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There Is No One Way

By Tai Tran

I recently sat on an online SpeakOUT panel in a high school health class. Between the students in the classroom with the teacher and the other students on zoom we had a small audience. Even in a pandemic, our teachers and students are continuing their education and meaningful work together. I shared my story about how I taught middle school math and science in California for the past two years and had made it a point to be an openly out queer educator. We live in a world that stigmatizes and erases queer identities in the institution of education; I was not going to recreate that in my classroom. I always introduce myself as “Mx. Tran, not Mr., not Ms., and I’m happily independent, so not Mrs. either.” After sharing our stories, a young male student asked me, “Mx. Tran, you say you identify as nonbinary, but the pronouns on your zoom say she and her, what does that mean?” 

I thanked the young man for his question and quickly added, “Good question!” Afterall, young people nowadays need more encouragement than ever. And to ask questions is a sign of intelligence, or so I tell my own students. We had only reached the halfway point of the panel  and even if we had more time it would not have been enough to explain the intricacies of gender and sexuality to the students. Why do I subscribe to a binary pronoun when I claim nonbinary as well? Are the two mutually exclusive? Should I, perhaps more accurately, use they/them as pronouns instead? Or hir? Or ze? 

For me, these were of course questions I asked myself long ago. And ones that I continue to ask myself. But in the moment, I replied “It just feels more me. More like me. Don’t get me wrong, I have tried he, him, his pronouns. I have tried and used them for years and I certainly know those are not what I want to be referred to as when I am talked about.” And trans/nonbinary people are definitely talked about, especially so when we are not in the room. I didn’t need a whole seminar to tell these young bright minds that there is no one way to be nonbinary. Just like there is no one way to be a good person. I told my story about when I started to experiment with other pronouns I found out this was the pronoun for me. When my trusted friends and colleagues started calling me by she and her pronouns I felt seen and respected. I felt seen the way I wanted to be seen and respected. The way I see myself; not the way the world said I should be. 

Whether principals, districts, lawmakers, or governments are willing to admit it or not, we live in a world that scripts out the life of our youth before they are even born. To be a “boy” or to be a “girl” means something. We all have an inkling, large or small, of what it means. Yet, what would it mean to be nonbinary? I am grateful that I am alive to continue exploring what it means to me. I am grateful to be involved with an organization that lets students hear the stories behind the statistics of people who are so different from them, who are likely very different from their family as well. And I am also grateful for that student’s question. 

Tai recently finished her service with Teach For America in Richmond, California as part of the 2018 corps, teaching middle school math and science. She is a bright, bold, and brave queer educator who goes by Mx. Tran in the classroom. Her passions include dismantling the anti-queer patriarchy in the institution of education, empowering students with comprehensive sex ed, and being the change she has always wanted to see in the world.