Today I talked with four different young people about some pretty big stuff. Three guys in a row were trying to figure out how to talk to family about what there were going through. One had already tried and had been told they were ‘wrong about themselves’. Another had shared parts and the third was wondering about how to ease Mum and Dad into the bigger picture.
Seeing a counsellor at school can be pretty daunting, so it was really great when one guy said ‘wassup bro’ as he left in a friendly acknowledgement to the other guy waiting to see me. It was a simple transaction of recognition that left me feeling at peace and sad that others might be out there without a support network.
The thing is I’m working at an ‘all girls’ school and these guys are all on their own unique journeys of gender identity but all of them see themselves as male. It is interesting listening to what their main needs and concerns are about school, compared to what I hear teachers and parents sometimes naming as the ‘big issues’. Sometimes they overlap but I’d like to share just a couple of simple things that have come through generally from school students. This is by no means a checklist but might help as a starting point:
- Understand that how someone identifies in terms of gender/sex does not determine their sexuality. Who people are into might change, it might not. There is no ‘formula’ for balancing it all out into some kind of common expression.
- Asking personal questions about people’s bodies and ‘parts’ and whether they are going to have (or have had) surgery is not cool – neither is trying to ‘feel’ what’s down there! Looking up horror stories online and sharing can be traumatic and upsetting. Asking what pronouns or names people prefer is a more respectful and easy way to show acceptance and support. You can also look at supporting someone to talk to a GP about options, for example, getting onto hormones that help the body change gears and become more like the preferred sex/gender.
- Recognise they are the same person so, if they come out as trans*, they do not get some other downloaded identity and show up the next day a completely different person. Keep calm and carry on what you talked about the day before – also respect their privacy – do not tell people unless they have said it’s ok – but I’d still be careful.
- Get some GOOD information – go to the RainbowYOUTH website or check out whatever local LGBT+ support services you have. Remember, if you go to overseas sites for information, it might not apply to New Zealand.
- Finally – for parents: Young people want to protect parents from hurt and upset, but they also want your support and it’s ok to be confused, not understand or not know how to respond. Something I encourage any parent to do is to notice the clues young people give about the sexuality or gender and not to dismiss them. ASK: ‘Are you questioning your sexuality?’ ‘Are you questioning your gender?’ Hugs are a good response and so are tears – hugs also allow you to talk while not looking at the person, a handy and often overlooked benefit. Get support, again RainbowYOUTH has excellent resources. Maintaining privacy is really important. In my role as a counsellor, one of the biggest differences to the well-being of young trans people is parent support, and there IS support for parents.
While big changes like bathrooms and uniform options are important, it is in the daily trans-actions we have with each other that respect and support are generated.
I have blogged about school balls before. I thought I was over it. But it just keeps popping up like a painful blister from wearing high heels (apparently – I don’t wear heels – I get altitude sickness – and I never passed my femininity licence).
A school has decided it can veto the style of dress worn. The main issue is the amount of skin being shown. Now on the face of it, that does sound a little OTT. However, it is a Catholic school. Why should that make a difference? Well, it is about what values the school is upholding. This is a religious school, with a particular set of ideologies and beliefs about modesty and the body. So I am not shocked that they have taken this stance. I’m more shocked that people attending the school would be. I think some people forget that Christianity is a religion.
Schools already have a sense of ownership around policing bodies, uniforms do that well and this is a school event.It kind of fits with representing the school image, like sports teams. What I do take issue with is not being able to take shoes off if they are hurting. Those wearing high heels have to suffer in order to maintain the forced gender code of femininity even if it results in excruciating pain and discomfort. I can see that being a fun night on the dance floor. My tip – just don’t wear heels or take two pairs of shoes, one for show and one for go! Another solution is to have uniform ball dresses, now there’s an idea – along with uniform ball jewellery. Let’s go all the way and have set hair styles and makeup. For guys lets say they must keep their tie and jacket on all night, gotta have some gender equality somewhere.
So as all schools head into ball season lets get a bit of a reality check. It is an old tradition we haven’t quite integrated into the 21st-century ideas of diversity and difference. It is the ‘Straightrix’ – like The Matrix that codes all forms of gender and sexuality norms. If you know that you can choose to take the blue pill for the night (no I am not encouraging drug use – see the movie!) go for it and have a fun night.
I remember my Mum telling me how they used to make the girls at school kneel down to check the length of their skirts. That was in the 1950’s and times have changed – or have they?
When I read about Henderson High School enforcing the knee length uniform rule I was transported back in time for a moment. If skirts are such a problem and knees are such a distraction then why not just get rid of skirts all together?
I suspect schools want to put their fingers in their ears and go ‘nanananana I can’t hear you’ if someone tries to point out the teenagers are sexual beings. So I make a plea to young people in schools of all genders, if your school does not have choice available ask why not? Start a conversation with your health teacher about how guys and girls are similar rather than different. Challenge statements from teachers that say ‘all guys or all girls’ are like that.
Why are schools so determined to keep boys and girls so clearly defined through uniforms? What might happen if students all wore the same thing? What if ALL schools had the same uniform?! Now that is a question schools probably want to skirt around.
Well I’m not sure how to bring this up but sex is everywhere. I think the leap in technology has the generation gap about as wide and deep as the Grand Canyon or the Mariana trench (bit of a geography lesson on the side). Problem is parents and young people get a bit awkward talking about sex anyway, so talking about pornography is probably right up there with topics likely to induce a heart attack. Realistically the statics say 90% of boys and 60% of girls have seen porn. Now back in the day like maybe 20 years ago, people had to buy magazines or hand over their ID to a video store. These days it’s the click of a button away and with cameras these days people are sharing more and more images, including themselves (I talked about this in my other blog).
Funny thing is no-one really talks about horniness or being ‘turned on’ by stuff. I don’t think people watch pornography for the plot, drama or suspense so let’s get real, sexual urges are normal for girls and guys and everyone else in between. But porn doesn’t always show what is realistic, kind of like driving cars and street racing isn’t like it is in The Fast And The Furious.
If you have mates that are into it and you think they are about to jump in and put the foot down without realising what they might really be getting into, send them to It’s Time We Talked. It’s got stuff for young people, parents and schools to think about.
There might be a bit of a generation gap happening with technology but some things like respect, trust and support are timeless. If you are not sure and need some help you can talk to netsafe anonymously.
If you are at student at a secondary school in New Zealand there is a good chance you’ve been taught health. I really like the idea of Hauora – total well-being, our being is more than just our bodies. I remember health when I was at school but sex education will be forever etched in my mind as nothing but awkward and I’m pretty sure I came away with the impression that sex would result in some terrible disease or pregnancy or both. But what I also remember is not much was said about sexuality or gender. I think the words lesbian and gay were mentioned but that was it. But I think I was lucky to even hear that.
So there was nothing for anyone questioning gender, sexuality or even the idea that you might not be entirely sure. But there is now a great resource, it’s called Inside Out and it is free to download and use. It explains and sheds light on all those places some teachers never go, like intersex, transgender, bisexual and does it with simple straight up real people. If your school hasn’t found their way to this fantastic resource send the link to your teacher and ask them to take a look. Or ask rainbow youth to pass it on. Knowledge helps to reduce fear and ignorance and sometimes that is all some people need, a chance to ask questions and get a bit more understanding.
I know many young people who find who they are is never acknowledged or represented. My experience is that while sexuality (lesbian gay and to some extent bisexuality) is talked about transgender and intersex is not and we need to open up the conversations, let’s get this rainbow full spectrum.
Finally if you really want to test your teachers knowledge ask them what a gubernaculum is. It’s also a really great scrabble word.