Get the Backpack

August is National Back to School month in the United States, a fact that warms mother’s and father’s hearts (be honest) and causes various reactions among our young—everything from panic (for those who haven’t completed their summer reading) to eagerness (for those who anticipate great things this year!)

What does returning to school mean for our Transgender youth?

Stephanie Brill and Rachel Pepper devote an entire chapter of their very fine book The Transgender Child to the educational system and issues which face our children. School is the primary social milieu for most kids, and for transgender children, it can either be a nightmare or a place where they find acceptance and support.

The School’s Responsibility

I had a great conversation with a local public school administrator last week.

Mr. Adams (not his real name), an assistant principal at a large area high school, called me at the request of a rising senior who plans to transition during this coming school year. Mr. Adams wanted to know what the legal issues were regarding this student’s transition—what the school had to provide, the ever-present ‘bathroom’ question, and what to tell the teachers and other administrators about this student.

We had an interesting conversation, because what began as a query about what rights the school quickly turned a discussion about what this student needs, the primary need being safety. Mr. Adams shifted his focus, and within the conversation, became an advocate for the student and in fact, worked out the details on his own.

This is what happens when we allow people to give voice to their concerns—perhaps not our concerns, but valid nonetheless. What a wonderful experience, hearing Mr. Adams change his viewpoint, moving from ‘legal issues’ to the real core issue of safety for the incoming student. Isn’t this what we want for all students, safety, support, and an opportunity to learn from and among others?

Parent’s Responsibility

So what is the role of parents/guardians in this scenario?

In the former case, the student is emancipated and is acting on their own behest. But in many/most cases, transgender children are minors and under the care of adults. Based on many conversations with parents of transgender children, I believe the following things are true:

1. We owe it to our children to not have them be surprised by the reactions of others. Especially for young children, because they feel ‘right’ as they transition, we still need to warn them that others may not understand and may say hurtful things out of ignorance. As with any other child, teaching tolerance and understanding is just as important with our transgender children.

2. We owe it to our children to hold them accountable for academic success and appropriate behavior. Any child with special needs is at risk of becoming a behavior problem. Transitioning is not an excuse to be self-centered or to operate outside of appropriate boundaries.

3. We owe it to our children to educate the adults with whom they spend their educational years. These adults include teachers, coaches, and administrators, of course, but also the allied professionals with whom the child will interact, including administrative staff, cafeteria staff, and custodial staff. Education is a gift, not a weapon, so do your best not to be defensive when teaching others about your child—try to stay open-minded and informative.

The Pink Backpack

The most notable event for young children of pre-school weeks is the shopping expedition for supplies! The backpack, book covers, and pencil cases (yes, they still buy them and no, they still don’t really use them) are pretty clearly ‘gendered’ where I’ve shopped. And, likely are similarly identified where you shop as well. Pink, purple, light green, and yellow for ‘girls’ and navy, black, dark brown, and camouflage for ‘boys’.

These important gender markers cannot be overlooked! They are meaningful to your transgender child (who has probably spent some time carrying the ‘wrong’ color) and they are meaningful to others, too.

Let your child pick out the items they want. Why? Because the clerk looking at you and your child curiously will forget about it in the blink of an eye, but your child will remember that you let him/her have their choice forever. It is a concrete example of your love and your commitment.

Your mini-van, ‘mom-mobile’, or sports car…tells the world who you are, right?

Get the backpack.

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