Teaching the genderbread person

Tl;dr I taught the genderbread person in a successful way that recognized what a mess it is, so I’m sharing the lesson plan in case anyone else may want such a thing.

August 2016

So, as I get back into the swing of writing blog posts after being too busy, I want to start by sharing something from my time off.

I recently led half a workshop on gender identity and was given the challenge of using the genderbread person. Instead of rejecting the idea and doing my usual thing, I took on the challenge, and was pretty successful. I want to share my lesson plan of sorts (with side commentary) in case this is of interest to anyone else who is done with staring at the genderbread person in horror.

(As a quick disclaimer: Some of the people in the workshop were trans, some had been living with out trans people for 1-2 weeks by this point, some were just really really smart, all of them were high-school aged or older. I did pretty much this exact same thing two days later in a one-on-one session with someone that was a little less read-up on gender and it worked, but it definitely took some tweaking. What was really good about this plan was that it worked for a “mixed-level” group. I was asking people who were familiar with the genderbread person to analyse it and question it more closely, while I was also guiding people through the basic “gender/trans 101”. That said, I definitely think I was lucky with the group and it would require a lot of thought to take this to other audiences.)

The lesson:

(at the beginning, I avoided the word “biological sex”)

Start with big question: What is gender?

  • emphasise self-identification

What is assigned sex?:

  • sex assigned by a doctor to almost every baby born (ASSIGNED doesn’t say anything about the baby)
  • body configurations can impact an assignment, but the assignment doesn’t necessarily say anything about body

What is presentation?

  • How we present ourselves to other people.
  • (The next time I do this, I would include “perception” here too, as it was brought up later in the workshop.)

What is missing?

Answer: Biological sex

(at this point, no one had brought up biological sex, when I did the one-on-one, it was brought up, so I reworded it to be more along the lines of “what hasn’t been necessary to this discussion so far?”)

Hand out genderbread person (I used the original version from itspronouncedmetrosexual as the later versions are just as frustrating, but take longer to piece apart, for this one, the limits are obvious)

What’s the same here?

  • Idea that gender identity is separate from other categories
  • Expression is basically presentation

What’s different here?

  • Terminology (ie. Presentation v. expression)
  • Biological sex
  • Sexual orientation

What’s missing?

  • Assigned sex – genderbread person replaces what is assigned and constructed by society with biological sex
  • Emphasise: Biological sex is not necessary to discuss, EVER. (why is it on the genderbread man? ick)
  • (could also discuss romantic orientation here, I would do it later)

Using the genderbread person:

  • As “warm-up”, I asked everyone to place themself on the genderbread person scales
  • I then asked them to place me on the genderbread person scales, with the disclaimer that I was well-aware we were breaking the rules we set up in the beginning that no one can define a person’s gender except that person (I might have a thing for making people uncomfortable). (side note: I had been living and working alongside these people for 2-4 weeks by this point, but had not been explicitly out, so they had had time to build up assumptions about my identity)
  • We discussed a few of the ways people tried to place me, how people tried to work with the fact that they were being asked to break the rules, what people were comfortable saying, what they weren’t, what assumptions they realized they had about me
  • I shared my personal genderbread person with lots of parts crossed out, dots off the scales, etc.

I used this model and discussion to ask: “how would you change the genderbread person?”

  • sexual orientation scale is super-weird
  • this is where I would discuss romantic orientation
  • gender a lot more complicated than this – impossible to fit into these boxes
  • general conclusion: it’s confusing, we might not be able to understand it, and that’s ok

Final reflection circle – EVERYONE has to say something, it can be stupid or simple, but it has to be something

  • something you learned
  • pronoun

So, it’s definitely not a perfect lesson, and is clearly bound by the situation I was in, but it made a huge impact on the group I was working with. I’m pretty proud of myself for getting this done and for the impact it clearly made on the participants.

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