A small survey of trans and gender-nonconforming teachers in the United States and Canada has found that they are connecting with one another now more than ever before, and are finding strength and security in numbers.
The survey was completed by NPR, who asked 79 trans and gender-nonconforming teachers a series of questions and conducted in-depth interviews with 15 individuals. Their answers and personal stories reveal educational norms that are rapidly changing — and that still have a long way to go.
One of the main issues addressed was bullying and harassment. Rates of suicide, bullying, and homelessness are far higher among transgender and gender-nonconforming people. For some individuals interviewed, isolation is the problem — and banding together is the solution.
The Trans Educators Network was formed after a former teacher used Facebook to reach out to anyone working with K-12 students who did not easily fit in the gender binary. Today, the network has around 200 members and meet-up chapters in five regions of the United States. The network shares information on a wide variety of topics, including how to talk to students, safety, what schools and states to avoid, and how and when to come out.
If and when to come out at school was a complicated and important decision for many of those surveyed. Teachers talked about balancing the desire to be a positive role model for gender non-conforming kids, while at the same time protecting their safety and their jobs. Most interviewed were not completely out at work. Transgender male teachers seemed to have an easier time than transgender female teachers. “Passing privilege” was also an important issue — while some teachers are able to hide the fact that they are transgender or “pass,” others cannot easily do so.
The issue of pronouns is a central one for both teachers and students. In one school with two trans educators, students meet in small groups with an educator advisor and share their names and pronouns — he, she, they, ze, or whatever they may choose. The advisor then makes sure that all other teachers in the school know each student’s chosen pronoun.
Through resources like the Trans Educator Network, teachers who were once isolated can now share teaching strategies to help inform their peers and students and gather the courage and knowledge that comes from knowing that others share their challenges — and victories.
Do you know any trans or gender nonbinary teachers? Are you one, yourself? Tell us your thoughts @BritandCo!
(Illustration by Marisa Kumtong / Brit + Co)