A Principal's Conundrum

A progressive principal is faced with the impossible question of how to handle the two-spirit gender identity in a public school.

a short satire

Included in the satire and essay collection "A Disbelief in Demigods".

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A Principal's Conundrum

by Stephen Measure

“Thank you for meeting with me,” Mr. Smith said.

“Of course,” Principal Olsen said, settling back in his chair. “My secretary mentioned you had some concerns following our recent assembly about gender identity?”

“Yes, I was wondering if you could give me a list of the gender identities that students are expected to believe in?”

“A list?” Principal Olsen asked. “That’s not really the way it works. What we are trying to impress on our students is how important gender identity is and how they must affirm the gender identities of their fellow classmates. The central message we are teaching them is that everyone’s gender identity is an innate part of themselves, so to answer your question about what identities they need to believe in: All of them.”

Mr. Smith sat back in his chair, and arched his fingers. “So, just to take a random gender identity as an example, you expect all your students to believe in two-spirits?”

“Of course.”

Mr. Smith raised an eyebrow, the corners of his mouth rising into a slight smile. “Do you even know what the two-spirit gender identity is?”

Principal Olsen rocked back on his chair. “Well … I … well … that is … it’s hard to keep track of all of them …”

“Yes, and new ones keep getting invented every week,” Mr. Smith agreed.

“Well, yes, but um, about two-spirit. I believe it is something related to Native American culture.”

“Yes, it’s kind of a hodgepodge since it’s an umbrella term invented by modern activists to describe what they claim are spiritual traditions from multiple Native American cultures,” Mr. Smith said. “But I think it can be described as a person who has two spirits, a male spirit and a female spirit. It’s right there in the name.”

“Ah yes,” Principal Olsen said. “That does ring a bell. I believe you’re right. It’s right there in the name after all!”

“So if a student identifies as a two-spirit, you expect all the other students to believe them? Just like if a boy identifies as a girl, then you expect the other students to believe he actually is a girl?”

“Because then she actually would be a girl, yes. Who would know better what gender a person is than themselves? So, yes, of course we expect our students to believe each other’s gender identity.”

“Including if a student identifies as two-spirit?”


“Whoa!” Mr. Smith yelled, throwing up his arms. “Do you mean to tell me that you, the principal of a public school, require your students to believe in the existence of the human soul? In a public school!”

Principal Olsen’s eyes widened, his chair squeaking as he leaned forward in surprise. “No, no, that’s not it at all,” he said. “Of course we don’t require students to believe in the soul or any religious belief like that.”

“But that’s what a spirit is, a soul, and how can someone have two souls if souls don’t exist? And you just told me yourself that you expect all your students to believe each other’s gender identities, including two-spirits.”

“Well, yes,” Principal Olsen scrambled, “but there are other ways of looking at this. A spirit could be more of a metaphorical thing, so it’s more that we’re respecting their right to believe what they believe and to express it in the words they choose to use.”

“So basically you tell your students: ‘You have to believe that student is a two-spirit’, but when you say ‘two-spirit’ you make air quotes?”

“Well, I mean, we can’t really require that students believe in someone else’s religious beliefs, so, yes, I guess the expectation here would be more of a respect of their beliefs than an actual demand that you believe them yourself.”

“Whoa! Whoa!” Mr. Smith yelled, throwing up his arms again. “My daughter identifies as a two-spirit! Do you mean to say that you’re going to tell students they don’t have to actually believe in her gender identity? You’re going to allow students to discriminate against her gender identity just because it isn’t a boring vanilla boy or girl one? Air quotes for ‘two-spirit’? I can’t believe you said that!”

“What?” Principal Olsen said, his face growing pale as he ran his hands wildly through his hair. “Your daughter, a two-spirit? But I thought that was only for Native Americans …”

Mr. Smith scowled. “Who are you to decide who gets to identity as what gender identity? You said so yourself: It’s innate. If it’s innate, then it’s innate, and who gives you the right to police what is innate to someone else? Are you suggesting that someone could be wrong about their gender identity? Don’t you know the APA claims that attempting to change someone’s gender identity is harmful to them? Besides, why are you assuming we’re not Native American?”

Principal Olsen stammered, “But your last name is Smith!”

“So a Native American can’t be named Smith?”

“I guess that would be possible,” Principal Olsen said. Then he gingerly asked, “Are you?”

“My daughter identifies as two-spirit,” Mr. Smith said, holding up one finger. “And gender identity is innate and no one knows someone’s gender better than themselves,” he said, holding up a second finger. “And, according to you, only Native Americans can identify as two-spirit.” He held up a third finger. “Does that answer your question?”

“I … I guess it does,” Principal Olsen said. “I guess if your daughter identifies as a two-spirit, then she must be Native American.”

“Exactly, and it sounds like you’re planning to let your students discriminate against her gender identity. You said so yourself! I bet you wouldn’t treat a trendy gender identity that way,” Mr. Smith said. Then he wiggled all his fingers in the air and spoke in a little girl’s voice, “Oh, look at me, I’m non-binary!” Then, dropping his hands to the arms of his chair, he said in a normal voice, “You wouldn’t discriminate against my daughter if she said that, I bet!”

Principal Olsen shook his head. “You’re absolutely right,” he said. “I apologize completely. I’m just … a little confused at all the …. all the jumping around this conversation is taking. But I promise you as long as I am the principal of this elementary school that no one will discriminate against your daughter’s gender identity as a two-spirit!”

“So you promise me you’re going to walk down the hallway to each student, and you’re going to look them in the eyes, and you’re going to shake your finger at them authoritatively, and you’re going to tell them, ‘This is Mr. Smith’s daughter, and she is a two-spirit, and you’re required to believe it!’”

“Absolutely,” Principal Olsen said. “In fact, I can promise you I will do that tomorrow morning first thing!”

“Whoa! Whoa! Whoa!” Mr. Smith yelled, throwing his arms in the air for the third time. “My son is an atheist! Are you telling me you’re going to demand that my atheist son believes in the existence of the human soul? Here, in a public school?”

Principal Olsen blinked, his face now completely drained of color. “Wait … what?”

“This is a public school,” Mr. Smith said, shaking his head in disgust. “Have you ever heard of the US Constitution? Have you ever heard of the Establishment Clause? You can’t go around preaching religion in public school! You can’t go around demanding that students believe in Native American religious traditions!”

“But I thought you were Native American?”

“If I were Irish, would that mean I’d want you to preach Catholicism to my atheist son?”

“What? I don’t …”

“So let me get this straight,” Mr. Smith said, leaning forward in his chair. “I send my son and my daughter to your public school, trusting you to do your civic duty, trusting you to affirm my daughter’s gender identity, trusting you to respect my son’s atheism, and you’re telling me that you’re either going to discriminate against my daughter’s two-spirit gender identity or else you’re going to preach Native American religious traditions to my atheist son? What kind of a school are you running here anyway?”

“I …” Principal Olsen said, his eyes blinking rapidly as he started to sway. “I …” Then he passed out, his head crashing on the desk with a thud.

Mr. Smith chuckled and rolled his eyes. “Progressives.”

Update 09/06/2023: Fixed typos.

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Status: Released August 2021 by Silver Layer Publications.