Trans Students Speak Out

We asked transgender students around the country to respond to two questions:

  1. What actions have teachers and/or schools taken to make you feel supported and welcome? And
  2. What other changes do teachers/schools need to make for trans students to feel supported and welcome?

Here are some of their answers, edited for clarity.
— Linda Christensen and Ty Marshall, editors, Transgender Justice in Schools

Stone (they, he, xe), 10th grade, Philadelphia

A change that would help trans, queer, and other students would be to focus on mental health. I’m not just a student and I’m not just trans or queer. I am my own person. I am a part of these communities but we, the people who make up these communities, are different. Take, for example, C, with me being S. I am a Black queer transmasculine person with more masculine traits. C is a white nonbinary lesbian who is more flamboyant than I am. Our personalities are completely different as well as our experience. There is no one way to treat and respect trans identities. Everyone is different. The best way to respect a person would be to find out how they would like to be treated. Although something that would matter a lot to me is not to make a big deal of things. Outside of school I get enough attention. People are already curious about me and why I dress, talk, and act the way that I do. They don’t take me seriously and barely show me respect in the way that is humanly deserved. I don’t need another person trying to figure me out in front of the class. I think it’s important to get to know the student and to have conversations with them. I’m aware that teachers have a lot on their plate when it comes to their job, but making the effort to send out a survey and ask preferences on things isn’t asking the world. It might just make someone who doesn’t feel safe feel a bit better about being in that class or area. You may just be their only trusted adult.

Anonymous (they/them), 7th grade, Boston

Most teachers are good. You don’t have to talk about being trans to be nice. You don’t have to make a big deal of recognizing that someone’s trans and telling them you support it. You can just act normal and that’s good. It’s also helpful when teachers (and other students) correct people when they misgender other people. It isn’t a big deal, or it doesn’t need to be a big deal, but it does matter, so teachers or students reminding one another is helpful. GSAs also help students feel like they aren’t alone, and make safe spaces to talk about problems. It’s also great that there are trans teachers at my school who can relate to some of my experiences. 

 You shouldn’t ask trans kids questions about trans issues in front of the class or use them as your source of information about trans issues. Do your research and be aware of things. If teachers are being transphobic or unaware (misgendering, stereotyping trans people, asking about other trans students’ experiences), they should stop doing that and try to learn more about trans people’s experiences and issues. Also, not all trans kids are the same. I remember a teacher pulling aside me and my nonbinary friend during class time once. She told us that her friend’s child had just come out as nonbinary and she asked us which gender bathroom the kid would want to use. We looked at each other and then told her that we have never met this person and have no idea which bathroom they would prefer to use. Every nonbinary person is different, and we don’t all know what every other nonbinary person wants. 

Carter (he/him), 8th grade, Portland, Oregon

With the rise of anti-trans legislation and unnecessary controversy, it is no surprise that trans youth may feel unsafe in society and sometimes even in their own homes. Suicide levels in trans youth are skyrocketing with everything else as well, so it is crucial as an educator for you to provide a safe place for trans kids.

In my school it has been helpful when teachers switch the name and pronouns they use for you very quickly after you change them. This is important for a student’s well-being, because using the wrong name or pronouns can be extremely uncomfortable, even triggering. Another thing that is helpful is to normalize trans identities. Nobody wants to feel like a freak and normalizing different gender identities not only makes trans people feel less strange, but educates everyone else.

Trans people and the spectrum of gender identities could be incorporated into education more. Exploring gender identity is important for kids. If we hadn’t made those identity boxes in 2nd grade, I might still be suppressing a lot of feelings about myself. I am thankful for that project. Bullying is a significant problem in schools. Even if it doesn’t seem like it, people always talk trash behind kids’ backs or people post transphobic stuff online. There won’t be an immediate end to this problem, but it can damage kids’ mental health, so little steps to prevent it would be amazing.

If you accept and support us as the humans we are and help to make our middle school years not a living hell, that would be pretty cool.

Finn (she/her), 9th grade, Georgia

The best thing teachers do (and have done) for me is to just call me by my correct pronouns/name and not think anything of it. Since teachers don’t know all about who you are and how you like to present on a more specific level, calling me by pronouns/name has been the most helpful. For me, less is more. If someone calls me by my preferred name or pronouns, then I feel safe and assume that they support me fully. If someone brings it up or talks to me about it (even in a nice and supportive way) it usually doesn’t help me feel reassured that they support me, and sometimes it even makes me think that they are questioning how I identify because of their interest in it. As long as someone calls me what I want to be called, there is no room in my mind for any doubts of their support.

As far as what to not do, don’t bring up anyone’s gender identity. A vast majority of trans people (myself included) just want to live life as whatever gender we are, not with the public label of “trans.” Basically, don’t reveal anything that could make anyone question the student’s gender.