Posts Tagged ‘Education’

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​An Open Letter to Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton

26 October, 2016

Thank you, Mr. Paxton. Thank you for making your opinions on transgender people so clear. In a cultural climate that does not question the unfounded fears and hatred lobbed against those who are different, it is good to know we can count on you to lead a national campaign of hatred and toxic Christianity against us. Thanks in large part to your bigotry we cannot use the bathroom, we cannot get an education, and, now, we cannot even expect our health care officials to use our names and pronouns much less give us medical and psychiatric care.

Mr. Paxton, your rhetoric against us has stirred the coals of hate and fanned the flames of a national Salem witch hunt. You have declared the transgender medical condition “evil.” You use debunked pseudoscience to incite hatred and promote very non-Christ-like attitudes. You have sounded the cry of discrimination against yourself and those who believe like you, but I ask you, are you truly being discriminated against? Have transgender Americans sued the federal government to prevent you from using public accommodations? Have transgender Americans sought legal methods of stripping you of your rights? Are transgender Americans filing suits to prevent you from receiving timely, appropriate, and life saving medical care? How can you consider yourself oppressed when you are the person doing these things and more to a vulnerable population both in your home state and in your country?

Mr. Paxton, you have brought forty-three (43) suits against the government all intended to curtail or remove laws protecting one of the most discriminated against populations in the United States. You sow division and approve rhetorical methods that paint those different than you as malicious, evil, and destructive. Your rhetoric and abuse of power has turned family against family. I know because I have experienced the result of your hatred and propaganda. Your campaign against other Americans, the legal actions you have taken against us, the ads you have supported that spread lies, hold up pseudoscience, and are filked with malicious intent has twisted the thoughts and attitudes of a brother who once stood beside me into a holier-than-thou, self-satisfied bigotry. I would ask if you are pleased with this result, but we both know the answer would be yes.

We, also, know that this is not really a letter to you because even if it found its way to your door, you would not read it. This is a letter besseching my allies to take a stand against bigotry. This is a letter to encourage those whose voices have been trampled by your culture of hate. This is a letter to those still undecided, those riding the fence of public decision, those who believe they can stay neutral in the face of active hate and bigotry. Ultimately, this is a letter to my few remaining family and friends in hopes that they, too, shall not be swayed against me by the rhetoric of a tiny, fearful man with too much authority.
In relation to this article by ThinkProgress.org: 

Providing Transgender People Health Care Violates Religious Beliefs, New Lawsuit Claims

From the article:

The suit claims that even providing “psychiatric support” as part of a medical transition would violate its “best medical judgment and its religious beliefs.” Even simply providing insurance coverage for such procedures would “constitute impermissible material cooperation with evil.”

Combined with a court decision last week that justified a funeral parlor firing a trans woman for religious reasons, this lawsuit sets a terrifying precedent for transgender people. If these cases reach the Supreme Court and it follows the same reasoning it used in Hobby Lobby — perhaps less likely without Justice Antonin Scalia, but still possible— it would create a society in which transgender people could legally be denied the necessary foundations of life simply because of their identities.

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Trans Girl with a Lesson Plan II

13 May, 2016
Have you ever wondered what it is like to be a trans woman trying to teach in a public high school? If so, read on and learn about my day.
     It started before I got in the building. The principal meet me outside and said that (we’ll call him) “K’s” guardian “isn’t going to let his grade stand. They’re gonna fight this.” I told him, “K has missed 29 days of school and was tardy 42 times on the days he was present. HIs grade is a 48% and he needs a 73% to pass.” The principal said, “I know, and I’ve got you 100%, but they’re gonna fight it.” So, a lovely opening to my day, but that’s not all that will happen.
     Because the seniors are no longer required to come to school, I have been substituting for other teachers. I start the day off with a teacher’s credit recovery class. I’m not in there for thirty seconds when the first of the kids comes in. He takes one look at me and says, “Oh, hell no. I’m not sittin’ in no room with an it.” They walked out and the three students behind him followed suit. In the end, I had one student in the classroom.
     Halfway through this first period, I get called down to the guidance office to talk to a student about his grades. Oh, surprise, it’s K. I explained to him exactly what I told the principal and tell him the choices he made during the school year have lead him to a point of no return. There is no recovery for fourth quarter. He will have to do summer school. Then I’m sent to sub another class.
     Twenty-minutes later I get called in to meet with a different student and his mother. When the mother enters the room she looks at me, winces, and averts her eyes. I’ve seen this before, you can’t be a trans woman and not recoginise this look. She is so disturbed or offended by what she sees when she looks at me that she cannot bring herself to look at me. My HR person had the same reaction when I came out at work; after that he never looked directly at me again. So, we all stand up to shake mom’s hand. I offer my hand and she will not shake it. I’m standing there like a dope with my hand out, as everyone looks at us feeling awkward, but not near as awkward as I felt or even awkward enough to justify not saying something about this situation. She slowly take a deep breath, holds it, loosely places her hand in mine for about two seconds, then wipes it off on her jeans while expelling her held breath so she doesn’t catch whatever disease I have. She avoids looking at me the whole time, even when I was speaking to her directly. Oh, and it is my fault her whole family is coming to see her son not graduate.
     Then it’s K again. We have to call his mom to talk about his grade. It’s a conference call with the principal and vice principal included. Mom doesn’t acknowledge my presence except to ask what work I will give him so he can graduate. I explain everything all over again. She refuses to acknowledge what I have said. I explain about the summer school program. She says, “I hope you won’t be teaching it.” That’s all I get out of her the whole meeting.
     Then it’s back to my room for thirty minutes. Five of which are taken up by K emailing me pleading me to give him some work that will raise his 48 to a 73. The next twenty-five are taken up by a student who was part of the group I sponsored. He spent his time trying to guilt trip, whine, threaten, and cry his way out of the 60% he earned. Mind you, he’s still graduating because he earned 90+ over the required percentage for the year. When that fails he tells me, “I’m disappointed in you You think that you fight for equality but you don’t. If you can’t see I’m a good kid and deserve a better grade then you don’t stand for equality.” I told him the conversation was over and he had to leave. He sat there arguing for ten minutes, refusing to leave the room, despite my asking and telling him to leave no less than seven times. He finally left when I went to page security to the room. He left saying, “I’m gonna pray for you because you need it. God bless you and thank you for the service you rendered.” I locked my door so he couldn’t come back.
     Then I dealt with another email from K. This one tells me he will be homeless if I don’t change his grade and I will have personally ruined his future.
     Now it is fourth period. I have had no lunch and no planning (which is supposed to be third period.) Instead, I go to a science classroom to sub for a ninth grade teacher. It is acknowledged by the administrator that this is a very poorly behaved class. He used the words “out of control,” Why he thought I was a good fit for that is beyond me. It takes ten minutes to get them out of the hall and seated. I have to shut and lock the door because there is a different group of ninth graders in the hall mocking the “man in the dress.” They begin banging on the door. The students ignore me, ignore the instructions, ignore the school rules, and ingnore everything except their phones. Well, all except one student, who we will call “H.” H gets on his FaceTime and begins telling a student at another school that some “he-she is supposed to be watching us.” H then tries to let the students from the hallway into the classroom. I stand in front of the door and block him. He says, “Hey, SIR, I wanna let them in.” I stand there and say nothing. He goes to sit back down saying “He looked like he wants to knock my ass.” I call for the administrator; when he arrives he takes over the class and tells me to write the boy up. I do, but I also realise that nothing will actually be done about it.
     Then it’s back to my room. I answer one more email from K who tells me I should have been telling him everyday that he was failing because the failed papers, failed tests, failed grades in the system, and the failed grades on his progress report weren’t enough to for him to know that he was failing.
     The phone rings. It’s the credit recovery teacher letting me know I’ll be teaching the seniors who failed . . . starting Monday . . . for the next month.
     I turn off the lights, curl into my desk chair, and hide in the dark for the next fifty minutes. Hoping no one else will call or knock before I can leave for the day.
That is what it is like to be a trans woman teaching in the public education system.
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Caitlín

7 April, 2016
On Monday, 1 August, 1977 a baby girl named Caitlín was born to two loving parents. They were told to raise her as a boy. No one understood that she was a girl. Her parents did a good job of raising her and gave her many moments of joy, but that joy was interspersed among gorges of self-hate, fear, and confusion about why God or the Universe would make people think she was a boy. Life was always stressful and there was a weight of pain and responsibility for other people’s happiness and welfare always dragging her below the surface.
Eventually, this all became too much. Her health declined and she came very close to her body just shutting down on her. She decided to save herself and become herself. Her parents still loved her, but she lost almost everything in the process. Much of her family, nearly every friend, her wife, her economic security, her safety leaving the house, and she was ex-communicated from her church. Her job was openly hostile and they put her in as many horrible situations as they could because they could not fire her. She almost broke.
Piece by piece, over many years, she began to rebuild her life. She deepened the few remaining friendship she had, she built new friendships, she eventually found someone who could love her for who she was. Work, however, continued to be a place of violence and abuse that whittled away at her heart, though she developed a few friendships that could provide her with safety when she most needed it. The administration, many staff, many students, and even parents were actively against her and continue to be so. They do their best to hurt her and they are trying to get her removed. Her greatest fear is that they will eventually succeed or that they will finally break her.
I am Caitlín and this is my life.
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Threat Assessment

4 June, 2014

The police handcuffed the sixteen year-old student across the still healing cut on her wrist. They marched her out of the building like a criminal, hands secured behind her back with one officer leading and a second following. They pushed her head down and tipped her into the back of their squad car. She slunk low in the seat and buried her face, hot with tears, in the shoulder of her school uniform, while students and faculty gaped and whispered non-truths. The cruiser pulled out and eased its way around the cars parents and visitors illegally parked in the school’s fire lane then drove off to, bystanders assumed, the county jail. Her arrest was gossip du jour. Rumours of how she had attacked another student, or was it a teacher, no it was an administrator, spread through the student body faster than leaked answers to the biology final. Faculty whispered in the hallways about the man, no woman, I heard middle schooler, she mugged. Around the coffee pot and antiquated, turn-dial microwave the coaches brought up gang initiations and revenge attacks. No one considered her in all this: was she safe, had she been assaulted, was she lost, afraid, or hurting? After all, she was the one in handcuffs.

Fact: her mother died in a car accident last summer.
Fact: her father is absent.
Fact: she was sent to live with her aunt and uncle to be raised with her cousins.
Fact: she was bisexual and, though supported by her mother, her guardians insisted she was not.
Fact: she was depressed.
Fact: she was self-harming as a coping strategy.

She was my student and an attendee of our LGBTQ support group. Things for her had, as they say in the Dark Tower series, gone 19. In less than a year she had been ripped from a relatively happy, C-average life and dumped in one that became too real too fast. She told me some of her struggles in fragments and bits over the course of three quarters. Like a child cupping a butterfly with a torn wing, she held her life out and, without words, begged for help. I had pieced together the fragments and recommended her for a student health and support program. I was not aware of the cutting, but I am not surprised. It is a coping strategy relied on by teenage girls (and some boys) when life has numbed them. The school nurse discovered scars and a still healing slash (evidence the cuts were deep), when she asked for an ice pack (the only treatment schools can offer). The stark reality of her situation is antithesis to the, now, pernicious rumours.

After the counsellor learned of her scarred wrist, administration acted to get her the support she needed. Their solution involved handcuffing by the police and a squad car ride to the local mental health clinic because administration feared her cutting and sexuality indicated a threat to other people. The administrators and the police assessed the situation without considering how she quietly waited for them in the guidance office or how she complied with all of their instructions. They paraded her outside the school and into the squad car like a criminal. They made her the topic of insipid gossip among students, faculty, and staff. They humiliated and stigmatised a girl struggling with depression and self-worth issues and, if she comes back, she will face the consequences of their rash and foolish decisions.

I scheduled a meeting with the counsellors and administrative staff responsible for this egregious treatment where I questioned their motives and decisions. They defended their actions based on her history as a cutter and as a bisexual. One of the administrators said, “The girl isn’t normal and that’s dangerous.” I asked why they had her arrested in order to get her to the clinic instead of by ambulance or in the care of the school’s Pupil Personnel Worker. They claimed she was a potential threat to the students and faculty and, when I pushed for an explanation, they doubled-down on their bigotry stating, “girls like that are a threat to the emotional well-being of students and the appropriate social climate of the school.” I had more questions, but they ended the meeting with a curt dismissal.

Administration is right about one thing: there is a threat. But I disagree with their assessment of it. The threat is not from the sixteen year-old girl in desperate need of better world but against her. It is a threat levied by a school system more interested in maintaining the status quo than helping emotionally scarred children. They threaten our ability to recognise the victims. Their threat violates children’s dignity and castrates our compassion. As teachers, as parents, as friends, and as sensitive human beings, we need to stand against this. We need to practice just-action as a form of radical love. We need to raise and shelter those who cannot defend themselves. We need to be better.

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The Pro from Dover

27 April, 2012

The alarm went off at six in the morning and I continued to lie there for a few minutes, smiling pleasantly to myself and the black cat, Spooky-Mulder, curled against my side. This was a rare treat for both of us, as my Friday morning alarm is typically set for five. Today, I was not going to work. I would still teach and still interact with students, but none of them would be my students.

I began my transition a year a ago; well just a smidgen, as A.A. Milne would say, over a year ago. And in my transition, my regeneration, I still feel closer to the residents of the 100 Aker Wood than I do a mature and knowledge adult. My world is still centred around the joy and anguish of discovery. Everything is still new, sensations, expectations, introspections, and socialisations. Like the little girl I was and wasn’t, I am in constant awe of a world that is not what it seems and hides a myriad of pleasant and unpleasant surprises. Like all children, I am primarily hedonistic. With so much that is new it is impossible not to be. Yet, on an increasing basis I find myself being pulled from my life as a child of the Wood and into the role of the expert. Like Hawkeye Pierce, I find myself having to answer the question ‘who are you?’ with ‘I am the pro from Dover.’

That is why I got to sleep an extra hour; I am being called upon as the pro, again. In the last eight months I have been on a panel discussing the experience of being part of the Gender and Sexuality Minorities (GSM) community in the field of education, spoken to high school Gay-Staight Alliance (GSA) groups, unofficially found myself a mentor to two young lesbians, and been asked to be the sponsor for a teenage survivors of sexual assault support group. This time I am speaking to a class of Washington, DC high schoolers on the topic of trans and homophobia. ‘I am the pro from Dover.’

I was a tad nervous going in, but nothing compared to the first few times I did this and certainly nothing compared to the nerves of ‘coming out’ to family and friends. It was more the general social anxiety I feel when interacting with any person or group where I am the primary focus and I need to watch for social cues I feel disconnected from. I would feel more at home in the Ancient Library of Alexandria or the TARDIS than I do in professional situations or groups larger than three. I’m just not a socialite. So how did I get in the position I am now? How did I become ‘the pro from Dover’?

I question this. Surely, there are more qualified people with a greater breadth and depth of experience and knowledge than I. There are local trans women whose transition began longer ago, who have experienced more discrimination, who could speak with greater authority. It’s not that I have not experienced these things for I have been the victim of discrimination, bigotry fueled assault, transmisogyny, and phobias, but I do not feel my voice is worthy of being heard, that my experiences are in any way defining or particularly unique. So how did a person of novels and papers get to be the pro from Dover? The only answer I have found is it is my status as a child of the Wood that makes me a desirable speaker. I always enjoy myself and bring my marvelling at life to the conversation. Having the opportunity to express what I have experienced, getting the chance to share thoughts and opinions, spreading the sense of wonder and delight I take from the world, and helping others see the familiar in new and inspiring ways is a source of great joy. And maybe that’s what is required. Maybe it is the embracing of, the relishing in the world and its treasures that makes one ‘the pro from Dover,’ or from anywhere else!

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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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This is Public Opinion

15 March, 2012

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I suspect I know who posted this to me. I think it is interesting that they should have such a violent reaction to my decrying of violence against another human being. Clearly they have had some difficult experiences in the education system.

I would like to state for the record that the teacher who was beaten was a fifty-six year-old woman with an unblemished record. She has been teaching for thirty years. She is a sweet lady who bends backwards to help her students. The thing she did wrong? She told the student to put her phone away during class. That’s all. She didn’t try to take it, she didn’t hang it up or power it down, which I know some teachers do. She just said, you need to put the phone away.

The student who attacked her was kicked out of two other schools in the county for disruptive and violent behaviour and was on probation for assaulting a police officer while being disciplined at her previous school.

Anyone who has the guts to say a person deserves being beaten to the point of hospitalisation, is in serious need of therapy. Clearly, there are unresolved issues that need to be addressed. Further, this mentality that teachers “deserve it” is part of the problem with the American education system. It is never the fault of administration for a failure to support teachers, parents for failing to instil an appreciation of hard work and moral behaviour, or—goddess forbid—the student’s failure to own their behaviour and accept responsibility for their actions.

This “Anon’s” response is further proof of the degradation of personal responsibility and the general lack of autonomy and morality that is plaguing our culture.