Secret Transition at School
Like many others, my quirky and highly imaginative child, J, started high school at the start of the school year in 2020, going almost immediately into Covid lockdown without much chance to make new friends at school. Lockdown involved six hours a day of online schooling, followed by online gaming with existing friends after school time, all with minimal supervision due to the rest of the family also doing schoolwork and working online. J was socially awkward, quirky, and of an anxious disposition and found it hard to make new friends after lockdown. Towards the end of 2020, this previously “proud to be non-conforming” young person came to us and proudly announced, “I’m trans”. This came as a bolt from the blue, especially when I discovered that teachers at school had been using a different name and opposite sex pronouns for a few months without letting us know. This was particularly difficult for me as I had been quite involved at the school for several years and some of the staff know me well. There had been no expert psychological or psychiatric involvement, therefore there had been no diagnosis or discussion of where these feelings had come from and the decision to make a social transition (a powerful psychological intervention) was taken away from us.
The school’s policy requires them to keep any disclosures from students of this nature from parents unless the child wishes them to share the information, yet the school requires parental permission to go on school trips or to be given paracetamol. I did not know much about trans medicine but the more I looked the more horrified I became as there is essentially no diagnosis being done before social transition by schools, which then entrenches the identification by the child as they suddenly get a lot of attention from staff at school and are now protected from bullying in a way they were not protected previously. In 2021, well-meaning staff at school suggested websites for ‘Rainbow’ young people and, although my child had previously stated that there wouldn’t be a request for hormones, suddenly demands for puberty blockers began, and my child’s mental health took a big dive. A weak suicide threat brought unwelcome attention (parents are still told of threats of self-harm by the school, thankfully) and there was a large drop in quality of schoolwork, excused to the school with claims of being “unable to focus due to worrying about my transphobic parents”. This sort of language appeared after talking to “supportive” adults at school and looking at websites such as Rainbow Youth and InsideOUT, which gives these kids a roadmap for what they ’should' be demanding. There is no mention on these websites of any ideas on how to become more comfortable in your own skin, or to try to work out if there are other things going on in their lives (e.g., social problems, autism or ADHD, attraction to the opposite sex, natural discomfort with changes in adolescence, growing pains) which might explain feelings of not fitting in.
Before this, we were a close-knit family. Fortunately, after a lot of hard work, J does recognise that we are parents who do love and support all our children, even though we disagree strongly with the current self-diagnosis of gender dysphoria and adoption of a different gender identity. We do a lot together and encourage our children’s interests, especially relating to building skills, confidence and strength of character. I hope that as J grows, she/he will learn to feel more comfortable in their own skin and become proud of being a unique individual, but this is made much more difficult by most of the adults around our child affirming that their self-assessment as not being good enough as her/himself is correct. Instead of allowing natural space and time to explore and experiment with different ways of expressing individuality, our current society is insisting on slapping on a label, concretising it and celebrating children as part of a certain community for which the only entry requirement is the label – and thus if these kids were to admit a mistake, they will lose the label and hence the ‘welcoming’ community they have found.