RBR Celebrates Week of Respect with frank Presentation on Gender
Red Bank Regional (RBR) High School strives to be proactive in addressing sensitive issues that may affect the welfare of their students. So for the Week of Respect, The RBR Source partnered with makeitbetter4youth.org to bring a special multi-disciplinary artist, Samuel (Sam) Killermann, to RBR for a an engaging and insightful presentation on Gender Identity. Mr. Killermann is an author, performer and internationally renowned internet celebrity on matters of social justice. Students from Rumson Fairhaven Regional High School’s Gay Straight Alliance as well as the Collier School were also invited.
Mr. Killermann explained to his audience that his fascination with gender had personal roots which crystallized in college when he learned that his prospective girlfriend assumed that he (a heterosexual male) was gay. This misperception of his sexual identity seemed to occur often in college; so he sought counsel at the college’s LGBTQ center. He was told that people were confusing his sexuality for the way he expressed his gender. Sam admits that he is not the classic “masculine guy.” His preference for dress, and mannerism, therefore, caused people to make an incorrect assumption over his sexuality.
While his presentation was interesting, funny and insightful, he managed to impart several important concepts to the students, the most important being that gender is complex.
He explained, “While there are two ways to describe every person in the world –male or female. Gender is not that simple, there are many versions of gender which is more a form of expression in dress and demeanor, whereas biological sex is the physical make-up of our bodies.”
He went on to explain that a person’s gender is relative and personal to each individual. Today there are a variety of ways a person may self-describe their own gender beyond the traditional binary label of male or female. They include: Gender Neutral – not particularly identifying as either male or female; Gender fluid --gender expression changing from time to time; Gender Queer—although traditionally expressing a negative connotation, today it refers to not identifying within the binary of male or female, or both in-between or outside altogether, Non-binary—not wishing a classification of either male or female; Transgender – identifying opposite to the gender assigned at birth. Mr. Killermann also cautioned the students to use these classifications as adjectives and not nouns when describing a person’s gender preference.
Mr. Killermann focused the most attention on the last classification of transgender. Studies have revealed that this population remains the most at risk for suicide.
He emphasized, “The problem is our inability to create space for people who identify as transgender.”
He advised the students, “Do everything in your power to make the people in your life feel completely and unashamed of whom they are.”
Transgender has recently sparked a national controversy over public bathroom facilities which were codified in North Carolina by the state’s legislature. The law caused several high profile sport organizations and large corporations to boycott North Carolina for their decision to force individuals to use facilities which relate to their biology versus their gender identity. Mr. Killermann was invited to several town halls in the state to discuss the dilemma.
He told the students, “The biggest question was, ‘What do we put up on the door’?”
In response, he put up a picture of a toilet on the internet as an “all gender restroom sign.” It was subsequently adopted for the White House restrooms as well s a dozen college campuses in the United States and on three continents.
Skylar (Kyle) Eber, the President of RBR’s active Gender & Sexuality Alliance(GSA) stated, “I thought it was a very well needed presentation. Today, with everything that's changing in our society, people need to be aware of the changes around them and advancements for LGBTQ students and society. I have heard from a lot of students praising his presentation and saying how good it was, how enjoyable it was, and how amazing it was for him to be able to hold the attention of everyone.”
Skylar’s (Kyle’s) opinion was supported by other RBR students.
Sophomore Jack Davis commented, “I think he created a safe place for everyone and made them feel like they fit in somewhere.”
Sophomore Tamia Waddy added, “It (the program) was amazing. Schools don't usually do this. They push it into a closet. It is really important to be open-minded about this. I was really proud of my school.”
The RBR SOURCE’s mission is “To remove all obstacles that impede the success of young people in the community.” This is accomplished by offering services free of charge to students and their families including; individual, group and family counseling, preventative medical and dental care, academic support, scholarship opportunities, and recreational and cultural events. The makeitbeter4youth.org is a Monmouth County Consortium for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning Youth. For more information on Sam Killermann visit his website at www.samuelKillermann.com.