The main way I encounter issues of inclusive pedagogy in my teaching is in gender diversity (or the lack thereof). I teach to engineers and specifically metal casting students, which is a heavily male-dominated field (even more so than engineering at large). I worked at a foundry for the past two summers which had, out of a total of around 300 employees, probably 10-15 women employed. The introductory foundry classes I helped with last semester had, out of 35 students, about seven women (which is a much higher percentage than in past years). The class I currently teach has one female student out of 11.
I’m keeping these comparisons to a purely binary perspective; I’m not counting myself in these numbers. As a masculine-presenting, male-assigned, genderqueer bisexual, I break the molds (pun intended) and assumptions that people people make about me (not to mention stereotypes about people in casting and manufacturing at large). Now, in most if not all engineering classes I’ve taken, identity is not mentioned at all, so we’ll save the discussion about me for later.
Because women are often stigmatized in engineering and metal casting, I do put specific effort into making the female students, whether at the foundry or in my class, feel welcome and that they are capable of just as much as the men are (if not more, just for that extra encouragement). I make a conscious effort to recognize the one female student in my class when she does speak up and join in the class discussions, making sure she doesn’t get talked over by the rest of the class. At the foundry, I make sure not to snub the female students for attention or assistance in favor of the male students, but to instead give appropriate levels of assistance and instruction to all of the students (within the limits of my abilities).
Alrighty, let’s get into my experiences. I am white, and that has afforded me a great many privileges; my girlfriend is Indian, with a very distinctive non-English name, and I have seen a number of ways in which they have held her back or closed off opportunities that may have been available otherwise. I do my best to be aware of my privilege on that axis and to use it to give voice and space to those without.
I am perceived as male, which is a hell of a double-edged sword. As someone in engineering and metal casting/manufacturing, being seen as a man protects me from experiencing sex-based discrimination, but it stings me harshly because that’s not how I want to be seen. It’s an invalidation and erasure of my identity as a nonbinary (and bisexual, since everyone is assumed to be straight) person, and I don’t want to experience that. I want to live in a world where I can be seen and known as my authentic, out, queer self, but fear of social, physical, and employment-based reprisal and backlash keep the majority of my true expression restrained and “closeted”. I am publicly out, but I know that the majority of people who know that have no idea what it means, and I definitely don’t present the way I want–far too masculine.
In last week’s discussion, my hackles got a little raised when a question was asked about whether we should make a big deal out of these things, if we keep being told they’re not a big deal. It was a genuine and well-intentioned question, and I took no personal offense, but I had to immediately respond and say that yes, we should provide opportunities for students to make a big deal of their identities if they so choose. This is crucial for me because this space was never made available to me while I was figuring out that I was queer and especially when I had made the decision to come out publicly with a new name and pronouns but had no idea how. I was the one who had to start the conversation, every time. I was the one who had to bring these things up, out of the blue, with no idea if I’d get an accepting response or get kicked out of class for simply being who I am.
As a bisexual male-assigned nonbinary, both my gender and my sexuality face a tremendous amount of erasure from all over society, from both straight and gay people saying that “bisexuality isn’t real” or it’s “just a phase”, to cis people of all kinds and even some binary trans folks saying that nonbinary genders are made-up and don’t exist. Even within many nonbinary communities, nearly everyone is assumed to be female-assigned because every resource that’s labeled as being for Nonbinary Folk is all about binding or how to appear more masculine or how to find “gender-neutral” (read: masculine) clothing.
I apologize, this turned in to a rant. They…occur easily when I talk about these subjects because, go figure, I have strong feelings about them.
Okay, summary time! In my past schooling, I wish there had been a more visible presence of resources and guidance and education for young queer folk struggling to figure themselves out, and for professors to open up opportunities to talk about queerness in some capacity. It took me until my junior year of college to even consider the possibility that my gender may not be what I had assumed for over two decades because I never knew it was even an option until I met an openly trans person. Nobody talked to me about gender or sexuality or how there were more possibilities than being a straight boy. Had I learned about gender earlier, my life could’ve been entirely different. In my own teaching, I plan to create those opportunities I wish I’d had, in the hopes that I can help a younger generation to discover their true selves, unburdened by enforced ignorance.