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‘Gender-Neutrality’ In Schools Across Kerala: Invisibilisation Or Equality?

While these have been widely lauded as moves towards gender-equality, they are neither affirming nor respectful of an individual's gender identity.

Over the past few weeks we have heard news coming in from Kerala that some schools have introduced ‘gender-neutral’ uniform (often a term used to refer to pants, but do clothes have gender?), while others have asked students to not refer to the adults in the classroom as ‘teacher’ instead of ‘sir’ or ‘madam’.

While these have been widely lauded as moves towards gender-equality, they are neither affirming nor respectful of an individual’s gender identity. They are an attempt to erase the vibrancy of the gender spectrum that many of us embody, experience and embrace, and try to invisibilise them behind this cis-notion of androgyny and uni-sex-ness that is often inclined to imitate the cis-masculine.

Personally, it reminds me of fascist regimes masquerading as the incontestible champions of communist ideology, who rely on the propaganda that since all of us equal, it must mean that we are cut from the same cloth. Whereas, equality has nothing to do with sameness. Equality does not ignore the various ways in which we are different.

After all, referring to someone as they/them when the person has explicitly asked you to use he/him pronouns, is still misgendering as much as using she/her pronouns for him.

Instead why can’t we create spaces where children can be curious about each other as well as the adults that they engage with on a daily basis? Why can’t we instead ask the teacher what their pronouns are and how they would like to be referred to? Why can’t we get used to our friends flaunting their personal styles in the clothes that they are most comfortable in?

To impose a norm at school that is so far removed from the outside world is as bad as imposing the gender binary, in my opinion. It is to change one’s surname and pretend that caste privilege has ceased to exist in other deeply-rooted ways. It is historical revisionism without realizing the power of the pen-holder in the modern world. It is to pretend that trauma does not have an epigenetic expression.

The aim is to normalize personal expression in a manner that is respectful of others’ boundaries, and creating a space that is safe for all to explore that. Not to stick the ostrich’s head into a hole.

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Tejaswi is journalist and researcher whose attention is captured by post-colonial human relationships at a time of the Internet of Things. She can't wait to become a full-time potter soon, though!

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