While the Staples commercials like to tote this as “The Most Wonderful Time of The Year,” and I know many parents who look forward to the return of routines for their forever bored and hungry summer kids, there are some caregivers and transgender kids for whom back-to-school means back to anxiety of being judged, outed, or bullied for using a new pronoun.
When my children were little, there was a phrase I repeated almost every summer, “The bumble bee is much more afraid of you than you are of it.” That thought comes back to me now as I consider the many conversations I’ve had with teachers recently. School staff try so hard to learn the new pronouns of their students and then worry about messing things up in front of a parent who might not know.
I say this because, in 2022, schools are much more open about using new pronouns for students than they were five years ago. Of course, this isn’t a given for every school in Canada (certainly not every school in the United States), but it is a turning tide. If your gender-diverse child is returning to school this year with a new name and pronoun as a result of a social transition, here are some of the solutions that worked for us.
Be an Advocate
It took a while for this lesson to sink in for me because I never wanted to be “that” mom who was forever in the office demanding things for my child. Alas, if this journey of gender identity has taught me anything, it’s that things are not always black and white, boy and girl. You can be an advocate for your child without being mean and disrespectful. You can be clear and affirmative. You can also be diplomatic and patient, all while holding your child’s safety and mental wellness as your goal. If you are looking for resources on your child’s rights in school as a gender-diverse person, here are some helpful links for Canada and the United States.
Come Out on Your Terms
Your child may be perfectly comfortable telling strangers, teachers, and classmates, “My name was Emily and now it’s Connor,” and some children desperately want to hide any evidence of their previous gender label. Obviously, some school staff will need to know your child is transgender for emergency health reasons and for administrative purposes. But from there, you get to choose how much the other parents or students need to know. My son chose to be known only as a boy at his new school for a few months, and then when he was ready to come out, the school arranged for some training for everyone to understand what being transgender meant so that a 12-year-old boy didn’t have to answer a bunch of questions. It all went extremely smoothly.
This was also a very difficult decision for our family. We did not want to teach our children to run away from their problems, and we had already moved across the country, which also caused a change in schools. But environmental factors have a huge impact on humans thriving, and I just did not want to risk my child’s mental health with the time it was going to take to change a school’s culture and tolerance. While most schools say they have a zero tolerance for bullying, I can’t tell you how many stories I have heard of children being told to ignore abuse or to toughen up. If that is the school’s response, I don’t feel that my child’s welfare is taken seriously. This is clearly not needed in every situation, and I understand this is not an easy decision when there are siblings and transportation to consider as well. But I have to say that changing schools was the best thing we could have done for my son, and he would be the first one to tell you so.
This is a long journey with many bumps in the road, and I would not have survived these stressful decisions without the support of other caregivers who have walked this path and the support of the counsellors who have worked extensively in this field. I continue to co-lead a peer support group over Zoom once a month called Parenting with Pride which is a great place to not feel alone on this journey. There is also a fantastic support community for parents raising trans youth led by Dr. Shawn Giammattei called the TransFamily Alliance.
Wishing you the best back-to-school season possible and may you be empowered and supported in your decisions for your child, and may they feel safe and supported as well. If you haven’t already, I invite you to join my email list for parents of trans children here.