March 2019
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David Ruiz Guzmán, Mexican Studies Centre, Johannesburg, South Africa

Mexico is a country where advances in LGBTQ rights in urban areas coexist with discrimination in conservative rural areas where the culture of machismo is deeply rooted. In this culture, there are firm beliefs about how men and women should act. Therefore, it’s useful to consider the experiences of Sony and Eden, two transgender TESOL students of mine who were living in the rural state of Michoacan.

Beemyn and Rankin (2011) stated that there are several gender-related descriptors, and we all fit in more than one:

  • Gender assignment: Biology “It’s a boy/girl”
  • Gender attribution: Social perception. “She/ he is a…”
  • Gender role: cultural conduct. “this is the way you should…”
  • Gender identity: Our own perception. Self- concept ergo “how I behave as a consequence”
  • Gender expression: Behaviour and appearance = “How I choose to express my gender”
  • Genderism: stable beliefs and practice = binary Gender/Identity. “Call me by my G/I”
  • Non-Binary Gender: Not clearly identified with either Masculine or feminine gender. “There is more than only two simple ways of being and expressing myself”

All of these factors come into play in the stories of Sony and Eden. In addition, Mexican cultures view of gender roles, and particularly the role of machismo. As defined by Machillot (2013), machismo entails an understanding of masculinity as violent, careless, sexual driven, impulsive man, the virile, strong sex. This focus on masculinity may cause trans men to be treated differently than trans women or nonbinary individuals.

Sony, a trans man, was generally supported through his transition by his family and his girlfriend. His classmates were somewhat accepting of him. In the words of Sony, it was “not that hard” because “becoming a man is always welcome.

However, Eden, who is nonbinary, had a very different experience. Eden was born in a small community with a strict understanding of gender roles, and was raised as a boy. Within their community, she was isolated and faced discrimination and questions about her gender and sexuality. She reported, “I felt punished.”

Although their experiences were distinct, they both reported going through challenges during their transitions, as they explored:

  • Personality: Do I have to change myself, my persona, my personality? Is this really comprised?
  • Who’s that in the mirror? – identity conflict in stressful mementos.
  • Self-expression – being authentic, true to their beliefs and their own gender/sex concept
  • Redefine own sexuality – who I am turn to, to other boys/ girls or trans community only?
  • Speak out and don’t back off – To become activist and find the strength while fighting LGBT community fights, they were succeeding in their own.
  • My speech: Nosotros (we), variant for English they. Since we are not a boy or a girl, with which pronoun should we identify?

As my TESOL students, Sony and Eden both stated that they felt protected and understood, since the teacher was openly gay and nobody questioned his authority in class. As their teacher, I too on the role of promoting understanding among students and even with other fellow teachers who did not understand the their identities and transition process. From that experience, both were more confident and they become activists not only at school but outside it, getting involved in LGBT events and activities. Thanks to them a gender free toilet was gained at school and in 2017 both petitioned for and received birth certificates with their correct gender identities. It is certain, on the grounds of what I have observed in these students experience, that learning a second and even a third language, opened an spectrum of linguistic possibilities to feel safe and identified. (Eden was learning p’urhepecha, an indigenous language form the area, and gender identification was a challenge for her. She even had an argument with her teacher, because he didn’t want to recognize Eden as a transgender person, for him Eden was a man, therefore, the teacher referred to her as “he/him.”) It is believed that further research should be conducted on the area to look for language patterns and identity association in transgender community who learn a foreign language.

In conclusion, working with these two students opened my eyes to the challenges that transgender students face. Educational policies, here in Mexico (and in many other places) do not include the transgender community, or even the LGB community at all. However, through my role as an English teacher, I was able to help Sony and Eden negotiate the challenges of being openly transgender in a conservative region of Mexico. I hope that other teachers will also be prepared to step up and help our transgender students who may otherwise feel alone, misunderstood and bullied (Beemyn & Rankin, 2016).

NOTE: Thanks to Elizabeth Wadell for her help with the revisions of this article. 


Beemyn, G., & Rankin, S. (2011). The lives of transgender people. New York: Columbia University Press.

Beemyn, G., & Rankin, S. (2016). “Creating a Gender-Inclusive Campus”. In Trans Studies: Beyond Hetero/Homo Normativity, edited by Yolanda Martínez-San Miguel and Sarah Tobias. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.

Machillot, D. (2013). Machos y machistas. Historia de los estereotipos mexicanos. México: Paidós.

AppendixQuestionnaire taken by subjects.

The questions were:

  1. In your transition to the opposite gender, explain how your inner change was: your attitudes, your personality, and your personal goals?

  2. Did knowing and placing you in a speech marked by a certain gender, male or female, represent a challenge for you to change it? How and why did you select the name that identifies you now?

  3. Describe your process by looking at yourself in the mirror and instead of saying "she" or "he", declare the pronoun of the opposite gender to identify yourself?

  4. How has the discourse changed in your social circle? Do they still call you by your first name? Do they refer to you with a different pronoun from your sexual identity?

  5. List the words or phrases you have modified from the reconstruction of your male psyche to female psyche or from your female psyche to your male psyche. For example: you talk about lipstick instead of shaving foam, or braid for short hair.

  6. Do you consider that the "invention" of a neutral or different pronoun should be promoted for the transgender community? Yes/No… Why?

  7. In a second or third language, how has your identification process been? Was it different from your native language? Give examples

  8. Have you heard anything about the non-binary gender and the genderqueer? Do you agree with the Anglo-Saxon proposal that it does not refer to this community as he/she – el/ella/ but "they" or with a single pronoun like "ze", "ier", "zie”, etc.?

Highlights of both answers:


  • “Not that hard”
  • “Becoming a man is always welcome”
  • I’m not a tomboy. I am a man who actually likes women”!!


  • “I felt punished”
  • “A woman??”
  • My own beauty standard

David Ruiz Guzman has a TESOL major and a masters in teaching, currently, he is doing his PhD in Education on Public Policy and Teacher Training. He has given several lectures and seminars in Mexico and US. He also was awarded in 2016 with the TESOL's 30 up and coming award in Baltimore. He is currently the Administrative and Cultural Officer of the Mexican Studies Centre in Johannesburg, South Africa.


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