Being pansexual is an important part of my identity, and though it was summer when I discovered this, it significantly influenced my experiences in school. I did not struggle much, because my identity was easy to hide, and it took me a while to embrace it fully and to actually meet other people that were queer as well. However, in the three years that I have identified as a radical intersectional feminist and socialist, I have learned more about the LGBT community both online and in person than I ever could have imagined. Though my personal experiences do not reflect the deep struggles of the queer population, many members of the community have made clear to me the rights they deserve and the help that they need to succeed in a school setting.
There are two types of challenges that we can face, internal and external. LGBT people in school face both of these challenges for different reasons. Some examples of external challenges LGBT people face are bullying, microaggressions (small gestures that still uphold the system that oppresses LGBT people), or difficulty finding a partner. Some examples of internal challenges LGBT people can face are conflict about their identities, mental health afflictions (depression, anxiety, complex ptsd, etc), self-hatred, the urge to self harm, or the presence of suicidal thoughts.
One of my closest friends’ (let’s call him Dirk) gender identity was pushed to the side for his entire life. Because of things like his abusive father and his family’s struggle to make ends meet, he never spent time thinking about his gender, like many other LGBT children whom have trouble at home. He always dressed masculine, and would frequently be called “young man” by unknowing friends’ parents - and while everyone in the room was embarrassed, he never seemed to care. His only response was “Actually, I’m biologically female,” and would chuckle as said parent apologized profusely.
During the winter of our junior year, he came out to me as transgender online, and already being an activist for almost two years, I was excited to help him come up with a nice nickname that made him feel more comfortable. After this, he slowly came out to our group of friends at school; some of them laughed and said they already knew. I remember feeling so lit up about his “new” identity, and was enthusiastic to relay the message to everyone, including his teachers. However, I knew that we had to take things slowly, because one wrong move could make him the victim bullying by his peers, and alienation by his teachers.
A few months later, most of our friends knew Dirk’s preferred name, and what pronouns to use when talking about him in the third person. When he joined marching band the following season, I made a point to speak loudly when referring to him with masculine pronouns around our band director and the staff. Twice a week in the summer we would rehearse, and by the time we went to band camp up in Pennsylvania, many of the members of the ensemble caught on to Dirk’s identity. It didn’t take the staff long to understand, either. My band director asked our drum major what was going on, and she simply told him “Dirk is a guy, and prefers to be referred to with he/him pronouns when talked about in the third person.” And with that, I spent my last band season beside one of my closest friends, and knowing that the staff and most of the students in the ensemble were on board with Dirk’s identity made me so happy.
However, Dirk had dark times throughout those two years just as many LGBT students do. Forced to use the girls’ bathroom out of fear, he felt incredibly out of place. During band camp, I waited for him outside of the shower in the girls’ bathroom and comforted him afterwards for about an hour in my dorm. These types of struggles are extremely common within the transgender population, and the unique and heart-wrenching feeling of not being comfortable with (one or more aspects of) your physical body is called dysphoria.
Many of his teachers (two of them we shared) were confused because he was listed as female, along with his birth name, on the class roster. There was one particular teacher that we both shared that would refer to him as a girl, no matter how loudly I articulated my ‘he’s and ‘him’s. However, since he never contacted his teachers to explain his identity, I can’t blame our teacher that much. But whenever she misgendered Dirk, it made both of us extremely uncomfortable. I do believe that if one student consistently refers to a friend of theirs with a certain set of pronouns in front of an educator (for an entire year), that educator should catch on somewhat.
I will say this: radical change requires education, commitment and willingness to unlearn harmful concepts (whether they are sociopolitical or not). All faculty in educational systems must be fully educated about the LGBT community. For example, many people refuse to acknowledge the existence of bisexual people, using arguments like “just pick a side”, or “you’re just confused”. Obviously, not everyone is open about their opinions, especially educators. An educator that is uninformed about LGBT culture and identities may not say anything offensive, but if a student came to them for help, their negative and inaccurate opinions would influence their response. LGBT students are running out of safe places and people to turn to, and it shows in the statistics; suicide is the leading cause of death of gay and lesbian youth in the US. This is why teaching educators about the intricacies of their identities could change and even save lives.Holly Jarrett