Supported at School
A transgender, non-binary student shares the power of a teacher’s support.
My name is Kile. My pronouns are they/them, and I am transgender non-binary. My gender identity can sometimes be difficult for people to understand, but so far I have been very lucky as practically everyone around me has been supportive.
One of the preeminent sources of support has been my school. I remember my heart pounding hard in my chest, my hands shaking as I typed up an email that simply introduced myself and explained my preferred name and pronouns. I took a deep breath before sending it to my teachers. However, all of my worries about my teachers’ reactions were effectively calmed as I received emails back almost right away, all saying that they understood and were glad I let them know. I was beyond lucky to have that happen to me. To immediately be accepted and cared for as any other student is the best situation for any transgender student. So far, every experience I’ve had with my school has been very supportive and exceptional.
But that’s not always the case. I was extremely lucky to be accepted and met with love, but other trans students aren’t so lucky and face discrimination and mistreatment. School can be a huge factor that helps a trans student access support, but it can also be a factor that contributes to the high rates of transgender youth committing suicide. Statistics don’t have to be that way. Schools are the perfect place for a trans child to get the assistance they need, especially if that child is not receiving any at home.
If a school is trying to support a trans student, this is the way to go about it – working with the student to ensure they are comfortable and, more importantly, safe. It might not be the teachers that a student might worry about, but other students. If a trans student is being harassed or bullied, then school staff should be working with the students involved, because it’s important to make sure that all students are safe.
Of course, there is also the question of washrooms. I really believe that trust needs to be given to students to know which washroom is right for them and which washroom they feel most safe and comfortable using. Using the washrooms can be very stressful for some trans people, so if the school can ensure that the washrooms are a safe place for everyone, and maybe even introduce an “all gender” washroom, then that will contribute to protecting young trans students.
Many other things could help to assist trans and questioning students, from educating staff and students to just letting students know that they are valid. I remember the day after I sent that email to my teachers about my name and pronouns, one of my teachers came up to me and told me that she was proud of me, that she would always be supportive, and that if I ever needed anything she would always be there for me. That small, one-minute interaction with a woman I had not really spoken with before literally gave me a much-needed boost. She absolutely warmed my heart and made me genuinely feel like I was loved and I did matter to others.
There was also a point when my teacher was talking about me to the class and she started to say incorrect pronouns, but then she stopped, and corrected herself with the right pronouns. I’m not sure if she is aware of the fact that I will remember that moment for the rest of my life, because it was the first time I had ever heard my pronouns being respected at school.
These minor gestures are so harmless, but make such a difference for a transgender student because it’s more than just accepting them, it’s letting them know that you are there for them, that you are making that effort to show them that they matter. Supporting a trans student doesn’t need to be a big thing. In my experience, my school supporting me has been made up of essentially little actions and the simplest of efforts. I hope for the day to come where all transgender students receive the same support I did. Ultimately, school is just a place for students to learn and transgender students are just like other students, in the sense that we attend school for our education. Being able to have both education and support would be the ideal situation for every trans student. When trans students feel safe and accepted at school, they can be their best – both as students and as themselves.
Photo: courtesy Kile George
First published in Education Canada, June 2019