Such a simple concept yet so hard to abide by when faced with the fear of the unknown. This past month has been filled with more unknowns than we are used to dealing with for Sam. As one of 600 sophomores starting high school within our district this fall, he experienced much of the same anxiety as his fellow classmates. I am sure many of you can remember worrying about being able to find your classrooms within an unfamiliar building, or fearing you might not have anyone to sit with at lunch, not to mention keeping up with the homework demands that are greatly stepped up from your middle school career. But as a transgender student, Sam also had a unique set of concerns that I think, it is safe to say, never crossed the minds of the other 599 sophomores nor their families.
Would his teachers be supportive not only academically but also when it came to protecting him from bigotry, should the need arise?
Would the administration stand behind their zero tolerance policy for bullying, fostering an environment where Sam could feel safe to learn?
Which restrooms could he use? Could he move beyond using the school nurse’s restroom (the only solution in middle school), which is not only impractical with a seven minute passing time between classes in a large building, but also stigmatizing in and of itself.
As a member of the marching band, where would he change his clothes before performances? And when he goes to the designated place for sophomore boys to be fitted for their uniforms, would there be a teacher present to deal with any under-the-breath comments or outright taunts as he has experienced in the past with similar gender-specific activities?
All of these concerns and then some were going through our minds (and Sam’s), as we sent him off to high school on that crisp autumn morning. But then a funny thing happened. Or perhaps a better way to describe it is that nothing happened. And that made us very happy. As is usually the case, most of the things we worry about never come to be. Trust me, I know. As a career worrier I’ve got data to support that statement. In fact, we should have expected joy, because that is exactly what we experienced during Sam’s first month of high school.
To begin with, we could not have asked for better teachers – meeting with them the week before school started, they allowed Sam to look at their class lists to not only designate kids who would be allies for him, but also to indicate those whom he had problems with in the past. No sense seating him next to trouble, they reasoned out loud, when they could just as easily seat him next to peace. Brilliant.
Restrooms? Not an issue – use whichever one you want – was the direction given – an incredibly refreshing position that seemed like common sense to our family.
And as for band, well those fears were unfounded as well. As it turns out, band uniforms are worn over gym shorts and t-shirts so there is no need to change clothes. When it was time to be fitted for his uniform he reported to the assigned room and nothing happened except that he got to know some guys in line while he waited for his fitting. No one within our family would have guessed this mundane task would be so liberating.
Expect joy. That is the lesson to be learned from today’s post boys and girls, which is easier said than done. Having been at this now for over 10 years, I know better than to give in to the fears that come with raising a gender variant child, but I don’t always have the inner strength to stand tall. Some days it takes every fiber of my being to hope for the best without simultaneously expecting the worst, a fact that I wish wasn’t true about myself. But now I have one more positive experience that I can tuck away in my memory bank to save for a rainy day, knowing I can call upon it when I need help remembering that I should expect only joy.