Professors, GSIs, instructors, facilitators and others responsible for educational environments must play an active role in creating an environment where all students can thrive. In additional to written materials available below, the Gender Equity Resoruce Center staff are available to answer questions and/or assist in identifying additional resources. Please see our Staff Page for contact information.
Creating Inclusive Classrooms for Trans* and Gender Expansive Students
Adapted from Dean Spade’s “Making classrooms welcoming for Trans students”
At UC Berkeley we strive to make all spaces inclusive and welcoming to all members of the Cal community. Faculty, Graduate Student Instructors and all other teaching staff have a particular responsibility in creating learning environments where students bring their full selves into a classroom thus allowing them to stretch to their fullest academic potential.
Creating an inclusive space for transgender and gender expansive students requires instructors to consciously insert new practices into how they manage their classrooms. This tip sheet will hopefully get you started in reducing or eliminating any unintentional exclusionary practices.
Set the Tone
At the beginning of each semester establish guidelines for interactions in class. You can do this a number of ways:
1. Include the campus principles of community, http://diversity.berkeley.edu/principles-community, along with the university standards for academic integrity http://sa.berkeley.edu/conduct/students/standards on your syllabus and point them out on the first day.
2. At the beginning of each semester when establishing the guidelines for conduct within the classroom, (no technology, participation in discussions, etc.) be sure to include something like: “It is important that this classroom be a respectful environment where everyone can participate comfortably. One part of respectful behavior is that everyone should be referred to by the names and pronouns they use in that class. Discuss whichever guidelines you see fit, but include pronoun usage since some people may be unaware of the issue. Note: Deliberately and consistently not using a student’s lived name and pronoun based on their gender identity may be a violation of university sexual harassment policy.
3. In small classes or discussion sections, during introductions, ask people to indicate the pronoun they feel comfortable disclosing. e.g. “My name is Sally and I use the pronouns she, her, hers and they”. Yes, non-trans people can have really problematic responses to these go-rounds when they aren't used to them or don't understand the point. Sometimes people who are not trans will make a joke of it or will say they don't care which pronoun is used for them in a way that implies "look how cool and flexible I am" without understanding the privilege that comes with that flexibility that is unavailable to transgender or gender expansive persons whose gender identity is regularly ignored, mistaken or punished.
● It is important to use a student’s lived name, which may be different than the name listed on the roster and in bCourses. Students may not know they can update their name in CalCentral to reflect their lived name, an option particularly important to undocumented students and others who don't have the ability to legally change their name. You should assume the possibility that all the names on the roster might not be the name the student uses.
● We understand that all students can see the roster on bCourses, which can inhibit students from participating if the name on bCourses doesn't match the name they use in class. If a student wishes to have a different name reflected in bCourses please have them follow these steps: https://calnetweb.berkeley.edu/calnet-me/how-do-i-change-my-name
● If possible, send an introductory email out to your class before you meet to ask students if they have names and pronouns they would like to ensure you use when referring to them.
● In case the roster represents a prior name, do not call the roll, or send around the roster (to sign-in) until you have given students a chance to let you know any lived names.
● Another tip for small classes is to pass around a seating chart or sign in sheet and ask them to indicate names and pronouns, and then use it when you call on them or refer to them in class.
● Asking and correctly using someone’s pronoun/s is one of the most basic ways to show your respect for their gender identity. When someone is referred to with the wrong pronoun it can leave them feeling invisible, disrespected and dismissed. It can be a distraction from their learning in class and overall academic success.
● Some pronouns might sound strange or grammatically incorrect, e.g. ze, zim, zers, they, theirs. It is important for us to respect how the students see and refer to themselves rather than how we see them or our need to be correct.
● In language classes (especially when it is a more gendered language than English, such as Spanish, Arabic, etc.), the same guidelines you outlined regarding pronouns need to apply to any statements that would indicate a student’s gender. For example, being addressed with the wrong gender verb or adjective is just as humiliating as being addressed with the wrong pronoun.
● When you do not know the pronoun, ask. Try “What are your pronouns?”, “Which pronouns do you use?”, “Can you remind me which pronouns you like for yourself?” “My pronouns are they/them, may I ask what pronouns you use?” If can feel awkward at first, but it is not half as awkward as getting it wrong or making hurtful assumptions.
● If you make a mistake about someone’s pronoun, correct yourself. Going on as if it did not happen is actually less respectful than making the correction. This also saves the person who was misgendered from having to correct an incorrect pronoun assumption that has now been planted in the minds of classmates or anyone else who heard the mistake. As instructors, especially, it is essential that you model respectful behavior.
● If someone else makes a mistake, correct that person. It is important to provide a correction, whether or not the person whose pronoun is misused is present. This allows everyone present to avoid future mistakes and to correct the mistaken assumption.
Group Projects and In-Class Directions
● Avoid gendered directions, e.g. “All the men in one group and all the women in another”.
● When creating groups for in-class discussions or course projects, consider random selection such as counting off by a specific number or passing around a bowl of the group number, e.g. Group 1, Group 2, etc., that students can randomly draw from.
● Think about how gender norms, or ideas about what men and women should be like, are being enforced in your classroom
Confidentiality & Curiosity
● It is never ok to disclose to anyone the gender identity or sexual orientation of another without the express permission of that person. Doing so can be a violation of our university sexual harassment policy.
● Do not engage in speculative conversations about someone’s gender identity or sexual orientation, if you hear students or other instructors doing so, particularly in the classroom, stop the conversation since it is not only inappropriate but such continued behavior may violate our university sexual harassment policy based on sex or gender stereotyping. It is your responsibility to stop the conversation. e.g. “Excuse me, please stop this conversation, it is inappropriate."
● Never ask personal questions of trans people that you would not ask of others. Never ask about body functions, anatomy or medical care.
● Never ask a transgender student their former name, why or how they know they are trans, their sexual orientation or practices, their family’s reaction to their gender identity or any other questions that are irrelevant to your relationship with them unless they invite you to do so or voluntarily share the information.
● For long classes where it is important to provide students a break, consider if students might need to go further to find a gender inclusive or single stall restroom and plan the break accordingly. At restrooms.berkeley.edu you will find a list of existing gender-inclusive single stall and multi-stall restrooms at UC Berkeley. This resource also contains information about accessible restrooms as well as where to find changing tables on our campus.
● Additionally, it is important to note that persons may use the restroom that corresponds with their gender identity regardless of perceived gender presentation. Never assume which restrooms a person uses, when asked about restrooms give directions to all close restrooms.
Definitions & Terms
AFAB: “Assigned female at birth.” A term to describe individuals who were assigned female at birth.
AMAB: “Assigned male at birth.” A term to describe individuals who were assigned male at birth.
Cisgender (adj.): a term used to describe people who, for the most part, identify as the gender they were assigned at birth. (Cis is Latin for “on the near side of”, same side of)
Cisgenderism is a prejudice that denies, ignores, denigrates, or stigmatizes non-cisgender forms of expression, sexual activity, behavior, relationship, or community. Cisgenderism exists in everyone regardless of gender identity because most have been raised in a predominantly cisgender society
Cissexism is the appeal to norms that enforce the gender binary and gender essentialism, resulting in the oppression of gender variant, non-binary, and trans identities.
Cross-dresser: A term for people who dress in clothing traditionally or stereotypically worn by another gender, but who do not identify themselves with the gender they are performing as.
FTM: A person who transitions from "female-to-male," meaning a person who was assigned female at birth, but identifies as a man. Also known as a “transgender man.” A term that is falling out of use due to it’s centering of biological sex categories.
Gender Affirmation Surgery (formerly Sex Reassignment Surgery): Surgical procedures that change one’s body to better reflect a person’s gender identity. This may include different procedures, including those sometimes also referred to as "top surgery" (breast augmentation or removal) or "bottom surgery" (altering genitals). Contrary to popular belief, there is not one surgery; in fact there are many different surgeries. These surgeries are medically necessary for some people, however not all people want, need, or can have surgery as part of their transition. "Sex change surgery" is considered a derogatory term by many.
Gender Expression: Refers to all of the external characteristics and behaviors that are socially defined as either masculine or feminine, such as dress, grooming, mannerisms, speech patterns and social interactions, often along the lines of race and class. Social or cultural norms can vary widely and some characteristics that may be accepted as masculine, feminine or neutral in one culture may not be assessed similarly in another.
Gender Identity: An individual’s internal sense of their own gender, whether they identify with the gender they were assigned at birth, another gender or no gender
Gender Non-conforming: A term for individuals whose gender expression is different from societal expectations related to gender.
Gender-expansive is an umbrella term used for individuals that broaden commonly held definitions of gender, including its expression, associated identities, and/or other perceived gender norms, in one or more aspects of their life.
Genderqueer a term for gender identities that do not exclusively align with a gender category—identities which are thus outside of the gender binary and cisnormativity
Heterosexism: Part of a greater institutional structure of social organization which results in the assumption that every person is heteroseuxal, further marginalizing persons who identify as LGBTQ+ by exlusion from spaces, legislature, etc.
Homophobia: Discrimination against people who are either lesbian or gay. Bisexual and pansexual people may also face homophobia in particular contexts.
Lived Name: In this document, “lived name” was previously referred to as “preferred name”
MTF: A person who transitions from "male-to-female," meaning a person who was assigned male at birth, but identifies as a woman. Also known as a “transgender woman.” A term that is falling out of use due to it’s centering of biological sex categories.
Non-binary: A term for gender identities that fall outside the gender binary
Queer: Originally harmful in its intent, the term is now used by some LGBTQ+ individuals to refer to lesbian, gay, bisexual and, often also transgender, people. However, many LGBTQ+ people still live in contexts in which this term is violently weaponized against them. Some use queer as an alternative to "gay" in an effort to be more inclusive. The term has either a derogatory, when used by someone not part of the LGBTQ+ community, or an affirming connotation, as many have sought to reclaim the term that was once widely used against them in a negative way.
Sexual Orientation: The direction of one’s sexual (erotic) and/or romantic attraction towards the same gender, opposite gender, or multiple genders. (Some sexual Orientation terms are gay, straight, lesbian, bisexual, etc.). It is separate from gender identity and thus transgender persons also have a sexual orientation. Like gender, sexuality is on a spectrum, meaning some people may experience fluidity in their sexuality.
Transgender man: A term for an individual assigned female at birth who identifies as a man.
Transgender woman: A term for an individual assigned male at birth who identifies as a woman.
Transgender: A term for people whose gender identity is different from their assigned sex at birth. Transgender can be used as a broad term to encompass various transgender and non-binary gender identities. “Trans” is shorthand for “transgender.”
Transphobia: prejudice arising from negative valuing and stereotyping resulting in discriminatory behavior defined by fear, hatred, disgust of transgender, transsexual and other people because of their (supposed) non-conforming gender presentation and/or status
Transsexual: An older term for people whose gender identity is different from their assigned sex at birth who seeks to transition from male to female or female to male. Many do not prefer this term because it is thought to sound overly clinical.
Two-Spirit: A contemporary term that refers to the historical and current First Nations people whose gender identities fall outside of colonial notions of gender and the gender binary. This term has been reclaimed by some in Native American LGBT communities in order to honor their heritage and provide an alternative to the Western labels of gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender.
(Some definitions adapted from National Center For Transgender Equality)
“transgenders,” “a transgender”Transgender should be used as an adjective, not as a noun. Do not say, “Tony is a transgender,” or “The parade included many transgenders.”
“transgender people,” “a transgender”
For example, “Tony is a transgender man,” or “The parade included many transgender people.”
“transgendered”The adjective transgender should never have an extraneous “-ed” tacked onto the end. An “-ed” suffix implies that being transgender is something that happens to a person, rather than being used as an adjective. You would not say that someone is “gayed” or “lesbianed.
This is not a term commonly used by transgender people. This is a term used by anti-transgender activists to dehumanize transgender people and reduce who they are to “a condition.”
“being transgender”Refer to being transgender instead, or refer to the transgender community. You can also refer to the movement for transgender equality and acceptance.
“sex change,” “pre-operative,” “post-operative”
Referring to a “sex-change operation,” or using terms such as “pre-operative” or “post-operative,” inaccurately suggests that a person must have surgery in order to transition. Avoid overemphasizing surgery when discussing transgender people or the process of transition.
Transition can have many different connotations for different individuals and is by no means a linear process. Transitioning is ongoing for many and there is no end goal or ideal way for an individual to transition.
“biologically male,” “biologically female,” “genetically male,” “genetically female,” “born a man,” “born a woman”
Problematic phrases like those above are reductive and overly-simplify a very complex subject. As mentioned above, a person’s sex is determined by a number of factors – not simply genetics – and a person’s biology does not “trump” a person’s identity. Finally, people are born babies: they are not “born a man” or “born a woman.”
“assigned male at birth,” “assigned female at birth” or “designated male at birth,” “designated female at birth”
This language captures the ways in which the medical-industrial complex coercively assigns gender categories to babies before they are able to have a conception of how gender is socially constructed. False assumptions made by medical professionals at one’s time of birth, which are then reaffirmed by behaviors and actions of those surrounding the child, by no means determine the gender identity of said individual.
“passing” and “stealth”
While some transgender people may use these terms among themselves, it is not appropriate to repeat them in mainstream media unless it’s in a direct quote. The terms refer to a transgender person’s ability to go through daily life without others making an assumption that they are transgender. However, the terms themselves are problematic because “passing” implies “passing as something you’re not,” while “stealth” connotes deceit. When transgender people are living as their authentic selves, and are not perceived as transgender by others, that does not make them deceptive or misleading.
“visibly transgender,” “not visibly transgender”
Keep in mind that it is inappropriate, especially for cisgendered individuals, to comment on whether or not they perceive someone to be visibly transgender. Making assumptions about someone's gender identity based on their presentation serves to reinforce the cissexist notions that transgender people must aspire to present as cisgender women/men.
“homosexual” (n. or adj.)Because of the clinical history of the word “homosexual,” it is aggressively used by anti-LGBTQ extremists to suggest that people attracted to the same gender are somehow diseased or psychologically/emotionally disordered – notions discredited by the American Psychological Association and the American Psychiatric Association in the 1970s. Please avoid using “homosexual” except in direct quotes. Please also avoid using “homosexual” as a style variation simply to avoid repeated use of the word “gay.” The Associated Press, The New York Times and The Washington Post restrict use of the term “homosexual” (see AP, Reuters, & New York Times Style).
“gay” (adj.); “gay man” or “lesbian woman” (n.); “gay person/people”
Please use gay, lesbian, or when appropriate bisexual to describe people attracted to members of the same gender.
(chart adapted from GLAAD Media Reference Guide)