., 2021).
3) Gender dysphoria is subjective and can be seen in a myriad of ways. Gender dysphoria is defined as a sense of unease that a person’s biological sex does not align with their gender identity (Devis-Devis et al., 2018). A child who experiences this may not feel as comfortable participating in PE or being exposed in the locker room while changing for class. If this occurs, talk to the student privately and ask them if there is a way you can accommodate them or ask them what activities they would feel most comfortable participating in. Offering a separate place for them to change can be a solution only if the child is aware and not forced into this option. One may need to seek professional help when dealing with a child who has severe gender dysphoria.
Educating yourself about transgender and non-binary experiences, combating cis-heteronormative practices, and being a safe adult can lead toward a trans-inclusive PE. A safe adult is someone a child can go to when they are dealing with unsafe scenarios such as bullying, abuse at home, or discrimination from family and friends. Fewer than one in three transgender and non-binary youth live in a gender-affirming home (The Trevor Project national survey 2022, 2022). By being a safe adult, you can give transgender and non-binary students a safe space to be themselves which has shown to lower the rates of attempted suicide in this community.
Devís-Devís, J., Pereira-García, S., López-Cañada, E., Pérez-Samaniego, V., & Fuentes-Miguel,
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Drury, S., Stride, A., Firth, O., & Fitzgerald, H. (2022). The transformative potential of trans*-
inclusive PE: The experiences of PE teachers Informa UK Limited.
Johns, M. M., Lowry, R., Andrzejewski, J., Barrios, L. C., Demissie, Z., Mcmanus, T., . . .
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victimization, substance use, suicide risk, and sexual risk behaviors among high school
students — 19 states and large urban school districts, 2017 Centers for Disease Control
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Neary, A., & McBride, R. (2021). Beyond inclusion: Trans and gender diverse young people’s
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Peitzmeier, S. M., Silberholz, J., Gardner, I. H., Weinand, J., & Acevedo, K. (2021). Time to
first onset of chest binding-related symptoms in transgender youth. Pediatrics, 147(3).
The Trevor Project. The Trevor Project national survey 2022. (2022).
Article Provided By Genevieve Altomare, M.Ed. University of Northern Colorado
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