As an educator with a strong anti-oppression pedagogical stance, teaching about gender identity is very important to me. With growing awareness around gender fluidity, non-binary identities and transgender experiences, I am always seeking to build my personal understanding alongside my students.
The five NFB productions discussed here can be used to discuss gender identity in various courses, from Canadian history and media studies to civics and English, and are appropriate for students aged 14 and up.
Christina Ganev is a Hybrid Teacher-Coach (History) with 16 years of experience in the Toronto District School Board. She has taught a range of social sciences, humanities and English courses at the secondary level. She is most interested in anti-oppression and anti-racist teaching resources, approaches and practices.
This short, evocative film about the lived experiences of queer feminist and trans activist Courtney Demone truly captures the complicated life of trans individuals. You might know about the #FreeTheNipple viral campaign that catapulted Demone to social-media fame in 2015, but you may not know the ways in which the backlash has impacted Demone and others like her. In the film, Demone explains that she started the campaign to challenge people to examine the arbitrary ways in which society treats men and women differently, the sexualization of feminine bodies, and media censorship policies. Demone speaks from the heart and expresses visceral pain in the interviews where she describes the transphobia and confusing, even violent, reactions she experiences on the street. I found it heartbreaking to watch the scene in which she describes her internal struggle to be perceived as the woman she wants to be. I recommend this film for use in any course in which students examine social constructs of gender identity and challenge sociocultural forces of oppression. It may also be relevant in a media studies course, where it could be used to study how viral campaigns work.
“Since contact, we have learned to judge and condemn our two-spirited people.” Two-Spirited presents the empowering story of Rodney “Geeyo” Poucette, struggle as a two-spirited person (gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender) against prejudice in the Indigenous community. Two-Spirited is a film that can be used to examine a range of themes, including intersectional identity, the impact of colonialism, and Indigenous cultural practices. I used this film in my Canadian history class as a “minds on” activity before a lesson on challenging dominant narratives in Indigenous history. We made a mind map about the intersectional identities of two-spirited people, which led to a greater discussion around oppression and resilience of marginalized groups. Most of my students were not familiar with the term two-spirited, so they were interested in learning more about Rodney’s experience.
This is a deeply personal and empowering film about the experiences of Skylar, a young transgender person navigating puberty and attempting to live their most authentic life. The film also centres on the role their family has played in nurturing Skylar’s self-confidence and empowering them through their journey. I Am Skylar touches on important topics for transgender people, such as dealing with biological changes in puberty, challenges at school, and issues around pronoun use. At the end of the film, an articulate Skylar asks, “If you live behind a mask all your life, are you really being yourself, or are you just covering up who you really are?” This is an important film for both co-conspirators/allies and trans people. This film can be used effectively in family studies, social sciences and humanities or English courses. For example, it can be used in a sociology class to examine how family structures challenge or reproduce societal constructs. The film can also be used more generally to foster empathy, compassion, understanding and inclusive practices within the school environment during Pride month and beyond.
What does it mean to live authentically? While many adults struggle with the question, the children in this film exemplify it and inspire us with their courageous stories of going against the grain. This short film features five young people—Bex, Lili, Fox, Tru and Milo—who share their experiences with shifting or creative gender identity. The film explores the raw emotions behind their childhood struggles, rife with sadness, anger, danger, fear, ridicule, isolation, loneliness, and confusion—but also full of joy and acceptance. These stories are poignant and evoke empathy and understanding of what it can be like to try to fit into a world full of binary gender expectations. Beauty allows us to examine deeply a variety of gender experiences, from gender fluidity to non-binary to transgender. It answers the questions we didn’t know we had. I believe that the experiences of the five young people in the film will resonate with the students we teach. For instance, a few of the young people speak about their experiences using school washrooms, something many of us take for granted. But for those questioning their gender identity, a trip to the washroom—a basic human right—can be frightening and fraught with anxiety, and even result in violence. There are also scenes revolving around clothing, toys, colours and all the ways in which society markets gender and belonging. In addition, the film delves into something my students always seem to be curious about: sexual and romantic attraction. Finally, Beauty examines family dynamics and the role of family in supporting and nurturing gender authenticity. I would recommend incorporating this film in gender studies, social justice or any other social science courses. It could also be used in any English course. Lastly, it can be used to examine human rights issues related to gender identity or to begin an inquiry into the history of gender as a social construct or marketing as a tool of gender oppression.
In this feature documentary-musical by Chelsea McMullan, indie singer Rae Spoon takes us on a playful, meditative and at times melancholic journey. Set against majestic images of the infinite expanses of the Canadian Prairies, the film features Spoon crooning about their queer and musical coming of age. Interviews, performances and music sequences reveal Spoon’s inspiring process of building a life of their own, as a trans person and as a musician.
Official selection at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival.