CHS student develops pronoun program for staff

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With marked confidence, 15-year-old Tracy Wear approached Colchester High School principal Heather Baron halfway through the last school year with a host of suggestions for the district in hand.

Wear, a lifelong resident, had recently come out as gender non-binary, meaning the sophomore doesn’t identify as exclusively male or female and prefers to be addressed by the pronouns they, them and their.

“Right away, I felt there needed to be more education on these topics and more awareness,” Wear said. “I [wanted] to improve these things for myself and for the future [transgender] and non-binary students coming to CHS.”

Usually through ignorance but sometimes with outright disrespect, peers and teachers alike frequently use improper titles to address Wear in school. Add to that the onslaught of paperwork and datasets that insist upon sorting kids into one gender category or the other, Wear noted, and their gender identity is constantly at the forefront.

“If you are unaware of things or uneducated about things, that can lead to negativity because your brain wants to take control of the situation,” Wear said.

TOP: Fifteen-year-old Tracy Wear has developed a program for Colchester High School faculty and staff, focusing on pronoun usage and gender issue awareness. ABOVE: Tucked between the two existing locker rooms, the new gender-neutral locker room at Colchester High School is a converted coach’s office and features a small set of lockers, a shower and bathroom stall. The facility is open to all. (Photos by Michaela Halnon)

Baron ultimately directed Wear to the newfangled Laker Learning Lab, colloquially called L3. The personalized learning program allows students to create a course that aligns with their interests with some help from a faculty advisor. The for-credit program is more loosely structured than a typical class and is currently graded with a pass/fail system.

In its inaugural year, kids have selected a wide range of topics to explore, writing a novel, composing musical pieces, becoming Google Analytics certified and learning Korean among them. All will commence with some sort of presentation.

Wear elected to flip the script for their project, developing a series of educational talks for faculty and staff centered on the importance of pronoun usage and general awareness of gender queer issues.

President of the school’s queer-straight-alliance and actively involved in queer and transgender youth groups outside the district, Wear can add the learned experiences of others to their own firsthand knowledge of the obstacles at play. Targeting their message to the adults in the building was purposeful, Wear said.

“I knew students weren’t going to be taking on things such as pronoun usage and gender inclusive language if the teachers didn’t, kind of, have it down first, executing it in class and being role models,” Wear said. “I wanted to build a stronger foundation.”

Plus, Wear said peers are often less likely to question the non-binary label as a concept than adults. Wear plans to fold student education into their L3 project in future semesters.

With that in mind, Wear said they still don’t feel intimidated addressing authority figures during the impending presentations. Common questions are sure to arise, Wear said, and they want adults to feel comfortable voicing them.

“I feel empowered knowing that I’m going to be empowering other people,” Wear said. “I am obviously a bit more comfortable with it because gender, for me, is different than people who are [cisgendered] … [It’s] more stated in my identity rather than perceived.”

Even before L3 became an option, Wear was responsible for substantial changes on Laker Lane.

The school already had gender-neutral bathrooms in place, but Wear was signed up for P.E. class. Principal Baron told Wear they were free to change in either the boys or girls locker room. Wear voiced discomfort with both options and quietly resigned to changing in a private bathroom.

“I wasn’t really expecting much,” Wear admitted. “Then over the summer we built a gender-neutral locker room.”

Tucked between the two existing locker rooms, the new space is a converted coach’s office and features a small set of lockers, a shower and bathroom stall. The facility is open to all.

Wear’s faculty adviser Emma Pedrin, a high school Spanish teacher, said she’s continually impressed by Wear’s emotional maturity and persistence. 

The topic has also made her conscious of the strong prevalence in the language learning that goes on in the classroom, since most of the romance languages use gendered nouns.

“We’re all really impressed by your persistence and perseverance in continuing to share your experience with us and also help educate us so that we can be better educators to you and others,” Pedrin told Wear.

Still, Wear says it can be exhausting to fight for gender awareness on a daily basis. To keep inspired, Wear often thinks of the sexuality revolution of the 1990s and how far society has come in just a few decades.

“The gender revolution is now,” Wear said.