One in 137 high school students in America identify as transgender. For 150,000 American teenagers, their sense of personal identity and gender does not correspond with their birth sex.
“I was really excited because I had finally figured out what it was that I had felt was in a way the part of me that was missing,” said CJ, an upperclassmen, who came out as trans his junior year. CJ came out to his friends first, and came out to his teachers and school after writing his preferred name on a paper in class.
“I wrote my name on the piece of paper and my teacher asked me over and I had completely forgotten that I had written my name on it. And my teacher called me over and she was like ‘Hey I know this is your handwriting, do you wanna let me know about that,’” said CJ. So i came out to her and it was a really cool moment because she was like “okay cool” and asked me about change in pronouns, [so] I went ahead and told her to use he/his pronouns.
Hayden, an underclassmen, came out in 8th grade, felt supported but his friends, but received a less supportive reaction from his teachers.
“Teachers looked at me different, like ´Why did you just throw your life away.´ ´You had so much potential and then you decided to do this,’” said Hayden. “‘You´ve always wanted to be special why are you trying so hard to set yourself apart.’”
For both students, their friends were accepting of their decision and willing to support them.
“It was really easy to talk to them and say ‘Hey this is me’ and this is what I need you guys to do in order for me to feel safe and respected,” CJ said. “And they went completely along with it.”
Home life provides another story for CJ, who is not out to his parents, parents less accepting of his identity.
“My reality is that I might be kicked out when I come out to my parents so the probability of losing contact with my siblings really messes me up a bit,” he said.
Even little things like writing his name on a homework sheet causes a potential problem.
“I’m living a split life is what it is,” CJ said. “I have homework at home and I have my preferred name on it instead of my birth name, so I always have to be looking over my shoulder to make sure my mom or dad don’t see that I have my name written there.“
Hayden shares a similar experience, his step-mom left the house after he came out becuase she didn’t want her child to be around him.
Teenagers who make the brave decision to come out are faced with judgement and pressure at a time in life when it already feels like the whole world is against them.
Hayden faced extreme amounts of pressure from the community around him to present himself in the way that others were comfortable with, not what he was comfortable, resulting in a struggle with anorexia and self-harm.
“There’s a lot of pressure to identify with the most biased form [of gender],” Hayden said. “I’ve had people tell me I would never pass unless I’m skinny enough.”
CJ especially notices this at school, having never paid a lot of attention to how he presents himself, but noting that as after coming out he became very conscious of the way people addressed him. Hayden identifies as gender fluid and non-binary, presenting as male, but dresses androgynous, which makes him a target for derogatory terms in the hallway.
CJ expresses that he generally passed as male, but that doesn’t make it any less uncomfortable of a transition, specifically in the bathrooms.
Sequoia has one gender neutral bathroom next to gym two, and one in the health office, a several minute walk for the majority of students on campus.
“The bathroom situation is a bit tricky sometimes,” CJ said. “I am someone who passes as malke so it’s pretty okay, but I definitely had situations when I came out where I was terrified.”
When it comes to official names at school, things become more complicated. The name that appears on the school’s official record is the student’s legal name, so for students like CJ and their birth name is the name that gets called on every first day, with every sub and appears on every transcript. A student can choose to add a nickname to the record, but then their preferred name and identity become temporary.
“It definitely sucks that legally my name is the name that my parents gave me,” CJ said. “All of these documents are just another paper trail of the person I’m supposed to be according to my parents and that’s a moment of despair.”
When Hayden started high school his name hadn’t been officially changed, which his parents have since changed, but he is using a ‘middle name,’ one for now, because it is still a conflict in his house.
From his experience, Hayden thinks that for a safer community, gender identity should be taught, not glorifying it like sex ed.
“If you can’t stay safe at home, why not stay safe at school,” Hayden said.
CJ is an active member of the Gay-Straight Alliance and works with staff to provide education and templates on how to address transgender students and their preferred names. For him, school is a safe place, where he has received acceptance and support from students and teachers.
“Everyone is very open and loving and I have found myself closer to a lot of my friends than I did before,” CJ said. “School is the one place where I’m open.”
Students names have been changed for purposes of anonymity