As trans people become more visible in society, the number of young people feeling confident and able to seek help with their gender identity issues is increasing. So what exactly does it mean to be transgender?
The term transgender, or more often trans, is an umbrella term used to describe a person whose gender identity is not the same as the sex they were assigned at birth. Trans also includes non-binary people who do not fall into the binary categories of male/female. Non-binary people may feel they are not exclusively male or female, and may embody elements of both.
Now, it’s important to note that being transgender does not imply any specific sexual orientation. Trans people can be gay, straight, bisexual, lesbian or any other sexual orientation.
How do I make my school more trans inclusive?
You might be wondering if this is even necessary but don’t assume you do not have any trans students. Many trans students are not out, and, because of a lack of knowledge of trans issues, students may not have the language to explain their feelings or identity.
Trans people should not have to ask to be included. There are steps schools can take to create a more trans-friendly environment. Let’s look at the ways in which you can send a message of acknowledgement, respect and acceptance to all students.
- Make sure the issue of trans-readiness is discussed in a staff meeting and encourage staff to ask questions to increase their knowledge.
- Acknowledge that there will be trans people within the school community as students, parents, carers, staff and governors.
- Ensure trans issues and transphobia are included within the school policy framework alongside other issues relating to LGBT equality and sex equality.
- Use the curriculum and activities such as assemblies to challenge stereotypes based on gender and gender identity.
- Celebrate LGBT History Month, Transgender Awareness Week and Transgender Day of Remembrance.
- Do not use boy-girl seating. This increases stereotypes about gender and girls and boys, and it could cause distress for trans students and non-binary students.
- Don’t split into boy-girl teams for sports or quizzes for the same reasons.
- Keep up-to-date seating plans and registers with preferred pronouns and names for cover staff.
What do I do if a student or their family wants help with gender identity issues?
The first thing to do is enter into a conversation with the young person and, only with their permission, with their family, in order to work through the questions below. Please keep in mind when talking with a young trans person or their family that it is important to ‘listen’ and not lead the conversation, to keep an open mind and to not say things that could appear to minimise or dismiss how they are feeling.
Keep in mind that the parents/carers are also likely to need support so that they can work out how best to support their child and determine what pronouns, clothes and support might be most appropriate.
Here are some helpful things you can discuss if you’re unsure what to say:
- Ask them simply ‘how can we best help you’?
- Have they spoken to anyone else about their feelings or gender identity?
- How do they wish to express their gender identity?
- Which name and which pronouns do they wish to be known by/called at school? (Understand, this might differ from those used at home, if this is what the young person wants at that time.)
- If they are looking to find medical help with their transition, then their GP is the first port of call. The GP should at least be able to refer the young person to a professional so that the young person or their family can have their questions answered.
- Local LGBT+ or specific trans-focused youth groups are an excellent place to find local peer support for the young person and for families. You can find a local place here.
- If continuing conversations with the pupil and family show that the pupil is intending to transition in school or university, then putting together an action plan is a good next step.
What do I do with trans kids when it comes to toilets/changing rooms?
This may be the question that is causing you the most worry. But alas, not all young trans people will immediately want to use the facilities that correspond with their gender identity. They may wish to use another facility separate from others because of anxiety issues connected with gender dysphoria.
A good idea is to ask the young person what would make them most comfortable. If what they want is realistic and possible, then go with it.
Because some students may identify as non-binary or neither male nor female, there should always be gender-neutral changing and toilet facilities available. It is not necessary to make all toilet facilities gender neutral however, because some students will prefer single-sex toilets.
It is helpful to consider how your school is using the curriculum to develop positive attitudes to girls, boys and gender, but also to break down fixed stereotypes about gender. Breaking down narrow and limiting stereotypes about gender helps every child and widens the life experiences and ambitions of both girls and boys.
It is important to differentiate between pupils who are trans, or questioning their identity, and children and young people who do not conform to stereotypes about gender. The safest route to take is to just never make assumptions.