Back To School For Trans Kids

The back-to-school season can bring a mixture of emotions for parents and kids alike. For some it’s all excitement. For others, it’s nervousness and trepidation. For transgender children and their parents, it can be a time of sheer terror. While some schools (and the communities they are in) are great, others are so anti-trans that it feels like we are sending our kids into a war zone. We don’t have to feel this way, though, because we homeschool our kids.

I will honestly tell you, though, that homeschooling was not our first choice.

It was more of a necessity. We live in Kansas City, Missouri, where the school district has struggled for decades, eventually losing its accreditation just as our kids were ready to enter kindergarten. Because of the long-standing issue with the schools, a lot of people in the area send their kids to private schools—private Catholic schools. 

That was our plan, too. Almost every child who attended the preschool where we sent our kids funneled into one school just a few blocks from our home. Even though we aren’t Catholic, we thought it would be nice for our kids to keep going to school with the friends they had had their entire lives.

But all of that changed when our child, Avery, who was assigned male at birth, was diagnosed with Gender Dysphoria during her pre-K year, when she was 4-years-old. With that diagnosis and some additional counseling, we decided that it would be best for her to socially transition. Unfortunately, that didn’t go over very well with the parents of her friends who would have also been her future Catholic-school classmates.

I’m from the South, and have been a conservative Republican and Southern Baptist my entire life.

These groups are not generally known for being socially progressive. The other parents were proud of me and thought that we were really cool and understanding for allowing our “boy” to break some gender rules, wear pink shoes and pretend to be a princess, but their acceptance stopped when we announced that she would begin living as a girl.

With just a couple of months to go until her pre-K graduation, we had to leave the preschool altogether. At first, we didn’t give up on the idea of her attending school in the fall. We were hoping that time would allow the parents to get used to the idea, and we approached the school about enrolling.

The school counselor happened to be a young woman who had worked in the infant room of the preschool a few years earlier. She had even been Avery’s teacher. And she told us that she loved Avery and was thrilled to see how happy she was living as a girl.

But she also said that there was no way the administration would ever allow her into the school as a girl, to wear a girl’s uniform, or to use the girl’s bathroom.

Long before Republican lawmakers decided to make bathrooms a battleground, we had entered the bathroom wars.

As much as this young counselor wanted to help us enroll Avery as a girl, she knew that it could cost her her job.

That’s the day we decided that, even though I knew nothing about how to teach kids, how to choose curriculum, or even what the laws were in our state, we were going to homeschool.

You see, by the time a parent goes into a school looking for support for their transgender child, they’ve been through a lot. They are likely worn out. They have been scared, confused, stressed, overwhelmed, and they just want help. Help for their own peace of mind.

They just want help and reassurance that their child will be welcomed, honored, and protected. 

We didn’t get that, and we were running out of fight.

We were a year into discovering Avery’s gender identity issues; a year into losing friends and family; a year into being judged by complete strangers; a year into learning the terrifying statistics about discrimination, self-harm and suicide ideation among trans folks; a year in which Avery tried to kill herself by unbuckling her seatbelt and pulling on the car door handle while we were on the highway.

We didn’t have the energy to fight a school on her behalf. Our energy was going into keeping her alive.

Not every family has the ability to homeschool, though.

So what is school like for those kids?

You may have heard the oft-cited number 41%. That refers to the percentage of the overall trans population who have attempted suicide or had suicidal thoughts. But in trans youth—those who are 20 years old and younger—the suicide ideation rate is closer to 80%. Trans youth in a non-supportive environment, where their gender identity is not respected at home and school, report a suicide attempt rate of 57%.

On the flip side, transgender students who felt supported in their schools, who knew that the non-discrimination policies in place included gender identity and expression, who felt safe being open about their gender identity, also reported a great sense of belonging and community. Trans youth who felt supported at home and at school report a suicide ideation rate of 4%. Remember…that 4% is compared to the unsupported group with an ideation rate of around 80% and an attempt rate of 57%.

If you had any doubt about the importance of having transgender-inclusive policies in schools, if you thought that it was a lot of hoopla over pronouns and bathrooms, I hope these statistics have shown you that they can actually make a difference between life and death. 

Trans youth are not sick. They aren’t perverts. They aren’t mentally ill, as evidenced by how their depression and suicidal ideation is reduced by having their gender identity affirmed. They aren’t a danger.

Trans youth are just kids.

They play video games and soccer. They love to read, draw, and perform in school plays. They want to learn in a safe environment without being harassed and judged. As parents, as a community, and as Christians, we owe it to them to show them love and help them feel as welcome in their schools as any other child.

Photo provided by Debi Jackson

Comments (2)

You're one my heroes, Debi and one of our most powerful advocates. Love to you and your family always. thankful for your thoughtful words. I am nana to a trans girl now in 5th grade. Her transition happened 2 years ago. At first the school tried to limit her to the teachers bathroom but they soon gave up on that as she just went with her friends to the girls room. No big deal! Our school has been so supportive and we are so grateful. I know there are battles ahead but we're ready.

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