Funnily enough, my students couldn’t care less about the words I use to describe myself, and I am fine with that. Christine used the language she knew to ascertain my gender identity; tomboy has always been a socially acceptable term for a boyish little girl. (As long as she grows out of it by high school.)
I offer up this story about Christine not to show how wonderful a teacher I was in that moment. In fact, I probably tried too hard. As for the theater director, there were many other times in my childhood when adults questioned my gender presentation. They made me feel abnormal, small, and invisible, which is another way of saying they did not see me—not as I saw myself, anyhow. I get mis-gendered every day, and I still feel abnormal, small, and invisible from time to time.
I offer up these stories to show how deeply painful one teacher’s words were. Preconceived notions of gender are like a thick fog that has always been there; we will only notice how much we weren’t seeing when it finally lifts. Those who defy gender roles may stick out like a sore thumb. As teachers, we may never know when we are making a student feel abnormal, small, or invisible.