What should I do if I think a pupil is trans?
You might think, or suspect that a pupil is trans, but until they tell you how they feel, you can’t know. Steer clear of prying though, you want them to know they can come to you in their own time. What you can do is listen to and respect your pupils' decisions about how they want to express themselves and their gender – respecting if they prefer a nickname for example, and making sure the school doesn't pressure pupils to wear gendered clothing - uniform policies, for example should offer a range of options available to all pupils.
You can also create a school environment where pupils feel able to be themselves and talk to you, as their teacher, about their gender, knowing you’ll be supportive. If a pupil is trans they will probably be very alert to the attitudes towards LGBT people in your school. This might include challenging gender stereotypes, saying positive things about LGBT people, and particularly trans people, when they’re in the media or on TV, and not letting people say negative things about LGBT people in your classroom. You should also look at your school policies and make sure they are clear and explicit about tackling transphobic bullying, and that this is well communicated to staff.
What should I do if a pupil tells me they are trans?
If a pupil confides in you that they are, or think they might be trans, the first thing you should do if reassure them that it is okay, and that you will keep this information confidential until they want it to go any further. You should ask questions about what support they would like from the school, and you could let them know about LGBT youth groups and support services in your area (there are links to relevant services at the bottom of this page).
The young person may want to take steps to transition at school, but don't assume they want to do everything immediately. The first time they come to you, they may well just want to tell someone how they are feeling and get reassurance.
Who should I tell?
Being trans should not be treated as a child protection issue in itself, and therefore you should not pass this information on to anyone else without the young person's consent, unless there are additional concerns about their well-being or mental health.
In the longer term the young person may want your support to tell other people including their parents, the school leadership, other teachers or their classmates, but how and when these conversations happen should be led by the young person. Until this point, however, the information should be treated as confidential.
Might this just be a phase?
We all know that growing up can be confusing, particularly where feelings are concerned. Some teachers are concerned when a pupil tells them that they are trans that it is just a phase, that the pupil is too young to be sure, or that their might be external pressures from family and friend groups, and they are concerned about the long term impact of their decision. Dismissing it as a phase, however, will make it seem like you’re not taking them seriously, and undermine their confidence. It may well have taken a lot of guts to come to you about this in the first place!
It is important that you give the pupil the time and space to explore how they are feeling. Don’t pressure them to make any decisions too quickly, but be led by what they want and need.
If you are seriously concerned, remember that the decisions your pupil makes to support their transition under the age of 16 are not irreversible. Young people can take hormone blockers to allow them the time to consider their feelings without having to go through puberty which would make their body more masculine/feminine. If they then decide this is “just a phase” they will simply be able to stop taking the blockers and puberty will start as normal. Similarly, if they decide to change their name (with the support of their parents), in Scotland it is possible, and relatively straight forward, to change your name again.
Bear in mind, however, that it is relatively unusual for trans young people to change their mind. To undermine how they are feeling is likely to do more harm. In particular, trans young people who do not have support from their school and families are more likely to suffer from mental health problems, and it may also affect their ability to concentrate at school and educational attainment.
What if their parents aren't supportive?
Some parents find it difficult or upsetting when they find out their child is trans, but most parents simply want their child to be happy. If parents are finding it difficult to accept their child as being trans, remember that at the end of the day, your duty is to protect the best interests of your pupil, and that if things are difficult at home it is even more important that they feel supported in school.
Be clear about what you do and don't need parent's approval for. For example, teachers wouldn't normally seek parental approval to call a child by a nickname, so it shouldn't be necessary to get approval to use their preferred name in the classroom. Depending on your school policy, however, you may need parental consent to change school records if the pupil is under the age of 16.
Some of the things you might want to consider include:
- should the class register to be changed to a different name?
- which toilets/ changing rooms would the pupil prefer to use?
- does the pupil want to change the uniform they wear?
- who does the young person want to be told about this, and how should that happen?
Schools should make sure that the young person is involved in these decisions as much as possible, and your education authority should have guidance on supporting trans young people. Stonewall Scotland can help develop this guidance as well as providing information and support. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org or 0131 474 8019.
LGBT Youth Scotland has a number of youth groups across Scotland, which offer support and practical guidance to LGBT Young People. There is a trans-only group which meets every second Monday in Glasgow. They have also produced this handy guide to coming out as trans.
TransparenTsees – group for parents of trans people
1st Thursday of the month, 6-8pm
2nd Floor at Sandyford, 2-6 Sandyford Place, Glasgow G3 7NB
The aim of the group, which has been set up by parents, is to provide a confidential, safe place for parents to meet, discuss issues and ask questions of one another. You may just have found out that your child, whether young or grown-up, is trans, or you may still be grappling with the issues after many years of knowing – the group is for all parents. Please contact: TransparenTsees@gmail.com for more details.
Parents Enquiry Scotland is a voluntary organization which provides information and support for parents whose children have come out as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. You can contact them on 0131 556 6047 or 0141 427 3897 between 9am-9pm or email email@example.com
Mermaids UK offers support to trans young people and their families. Check out their website at www.mermaidsuk.org.uk