Forced outing with trans children is dangerous

Imagine for a moment that you are back in high school. You have a test on Tuesday, you’re worried about losing that friend who’s just hanging out with a new group at school — plus you think you’ve gotten more uncomfortable with your gender lately.

You may have confided this last fact to a small group of friends or to a teacher you trust. You’re not entirely sure if you’re trans or if you want to transition, but you know it feels too risky to tell your parents right now. After all, you are completely dependent on them for shelter, care and food and you don’t know if they approve.

You may want to try a different name or pronouns while away from home for a while just to be sure before telling your parents.

Right now, as I write this piece, this scenario is playing out in the minds of at least a student or two in one of the 13,477 high schools in the United States.

The way schools deal with children who question their gender has recently escalated into a major political debate. How schools handle the disclosure of student trans status varies widely from state to state and from school district to school district. Many blue states require schools to preserve the privacy of queer and trans children, while other states such as Florida, Virginia, and Alabama require parents to be notified of a potential gender identity mismatch.

Last weekend, the New York Times published a piece on the subject of disclosure policies, which focused on the views of parents who largely disagree with the concept of transition. The interviewees were all hurt or offended that their children had tried to make a social transition at school without parental input. A similar piece was also recently published in Canada by the National Post.

For kids and younger teens, school is the one place parents can’t control. American folklore is replete with anecdotes of teenage girls pulling up their skirts or changing clothes or applying makeup as soon as they arrive at school. School is the first place where children can choose to have others call them by a nickname, middle name, or alternative name. For years, gay and lesbian children have been able to confide their sexual orientation to trusted teachers without fear of possible reactions from homophobic parents.

“For those who believe that gender dysphoria can be manipulated away, giving a child space to explore their gender identity away from a parent’s dominant eyes is the worst possible outcome.”

But it seems that the existence of trans children is challenging that long-standing paradigm of school privacy. For those who believe that gender dysphoria can be manipulated away from the adults in trans children’s lives, giving a child a safe space to explore their gender identity away from the dominant eyes of a parent is the worst possible outcome. Some even argue that any degree of social transition is a gateway to a permanent medical transition, and that social transition should therefore be regulated as tightly as more controversial processes such as hormones or puberty blockers.

It’s a bullshit argument on his face. Of course, if someone is struggling with whether or not they are trans, it is a reasonable, conscientious part of the process to allow them to experiment with nonpermanent changes, such as using a new name or pronouns in school.

The alternative to this is a kind of gender dystopia, where adults at school have to check the gender presentation or even the mannerisms of every child at school in case one of them engages in behavior that could one day lead to “permanent medical transition.” What a joke. No reasonable person really wants that.

This kind of environment would only breed mistrust between students and teachers, with trans kids feeling like they have to push their gender dysphoria even deeper into themselves. And teachers, worried that a litigant parent might run to one of the newly formed right-wing transphobic parent groups, may worry about future lawsuits. This would undoubtedly be unhealthy for building a relationship between student and teacher.

As for whether teachers should be forced to tell parents if their children are changing socially in school, I’m afraid the answer is much simpler than Republican legislators or New York Times reporters and editors want you to believe. While it’s easy to assume that parents always have their children’s best interests at heart, the reality is that queer and trans children are still very often abused or even downright abandoned by homophobic and transphobic parents. Letting a child out always carries a certain risk that parents will not take the news well.

Forty percent of all homeless youth are some queer or trans, according to True Colors United, an organization dedicated to fighting homelessness among LGBTI youth. In addition, 28 percent of all LGBTQ youth reported experiencing homelessness or housing instability at some point in their lives, according to a report by The Trevor Project. Which means that when parents choose to completely abandon the children they have to house and care for, it’s often because the child in question is queer or trans. When children see no choice but to flee their parents’ homes for safety, it is often because they are queer or trans.

Schools are not equipped to judge which parents are safe, so they are authorized reporters and required by law to notify state authorities when children’s homes are revealed to be unsafe. But they don’t have the job of investigating for themselves whether that’s the case.

I myself speak from experience as a former youth who experienced rampant gender dysphoria. My biggest fear was that my parents would somehow find out. I didn’t grow up in an era where I could confide in a teacher and trust him not to reach my parents, so my only option was to stay closeted.

Because I didn’t feel I could confide in a teacher my deepest, darkest secret, I often cried myself to sleep at night, or contemplated suicide, despite having otherwise had a nice little childhood. I think I’m too old to have experienced the ability to share my own trans identity with a trusted teacher, but trans kids now having that ability can only be positive. The closet is hell and lonely.

Perhaps that is the end goal of the anti-trans side: to keep as many children as possible in the closet for as long as possible. But we should stop condemning trans children to this pain. Trans children know their parents best, and we should trust them in this.

Forced outing with trans children is dangerous

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Scroll to top