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Trans* Girl with a Lesson Plan

1 April, 2012

I was recently contacted by another educator, GirlWithALessonPlan (you should follow her), who had four questions for me about being a trans woman in the education field. Here are her questions and my responses.

1. How far before your career did you begin living [as] the gender you identify [as]?

I began living as my identified gender (female) just out of college (2000). I was working as a special education aide and living part-time as my proper gender and presenting male at work. I lived this way for nine months before deciding to go back for my MFA in Creative Writing, Fiction. When I made that decision I had to move back in with my patents for two months and then moved in with four male flat mates, so that ended my first attempt at transitioning. I tried again in 2004 but this time full-time. I was working as an editor and English tutor, but people stopped speaking to me and my co-workers complained, ending my second attempt (employment is a big transition preventer for most trans women). Finally, spring of 2011, I made the transition full-time and started HRT. I was teaching full-time as a middle school TAG English instructor and the conditions on my transition were so restrictive and backlash from faculty, parents, and the student body so nasty that I chose to transfer schools. I have only presented as my identified gender at the high school I work at.

2. Do your students know about your previous gender presentation?

Yes. Yes, they do. Mainly because I was only four months on HRT when I started my new position. I had very unrealistic expectations of the HRT time schedule, part of that was from Jennifer Boylan‘s book “She’s Not There,” which is an excellent book but set me up with unrealistic expectations for transitioning. My transition has been easier than a number of FtF (female to female, as I do not see myself as ever having been male in anything apart from presentation, though MtF is the more standardised term), but Boylan’s book makes her transition seem a brilliant mix of acerbic wit and acceptance (I doubt it was, but the writing comes across that way). I also had the downfall of having been told by so many I had a feminine build and facial structure that I believed changing my presentation would be simple; decades of testosterone damage did not make that the case. So, the students know I did not always present as my gender but they do not know when I switched presentations. There is a wide amount of speculation on that ranging from the day before school started to when I was a kid. There is also a lot of speculation as to whether I have had FFS (facial feminization surgery)—the answer to that is no, I have not.

3. Has your identity ever caused problems for you at work?

Slews of them! Parents have worked/are working to get me fired. Teachers have spoken out against me to their students. Certain administrators refuse to look at me, let alone assist me when I need it, and a fair number of students refuse to work or listen. The students are the ones that are the most extreme in their reactions because they are the most honest in how they feel. Kids I have never interacted with have burst into the room, called me “tranny,” “freak,” “whore,” et cetera, then dashed out of the room laughing like hyenas, or they’ll stand outside the door and stare in at me like I am an exhibition for their amusement. It works the other way, also. Once a student accepts me they are unwavering loyal. A female student of mine chased a boy who called me “tranny” down the hall, tackled him, and pinned him until the principal came (so damned proud of her!). Mostly it is the girls who are accepting and come to like me as an instructor and a person, though a number of boys have come around as well.

4. Have you helped students with their gender identity?

Directly? No. I am not allowed by the county to discuss the issue, at all, under any circumstances. The one time it came up naturally in class a student told a teacher, who told the principal, who told the superintendent, who had me written up for “failure to recognize ‘she’ does not teach a health class.” Indirectly, it is impossible to say, but I hope by just being myself I have. I have had outside-of-class discussions with several lesbian students who are having difficulty dealing with family, friends and/or relationships. I am glad I can offer them some of the support they need.

Though you did not ask this, I feel I should add that although there are policies that prevent them from outright firing me, they can and sometimes do, make life a living hell. There were three schools they could have transferred me to that would have been more accepting, but they chose to put me in one of the least tolerant communities in the county. Also, they can always find a reason to remove you from the classroom or terminate you that has nothing to do with your identity. I am still employed partly due to tenure and the union. Mostly, however, my employment continues because I am damned good at what I do. I scored in the top one percent of the nation on my English Content PRAXIS exam, I have consistently raised test scores with every grade level I have taught, and I have gotten kids who hate reading to pick up and willingly complete at least one novel per quarter. Ultimately the only way a trans person survives in this or any other business is to know their stuff and perform their job better than anyone else, to be irreplaceable.

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