In order to champion LGBTQ issues in K-12 education it is imperative that school counselors take the lead on creating safe and accepting schools for all people. According to GLSEN, the vast majority of LGBTQ students frequently hear derogatory and anti-LGBTQ remarks not only from students but from staff, and yes even in more progressive states like Washington State where I live. Many students are also victimized, experiencing harassment and bullying. As a school counselor, I have made it a top priority to provide in school resources and supports for students who identify as LGBT but also to educate all students about gender and sexuality.
One of my favorite tools is the Genderbread Person. It is a poster that was handed to me by my friend and trans educator a number of years ago. The Genderbread Person 4.0 is a tool that breaks down the concept of gender into understandable or “bite sized” components. It is a great resource that can help to start dialogue around the important conversation of gender and sexuality- for everyone.
There are four main components described in the Genderbread Person: anatomical sex, gender identity, gender expression, and attraction. Genderbread.org breaks down each of these components with (1) explanations, (2) articles, blog posts, and (3) lessons and activities for learning. I love the lesson “Genderbread Person and LGBTQ Umbrella” which helps to distinguish between the LGBTQ, breaks down the four main components (e.g. anatomical sex, gender identity, gender expression, and attraction) and helps individuals consider their own understanding of the components. This lesson is mapped out and scripted, which helps the facilitator effectively lead the discussion. It assumes that the facilitator may have very little knowledge about the subject matter and acknowledges that components of gender and sexuality can be very confusing for all people within the LGBT community and allies.
As a school counselor, Iv’e used the Genderbread Person 4.0 in both my LGBT club as well as in small groups that focus on advocacy for marginalized groups. The discussions are rich and dynamic, as the students often end up teaching me concepts and pieces of the components that I don’t even know. Given that I am an ally, I am also disconnected from some of the feelings and reflections that my students who identify as a part of the LGBT community are privy to. This means I often become the student after I first introduce the Genderbread Person. I think of myself only as the facilitator. I am there to break things down, squash myths, and keep the dialogue on track.
When I work in small groups of students with the Genderbread Person, I make it clear that the Genderbread person is NOT a diagnostic tool to figure out someone else’s gender and sexuality. In fact, it is a tool to help give people the language to explain gender and sexuality whether it is for themselves or in general terms. You can’t speak for someone else using gender terms. It doesn’t work like that.
I also keep this poster in my office, visible for everyone to see in order to invite conversations about gender and sexuality at any point in time. It is posted on a bulletin board that is on the wall behind where I sit when I counsel kids. I also have my Seattle Sounders FC Pride Flag, my Mary Lambert Poster (who is from the community in which I work and identifies as Lesbian), and my “You are Beautiful” poster surrounding the Genderbread Person 4.0 poster. I also fly an extra large pride (rainbow) flag and have a “Safe Zone” poster. These visuals give students the impression that they are in a “safe zone” and that I am a person that they can talk to about anything related to gender or sexuality.
I love talking about gender and sexuality with my students. I love when they feel comfortable enough to ask me questions or share with me some of their thoughts and feelings about gender and sexuality. And they have a lot. I even love playing along with their “I have a friend stories…” and I can offer them some psychoeducation using the Genderbread Person when we both really know they are talking about themselves. Over the years, I believe I have been able to support a large amount of students simply by affirming that nothing is wrong with them or by supporting their identities and gender. The Genderbread Person and the dialogue elicited from it teaches them that I am an ally- a very important role.
But more important, the Genderbread Person is important for all people to understand the concepts. There are so many myths and misunderstandings about the differences between sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, and attraction. This tool is useful to use for educating all people.
For more information about the Genderbread Person check out the website: https://www.genderbread.org/. Please remember that the Genderbread Person is constantly evolving, hence version 4.0. You can sign up on the website to receive updates on the latest versions. If you are