Most of the parents we spoke to had children who were in school. They described a range of experiences related to how their child’s gender identity and transition were received by the school’s management, teachers and other pupils. In this section, you can find out what they said about their experiences of:
- Their children coming out and socially transitioning at school and the school’s response;
- Support offered by the school;
- Managing gender segregated spaces such as toilets and activities such as PE;
Kate talks about school and how it can be difficult to separate normal teenage life’ from difficulties related to her son being trans.
Coming out and socially transitioning at school
Parents spoke about the importance of support from schools especially training for all teachers and staff (Ali, Mel). Leigh highlighted the ‘battles’ gender diverse young people have ‘getting up, having a wash, looking at their body, getting dressed in clothes they don’t want to get dressed in and seeing their names on books at school’.
Coming out and socially transitioning at school was an important moment for many children, whose parents we spoke to. This was planned carefully, often together with the school. It was common to take advantage of a break in the school timetable, before going back and presenting in a different gender. For example, Lisa said: ‘We had a planned transition over a half term period, where she had her hair cut.’ Similarly, Andrew’s daughter went back to school ‘as a girl’ after the summer break.
Parents were sometimes unsure how the school would respond to their child’s wish to present in a different gender, but often they were positively surprised by how supportive the school was.
Oonagh was surprised at how supportive her daughter’s school was. She felt relief and it made her confident about how her daughter’s transition would be received at school.
For Teresa and Andrew, it was a surprise that their daughter’s school had experience with pupils transitioning.
For parents whose children came out or transitioned at school, having support and seeing efforts to include their child was very important. Adele said that she ‘could not fault’ the school’s response to her son coming out. Josie said she felt lucky that her daughter’s school and school friends have been supportive. She said: ‘Everyone has been really great about it.’
Some schools had a positive response to a trans or gender diverse child’s gender identity or transition, despite not having an inclusive (diversity) policy in place.
The head teacher at Oonagh’s child’s school was very proactive and worked together with her to put a policy in place.
Not everyone we spoke to had positive experiences with schools. Some parents we spoke to described situations where a school lacked experience and knowledge. Leigh talked about how it could happen that a trans child would be outed to other children and parents at school. She felt the schools needed updating on current legislation such as the Equality Act. For Mel’s stepdaughter, who was attending a small village school, the letter that was sent out to all the parents meant that ‘everyone knew’ it was referring to her.
Leigh said the school was supportive but did not understand they had no right to let all the parents know that her son was trans.
Mel said her stepdaughter’s transition at school was tricky in the beginning. Despite that Mel thought that children these days were very accepting and her stepdaughter felt included and had friends at her school after her social transition.
Misgendering was another issue that parents spoke about in relation to their child’s school experiences. Misgendering occurs when a person is referred to by a pronoun or a form of address that does not reflect the gender with which they identify. Misgendering can be intentional or unintentional. When done intentionally, it is a form of discrimination.
Kate talks about her son being misgendered at school.
Support offered by the school
For those parents, whose children could access psychological support at school, this was seen as very valuable. Lesley’s son was forced to change schools and she talked about choosing a school for him that offered pastoral support to help him cope.
Georgina talked about how having a counsellor at school helped her son deal with emotional issues.
Lesley looked at what support schools offer when choosing a new school for her son. She felt what was advertised was not always there in reality.
Some parents we spoke to felt that the support offered at the school was not sufficient, or not fitting. Ali’s daughter struggled with mental health and ‘became very introverted, and extremely anxious, [and] had panic attacks.’ Ali questioned the support offered at the school, ‘The school did provide a bit of support, but it was mainly, she was lumped in with a therapy group for very violent pupils, which wasnt particularly helpful.’
Schools often have gendered rules around uniforms and appearance. A child’s wish to wear a different school uniform was sometimes a starting point for talking to the school. Being allowed to present in the gender that feels right for her and wear girl’s uniform was an important step for Oonagh’s daughter. She said that it was the change of uniform that was ‘the beginning of it all, of her just becoming this confident little girl that she always was’.
Both Oonagh and Lisa described how the school’s management responded positively to their children wish to change uniforms. However, Lisa felt the school’s support was less consistent and she thought the school was anxious about it.
Oonagh talked about her daughter wanting to wear a girl’s school uniform and about the school’s supportive response.
The school’s head teacher was supportive of Lisa’s son wearing a boy’s uniform, but she felt the school was scared and that she had to keep fighting to have changes implemented.
For parents whose children were not out at school, uniform and haircut policies were a challenge. Ali spoke about how her daughter did not want the school to know she was trans, but was also ‘having a meltdown’ because she would have to have her hair cut to comply with the school’s strict uniform and hair cut policy.
Gender segregated spaces and activities
Because schools are often places where children are grouped by their gender, parents we spoke to felt they needed to work together with the school to make sure their child felt comfortable and safe in the classroom, using the school’s facilities as well as during social times. Parents we talked to emphasised how important it was for their child to be accommodated by the school.
For Ross’s child, the experience had been much less positive. He said: ‘things like toilets, they were never allowed to use the male toilet, because the school had them down as female. So youve got to use the girls toilets.’ Ross hoped things had improved since his child left school.
Parents we spoke to appreciated when the school listened carefully to their child’s wishes on things such as sport and gender segregated activities, and took those wishes seriously. Lesley said her son’s current school was great in doing that. Andrew’s daughter’s school said that whatever his daughter wanted to do ‘was absolutely fine by them.’
Lesley praised her son’s current school and said the school let her son lead on things such as what toilets he would use, or what sport games he wanted to play.
Teresa and Andrew’s daughter school was very supportive. They said she didn’t have to attend any sport if she didn’t want to.
Sometimes, schools had to deal with prejudice or ignorance from other parents about the use of gender segregated spaces, such as toilets.
Oonagh talked about there being some push back from other parents and governors at the school about the use of toilets and how the head teacher has dealt with it.
A few parents we spoke to talked about their children being bullied at school. Parents described different responses from the schools to the problem of bullying. For example, Oonagh observed that in her daughter’s school ‘any little bits of bullying that she had initially, the head teacher just nipped it in the bud.’ For some parents, the school’s handling of the bulling problem was less exemplary.
Bullying contributed to mental health difficulties for trans and gender diverse young people who experienced it. Lesley’s said about her son: ‘He was subject to quite a significant amount of transphobic bullying, which amounted to like several hate incidents from other students and that contributed to the deterioration in his mental health.’ In the end, Lesley decided it was best for her son to change schools.
Lisa’s son experienced bullying when he came out at his school. He eventually moved schools. Lisa said he was ‘in stealth’ in his new school, meaning he is not out as trans. For Kate’s son the bullying got worse when he started to present more masculine, cut his hair short and began to wear a binder. Kate felt disappointed that ‘nobody was looking out for him’ at the school.
Kate talked about her son being bullied and how she felt let down by the school. She also said her son did not feel safe in some lessons and existed as a bit of a ghost’ at school, on a restricted timetable.
Lisa talked about her son being bullied after he transitioned, him moving schools and living in stealth.
Ross felt his child was bullied for being trans and that the school’s response putting his child into isolation block made the matters worse.
See also Resources.