Being Transgender: How High Schools Can Do Better

Every school year starts the same for me. I come early to each class to anxiously tell my teachers my preferred pronouns and name before the attendance is taken. I then sit down and wait. My heart sinks at the sound of my birth name accidentally being called, proceeded with an apology and a correction. If I’m lucky they don’t notice they made a mistake, and I keep my hand down and get marked absent. I prefer being marked absent over any chance of being outed for being a female to male transgender student.

Trans individuals like myself, fear coming out because sometimes people invalidate us. They don’t know us and they don’t know our stories. As a trans man, I experience microaggressions – subtle verbal or behavioral actions that invalidate someone’s identity – on a daily basis. I know these microaggressions can be unintentional, but they can be more hurtful than the overt comments. People invalidate us because they don’t know us and they don’t know our stories. So here is my story.

I try my best to not use the bathroom at all in public and in school because it’s always my living nightmare to go to one. Francis Lewis has a single gender neutral bathroom, as well as a bathroom in the nurse’s office that transgender students can use. When I finally build the courage to raise my hand for the hallway pass my heart pounds as I walk the halls. For everyone else, it’s a break from class. Some don’t think twice about the privilege of relieving yourself without anxiety. For me, it’s what separates me from every single male in school. It’s missing an additional fifteen minutes of class because I have to use the bathroom on the other side of the building and then out myself to a staff member because they have the key to the door. While the school allows me to use the bathroom of my choice, it doesn’t stop the occasional looks and derogatory comments that happen once I get in there. Allowing me to use these bathrooms only goes so far if people aren’t treating me right.

I stopped attending gym sophomore year of high school too because I just didn’t feel comfortable. I couldn’t walk into the girls’ locker room because it’s not where I belong, but I couldn’t manage to change in the boys’ locker room without having a panic attack and pretending like I didn’t know I’m the elephant in the room. It was a continuous reminder of how much I hate my body and how much it restricts me.  I began changing in the Assistant Principal’s office. This is where most people think the issue ends, but grading in a PE class considers gender and your capability to complete certain exercises. Many staff members didn’t understand me when I said I felt uncomfortable going to gym considering the locker room issue was resolved, but oblivion is inadvertent and getting a grade in gym wasn’t worth the dysphoria I felt.

Then there’s health class. Far too many students a part of the LGBTQ sit in their health class that don’t address their identities and their experiences. As one of my transgender peers, who wishes to remain anonymous, said, “Cisgender should not be the standard while transgender is the anomaly. Health teachers should be educated on the current scientific findings and educate students on the trans community so their is an active conversation that is had.”

The risks of being non inclusive can also be dangerous for LGBTQ students. Sex education is one of the only reliable sources where students can gain knowledge of sexual health and protection, and LGBTQ students don’t get that at all. I sat in my freshman health class for a year learning about how heterosexual cisgender relationships can stay safe. I didn’t learn anything about my sexual orientation and how I can stay safe. I had nowhere to go to for information and questions. With having LGBTQ inclusive health classes, trans students will be better represented with accurate information and other students will be more aware and sensitive to trans and LGBTQ issues. As a result they would be more cautious of their actions and words.

The accommodations at Francis Lewis High School are adequate and I appreciate the efforts by some teachers and staff to make it better, but there is always room for improvement. I believe the school can do more on their part by educating all teachers and staff. We shouldn’t have to do it all on our own.

Students won’t know their actions are harmful unless the school takes proactive measures to teach students about microaggressions. Students are exposed to transphobia without even realizing it, through social media and the seemingly insignificant comments that are brushed off. It’s invisible transphobia, and if we don’t do anything about it, it becomes normalized. When people commit these acts, I have assume the action was unintentional and not disrespectful. I then have to tell them why it’s offensive. It’s the only way I survive. Cisgender people and the school itself have to also play an active role in counteracting these hurtful microaggressions.

When every student looks back fifty years from now they’ll remember the experiences they had as a teenage boy or girl. I’ll remember being a teenager trying to pass and being acknowledged as a boy and fighting for my identity. I’m proud of who I am and I know who I am and one day I hope students questioning their identities get the the support and resources they need, because they deserve it.