For ensuring that all children of Arkansas are identified by their “correct” and “true” pronouns in the state’s educational havens.

By Heather Steadham, B.A., B.A., M.F.A., B.A.M.F.

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I think it is agreed by all parties — conservative, liberal, Christian, Humanist, adolescents, adults, and whatever other categories might be established in classifying the people of Arkansas — that ensuring the correct use of pronouns when referring to human beings in their absence, or in their presence, is a critical aspect not just of grammar, but of said human beings’ very humanity. 

As an educator myself, and a parent to a human whose gender (and therefore, apparently, whose humanity) may be of questionable determination, I am therefore very invested in Arkansas’s HB 1749, which would “require public school employees to address public school students by only the name and sex designated on the public school student’s birth certificate.” This is only one of a spate of bills that single out transgender children in Arkansas. The governor has already signed into law a bill to keep trans girls off of girls’ school athletic teams. A bill that would keep transgender youth from accessing gender-affirming hormonal therapy and puberty blockers is on his desk now, already having passed both the state House and Senate.

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I am sure that all Arkansans can agree to the ridiculousness of requiring teachers to address pupils by the names on their birth certificates. While the bill’s stipulation about nicknames being permissible is unclear at best, contradictory at worst, the gist is that students must be addressed with names and pronouns corresponding to their biological sex at birth. Would my daughter Aurora be allowed to go by her nickname of Rory? Or is that not feminine enough? It’s unclear. And let’s discuss the paperwork portion of the bill. HB 1749 repeatedly references “the sex designated on the public school student’s birth certificate.” This is the more delicate issue, no? The one that yearns to be parsed? First and foremost, I see some practical issues with referencing each student’s birth certificate for their “correct” gender. Sometimes folks don’t have access to their birth certificates — some may be in foster care and such documents are filed with the state or some have had precious documents destroyed in a house fire, for example. And just carrying around your birth certificate isn’t practical, either. It could easily get torn or crumpled, and how many kids lose things every single day in school? Identity theft could become rampant. And forget taking a picture or scanning it digitally — we’ve all seen those deep-fake Tom Cruise videos. We know how things can be altered on the internet. There’s no way a digital photo could be guaranteed to be “correct.”

Because that’s the rub, right? The “correctness”? As previously stated, we can all agree that being addressed by the “correct” pronouns is important, and it seems clear to me that this is indeed what this House Bill is trying to address. However, if this is truly the case, then the word “correct” must be examined. 

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According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary (an American reference book, for those who might be concerned), “correct” means “conforming to or agreeing with fact, logic, or known truth.” With the definition being such, I must admit that I have some trepidation about looking to birth certificates as the identifying document for a “correct” gender. According to the American Bar Association, “On any given day, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, an estimated 10,800 babies are born in the United States, or one birth every eight seconds.” And while the numbers of possible errors on those certificates isn’t readily available, there is one study published by the American Journal of Epidemiology that states that the data on birth certificates in Georgia (from 1980 to 1988) regarding the amount, timing, and adequacy of prenatal care was only 14.3 percent consistent with the same data extracted from prenatal clinic records. In short, that means that 85.7 percent of Georgia birth certificates issued in the years 1980-1988 had some sort of error on them. Therefore, it seems, we can’t, after all, depend on birth certificates as bulletproof, absolutely “correct” documents.

So let’s go back to when and by whom the determination of gender that appears on birth certificates was made — at birth, by the attending doctor. Which is to say — the attending doctor looked at the external genitalia on said newborn, made a determination of what said genitalia appeared to be, and declared this new life as either male or female (the only two choices available in modern America). 

Said attending doctor did not do a genetic test to determine the newborn’s actual sexual chromosomal makeup, which traditionally states that boys have an XY chromosomal composition while girls have XX.

I mean, sure, there are untold numbers of “disorders of sex chromosome” (as the condition is called in an article in the National Library of Medicine/National Center for Biotechnology Information), including (but not limited to) Klinefelter syndrome (individuals who actually have three sex chromosomes, XYY), XX males, XYY males, Turner syndrome (when a newborn is born with only ONE sex chromosome, which is an X), XXX females, and XY females. But clearly, the only thing that truly determines our sex — when being officially declared on a legal level — is what our genitalia looks like — at BIRTH — to the doctor attending those births.

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Now, I will not go into too much detail about how all three of my children were born with the very normal, very typical genital swelling that many newborns experience, making a visual check of their gender time-consuming and worth a second look. What I will say is that, if official, legal gender can ONLY be determined by visual confirmation of an individual’s genitalia, and if we can’t count on or access birth certificates to support that determination of gender, there is clearly only one reasonable, logical way, that teachers can know for sure what “correct” pronouns to use for their students.

Just as the attending doctor at birth did, the teacher must examine each student’s genitalia for correct identification.

I mean, we can’t count on the birth certificates. We can’t count on the students to tell us the “truth.” And we have to be sure! So, my modern modest proposal is that each student should drop their pants upon entering a classroom so the “correct” pronouns can be used.

I talked to both my father, a retired football coach and math teacher, and my husband, a current middle school science teacher, and they both agreed with the logic behind this plan, but instead suggested nude school. Ridiculous. Think of the hygiene issues.

However, with brief, yet thorough, genital inspection by each and every public school employee, each child will be assigned the “correct” pronouns, and inadvertent mislabeling of gender will simply cease to exist.

Arkansans, I call for you to amend HB 1749. Use your common sense. Let us see your kids’ junk.

Thank you.