I am non-binary transgender which means that I identify as neither man nor a woman. Some days I feel more masculine while other days I am feminine. Sometimes I feel completely genderless.
It may be a new concept to you; it was to me but then again I grew up under section 28, the law that forbade the promotion of homosexuality or the acceptability of it in school. As a result, most schools played it safe with a blanket ban on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) teaching. My gender and sexuality are areas where my own education let me down.
Now I work as a supply teacher, but always find myself playing detective when I start at a new school. I have experienced a variety of attitudes and approaches to my sexuality and gender, and how much I tell colleagues depends on the impressions I get.
I start by dropping hints; when talking to fellow teachers about what they did on the weekend I will mention things such as Pride parades to see how they respond. Sometimes questions about why I am a supply teacher lead to me telling them about Rainbow Teaching where I work on creating and developing resources for teachers to promote LGBT inclusion in school.
There have been times when I’ve been open about being bisexual and it hasn’t gone down well; colleagues have refused to be alone in the same room with me after finding out. Then there was the headteacher who openly mocked a transgender girl’s request to not use the boys’ changing rooms. “Soon all the boys will be saying they’re girls just to get a chance to perve,” he said.
I remember feeling stunned. At this stage I was only a PGCE student and I didn’t feel that I had the experience and gumption to stand up to transphobia like this. Luckily, the student was in year 11 and was leaving that year anyway. I made up my mind then and there that there was no way I could work at that school.
In some schools it’s hard to suss out whether homophobia, biphobia and transphobia exist. Many pay lip service with posters from Stonewall, the UK’s biggest charity working for lesbian, gay and bisexual equality, on walls. When it comes down to it, though, they don’t practise what they preach. I have, for example, been in schools where teachers have Stonewall leaflets in their offices but do nothing to combat the phrase “that is so gay” being used casually in class.
Even in schools that have stamped out homophobia, many still shy away from teaching transgender issues because it’s too confusing or parents might complain. Many schools now have a section of their behaviour management systems on homophobia, but I have only once encountered a section that specifically noted transphobia.
Because of all this I’m still, to all intents and purposes, closeted about being non-binary. It’s simpler this way, particularly if I am just spending one day doing supply work at a school. My ID and DBS checks are all still in my birth name and this keeps me safe in school.
There are still issues with misgendering, which means being incorrectly called by gendered terms, and how I must present myself physically as a result of not being out as trans. I am unable to bind my chest, which I typically do to alleviate dysphoria – the feeling that my body does not truly reflect my gender. For me, dysphoric feelings vary – some transgender people may experience high, frequent or perpetual dysphoria, others experience none at all.
How I physically present myself can alleviate this: I favour skirts, but also shirts, ties and brogues. I always opt for an extra cup of tea in the morning rather than putting on make-up and keep my hair short – though still longer than I would like – to maintain a professional appearance. In some schools, even my moderated masculine mode of presentation is met with confusion: “Miss. Why are you wearing a tie?” is a common question despite the fact that they’re often part of the uniform.
This isn’t the case for all non-binary teachers. I have friends who are openly trans though they pass as binary. I also know of teachers at primary and further education levels – where perhaps the level of personal scrutiny from pupils and parents is less than at secondary school – who are openly non-binary.
Aside from the emotional and mental drain of being closeted, the more advocacy work I do, the more I see a need for LGBT students to have the kind of identifiable role models and support that I never had. In an ideal world I’d like the transphobic and homophobic bullying to stop and for students to be aware of trans role models.
It is about treating all possibilities of gender and sexuality as equally valid and likely and letting students know that they can be open about who they are. I didn’t know about the different spectrums of sexuality until much later in life and I wonder about how much easier things would have been for me if I had this education coming through from primary to secondary school. I would have liked to have been told that what I was feeling is normal and acceptable and valid.
– Allie George writes under a pseudonym.
Very interesting! There’s a reason primary school kids don’t raise such an issue with their parents – because transphobia is learnt, not innate. If all parents teach their children that gender isn’t binary, and not everyone feels comfortable conforming to the gender roles society projects, then this world would be a much more open, hate free place!!