Learning to be trans: the impact of not having trans representation in schools

This post is brought to you by Transgender First Scholarship's application prompt!

As someone that didn't come out as non-binary until after college, I don't have first-hand experiences with LGBTQ+ issues in school. That being said, it's made me wonder: if I had more exposure to the LGBTQ+ community in school, would I have explored sooner?

I can't imagine I'm the only person that didn't have a lot of education/exposure to the LGBTQ+ community in school. I think we're doing a disservice to queer and non-queer students alike by not teaching queer identity and history. I didn't learn about the amazing work of Marsha P Johnson and other early movement leaders until after I graduated. Queer history is a vital part of everyone's history. It's a way we ensure we don't make the same mistakes we made in the past. It's a way we make queer kids and young adults feel like their community is important and valid. Most importantly, it opens discussions. It removes the taboo nature that can sometimes surround LGBTQ+ issues.

Without trans representation in academia, we are making it more difficult for queer young adults to access post-secondary education for three main reasons:

  1. Accessing funds

  2. Finding safe spaces

  3. Separating identity and education

Increased difficulty accessing funds

It's a fact that transgender people have a higher rate of being disowned. With this loss of familial support comes the loss of financial support. It's expected that families make contributions to college education, they even include it in your FAFSA. So students that don't have monetary support from their families are left bridging a larger financial gap than their cisgender cohorts.

Increased difficulty finding safe spaces

An issue a cisgender student will never have to face is finding a school where their gender is recognized and respected. This recognition and respect can manifest in several different ways:

  • being housed with other members of the same gender

  • having chosen name be respected (not getting dead-named constantly)

  • being able to participate in collegiate sports as the correct gender

  • having pronouns respected

  • having staff, faculty, and students that are educated on trans terminology and issues

These factors compose some serious limitations on which schools trans students feel comfortable applying to and attending. As someone that has recently done a lot of research on schools, there were several instances where a school had a program I was very interested in but clearly was not a supportive environment for trans students. I always look for LGBTQ+-centric groups/clubs, majors, minors, and coursework. Also the simple act of including gender-neutral pronouns in their language and having a diversity statement speak volumes about school values.

Separating identity and education

Something I feel like a lot of trans people can identify with is living separate lives. There is the "you" you can be around safe and trusted people, and the "you" that you have to be out in the real world. This translates to school too. Having to be "trans" and a "scholar" and not a "trans scholar" has a huge impact on someone's education experience. Not being able to write about lived queer experiences, be open about identity, and give your all to your studies can be very hard. As someone that has a work persona that is more "palatable" and "easy" for cisgender people and a personal persona that's my true, trans self, I relate to this heavily. Not being able to connect identity and education does trans students a disservice. We need representation in school to help trans people feel comfortable being their authentic selves without fear of repercussions.

So what do we do?

Similar to the current push to include Critical Race Theory in school curriculum: queer identities and history need to be included in schools. From everything to sex education to school sports, there is so much room for us to grow our capacity for acceptance. Being a millennial has blessed me with the opportunity to watch all the positive strides the younger generations are making. My hope for the future is that they don't have to endure what their queer elders did and that the world will continue to grow and change for the better.

To learn more about Transgender First, visit their website and social media!