“You are perfect!”, words of wisdom from Ivan Coyote’s late grandmother that we all need to listen to. The ACE-WIL 2019 Conference in Victoria, BC kicked off with a powerful, engaging, funny and educational keynote presentation by Ivan Coyote. Through stories of personal experience, lessons on proper language and thought provoking ideas, this author, story teller and writer helped us all understand the journey of a transgender person.
Ivan’s description that a human telling a human story to other humans is the best way to learn and share ideas was exemplified by their own presentation format. They shared inspirational messages from their grandmother who supported and loved all of her grandchildren, regardless of each grandchild’s path. Ivan’s way of presenting serious topics with honesty sprinkled with humour was the perfect way to help us all try to understand the struggles they went through as a transgender person. Taking a shower is not something many of us give a second thought to, but for Ivan, like many other transgender people, it is not always so simple and straight forward given the gender conformities we currently have in our society.
Ivan also gave a very valuable lesson in language. Just as someone identifying as male or female is not “maled” or “femaled”, trans people are not “transgendered”. Ivan’s advice for pronouns was to ask an individual about their pronouns without any assumptions and to stay away from saying that someone’s pronouns are a preference. Someone does not prefer to use they/their, but they use they/their. Another language issue is that many people still use terms such as normal, regular or biological to describe non trans people. The more appropriate term to use is cisgender, which means that someone identifies with the sex they were assigned at birth.
As for Ivan’s advice for educators helping trans students, there were many very insightful and helpful tips. If you are unsure of what pronouns someone uses, call them by their name only until you get a moment to ask them what pronouns they use. If you make a mistake, apologize and move on. There is no need to make a small mistake bigger by giving it more focus.
So what else can we do as work integrated learning leaders? For one, we can better educate our employers on how to be more inclusive in the workplace. We can also ask our students what kind of support they would like to see from us. Communication and openness is always key! As Ivan’s late and wise grandmother said “some of us are given harder roads” and the least we can do is help those with harder roads take a few steps with more ease.