Additional guidelines on sex education and inclusive communication are presented below. They are specifically focused on supporting families, teaching staff and, most importantly, non-heteronormative children and young people. This section also provides links to interesting publications, online resources and contact to NGOs offering support.
Referring to the previous sections, it is important to remember that sexuality is natural, and gender and sexual identities are completely healthy regardless of their type. When working with a non-heteronormative child, we should concentrate, first and foremost, on the child and pay attention to their needs.
In the previous chapters, we could learn that gender identity is the primary element of gender. It is the most important from the point of view of medicine, psychology and sexology. It defines any person and must be observed.
Sexual identity in cisgender children is discovered at the age of ca. 2-4 years. It is a natural process reinforced by the environment. For transgender children and adolescents, experiencing this process may be longer and more difficult. They often become aware of their own identity on their own and go through identification without adult support. It is natural for them to search for answers, experiment, and try to define themselves. If a child tells someone about their transgender or non-binary identity, it is a sign that they trust that person. Such trust should not be disregarded or abused. It is best to observe, support them, and follow the grammatical forms or the name the child prefers. Of course, we cannot be sure how the child’s gender identity will develop, but at this stage, we should support the process of self-identification.
Transgender/non-binary child and parents.
For parents or carers, the information about their child’s transgender status can be difficult. Some people do not understand the issue, and others (the more aware ones) are concerned about their child, their safety, how they will be treated by society and the transition process itself. What parents can do for themselves and their child is, first and foremost, to increase their knowledge, understanding and familiarity with the topic of gender identity. In an ideal scenario, parents follow their child’s identity and make every effort to improve their child’s psychological well-being. Support at this point is an invaluable therapeutic element.
According to the guidelines in the ICD-11 - International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems, therapy involves matching other aspects of gender with gender identity. This process is called transition. The level of transition depends on the needs of the person and the strength of gender dysphoria. It is in consultation with medical, sexological and psychological staff that decisions are made to implement the appropriate therapy - hormonal or gender affirmation surgery.
The legal process is very complicated and arduous in Poland, as transgender person has to sue their parents for gender mislabelling. This is often a traumatising experience. The result of the transition at the legal level is the assignment of a new PESEL number (in which the gender is encoded) and name.
Some transgender people, mainly non-binary, only need transition on a social level - a change of name, pronouns, way of dressing and social functioning.
School staff and the transgender/non-binary child.
The issues of gender identity are discussed increasingly more often. Children and young people have access to more information, making their exploration of sexuality more conscious. This helps them to define and name themselves. It is in the recommendations for the school to follow the needs of the child. You can use the name and grammatical forms preferred by the child. After all, it is not necessary to use the name from the record book. If the child is additionally in a therapeutic process, the school will most often get a letter with similar guidelines from a person specialising in sexology.
The discovery of sexual identity is the next step in the identification process. Of course, the order of these may vary depending on the personality and social factors. It is important to remember that any sexual identity is healthy and natural. Whether a child is hetero-, bi- or homosexual should not matter. There are more sexual identities, and some of them have been described in previous chapters. In all cases, adult support should be about acceptance and understanding the child’s needs.
How to be an ally?
- Be aware of your stereotypes and prejudices. Be aware of your level of knowledge about diversity. Try to get to know the other person as well as possible when interacting with them, without pre-judging based on a particular trait or appearance. Do not assume that all people are heterosexual and cisgender.
- Expand your knowledge of sexuality. Follow the latest research and social trends, for example, on social media of NGOs working on equality issues or people from minority, LGBTQIA+ communities engaged in self-advocacy.
- Recognise your privileges. Belonging to a majority group gives you certain rights that you can use to support people from groups at risk of exclusion.
- Listen to others’ needs. Understand them in order to help. Do not assume that you know better what someone needs. Do not help by force, and do not expect gratitude for your help. Being an ally is unconditional.
- Respond to violence and discrimination. Express your opposition to such behaviour. Report hateful content on the internet, and don’t make fun of sexuality.
- Mark your workplace, social media profile or clothing with a symbol supporting LGBTQIA+ people. Most often, it is the rainbow symbol.
- Ask what grammatical forms you should use to address a person you don’t know. You can also include your pronouns as a nod to transgender people. Writing your pronouns in the footer of an email, on a website or on a business card is inclusive behaviour, showing openness and respect.
- Don’t be afraid of making mistakes. No one expects you to always get a pronoun or a person’s name right. In such a situation, simply apologise and try not to do it again.
- Use inclusive language. In Polish it includes: feminatives (e.g., ‘lekarka’ [female doctor], ‘psycholożka’ [female psychologist]) and gender-neutral forms (e.g., ‘osoba homoseksualna’ [homosexual person], ‘Jak ma na imię osoba, z którą jesteś w związku?’ [What is the name of the person you are in a relationship with?]) are ideal examples of support. Although they may sound uncomfortable at first, remember that the Polish language is alive and constantly evolving.
- Take inclusive action. Get involved in equality marches or rainbow Fridays in schools. Show your support.
- Vote consciously. Remember that politics has a huge impact on the lives of minority people. Take an interest in what representatives of various political parties are saying..
How to talk about sexuality?
Language pertaining to sexuality is changing dynamically and becoming more inclusive in order to normalise diversity and emphasise the subjectivity of those involved. An example of the recommended change in Polish is to stop using gender and sexual identity expressions with the ending ‘-izm’ (which suggests a disorder) and to choose those with the ending ‘-ość’.
We know that sexual identities other than heterosexuality are not disorders. Hence the proposal to use terms such as ‘aseksualność’ (asexuality), ‘homoseksualność’ (homosexuality) or ‘biseksualność’ (bisexuality), for example.
In the case of gender identity, in Polish, we use ‘cispłciowość’ (cisgender) or ‘transpłciowość’ (transgender). Previously used terms such as ‘transseksualizm’ were a calque from the English language, which no longer works so well in Polish and can erroneously indicate sex rather than gender. In English, which is also changing, the word ‘transgender’ is now used instead of ‘transsexual’.sex – płeć), która w języka polskim nie sprawdza się już tak dobrze i mylnie może wskazywać nie na płeć a właśnie seks. W języku angielskim, który również się zmienia, używa się obecnie wyrazu „transgender” zamiar „transsexual”.
The acronym LGBT+, which was explained in the previous chapters, has become an object of manipulation and an element of political struggle. Opponents of equality do everything to give it a negative meaning (‘LGBT ideology’). In order to debunk this abbreviation and emphasise the subjectivity of those behind it, it is useful to use phrases such as ‘LGBT+ people’ or ‘LGBT+ community’.
Sexuality should be talked about directly. It is a natural issue for every person. To expand on the theme of sex education from previous chapters, it should be added that the shame of talking about the body, gender, growing up, and sex is an adult problem. Adults pass on these emotions to children and, at the same time, put a strain on their sexuality.
Where to get help and support?
Lambda Warszawa help line for LGBT+ people and their close ones: 22 628 52 22
Telefon Zaufania dla dzieci i młodzieży (Help line for children and adolescents): 116 111
Dajemy Dzieciom Siłę Foundation
Program Stacja Association – organisation supporting adolescents and young adults
Knowledge base on transgenderism
MyRodzice Association for people close to LGBT+ people
Różowa skrzyneczka - organisation against menstrual exclusion
Foundation for Social Education (Fundacja Edukacji Społecznej) - sexual health organisation
Bibliography – Recommended reading
- Grabski, B. (2022). Zdrowie osób transplciowych i niebinarnych. Warszawa: TransFuzja
- Kowalczyk, R., Stoła, A. (2022). ChemSex ujęcie wielodyscyplinarne. Warszawa: PZWL
- Pietruszczak, B. (2021). Twoje ciałowpozytywne dojrzewanie. Warszawa: Moonka
- Fashion Fever, C. (2022). Sex Edu. Warszawa: RM
- Lew-Starowicz, Z. (2022). Psychoseksuologia. Metody diagnostyczne i terapeutyczne. Sopot: GWP
- Kowalczyk, R., Tritt, R., J., Lew-Starowicz, Z. (2021). LGB. Zdrowie psychiczne i seksualne. Warszawa: PZWL
- Hodun, M., Sawicki, M., Tęcza, M. (2021). Good Sex Ed. Sexual Education in Europe between Evidence and Ideology. Warszawa: Projekt:Polska
- Rowińska, M. (2019). Zaburzenia seksualne a psychoterapia poznawczo-behawioralna. Warszawa: PZWL
- Rubik, A. (2022). Projekt SEXEDPL: Rozmowy Anji Rubik o dojrzewaniu, miłości i seksie, Dorastanie w miłości, bezpieczeństwie i zrozumieniu. Przewodnik dla rodzicó Warszawa: W.A.B.