It has been a long four month process of reading, discussing, writing, re-writing, practicing and creating the final product. The journey was full of challenges, but they found ways to overcome those challenges and complete the task they had set for. Six of our 9th graders recently made a short film as a part of their leadership project to learn more about how some people experience difficulties with gender identity.
It started with one of the students who wrote a short story at the beginning of the year to question the hetero-normative gender roles as a part of their fiction-writing class in English. This eventually became the starting point for some students to start exploring more about gender. As a part of their leadership classes as well, they had been learning about the challenges that women face in leadership and how they overcome those. We not only explored the leadership experiences of cis-gendered women, but we also l learnt lessons from the experiences of transgender women on inclusivity. When the time came for the students to choose and start working on their leadership projects, some students decided that they wanted to explore about the experiences of people who do not follow the prescriptive gender binaries and those who have been left out from the conversation completely.
When they started working on their projects, they did research on gender roles, the experiences of trans-people in India, and their legal status in the country. As they continued to learn, they realised that they wanted to share what they are learning with others so that more people can empathise with the situation that a significant population of the country is in. They also started finding absence of certain voices within their own social groups and the cultural media they follow. It was decided that they would create a short movie on this issue and share it with a wider audience.
As the weeks progressed, they wrote and re-wrote multiple scripts with the help of their mentor, Maeve, a student volunteer studying in the American School of Bombay, who also helped them practice and edit the movie. The students got a chance to meet an Activist for Queer Rights, Diti, who shared their knowledge on the topic with them (Diti is also a co-author of a blog which is a part of their research project. Follow this link to read stories about queer lives in India). Using all these experiences and their own, the students completed working on their first movie ever by mid-February. They have come a long way from where they started, and they still have many milestones to cover. They have just dip their feet in the ocean before they will learn how to swim:
Gender identity is an intrinsic part of an individual’s identity. Many of our experiences are shaped because of our gender – whether assigned or identified with. We need to have more conversations in the classroom revolving around identities – not just gender, but all the other identities that make our students who they are so that they can grow into confident individuals with healthier self-esteem.
To know more about what can be done about creating identity safe classrooms, you can check out the following resources: