I’ve been trying to work out why when I first tried to transition I was treated so badly, why was there such discrimination. I’m trying to do this in a way that bears positive fruit, I spent enough time way back then angry, upset and very frustrated as the price for such discrimination was losing my career.
After nearly three years in legal action I’d lost the confidence to teach.
Teaching is about habitual routines; the register, the room layout, curriculum, ways of seeing, looking, listening and teaching, methodologies, meetings, timetables, seating plans/no seating plans, sequences.
Transitioning is about change on every level; visual, spoken, listening, signifiers, placement within social structures (often misogynist), interactions, confidence.
When you transition as a teacher, I was first secondary and then primary, you are asking a system built on habitual routines to step back and allow change to manifest in complete view. In effect you are creating a space for change out of the space created for order.
As 95% of the population is said to not personally know a person who is trans , then it stands to reason that senior leaders in schools will more than likely fall into this group and when they are asked to support a member of staff who wishes to transition it is no wonder that they cannot contextualise the process of change that they are being asked to manage.
(Like I said before I am trying to understand, I am not condoning negative or weak behaviour or leadership)
Leaders will more than likely have never seen the process of transitioning and will have no idea therefore of the ramifications of the process on the ‘order of their structures’, internal – staff, pupils, curriculum, external – community, governors, local press.
Their minds rush to the most disorderly scenarios.
Because that is their job.
Their remit and scope is to ensure that all and any eventualities are covered. But this process of ‘apparently changing’ gender is not something they have potentially and probably encountered and it is not something that they professionally or personally have frames of reference for.
So how can they manage it?
The government haven’t yet issued guidelines and there has been no training (apart from that delivered by me and others like me) so head teachers are working blind on this one and have to trust their intuition.
Ironically trusting their intuition was potentially much easier twenty or thirty years ago before they had such a punishing regime of observations, league tables and funding linked to results. Heads back in the ‘good old days’ could craft their responses based on what they knew and what they know about their community. On their own sense of self and sense of what their teams could do and not do. It’s tough for heads now to know how to respond to those things, those personal situations that crop up that they have no familiarity with. I am not saying that senior leaders back then would have facilitated transition more positively but that their jobs allowed them to develop empathic links to their community. Head teachers then were often heads of one school for their professional lives.
So to put it simply we have insecure, nervous and unsure leaders of schools who may not know their communities deeply being asked to support and facilitate a process which appears (on the surface) to utterly disrupt the very structures they work hard to create.
Nervous leadership, insecure leadership cannot countenance change being good for the community.
Strong leadership, confident leadership can understand and embrace the idea that change can not only add to the fabric of the community but can improve the very personality that defines a community.
I do understand that head teachers are nervous, overloaded and insecure about their very jobs but clinging onto structural-simulacra is no way to imbue systems with greater stability. If we want great heads we must improve their ‘change management’ strategies.
Create bolder, more confident heads and show them how to facilitate change when they are being blitzed by governmental demands for growth and stability.
Something else that is clear to me is the difference in attitudes within the primary system and the secondary system. I experienced trying to and then successfully transitioning within both sectors and also of teaching in both sectors.
I can therefore speak entirely from experience and not in any abstract form.
Primary schools are much more tied into structures of ‘gendered stereotypes’ than secondary schools. Primary schools are about developing and bringing out personalities and secondary schools are much more concerned with pushing the boundaries of capability and experimentation. This can be seen in the curriculum, uniform and outcomes.
I do have to add a caveat here that this current government is doing all it can to neutralise the creative curriculums that had started to quite brilliantly shape our schools. Not everywhere but pockets of vibrancy were emerging in creative subjects like literacy and in the sciences. Bold teachers really pushing the curriculum to places it needed to go. Unfortunately even the bravest teacher now finds their ‘Guided Reading’ session broken down into many logical parts and activities aside expressive reading for pleasure because fiction is a wonderful thing. Where once stood a creative display now stands a display with layer upon layer of purpose and meaning.
But still primary schools are more tied into ideas about gender because very young people are developing their identities and primary schools use gender to establish ‘hetronormative’ behaviour and expression. It’s about having a class of thirty upwards and using the demarcation of gender as a way to give some superficial structure. Lines, books, lessons, content, expectations, expressed behaviour, playground activities, concerns and feedback.
Primary teachers are using gender as a way to create structure in order to hang existing school structure upon.
Existing school structures include rewards, punishments, timings, play, learning, food, medical, movements, trips, visitors.
There are many more that any teacher has to consider and are in line with being a parent, an educator, a social worker and a saint. Teachers have many layers of structure that they have to somehow bring together seamlessly into a day that also contains ‘governmental structures’, ‘structures of parental expectations’ and ‘historical structures of identity and reputation’.
Is it any wonder that teachers struggle and that healthcare insurance companies will not cover teachers for any issue of mental health.
Bless they are insurable in line with frontline soldiers.
So one very simple way that primary school teachers can utilise one bit of existing societal structure is to employ gender stereotypes. These very teachers possibly don’t do this in their own lives outside of the building. But I can see why they, I did in school.
So when a teacher like me says they want to transition, to apparently move from one solid (gender) to another (gender) it’s no surprise that people exclaim “but what about the school play, who will play Jesus?”
I am being glib but there is a truth to this. Primary teachers know they should eliminate gender stereotypes within the curriculum but they help to divide the class in an easy, quick and memorable way.
(I am looking for answers remember not sanctioning)
But, and this is an important but, this methodology harms. Not just the potential and probable trans kids ( I was an eight year old when I knew) but all kids are harmed by stereotypes and teachers using gender to provide an easy tool for demarcation is a very slippery slope.
If the boys are sorted into a single sex group do we experience ‘boys behaviour’ or just behaviour. People often talk about groups of children when ‘they get together’. Behaviour improves or declines. Work rates improve or decline.
There is no substantive evidence for this.
There is evidence to show that gender stereotypes harm, from eating disorders, body image to the suicide rates of young men. Gender although a handy way for an overworked teacher to provide grouping does real damage to the fabric that is being developed within each child.
When I tried to transition as a primary school teacher I had mixed responses. Some very positive, generally from senior leaders and teachers who were comfortable trying to break down gender stereotypes and expectations within the classroom. But very negative responses from some senior leaders and teachers whom personally held onto gender as a way to understand their own lives and place within society. A comment from a ‘northern rugby player who felt he was very normal’ testifies to a certain need to hold onto rigid gender position. that can still influence our education system.
Point Two –
Encourage schools to let go of gender expectations and to not build structures based on stereotypes. Encourage teachers to really look at the books they choose and the examples they use within lessons to ensure that no simple (I do understand), quick fix gender stereotypes are used as they inevitably hurt us all.