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Harvard Authors Spotlight: Schuyler Bailar On Allyship to the Transgender Community

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Schuyler Bailar, an internationally recognized author, educator, and advocate for inclusion and diversity, made history as the first openly transgender athlete to compete on a Division I team in the NCAA. In an interview with The Harvard Crimson, Bailar shared his new book, “He/She/They: How We Talk About Gender and Why It Matters,” as a resource for individuals seeking insight into allyship to the transgender community.

The writing of “He/She/They,” according to Bailar, was driven by the realization that most Americans claim they have never met a transgender person and know very little about their experiences.

The book consists of four sections, each examining the relation of gender to “me,” “others,” “society,” and “you,” with a focus on interpersonal communication. Instead of laying out the facts from a historical perspective, Bailar emphasizes real-life examples and hands-on practices. Common misconceptions are presented throughout the book in a conversational format, with advice listed in tables under columns of “instead of this,” “try this,” and “because.” The book aims to erase the anxiety that can surround a discussion of transgender identities: The step-by-step guide responds to many common myths regarding gender identity that circulate today.

For example, readers encounter in the book screenshots of hateful, hostile tweets directed toward the transgender community. In the digital age today, many LGBTQ+ individuals like Bailar still face discrimination on social media.

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“A lot of young people are reading these horrible things by commenters or social media posts or whatever online and then they are going home to the same thing,” Bailar said. “So I think social media is a really complicated entity.”

Bailar also utilizes his platform to combat ignorance concerning recent legislation. For instance, the chapter “Gender-Affirming Care” brings attention to the infamous “Don’t Say Gay” bill that bars instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity in certain grade levels in Florida’s primary schools. Bailar also speaks out against the “Don’t Say Period” bill.

“That stopped any education about sex ed until ninth grade, which is really deeply devastating if you think about the fact that most people who begin menstruating begin menstruating at age 11,” Bailar said.

“The proponents of the bill are trying to get the American public to believe that schools are indoctrinating kids with gender ideology,” Bailar said. “All we, the LGBTQ+ advocates, want is for kids to know all of these different types of people exist and all of these different types of people are okay.”

Much of “He/She/They” is dedicated to dismantling social constructs and addressing historical context. Bailar dedicates the chapter “What is Gender?” to gender’s history and non-binary identities, “Surgery? Hormones? Haircuts?” to transgender history, and “Pronouns—and Why They Are So Important!” to the history of LGBTQ+ rights activism. As Bailar clearly articulates, progress is never a straight path and is often met with backlash. Much of this process is also culture-dependent.

Bailar also discussed his interest in learning about how different cultures treat gender.

“I want to learn how their culture and their language treats gender. And I want to know how and why, where did that come from, and how did we get there.”

Bailar is optimistic about the connections built in the transgender community, despite the shared “grief,” as he puts it. Writing this book can be seen as one of his many attempts to bridge this gap between members of the transgender community.

Although “He/She/They” offers a wide range of helpful information, some questions remain unanswered. While Bailar envisions a steadily advancing transgender community, he acknowledges in the final chapter that this journey is unfinished and thanks the readers for their participation in his mission.

Bailar writes: “I hope through inviting you into my humanity, you’ve also been invited into your own.”

For people who picked up “He/She/They,” Bailar advises readers to create time to read, utilize resources, attend talks, and strive to incorporate an informed view of the world. Making meaningful change is a lifelong endeavor.

—Staff writer Cindy Zhang can be reached at cindy.zhang@thecrimson.com.

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