The deeper I dig into these issues though, what I am finding is the problem for the kids who don't identify in the neat and easy girl/boy split. These are the kids who might be gay, or queer, transgender, or don't yet know how they identify. When we say to these children that they have to fit into a neat box, no matter what, we are making their lives harder than they need to be. Over the weekend I watched this intensely powerful video about college students who don't fit into this two-sided binary of girls and boys, and what they wish their college professors knew.
Part of what struck me about this video is how hurtful simple words can be. I know how often I use gendered phrases in talking to my students. I regularly use terms like "guys," "ladies," "boys," and "girls." Just this morning I found myself saying "Thank you, ma'am" to a young student who had just done a nice job of fixing some books that had fallen over on the shelf. Now, this child may not have noticed or cared that I said "ma'am" instead of something more neutral. In fact, my southern upbringing taught me well to "ma'am" and "sir" pretty much everyone out of respect. But I don't know how every student at my school identifies, and it isn't something that can be judged by looks.
I made a concerted effort for the rest of the day to cut out the gendered words I use unnecessarily, and it is difficult - hard even when I spent the day thinking about it. I found myself falling on the always useful "y'all" which my grandmother from Birmingham probably would have approved of. I am eager to dig deeper into the research about how we are serving our LGBTQ community, when something as simple as what you call someone can have such significance.