A school can function like an ocean; there may be beautiful islands on the surface made out of successful musical ensembles, athletic teams, or powerhouse academics, but lurking beneath the waves can be an unforeseen abyss of bullies, derogatory remarks, and danger for LGBTQ+ people, especially transgender students. The 2017 National School Climate Survey (Kosciw et. al, 2018) is one of the attempts to shine light under the surface. Out of a survey of 23,001 students, ages ranging from 13-21, the following shows some of the most powerful statistics found that detail what LGBTQ+ students report enduring in their academic environments:
· 59.5% of LGBTQ students felt unsafe at school due to their sexual orientation, 44.6% because of their gender expression, and 35.0% because of their gender.
· 98.5% of LGBTQ students heard “gay” used in a negative way, with 95.3% hearing other types of homophobic remarks. 87.4% heard negative remarks specifically about transgender people.
· 71.0% of students reported hearing negative remarks about gender expression from teachers or other school staff.
· 55.3% of LGBTQ students didn’t report assault or harassment in school to staff due to fear of effective intervention or of the situation worsening.
· 42.1% of transgender and gender non-conforming students had been prevented from using their preferred name or pronoun.
· 46.5% of transgender and gender non-conforming students had been required to use a bathroom of their legal sex.
· Transgender students overall reported more hostile school experiences than LGBQ cisgender students.
These statistics might be shocking for some educators, while simultaneously leaving others unfazed, based on what part of the “academic ocean” they have witnessed. Some educators might not have heard negative remarks about gender expression or sexual orientation while walking through the halls of their school, while for others it is a common occurrence.
Every paradigm is different-- we all experience the world in our own way. In a single classroom, with one teacher and thirty students, there are thirty-one different perspectives of what is occurring at the same time. An action or joke perceived as innocent by one individual in the group could be construed by another as offensive, insulting, or triggering. Many times, unless the action or joke is brought specific attention, the inadvertently offensive party remains unaware.
It is because of this that it is so important to listen to marginalized groups when they tell their stories or share their experiences. In this next section, I want to let the experiences of trans students help guide the narrative. I’ve organized their stories into general topics that emerged while reading, but beyond that, the words remain unaltered.
“For Ryan, the first day of sixth grade marked the start of a long and arduous personal journey. He began middle school by unapologetically identifying as gay and cross-dressing in a more flamboyant manner that suited his personal taste. Ryan’s inaugural act was to borrow a T-shirt from his best friend, a girl, and proudly wear it to school...This simple act reverberated throughout the hallways and inducted Ryan into an inescapable social strata—Ryan was a target. No one—students, teachers, administrators alike—knew how to respond.” (Nichols, 267)
“During the sixth-grade year, Matthew experienced ‘a little bit of bullying’ and some struggles with ‘some of the more hyper-masculine boys’ in the choir.” (Bartolome, 32)
“Rie says she could ‘count her allies on one hand.’ The school administrative response was tepid. The guidance counselor regularly talked with Rie and made her office available as a refuge, but did not appear to intervene on Rie’s behalf with the teachers and students to stop the incessant bullying.” (Nichols, 267)
“In bathrooms and locker rooms, cisgender children are portrayed as endangered by T/GNC students, whereas students whose clothing challenges gender norms are accused of being disruptive to the educational space of their classmates. The ages of T/GNC K–12 students, the fact that their classmates and teachers have often seen their gender identity or expression shift over time, and their supposed disruption of educational spaces also garner proteophobic responses in observers, who express disturbance at the changing and unclassifiable aspects of these students’ identities” (McLaughlin, 3)
“I think one of the worst things that my choir director said to me was, ‘I really just want you to kind of fade into the background and I want you to kind of keep quiet because there are some people when we go on tour that are going to find this disgusting.’ And he used that terminology...With that one statement, I didn’t feel like I really belonged in the choir and it wasn’t a feeling that ever changed.” (Bartolome, 37)
“Rie believes that her principal found his opportunity to rid himself of a difficult student and used the comment to justify searching Rie’s school locker, where he found her intensely personal poetry diary.” (Nichols, 268)
“An LGBT friend of Rie’s committed suicide. “In their grief and desire to bring something positive from something so unspeakably awful, Chrystal’s family reached out to Rie, and together they worked to create a local support group modeled after Prism. Their vision was to create an open, nonjudgmental forum for all youth to provide care, support, and assistance...The principal who presided over Rie’s expulsion in the eighth grade was now the superintendent of schools, and he unceremoniously rejected the proposal.” (Nichols, 271-272)
From the public:
“The eyes are still staring. The energy is smothering. Suffocating. I feel cornered. Suddenly, I feel hot with rage. Can’t they see it? Their gazing is a continuous attack. Their confusion, which used to feel exciting to me, now feels like relentless probing. Their faces say: ‘You are a freak. You are less than human, a monster.’” (Nordmarken, 41)
“Because transgender voices do not always match outward gender expression, trans people may be silenced from speaking or singing out of fear or embarrassment.” (Miller, 61)
“Matthew was immediately enrolled in weekly therapy, which eventually yielded a diagnosis of gender identity disorder. Matthew became convinced that he was “a freak” and, like so many other transgender individuals, he came to the ultimate conclusion that it would be easier to end his own existence than continue to suffer. Overcome with desperation, Matthew attempted suicide one night during his sophomore year of high school...” (Bartolome and Stanford, 120)
“How can this isolation, this pain, this rage engender productive possibilities for resistance? How can we find freedom in and through the monsters in ourselves? What freedom can this be? “ (Nordmarken, 39)
“I did not know that leaving the girl I used to be also meant leaving relationships. I should have known. By transitioning, I alleviate the profound discomfort I feel being seen as female, and in so doing, I create profound discomfort in others. Displacing my dysphoria relocates it in them. But why? I feel exasperated. It is not their life. Why do they think I am becoming a different person? I am the same as I have been. I am just making it possible for them to see me.” (Nordmarken, 47)
“While many transgender students experience grave social and familial rejection, Rie was fortunate. She had the support of her parents as evidenced by her father’s defense of her against an intractable school administration and her mother’s diligence in taking her to Prism meetings every week. She had the support of other LGBT youth in Prism with whom she could identify and confide. And she was a member of a school music community that provided a safe space in the school day and validated her self-worth as a talented musician. Clearly, without the support her parents, Prism, and the school band and choir, Rie would have floundered during her middle and high school years.” (Nichols, 274)
“Teachers in more traditionally progressive communities should not assume, however, that their schools and/or communities are supportive of trans youth. Sara, Jon, and Skyler’s stories’ indicate that teachers who explicitly demonstrate their support of LGBTQA students are important for queer students, regardless of state or community.” (Palkki, 24)
“From within the ranks of her school’s music ensembles, Rie found a group of friends who would support and sustain her through the difficult middle school years and a larger cohort of musically minded peers who did not harass her as the students of the larger school body did.” (Nichols, 273)
“Rie experienced her band and choir classrooms as just that—sites at which she could express herself, places of momentary freedom in which music provided a means of escape from the pressures of a hostile school environment.” (Nichols,276)
“The use of gender to describe voice parts felt alienating to Mel, as she struggled to integrate as a transgender choir singer.
‘My director would say, ‘Men go here, women go here. Men sit here, women sit here.’ It was always like, ‘Well where do I sit?’ . . . Or something simple as ‘guys sing this note, girls sing this note.’ Then you think, ‘Oh, well, crap. What about me?’ And so anything that sort of segregates sex in any way was a trigger.’” (Bartolome, 37)
“She describes specific ways that personal music engagement and participation in school ensembles can be sources of important support for transgender students.” (Nichols, 273)
“I talked to people and they said, ‘You’re going into music but you’re transgender. How can you rationalize that?’ And I said, ‘I love music so much. It’s part of who I am. I can’t imagine not doing it.” (Bartolome, 35)
“The strongly gendered nature of that choral experience paired with her frequent public outing in performance were so challenging for Mel that she opted not to join choir as a senior.” (Bartolome, 38)
Copyright © 2021 Blurring the Binary - All Rights Reserved.