Every parent knows that August means it is time to prep for back to school. For some parents, this is as simple as getting some new folders and notebooks, but if you have a trans child that is transitioning at the beginning of the school year, this means much more than just buying some school supplies.
Talk to your child
The first step in preparing for your child’s gender transition at school is to talk with your child. Let them take part in the entire process as much or as little as they want and ask them what they want and need from you and from their school.
If you have a young child that is transitioning in a school with classmates that have known your child as a different gender, then make sure to ask your child how they would like the other students to find out about the transition. Some kids might want the teacher to make an announcement at the beginning of the year, while others may not want any announcement at all. Certain kids may not want to participate much in the process and others may want to be at any meetings with the administration. Again, it is important to let your child be a part of any decisions that are made.
Have “the bathroom” talk
Before going to the administration, it is important to talk with your child about what bathroom they feel most comfortable using. Support your child’s decision because it is guaranteed to come up at any meetings with the school. While hopefully this won’t be the case, be prepared to have resistance from even the most seemingly supportive schools.
Make sure that your child is comfortable with the resolution. For example, a child having to choose between the nurse’s bathroom or a bathroom that does not match their gender identity may opt to hold it in, and to hold it in means restricting the intake of water and even food. Holding it in too long can result in an increased risk for bladder infections and kidney damage. Restricting can result in poor nutrition and dehydration.
Talk to the school administration (and know your rights beforehand)
Coordinating with the school’s administration can be daunting–this may be a new experience for them as well. Luckily there are resources out there for families to get additional support. Lambda Legal is a national not-for-profit legal organization that is a fabulous resource for information about your rights. These resources can help you understand what you and your child’s rights are and how to fight for them if they are not being upheld. Make sure that you become familiar with the school’s policies as well as federal and state laws, like Title IX.
Talk about peers and anti-bullying
Once you, your child, and the school administration are on the same page, it is time to talk about your child’s peers. You hope that his long time peers (and their families) will be loving and accepting, but the truth is that some people may never be on the same page with you.
Although society is becoming more accepting of trans individuals in general, there are still plenty of people that are hateful and discriminatory. Your child may run into these people and it is crucial to talk to them about what to do and how to be safe if they encounter bullying. (October 20, 2016 is Spirit Day to support LGBT youth–see the anti-bullying resources for schools, children and parents at the bottom of this link.)
Sometimes families are unable to find support within the administration, or their child may encounter a lot of issues with peers. There are families that decide that the transition may be easier in a new school with classmates who are unaware that there is a transition and/or with a school administration that is known to be supportive. This makes certain aspects of the transition easier, but it does not come with its own challenges. Moving schools and being “the new kid” can be hard for any child regardless of whether they are trans or not.
Don’t forget the schools supplies and everything else that’s part of back to school.
Now that you and your child have prepared for their gender transition in school, it is time to remember all of the other tasks that go along with preparing for ‘back to school’. Do not forget that transitioning their gender in school may not be the only transition that your child is going through. They may be going from grade school to junior high, or junior high to high school and these transitions can be difficult or cause anxiety as well.
New clothes, new backpack, school supply lists and more are all part of this time of year, and even with some of the special considerations and planning, don’t forget the basics as well.
And, if you or your child is feeling anxious about so much change, there is always help at The Juniper Center with our new location on North Blvd. right here in Oak Park.
Please feel free to call us at 847-759-9110 x1 if you have questions or to set up an appointment (for you, your child, separate, together…we are here to help.).
Ariel Groner is a Licensed Social Worker (LSW) at The Juniper Center, specializing in working with children and families and with advanced training in working with LGBTQ identified youth. Whether or not you are seeking counseling for an issue specific to sexuality or gender identity or you simply want therapy for another matter in an LGBTQ- knowledgeable and welcoming practice, The Juniper Center is the right choice for all of your therapy needs.
Photo Credit: Ted Eytan on Flickr