The lesson uses clips from the documentary From This Day Forward. When director Sharon Shattuck’s father came out as transgender and began living as Trisha, Sharon was in the awkward throes of middle school. Trisha’s transition was difficult for Sharon’s cisgender (and straight-identified) mother, Marcia, to accept, but her parents stayed together. Years later, as the Shattucks gather to plan Sharon’s wedding, she seeks a deeper understanding of how her parents’ marriage, and their family, survived intact. Through the clips and activities, students take on the role (and investigative methods) of journalists to wade through distortion and sensationalism and to distinguish opinion from fact.
90 minutes plus in-school supervised research time
- Analyze stereotypes about transgender people
- Solidify their understanding of the terms sex, gender, gender expression, transgender, cisgender
- Conduct research and evaluate sources for credibility and relevance
- Film clips from the film From This Day Forward and equipment on which to show them
- A way to gather, preserve and use student questions (e.g., recording them on a white board and giving students access to a saved file of the input)
- Library and/or Internet access for students to conduct research
- Handout of video clip transcript (or computer access to the file)
NOTE TO TEACHERS
Gender nonconforming students, those who are questioning and/or those with LGBTQ family members may feel exceptionally vulnerable when talking about gender identity issues with their peers. Encourage students to be sensitive to one another, and be prepared to offer private support to students who may be grappling with personal issues. Prior to starting the lesson, please consider informing parents, school counselors, administrators and other support personnel so they can be prepared to offer their help if a student needs a professional referral.
Step 1: The Difference Between Sex and Gender Introduce the lesson by telling students that they are now journalists who have been assigned to help those in their community who are confused or misinformed by providing their audience with accurate information about being transgender. In a moment, they will view excerpts from a documentary about a trans woman named Trisha and her family, but first, they need some background information.
Ask students to identify the difference between “sex” and “gender.” If they need help, you can share the definitions below and/or this helpful resource from Teaching Tolerance (http://www.tolerance.org/magazine/number-50-summer-2015/feature/sex-sexual-orientation-gender-identity-gender-expression).
Sex – The characteristics that identify a person as male, female or intersex (people born with physical features, especially genitals or chromosomes, that are neither clearly male nor clearly female or are a combination of female and male).
Gender – The set of behaviors and activities that are culturally identified as “masculine” or “feminine.” These include clothing, hairstyles, body language, occupations, hobbies and so on.
It is important for students to understand fully the difference between these terms before they start their assignment. It might also be helpful to introduce the term “gender expression,” i.e., the outward signals (e.g., make-up, clothing, hairstyle) that people often adopt to express their gender identities, which may or may not reflect their biological characteristics.
Note: You may also want to familiarize students with the term “cisgender,” which can be used in place of “straight” or “straight-identified,” to describe people whose sex and gender align. According to Teaching Tolerance, “Cisgender is an important word because it names the dominant experience rather than simply seeing it as the default.”
Step 2: Meeting Trisha
Introduce the film From This Day Forward to students by letting them know that it’s a documentary about a family in which the father came out as a transgender woman and changed her name to Trisha. The film is made by Trisha’s older daughter, Sharon, who they will hear asking questions from behind the camera. And they’ll also meet the younger daughter in the family, Laura, and Sharon and Laura’s mother, Marcia.
Before showing Clip 1, be prepared to record students’ questions so that the questions can be used later in the lesson. Remind students of their role as journalists who have just been assigned by their news director to inform their community about what it means to be transgender. They will have access to a transcript of the clip, so they don’t need to take notes about what is said. Instead, their focus at this stage should be on generating questions that will help them go beyond the superficial who, what, when and where. To keep the questions serious, briefly talk about what a probative question is, emphasizing that high quality questions are those that help journalists (and ultimately their audiences) to understand the issues clearly and in depth.
Divide students into small groups (4 to 5) and show Clip 1. After the clip, give the groups several minutes to generate questions and post all their questions on the class master list (e.g., on a white board or in a Google doc). To help them recall what they saw, provide them with access to the transcript, either digitally or on a handout.
Step 3: The Rest of the Film Clips
Show as many or as few of the remaining clips as you deem appropriate for your class. The procedure is the same as that used with the first clip with one addition. To reflect a genuine journalistic process, not only should students be formulating questions, but they should also be listening to determine whether the clip provides answers to any of their previous questions. So give everyone a chance to scan the master list of questions prior to showing each clip.
Step 4: Looking for Information Once students have viewed the film clips, let them look at the master list of questions. In their small groups, have them sort the questions into those that have high probative value for the assignment and those that do not. For example, “Why did Sharon decide to make this film?” might be an interesting question, but the answer isn’t likely to provide information on being transgender, so it isn’t a good match for the assignment.
Have each group post its high value questions to a new master list. As a class, discuss what makes a question probative and high quality. Then have students remove questions that they aren’t likely to be able to answer, keeping in mind that they will not be able to interview anyone who appeared in the film, so they won’t be able to get answers to personal questions.
Step 5: Research Each student should choose one of the remaining questions on the master list. The next phase of their investigation is for each student to answer the chosen question. To do that, they must use at least three different sources and in their final presentation (written, video or multimedia—you choose based on what students need to practice most), they must annotate the sources, indicating which they found most credible and most useful, and why. They must also clearly distinguish between opinion and fact. If needed, provide some guidance, making clear that believing something to be true does not necessarily make your belief factual.
Note: It is possible to assign this step as homework, but because of the topic, we strongly recommend that the research process be supervised and take place in school. You (or your library media specialist) may even want to prepare a set of pre-approved websites to avoid accidental hits on sexually explicit sites.
Step 6: Conclusions
Once their research is complete, in a go-round, invite students to complete this sentence: “The most important thing I learned about people who are transgender is…”
Optional: Using their classmates’ research as well as their own, along with the film, have students actually write or create video feature stories that would inform their community about being transgender.
1. Work with a local LGBTQ resource center to find a speaker to talk to your class and answer students’ questions about what life is like for transgender people in your community.
2. Have students investigate cultures that recognize gender identities other than just male and female (e.g., hijra in South Asia, two-spirited in some Native American tribes, mahu in native Hawaiian culture, fa’afafine in Samoa).
3. Study current controversies over transgender people serving in the military and/or state laws governing use of restrooms and locker rooms by transgender people. Encourage students to share their views with their political representatives.
4. Examine your school’s policy or culture on treatment of gender nonconforming students (and/or students with LGBTQ parents/family members) and make any revisions students think are important. Encourage students to consider presenting their suggestions (with supporting evidence) to administrators and the school board or, if they approve of current policy, to voice their support. Some examples of policy subjects include use of restrooms and locker rooms, dress codes, permission forms that only list mother/father and prom dates. For information on national guidelines, visit https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/us-departments-justice-and-education-release-joint-guidance-help-schools-ensure-civil-rights.