When my son Leo was in middle school, he was diagnosed with food allergies. As a teenager with new allergies to peanuts, tree nuts, and soy, this automatically labeled him “other.” He became “that kid,” the reason students in his classes couldn’t eat lunch during academic periods or bring contraband snacks or treats to celebrate birthdays. And I became “that mother” because his teachers allowed students to eat lunch during band or refused to enforce the policies already in place that would keep my son safe.
Middle school was also when Leo began to understand that he was not developing in the way he expected to. Puberty had hit, and his body wasn’t changing externally in a way that matched the way he felt internally. Leo began to understand that something wasn’t right, even if he didn’t understand what that something was. He didn’t have the word transgender until high school. He chose not to come out then.
And while only Leo has the specific reasons why I think I can understand some of them. Living in a small, rural community, coming out as transgender during high school would’ve labeled him as “other.”
One more label to wear to separate him from his classmates.
When Leo came out during his freshman year in college, he had the support of the LGBTQ+ community on his campus. His college was in the process of creating gender-inclusive housing. All of the barriers that had Leo thinking he wanted to wait until he graduated from college were falling to the wayside, and he realized he could be living his best life right then.
It would have been possible for Leo to come out as transgender sooner but not have socially transitioned. That means he could have told us, his family, that he was transgender. We could have used one name and set of pronouns at home. Leo could have dressed how he wanted around us. And at school and around his friends, he could have kept using the name and pronouns and gender presentation everyone knew him as already. But it was Leo’s choice, and that’s not what he wanted.
Some kids do choose it, and it’s not an unusual thing to happen when they come out as transgender. Some children are ready to be out but not to everyone. Some are ready to be out only to family and very close friends. Your child might not be comfortable presenting their true identity in public at first or for a long while. It might be too scary. They may not be comfortable figuring out how to navigate school or sports or friends and all that entails. Transition looks different for every child and every family.
Let your child lead the way when it comes to who to tell and when.
This includes being back at school. You only have to tell your child’s teacher if that’s what your child wants. Your child might start the year using one name and set of pronouns. They may transition to another before the year is over. That’s okay. Kids are more resilient than we think, and they go with the flow. Teachers are skilled at inclusion and ensure that every child feels safe and accepted in their class. There’s a good chance that your child won’t be the first transgender child they’ve had. Your child might not even be the only transgender child in their class.
It feels scary to us to think about our children being out in school because we naturally want to protect them. When they are out of our sight, we have to give over that protection to someone else. Your child’s teacher will work with you to ensure that they are welcomed and accepted no matter how your child presents at school.
But accept that your child may not want to be out at school. That school might not feel like a safe place for them, for whatever their reasons are. And their reasons don’t have to make sense to you. You can try to rationalize your child’s fears, but they need to feel like school is safe. Until they do, all you can do is follow your child’s lead.
If you are looking for resources to help your child’s teacher or the administration support your child in the best way possible, I have a post here that will help.