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Supporting trans students: Q&A with a parent, ally, and trans-rights advocate


This article has been published anonymously to protect the identity of the child.


Tell us a bit about you.

I am always keen to share my lived experience as the father of a 10-year-old daughter who is transgender. I was thrilled when I was invited to contribute to Teacher about the role schools play in assisting parents who are socially transitioning their transgender, gender-fluid, and non-binary children. Talking, sharing, and listening fosters greater awareness, understanding, and advocacy for gender-creative kids.


How was your experience navigating the school system as a parent of a trans child? What are some things schools have done to make you feel supported and safe?

In September of Grade 3, my daughter asked for her pronouns to be changed from he/him to she/her. Her request was respectfully agreed to by teachers, administrators, and, ultimately, my daughter’s classmates. The issue remained: how do we facilitate the request? I saw a “worst-case scenario” in my mind’s eye, much like a Roald Dahl novel: the teacher asking my daughter to stand up in front of the class and announcing that my daughter, who was formerly referred to as he, would now be referred to as she. I pictured the class laughing at her and the bullying beginning.


Fortunately, my fears never materialized. In conjunction with a school counsellor, our school’s amazing principal, and my daughter’s teachers, we came up with a plan to share books about sexual orientation and gender identity with the class. Students would be given the opportunity to gain information and insights and ask questions. At the end of the day, students would be invited to express their preferred pronouns to one another.


The day of the book-reading plan and the official pronoun change happened; I spent the entire day completely preoccupied with wondering how it might all turn out. When I picked up my daughter from school, I asked her how her day went. She replied, “You’re never going to be believe what happened today.” Holding my breath, I asked, “Really, what happened?” She said, “I got to the top of the rope in gym class.” Exhaling, I asked if anything else had happened. She replied, “Yes, at lunch, I swapped my cookie for a chocolate bar.” “Anything else happen today?” I prodded one more time. “No,” she replied.


For students who don’t have safe spaces within their homes and families to express their gender identities...Outing students when they are not ready to have this conversation with their families can be damaging and dangerous.

What are some things schools could focus on improving?

I want the teachers at my daughter’s school to know how important acceptance and advocacy has been to my daughter and to our family. I cannot imagine the desperation a child and parent must feel to be told by their school that their child cannot use the bathroom that matches their gender identity. I cannot imagine the toll it must take on a trans child’s sense of self to have to show up to a place, day, after day, after day, that fundamentally does not accept who they are. I know that if this was my daughter’s experience, she would not be the incredible kid she is today, full of confidence and pride.


Parents are asking school staff to be partners in the social transitioning of their child, and I think it’s important for school staff to realize that no matter how “under control” parents may seem about this partnership, parents (at least in my case) are scared and feel incredibly vulnerable about what the outcomes will be of socially transitioning their child in the school environment. The more support, understanding, and advocacy schools can show, the lower the fear and anxiety will be for the parents and ultimately the child/student.


There’s also been a lot in the media lately about trying to mandate that schools share with parents the pronouns students are using at school. For students who don’t have safe spaces within their homes and families to express their gender identities, schools may be the only welcoming spaces where they can be their true selves. Outing students when they are not ready to have this conversation with their families can be damaging and dangerous. I encourage all schools to stand up for students’ rights to identify however they want to in each space they move through.


How can parents advocate for their children at school? What is a parent’s role in the school-based team to ensure their child is supported at school?

The most direct way a parent can advocate for their child is to get involved with your school. Join the parent advisory council (PAC) and volunteer for PAC-related activities. Getting involved at your kid’s school helps you to get to know the school’s staff and administration. It helps you to get to know other parents. It helps you to form relationships and have organic conversations about the issues that are important to you and the larger school community.


I have volunteered for the past several years for the spring fling and the pumpkin patch fundraiser at my daughter’s school, and now I am on the PAC. I am now much more comfortable with bringing up my own initiatives at PAC meetings. This year I am going to organize our school’s first-ever pride parade. I have much more confidence doing so given the number of volunteer hours I have contributed to a variety of school events.


Realize that non-conforming gender identity is a gift. Your child’s expression of non-conforming identity, in the face of a dominant binary culture, shows just how strong, confident, and beautiful your child is.

What challenges or successes do you anticipate as your child moves into the upper grades? What’s different about how elementary schools and secondary schools can support students?

The challenges I anticipate moving into upper grades are with the onset of puberty. Right now, my daughter is a girl. If you did not know she was trans, you would never suspect that she was assigned male at birth. Of course, with the onset of puberty her voice will deepen, her shoulders will widen, and she will develop an Adam’s apple and facial hair; all of which are not only anathema to my daughter, but they also “out” her as assigned male at birth. As these changes occur, we, as a family, must decide what, if any, gender-affirming health care we want to pursue. This will be a period of great uncertainty for myself and my daughter, and I hope this time does not cause any excess or undue pressure beyond the already tumultuous time of puberty. I am concerned how these changes will affect my daughter’s academics, her social life, her confidence, and her overall sense of self.


High school is an important time for social and peer-group interaction. I hope that my daughter’s high school has peer-oriented supports for 2SLGBTQIA+ students.


What is your advice to other parents who are learning to navigate their child’s gender identity? What resources are available? Where can they learn more about supporting their child?

My advice for parents who are learning to navigate their child’s gender identity is to support and respect requests for gender-affirming expression. If you have a child who is a trans male, and they want a short haircut, let them cut their hair. If, as is the case in my family, your daughter is trans, and they want to wear a dress to school, let them wear a dress to school. I know it’s scary. I know it may feel impossible. But the more my wife and I “leaned into” and supported my daughter’s gender expression, the more she sparkled.


Realize that non-conforming gender identity is a gift. Your child’s expression of non-conforming identity, in the face of a dominant binary culture, shows just how strong, confident, and beautiful your child is.


A parent-ally’s recommended resources


“The Urgent Need for Compassion” episode of this podcast, featuring poet and activist Alok Vaid-Menon, blew my mind. It has single-handedly been the most important and influential resource in my understanding of gender.


The Gender Creative Child by Diane Ehrensaft


Transgender Child by Stephanie Brill and Rachel Pepper


Transgender Teen by Stephanie Brill and Lise Kenney


Qmunity.ca has a twice-monthly online support group for parents of trans kids.


Trans Care BC phsa.ca/transcarebc


Canadian Parents of Trans, Two-Spirit, and Gender Diverse Kids

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