‘More than boy, girl, male, female’: exploring young people’s views on gender diversity within and beyond school contexts

Published in: Sex Esudation.  March 1, 2018.  Authors: Sara Bragg, Emma Renold, Jessica Ringrose & Carolyn Jackson.


An interesting study on the ways in which youth interact with and address issues of gender diversity within schools, largely demonstrating that youth ‘get it’, and that, despite the fears or even homophobia/transphobia of their elders, youth are quite able to integrate gender and sexual diversity in their communities without difficulty, and without being influenced to adopt those identities themselves.  This also directly counters the notions of “social contagion.”  It also provides valuable insights to assist educators.


“…the contemporary context, with its increasing global awareness of gender diversity, offers young people significant new ways of learning about and doing gender. Findings reveal that many young people have expanded vocabularies of gender identity/expression; critical reflexivity about their own positions; and principled commitments to gender equality, gender diversity and the rights of gender and sexual minorities. We also show how young people are negotiating wider cultures of gendered and sexual violence. Schools are providing some spaces and learning opportunities to support gender and sexual diversity. However, overall, it appears that young people’s immediate social cultural worlds are constructed in such a way that gender binary choices are frequently inevitable, from school uniforms and toilets to sports cultures and friendships.”


“For Carlita, ‘old-fashioned’ anti-gay attitudes were seen to be caused by lack of information and education. The Internet, she suggested, is now addressing this:

“People are much more accepting now … 50 years ago if you were gay or anything like that, you would have been heavily judged for that … people would beat you up on the street. But now I think there are people who I know [are gay] here and they don’t get beaten up every day, they don’t get severely bullied, some of them just get on with it and they’re accepted. I think it is slowly getting better … because before we couldn’t spread information as quickly as we can now. Now in a click of a button we can spread information to the whole world in less than a second, but before that was impossible. People are being educated in a different way rather than just (in their) household.”


“Sometimes young people’s experiences of racism and their understandings of racial diversity seemed to prompt them to support sex, gender and sexual diversity, underpinned by a desire that differences of any kind should not be a barrier to self-identity and self-expression. Sometimes it was part of a general morality about ‘live and let live’, letting others make choices that are different from your own:

“If you’re born a female, I think that’s the way you were supposed to be … that’s just what I think … [but] that’s their life, that’s their business … they have made the choice so what can I do about it?”

“If he (Conchita, a trans celebrity) wants, if he wants to be like, wants to do that, I don’t really mind. It’s his life so if he wants to live it.”

“I respect what they’ve chosen. But it’s just something I wouldn’t choose.”


“In some cases, religious beliefs conflicted with young people’s sense of themselves as modern (more accepting or pro-gay):

“I know for a fact, my religion, the most wrongest thing you can do is either be gay or be something that God didn’t choose for you, because God doesn’t make mistakes … Honestly, I think it’s wrong, I’m not going to say that I think it’s right: because you were born like that you should embrace it and everything. But if they don’t feel that way then I’m not going to question it. It’s not up to me.”

“I’m a Muslim but I feel like some of the things are wrong, like … a person should be allowed to marry the person that’s the same gender as them … and, in my religion, that’s really wrong … but I believe in it … and I usually go with my head, rather than my heart … my religion’s in my heart … so head-wise, my mindset is that’s gay … it should be allowed … that’s what I personally believe.”


“…young people were reflexive about conflicting sets of beliefs or values, or why they struggled with particular gender issues. Kushtim, Marek and Lyndal  discussed how they might feel if Conchita [a fictional trans celebrity] walked into their classroom and sat at their table. They shared their fears of feeling ‘uncomfortable’ and why they might feel this way, suggesting that perhaps it related to transgenderism being ‘common’ on television, but more unusual in their communities. Kushtim commented that ‘I think the first time I saw a gay person, like, kissing was in Year 6 [aged 10–11]. I was shocked because I’ve never seen it in my life. Now when I see them it’s just Oh, OK. Like I’ve seen it a few times now’. They agreed that one day transgenderism might be more acceptable, less ‘shocking and new’, less ‘weird’, even if ‘it’s not something they would choose’.”


“However, despite strong support amongst many young people for gender fluidity and for challenging gender norms, from their perspective, schools were generally structured and operated in ways that reinforced the notion of gender identity and expression as binary, especially in regards to school uniforms, toilets and sports. There were some exceptions. For example, the coastal school, which was recently built, had gender-neutral toilets. Yet students expressed ambivalence about sharing such ‘private’ space across genders, as well as about the staffsurveillance it allowed. Indeed, as we have shown here, the contextual contingency of gender r/evolutions continuously rubbed up against sedimented sexist, homophobic and transphobic sentiments, discrimination and violence.”

“Our findings offer many ways forward for educators. They show that adults who want to make changes towards practices which create and support inclusive gender cultures and address gender equity and gender justice can expect to find allies amongst the young people with whom they work. In fact, the challenge maybe in keeping pace with young people’s new modes of expression and sites for learning. Indeed, never has there been a more urgent need for teacher training on critical gender sensitive pedagogies in the context of the historical and contemporary social, cultural, biological and political sex/gender/sexuality landscape…  It also follows that if educators are supported to create conducive contexts through which young people are encouraged to lead the way in some of this work, then potentially rich pedagogical encounters of why, how, where and when gender matters might be formed.”