Genuine deliverance

Melting down the gender binary at ETHS

Illustrations by Nora Miller

Nora Miller

Illustrations by Nora Miller

Nora Miller, Executive Editor

Growing up, until I was about five I am told, I would eat ice cream every night. Hands down, it was my favorite dessert, and my parents were happy to give it to me. I felt so lucky to enjoy the coveted treat that I knew most of my friends said they could only eat on special occasions or when they had a babysitter. 

It was around this age that my family and I visited my aunt in California. Funny, laid back and always playing basketball with my sibling and me, she offered the two of us ice cream one night when our parents were out. Of course, I wanted ice cream, but when she had handed me the dessert, I was befuddled. 

What was this cold, milky sphere on the top of my ice cream? I wondered. 

Don’t get me wrong, I thought that ice cream as I knew it tasted good, but whatever the heck this chocolatey, dripping mess of sugar was, I liked it magnitudes better than ice cream. 

As you can imagine, my parents were speechless when they realized what my aunt had done. Up until that moment, I had been raised to know ‘ice cream’ as what most of the population knows as the ice cream cone. Some may have called it cruel, but it was reality to me. For many, we perceive reality based on misconstrued language, on ignorance.  

Today, I use this story to analogize my few but mighty experiences as a human thus far. My loyalty to a cisnormative, heteronormative, white, western world performs as the cone. And queerness, that’s the ice cream. 

Illustration by Nora Miller

 

I

Let’s define queerness for this piece, introduce the relationship ETHS has with the trans and GNC community, and introduce the questions I (and folx I’ve talked to) have. 

Through conversations, research, and my emotions and experiences, I have come to know queerness as a vivid experience rather than a location in an acronym, umbrella term, or even a distinct group of people; this is solely my synthesis of queerness, not only as a genderqueer person but as an Afro-Latine person. In interactions I’ve had with mentors, family members, or the internet, queerness can be defined as liberation, existence, and estrangement simultaneously. 

In contexts transcending the construct of gender, queerness can be defined as qualities that white colonizers tried to erase. Although queer is now more commonly understood to eclipse limits within sexuality and gender, the word has plagued communities throughout history, and only relatively recently have our communities reclaimed the word. Essentially, the word queerness has a rich history, numerous connotations, and, therefore, an ever-changing definition.

When it comes to expanding our perceptions of gender, ETHS provides staff and students with frameworks uplifting transgender and gender non-conforming (GNC) folx. In the Administrative Procedure 7:10 AP, ETHS describes comprehensive protocols detailing every aspect of student life—school trips, counseling, name, and pronoun affirmations.  

“The​ ​school​ ​shall​ ​accept​ ​the​ ​gender​ ​identity​ ​that​ ​each​ ​student​ ​or​ ​employee​ ​persistently​ ​and​ ​consistently asserts.​ ​There​ ​is​ ​no​ ​medical​ ​or​ ​mental​ ​health​ ​diagnosis​ ​or​ ​treatment​ ​threshold​ ​that​ ​students​ ​or​ ​staff​ ​must meet​ ​in​ ​order​ ​to​ ​have​ ​their​ ​gender​ ​identity​ ​recognized,​ ​respected,​ ​and​ ​affirmed,” explains Administrative Procedure 7:10 AP

As an institution, Evanston is definitively committed through protocols, plans and policies for students and staff. The administration has initiated physical constructions of gender-neutral bathrooms and changing rooms. 

“We were the first one of the first school districts to pass a policy to support transgender kids. We continue to think about and refine our practices” Assistant Superintendent and Principal Marcus Campbell explains. 

When considering the experiences within ETHS, we must prioritize the student experience above all. Senior Shira Baker speaks candidly about an extraordinarily gendered academic experience as a freshman. 

“I was in programming and was one of four people assigned female at birth in the class. After I shaved my head, the guys were mad at me. They were like, ‘guys aren’t gonna like you with short hair,’ ‘ you’re gonna have to buy a wig until it grows back’ and ‘why would you do that? I can’t believe you do that,” Baker explains. 

Furthermore, Baker describes a moment sparked out of prejudice. Their experiences are some of the many moments that are dictated by stereotypes and ignorance. 

“One guy told me ‘if you guys are starting a women in STEM elective, shouldn’t there be a men in culinary elective?” Baker says. 

As one of the most progressive schools when it comes to trans and GNC policy, I want to challenge us all to look beyond what’s in front of us and look underneath the rigid, widely accepted, enclosed box hurts us (yes, all of us): the gender binary.

 I wonder if current practices are testing our imagination, and, beyond protection, are those spaces even what we imagined? 

“We’ve shifted policies to support trans and gender-expansive folks,” history and social sciences teacher Corey Winchester explains. “What that looks like is when we introduce ourselves, introducing pronouns. I worry in many respects, it becomes performative, where folks don’t really know and understand the impact of what is being done.” 

I constantly fantasize about what a non-preformative atmosphere, school and community where the gender binary does not persist as still does in the classroom would be like. When I think about my gender, and feeling humanized in it, what matters most are the communities that can really see me, and collections of co-conspirators who are willing to challenge their way of thinking; What matters most is genuine deliverance. 

II

How do current Evanstonians imagine an Evanston that rejects the binary? What does that future look like to Evanstonians? 

Empathy. Dedication. Rejection. The elements of how current community members imagine a future that dismantles the gender binary. Although we learn on a remote platform now, what would it look like if we came back to school and had proactively, fearlessly discussed our dreams? 

“In any school setting, if adults and students, I don’t want to use the word “check themselves,” but able to recognize when we’ve hurt other people, see that and make moves to repair that harm,” Community Service Coordinator Diana Bailitaan explains. 

When confronting my understandings of how the gender binary is perpetuated within an institution, I think of my older sibling Grey, who not only navigated the high school as an out trans person at ETHS but arrived at a time when the ETHS community was just beginning to come to terms with its shortcomings for the Trans and GNC communities. Baker critiques how Evanston as a whole perceives forward-thinking while still perpetuating a rigid binary and exclusionary practices. 

“In Evanston, we’re all ‘we’re here, we’re queer, yay!’ But for people who are not sexuality related things, there’s a lot of internalized transphobia and a lot of internalized toxic masculinity,” Baker explains. 

Bailitaan identifies as non-binary and refers to misgendering for themself and other students. They also question how the binary is integrated within our systems and how dismantling is not currently undertaken and mitigated throughout a community.

“I have friends [in] more corporate settings where they know that in some spaces they do use binary pronouns not just for workplace safety but not wanting to do the labor of having those discussions [in the] workplace,” Bailitaan explains. 

Specifically, at ETHS, Baker imagines a space that hopes that ETHS proactively includes gender-expansive students. 

“[At ETHS], change doesn’t happen until we’re all on the football field screaming for things to change,” Baker explains. “It shouldn’t have to take relentless pushing, but I feel like ETHS is doing their best considering the power that they have.”

With the power that ETHS has, both Baker and Bailitaan wonder what a school would look like without spaces that assume gender and perpetuate gender dysphoria, such as gendered bathrooms, locker rooms. Along with this, imaging a system with Trans inclusive history courses and comprehensive education about pre-colonial ideas of gender. 

Despite desires to manage the current system, one ETHS graduate and current Northwestern student, Trinity Collins elaborates on how they perceive structures that dismantle the binary. 

“I have no desire to create queer spaces in colonial institutions. Instances where maybe we get close, it excludes people of color. It’s a white space that tends to be cis or a mode of gender non-conforming [that’s] ‘androgynous’ and wealthy too,” Collins says.

Androgynous a term Collins put in quotes because it’s a term that hopes to label the unlabelable.  

“Androgynous is described as—the space between—is to acknowledge that like masculinity and femininity are very real,” Collins explains. “I just put it in quotes to mark it as a construct.”

Collins illustrates how imagining these worlds is a privilege in itself because it delocalizes the immediate vulnerability of Black and Latine folks in the Trans and GNC community in our current world. Moreover, Collins comments on the grace they have been given as a GNC individual is a function of whiteness.  

“I could pass in white America if I wanted to; if I needed to survive. I could pull my hair out, I don’t even have to do that, I could dress differently and speak a little different, entirely choose to opt into capitalism, and I would be rewarded for that,” Collins explains. “I would be rewarded for ignoring parts of my queerness and that might be painful, but at least I would be alive, right?

Looking retrospectively at how we’ve operated in the past, Bailitaan, Baker, Collins, and Winchester ultimately wonder how our future diverges from past attempts at inclusivity. 

“To put this beautiful world that I know is possible underneath [ETHS, Northwestern] would be to destroy all of its beauty to me,” Collins says. “I would rather rebuild. I would rather build something else.”

Illustration by Nora Miller

III

Do we even want to imagine in such an oppressive institution? What if we started from scratch?

  As a society, we didn’t understand the capabilities of what something like the smartphone could do until hand-held computers were placed in our lives. Worlds that do not perpetuate a binary are no different.

We don’t want a bigger piece of the pie, we want a different pie,” activist Winnona LaDuke explains.

Creating something completely different, asking for “a different pie” instead of a bigger piece may feel vast or daunting, but it would free a community that has been silenced throughout history. 

“I would think about what education or tools that we get in the school system, regardless what [they are] for. [What] if we weren’t measured based on someone else’s rules, right? How can we use education to continuously change?” Bailitaan says. 

 My wrestling with gender has roots long before I even existed. My reconciliation with gender did not have to be a wake-up call that culminated from exhaustion. Perhaps, it would have been a slow exploration of who I am and who I am becoming.

“At the end of the day what I wish we had was more imagination,” Winchester explains. “Folks haven’t really ever imagined anything beyond what we’ve typically done. We gender everything from like, a movement, to color, to a word, to objects,” Winchester explains. 

Shapes, colors, movement, words. These are all concepts we learn as children. Answering how to rebuild is questioning how a child’s mind can grasp gender. 

“I don’t identify as a woman [but] the perception of being female or girl has always been very prevalent in my experiences as I navigated [life] growing up,” Bailitaan explains. “As a young person, I was missing the spaces of having places to really reflect [and to] feel the courage that I could do the things that I wanted to do.”

Without a beginning, and certainly not an end, there would be no expectation, but constant examination. I have found that understanding as a queer person, but about the countless intersections, gender has and has had with my interactions with my race, my sexuality, my socioeconomic status, my ability, my Americanism. As I mention in the Evanstonian’s coverage on Trans Day of Remembrance and Resilience, education to me is a constant process of unlearning, relearning, sometimes hurting tremendously and repairing, and other times feeling thrilling joy and celebrating; It’s summing those together and feeling home.  

Yet, the delicate dance of preserving a sacred community that has been disenfranchised for centuries, and dismantling the community that perpetuates pain onto our said community, will never end. Neither should our collective questioning of our current systems and our quest for a true home, whether that be within our bodies or the spaces in which we are immersed. To “expect and accept non-closure” is an idea that I live by, coming from Glen Singleton’s Courageous Conversations about Race. Here, I would go even further to say that we must celebrate non-closure and never hope for bounds for our identity.

 “If we just dropped all that. I can’t even imagine what it would be like,” Winchester says. 

So, I offer you this: internalize the gruesome presence of the binary in our world today, and instead of pardoning it, I hope you will bravely enjoy the ice cream.