Trans* at School
School is starting once again, bringing with it all sorts of questions about how to deal with being transgender (both openly and stealth) while there. While things are quite different for high school students (public and private) and college students, here’s a bit of advice for getting along:
1. Know your rights as a student. If you’re in high school (particularly a private high school) you don’t have a lot of rights, but you do have some and you should defend them. Trans Youth Family Allies and the American Civil Liberties Union are good places to start in researching your rights as a trans* student. Unfortunately you do not have the right to be called by your chosen (non-legal) name or the pronouns of your choice but you do have the right to a bathroom (though not necessarily the bathroom of your choice) and to be protected from bullying. You also have the right to express your gender identity at school.
2. Communicate with the administration at your school. This is especially important in college, where the school administration is more likely to work with you. If you have questions or concerns about housing you should contact your university’s residence life or other similar program and they should be able to work with you. Similarly, if you have questions about changing your name on your student ID card or other documents, you should contact the appropriate office at your school (here’s a list of schools that allow you to change your gender and name on your school records, even if yours isn’t listed, you should still ask). Every school has different rules and policies, get in touch with the right people to find out your school’s rules and what they can do for you (remember to always be polite!)
3. Communicate with your professors and teachers. Your teachers can be your best allies while at school. If possible, contact them before classes start and explain your situation. If you’re in high school, let them know that you have the support of your parents and/or therapist (if you do). If you’re in college, email your professors before classes start to let them know your preferred name (and, if applicable, preferred pronouns). Unlike in high school, you don’t need to explain the entire situation unless you want to. Just telling your professor your preferred name and pronouns should be enough. If you are stealth you should communicate this to your teachers/professors so they do not out you! They shouldn’t out you anyway, but it’s important to impress upon them the safety and comfort issues with outing you if you are disclosing to them.
4. Particularly if you are in high school, remember that you only have to be there X amount of hours for X amount of years. In other words, high school is not forever. The people there are also not representative of the human race. There are awesome, accepting people out there in the world that you haven’t met yet. While coming out/living openly, dating, close friendships with other trans* people, and/or living stealth may seem impossible now, remember this isn’t usually the best time for most of those things (though some people make it work in HS).
5. New to your university? Consider contacting the LGBTQ organization or center there for resources. If you’re attending a large institution, it’s likely you aren’t the only trans* person there and someone else has probably forged a bit of a path for you. Find out how they dealt with school policies, professors, etc to get a general idea of what worked and what didn’t. While not all LGBTQ groups or centers are T knowledgeable (or particularly T friendly), they are usually a good start to finding people who are.