“A School Success Story” (Working with Schools For a Transgender Child’s Needs, Part 1)

src-adapt-960-high-lgbt_bus-1388530599232This blog post will actually come in a minimum of two parts, and possibly more depending on how long Part 2 appears to be.  The first is our personal story of success for those that have not seen it elsewhere, and to establish the case for the actual “Best Practices” post that will follow this one up in Part 2.

On her seventh birthday Fabulous decided that from now on she would live as the girl she always was, but this also presented new obstacles not only for us as parents, but for the school she was going to attend as well.  At seven years of age this is not her problem.  Her problem is to go to school and learn the best she can.  As adults, her parents and the school staff it is our job to ensure she has the best learning environment possible.  This does not happen overnight, and it does not happen when the adults choose to battle or fight for ground that is irrelevant to the child’s learning needs or peace of mind.  Too often as adults on both sides we get so caught up in the righteousness of our cause that we fail to see our children couldn’t care less about who wins an argument.  Our children simply want to learn and go to school as their true selves.  Fabulous is no different then this, and with an eye to the possible future, Mom and I began to set the groundwork months before her transition.

I began this blog last spring, in part, to work through the thoughts I had surrounding my youngest son becoming a gender-fluid child.  I say that, and realize now that Fabulous had always been a girl, but at the time it was important how the school received the news that Fabulous might come to school in girl’s clothes.  I educated myself, and set a meeting with the school principal, counselor, Fabulous’ assistant principal, and Fabulous’ kindergarten teacher.  During the meeting we shared that Fabulous was gender-fluid, explained what that meant, and that we wanted them to be prepared for her to wear a mix of boys and girls clothes to school.  At the time we said that it was possible Fabulous might decide to transition, but that she wasn’t there yet, and if she did get there then we would schedule another meeting.  We also explained that we “wanted to work with them and not against them” to ensure Fabulous was safe at school.  They received the information well, the assistant principal shared that her sister is a lesbian, and Sean would have her full support.  We already knew her outstanding kindergarten teacher had Fab’s back, and then the principal assured us that Fabulous would be safe and secure in her school.

Summer went by, and we thought Fabulous was going more boy, but she had just become really good at hiding when she was around boys all the time.  School started up again, and this time around we dealt with some bullying issues.  Once in after school program, and then later in a school bathroom.  After school had been name calling, where the horrible slur of “You’re a girl!” was thrown at Fabulous for her backpack.  We notified the principal and she addressed it to our satisfaction.  However, this would happen again from the same boys, culminating in them cornering her in the boys’ bathroom where they all called her a “girl,” and hit her hard on the arm before letting her leave.  At the time she was still living as a boy, granted a very feminine boy, but still a boy.  This time, when we notified the principal she went ballistic.  She immediately had Fabulous identify the boys, and then pulled them from class, before proceeding to destroy any bullying tendencies they had left.  She won us over with how she handled that event and we were sure to let her know it (I also sent a letter to the school superintendent commending the principal for what a great she does on behalf of all the children.  Actions like this are not forgotten, and will serve you well.  Most parents will never do this type of thing.)

After that, Fabulous began pushing the boundaries more and more, until three months into the school year..Surprise!  It’s a girl!

The revelation, as shared in another post, came on a Sunday.  We immediately started game planning, and asked her if she wanted a new school. She said, YES!  We already had one in mind, and so I reached out to see if they could fit her in.  We assumed (don’t do this!) that she wanted to go to a new school so that nobody would know she had been a boy (how wrong we were!).  During the early part of the week I spoke with the new school, and I shared about Fabulous, asking the right questions to ensure the school was willing to accept her.  Everything was going according to plan.  I even sent in the applications for both our kids to attend the new school…and then we come to the end of the week.

So…what do you do when your exuberant child decides to transition in the middle of a semester, and on top of that also decides to out herself to her classmates?

Mom gets a call from Fab’s teacher (we’ll start calling her Fab, easier to type, and sound’s more girly than Fabulous.)  Apparently, Fab outed herself to her classmates and teacher.  We had agreed she would go to school as a boy until the week of Thanksgiving, but she decided to throw away all her boy clothes, and make us help the day before.  So…I say went to school as a boy, and by boy I mean, in name only. She wore a sparkly “Trolls” shirt with skinny jeans from Justice, and apparently Miss Sassy Pants had her fierce up as she announced to all that could hear how she had thrown out her boy clothes, and that she was going to be a girl from now on, and would also be going to a school where she could wear dresses. Her teacher called my wife to tell her that the school was ready for Fab to be a girl and had expected it.  Teacher also told mom that it was kind of obvious that Fab was a girl, and that teacher had just been waiting for Fab to come out.   She said all the kids were happy for Fab, and that she hoped Fab would stay at the school. Mom told her it was Fabs’ choice, which meant we would have to have another talk with our little diva.  When Mom told me all I could think was, I’ve started to move forward with the other school, I mean,  I’m happy she’s proud of herself…but this little girl is gonna kill her mama and me.

To continue, I’m on my way to pick up the kids from school, and Mom calls me to let me know the kids’ principal called her. Apparently, Fab’s teacher went down to the office to tell the principal that Fab was leaving the school, and that the principal wanted to speak with me when I got to the school.  Upon arrival I was ushered down to the principal’s office where she welcomed me and shut the door.  Now I should be clear that I’m a state level education official, probably a higher mid-level bureaucrat, and that part of my job is to deal with school system superintendents, board members, principals, central office staff, etc.  When school personnel have to deal with me they are often fearful and not happy to see me.  I admit that my job has removed any fear or feelings of intimidation when I deal with school administrators.  I will talk about this in part two, but suffice it to say as we sat down to talk, I saw principal as woman who was expressing concern for my child, and so I met her with openness to hear what she had to say.

We met for a half hour. I explained why Fab was leaving, and (how I wrongly thought) she wanted to go stealth and a new school would allow this.  After hearing me out, she told me that they had expected Fab to begin first grade as a girl,  and so they had prepared for the possibility.  She also told me she had served on the district’s committee to set transgender policy for the school district, and she was still learning as the district had not really had any dealings with pre-pubescent transgender children, but that Fab’s safety and and happiness was important to her, and that she also felt Fab was safer and better off at her school than the new one.  It was becoming apparent that principal was giving me the hard sell as to why Fab should stay, and it also became more apparent, her top reason actually, that she wanted Fab to stay at the school.  I voiced my concerns, asked questions as to the school board and superintendent backing her if the worst case scenarios were to happen.  I showed her picture of my little lady, and she gushed at how adorable Fab was, and was certain that other parents would never be able to tell she had started the school year a boy.

We talked about some policy issues, and the only issue that we agreed to compromise on was the bathroom.  I know this can be a sticking point, and I’ll touch upon it in Part 2 at greater length.  With a Supreme Court case looming on this issue, I didn’t feel like I needed to challenge her on the one issue that could cause her problems.  In Fab’s case, she is just so happy to be herself, knows nothing of the bathroom debate raging in our country, and therefore is more than happy to skip her little self down to the clinic bathroom…as long as she can wear a dress while doing it.  Knowing all this, I let the principal have her way…a win/win for each of us.  If SCOTUS decides in my kid’s favor, then she will be able to use the bathroom she identifies with, and being federal law the principal will never have to fight with other parents, because she can cite the federal law.  Remember, this is a marathon we’re running, and there is no need to spring at the beginning.  I might care about the bathroom, but Fab doesn’t, so why fight over this point right now.

We ended our meeting with smiles, and I told her that I would talk to Fab and lay out everything, but that it was still her choice. (Below is a pretty accurate version of our discussion, normally she can’t stop talking, but ask her questions, and well, you’ll see.)

  • Me:  Fab?  Why do you want to switch schools?
  • Fab: I don’t know.
  • Me: You’re OK leaving your friends?  You won’t miss them?  It won’t bother you?
  • Fab: I can visit them on days when I don’t have school and they do.
  • Me: It doesn’t work that way sweetie. Are you sure you want to switch?
  • Fab: Yes.
  • Me: (Remembering something the principal said about the new school) Do you want to switch schools so that you can wear pretty dresses and shoes?
  • Fab: Yes.
  • Me: Baby, you have to wear uniforms at the new school. You can’t wear pretty dresses or shoes there.  You have to wear basically the same thing everyday.
  • Fab: Oh…(she looks down at her lap)
  • Me: You know your teacher and principal want you to stay at your school.  Youre teacher and friends were happy for you when you told them you threw out all your boy clothes, right?
    Fabulous: Yeah. (She looks up at me)
  • Me: If you want to stay at your school, they want you to be yourself. You can be all girl and wear pretty dresses, shoes, whatever you want. Would you like that?
  • Fab: (Incredulous, with the start of a smile) Wait, I can wear dresses to my school?  I thought I had to go to a new school to wear dresses.
  • Me: (Laughing)Yes, baby, if you want to, you can wear whatever you want. Do you want to stay at your school now?
  • Fab: Yes, I thought I couldn’t wear dresses…(nods while beaming broadly)

She didn’t care at all about people knowing which is what we thought…She just thought she had to switch schools to start wearing dresses, because we asked her to wait until we got safeguards in place.

We need to know “what” is important to our children, and then advocate for that.  We assumed she wanted to be stealth, and that wasn’t even on her mind.

We agreed with the principal that Fab will use the adult or clinic bathroom for the rest of this year, because the principal did have a good point.  Kids knew Fab as a boy, and while the girl’s in her class love her and accept her, kids are kids and for some a boy becoming a girl is a novelty too good to ignore, and it might have kids peaking under the stall, etc.

I also found out today that our backup school would give in to all our requests, including use of the girl’s bathroom for Fab…but wearing pretty dresses is way more important to her than where she pees right now, and we’re good with that.  (Yes, there was a way I approached them which I will share in Part 2)

I will admit that there are certain things that make this easier for me, which I will try to share in Part 2.  Certainly, my experience with school systems is an advantage I have in navigating the schools, there is no doubt about that.  In addition, I will also admit that my daughter is only seven.  She is petite for her age, and in a dress easily passes.  Fab is also a high achiever, her teacher adores her, and (at school, home is another story) she lives to follow the rules.  Basically, she is the ideal student.  I know other kids, especially older ones have a whole host of other issues that can make things difficult for parents when attempting to work with school administrators.  I also taught ten years at an “at-risk” high school, and so I hope that I can provide insight there as well in Part 2.

I recognize, at the moment, we’re pretty blessed and Fab is very lucky. I know this could change as she gets older, and as she switches schools and/or administrators.  Every situation is different, and so I will try and approach Part 2, which may become a Part 3 in a way that recognizes most parents of transgender children do not have it so easy.  I also am aware that an administration change could change everything in an instant.

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