How I felt coming out as trans in school
Ronan talks about the positive steps his school took to support his transition, as well as the challenges he faced
My name is Ronan and I’m an 18 year old trans guy. I’d like to share a bit about my experience coming out in an all girls school. As a trans person in a single-sex school, my experience of secondary school was different to most others. As a 12 year old going into first year I barely knew what being transgender meant. All I knew was that I was different to the girls in my year, but I didn’t know exactly how.
LGBTI+ topics were never discussed in the classroom, especially in the Junior Cycle. I became very introverted and shy because I was confused about my identity. I felt like I was the only person in the world who was feeling like this.
Coming out to my teacher
I came out to a teacher I trusted when I was in 3rd year. Thankfully I got nothing but support. This teacher was a huge help for me in starting the transition process in school. They stood by me when I came out to my Principal and Vice Principal, which was a really nerve-wracking experience. They were always there for me when I needed help or advice. Having a supportive teacher was so important for me. They gave me the courage to tell others about my gender identity and I knew I could go to that teacher if I was having any problems with my transition.
Challenges in school
Although my school supported my transition, I did face some challenges. Being in an all-girls school, we didn’t have trousers as part of the uniform. When I came out I was allowed to wear the tracksuit bottoms instead of the skirt. At first, I was just happy to be wearing something that matched my gender identity, but I soon started to notice that I stuck out even more because I wasn’t wearing a full uniform. When my year went out on trips in our uniform, I felt embarrassed that I wasn’t representing my school well because I was the only one not in a proper uniform.
After a year of wearing the tracksuit bottoms, my school was due to have a whole school evaluation. I approached my Principal and asked her what I should wear. I was shocked to hear my Principal say that I could wear proper uniform trousers which were readily available in the shop where the rest of our uniform is sold. Of course, I was happy that I could now wear a proper uniform, but I was so disappointed that they hadn’t allowed me to do that before then. To me, it really felt as if they only did it because we were having inspectors in, and I was really hurt by that.
Another challenge I faced was with gendered language. Being an all-girls school many teachers were used to calling us “girls”, “ladies” or “young women”. I spoke with each of my teachers about this to let them know how it made me feel. I asked them to try to be more aware of their use of gendered language. Some of my teachers made a huge effort to
adjust their language. I was so thankful for that because it made me feel like the
teachers really heard me and cared about me. Others made less of an effort and it was really hard for me to go into school every day knowing I would be called a girl and misgendered after weeks of being gendered correctly. One thing that was particularly upsetting was when teachers would address my class as “ladies and Ronan”. This made me feel othered and excluded, and that I was different to everyone else in my class.
Positives changes in schools to help trans students
Choice of uniforms
From my experience, I would say that the main thing that needs to change in single-sex schools are for trousers to be available for all students. I think this is a really easy change to make. It would have helped me as I wouldn’t have felt so different being the only person in the school wearing trousers.
More LGBTI+ education
I think that gender identity should be a bigger part of the RSE curriculum, especially in Junior Cycle. It would be so much more beneficial in Junior Cycle because by the time myself and my friends had reached Senior Cycle, we had already figured everything out through the internet. I would suggest for schools to get experts in, from TENI or BelongTo for example/ I think it’s important to train teachers to teach LGBTI+ topics in RSE, as it is no good asking teachers to teach a topic which they may not have much experience in.
LGBTI+ Safe Space
We should also move away from gendered language. This includes in assemblies when addressing a class, and on notes sent home. Having an LGBTI+ safe space in school is important because it shows that the school is accepting of the LGBTI+ community. It is important for trans people, in particular, to feel that their school is taking a proactive approach in supporting LGBT students.
Respect students’ pronouns and names
Unfortunately, I am not alone in my secondary school experience as a trans student. If teachers or peers are not respecting your name or pronouns, don’t be apologetic about correcting them. It’s okay to be assertive and insist that people respect your name and pronouns. It’s okay if you need to try out different names or pronouns. I didn’t get it right the first time either. The most important thing is to remember that you are valid!
Support from others
If you are someone who is struggling with the reaction from your school after coming out, the biggest piece of advice I can give is to reach out to friends you trust for support. My friends were such a huge support for me before I came out in school. They were willing to try out different names, even when I asked them not to use my preferred name with anyone else. Although they couldn’t quite understand exactly how I was feeling, their support meant so much to me. If you don’t want to talk to your friends about it, have a look at TENI or BelongTo as they have great resources and other young trans people you can talk to.