Five Tips For Surviving High School as a Trans Youth
Illustration: Zephyr McKenna
High school is tough for the strongest of us. Being trans* and going through high school can be, well, terrible. I got through it, and so did many of my friends. We had to be clever, crafty, and always have an escape plan. If we didn’t, we probably wouldn’t have graduated. It’s tough at first, especially when you don’t know where to start working on making high school an easier experience. But trust me, there’s a lot you can do.
Tip #1 - Develop relationships with administration.
Nothing is more important than having those who run the show on your side. I transferred to Saunders Secondary after coming out as trans* at Westminster Secondary where I had faced death threats. Fortunately for me, one of the vice principals at Saunders was a fairly progressive person who for two consecutive years spoke during our school board’s Gay Straight Alliance conference. I was introduced to her through the principal at my school, who had sensed she’d be a better support for me than her. We were able to make a system — and it worked. Every time I had issues and needed to get out of class, I’d tell the teacher I needed to see the Vice Principal. I’d be allowed to leave class to go see her — discuss what is going on — and see if there are any solutions. On one occasion, the principal even went to one of my classes to give all the students a lecture on how to not be an awful person. Namely, not calling your trans* class mate a “tranny” or “shemale” within earshot of them. Trust me, if you can get these people on your side, your time in high school will go by faster than ever.
Sometimes, I had classes where no matter what they tried they simply couldn’t get the students under control. I was my school’s token “tranny”. To my peers, that was basically being the class clown in drag. When a situation like that occurred I was able to convince the staff to let me take my work into a spare study room and get lecture notes from the teacher before the start of the day. I may not have been part of the class, but it was much safer for me to do it on my own than it was to attempt to educate fifty students who simply didn’t understand my situation or care to.
Tip #2 - Always have an escape plan.
The system generally wants people to attend five days a week, but if you are at a higher risk of bullying, that isn’t always feasible. Remember not to beat yourself up if you need to get out of class, regardless of the consequences. If you have a way to get out of class without upsetting administration, I highly recommend that option. But sometimes, it isn’t viable.
If you have any friends or family you can call or text for help getting out of school safely, take advantage of those relationships. If you can’t, try to cultivate them. Although I didn’t always have a way home if things were going sour, I did have friends I was able to text when something was going on. Sometimes they were able to get out of their classes and meet me up, freeing me of having to be alone after just having dealt with harassment or assault.
Tip #3 - Take advantage of Gay Straight Alliances.
If your school has a GSA, go to it. GSAs are great little groups that are chocked full of potential allies. They may not always get your preferred pronouns right, nor say the right things to you, but cultivating relationships with people who want to understand you and help you is too useful to pass up.
If your school doesn’t have a GSA, consider starting one up. GSAs can be used as a central location for LGBT youth to meet each other and give each other support. Unfortunately, teacher supervision is required and finding a teacher to run one isn’t always easy. But hey, if you don’t try, you’ll never know — right?
Tip #4 - Find other trans* youth.
When I was in high school, there was always a pool of gossip. If you dove deep enough, you could find out just about anything going on in peoples personal lives. This is how I found out about my friend, Isaac. Isaac was FTM, and in those days I identified as MTF. We hung out basically every day and gave each other as much support as we could muster. By being as open as we were to the entire school, three more trans* youth came out.
We formed a family and were able to systematically deal with almost every incident of transphobia — including transphobia coming from the staff. It might not be realistic depending on the population of your school, but the most important part is that if you don’t try, you’ll never know just how many other people there are in your school that you can relate to.
Tip #5 - Educate those around you.
Most people in high school haven’t even had direct contact with LGBTQ+ people, how are they supposed to react to a trans* person? Show them that what you are going through is something that millions of people go through, and that the only thing that isn’t normal is transphobia.
Try to educate your classmates on appropriate language regarding pronouns and trans* terminology. Tell them your story and just how upsetting it is how people at your school treat you. If they are willing to listen and learn, they’ll gain respect in you once they understand just how profound what you are going through really is. I know the onus shouldn’t be on you to educate them, but if you do, you’ll be amazed to find new allies who will actually stand up for you.
I did that several times throughout my high school career, and although not every time it ended in success, it has ended up with some pretty great results. One time, I even had a student in my class speak out when a teacher misgendered me in front of the entire class.
Just remember, no matter how bleak things look, there are people who genuinely care about you. Sometimes, you just have to find them.
But wait, I live in a rural area, how does this apply to me?
That’s an interesting question. I’ve known a few trans* people who have lived in rural areas and finding resources wasn’t always the easiest task for them. While many of them attempted to followed the above tips, they generally didn’t have access to trans* positive counselling, doctors, and school staff that were available to my friends and I.
One of the things that helped them was finding resources in the closet city. The easiest way to do this is obviously using Google but of course, you have to filter through a lot of junk to find anything useful. Many rural trans* people take advantage of online support and the University of Victoria has put out a pretty awesome list of online support services for trans* people. If none of these work, you can always check Trans* Resource Canada to see if any of there are any resources listed close to you!
*Did you like this illustration? Want to know more about the artist? Zephyr will be featured in our next issue’s Ze’s Shameless! Subscribe here http://shamelessmag.com/buy