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My life as a transgender teacher as we enter a new era of 'Section 28'
Queer Gaze

My life as a transgender teacher as we enter a new era of 'Section 28'

QueerAF
QueerAF

It is the last lesson on a Friday, and a student stands patiently at the front of the class with a question as I greet others entering the classroom. ‘Sir, since you’re transgender, shouldn’t we call you miss instead of sir?’ 

I feel joy at this ostensibly well-meaning act. But it brings on the underlying anxiety of my identity being known and revealed in the middle of class. 

I feigned deafness to their question. Thankfully, the first two rows of the class do the same, sitting down to begin their work. 

This student is aware - as are the majority of her year group - that my social media account was recently found, leading to my transgender identity being partially revealed at school. These are far from the terms I would have chosen it to happen on. 

But to my surprise, I have seen relatively little antagonism from students. Assemblies during LGBT+ History Month shared positive stories of transgender medical practitioners, which I presume inspired this student’s question. 

The experience epitomises the limbo I find myself in: progressing aesthetically in my gender transition whilst maintaining male pronouns at work. My transition has led to joyful self-expression - alongside anxiety at the fear of exposure and bigotry.

A similar pattern unfolded with my colleagues. I have had excellent support from my HR, line manager, and mentor, as well as some trusted colleagues. A number of staff wear rainbow lanyards as a sign of solidarity with the queer community. The disclosure of my social media account and gender-queer appearance has led to a small handful of prejudicial incidents from students, but they’ve all been handled swiftly and decisively by the senior leadership team.

This supportive yet challenging, work environment contrasts significantly with the bigger picture in politics and the media’s representation of Trans+ identities.

With Miriam Cates, MP, describing trans and non-binary education in schools as “a failure of safeguarding”, there is a clear tone of anti-trans hate in mainstream political conversations. In a last gasp, this government has proposed banning sex education before age nine and the teaching of gender identity issues for all ages - the move has been described as the new era of Section 28. 

My transition as a teacher, already a complex process, has been politicised before I even started by these relentless efforts to stigmatise and marginalise queer identities. 

The logistics of transitioning are laborious on their own. After coming out at university, I initially had to delay and then weave my transition into the development of my emotional resilience and teacher persona. This was frustrating and dysphoric, but it felt like the sensible step for my long-term career. But I know that if I had transitioned sooner or, if transitioning as a teacher was more straightforward, my right to express myself authentically and feel safe would not have been infringed. 

The structural reasons for this are vast, spanning decades of imposed, anti-LGBTQIA+ ignorance in families due to Section 28, to contemporary anti-trans groups getting more airtime in political discourse. This ‘moral panic’ or ‘culture war’ can be dismissed as noise for the majority of the population, but it eventually trickles through to have a material impact, with some organisations and individuals denying trans people their right to exist.

The national context poses a serious threat to transgender lives, with healthcare already under-resourced. The anti-trans moral panic has led to an erosion of support for trans rights since 2018, with trans women particularly scrutinised as threats to women’s spaces and sports. Trans children can now no longer access puberty blockers, a further reflection of how stigmatising anti-trans discourses eventually materialise as real degradation of our rights to a dignified and equal existence in this country. 

Whether in healthcare or education, trans voices are rarely taken as objective evidence from which kind, inclusive, and affirming policies could emerge. The Cass review is the latest piece of research to sideline the lived experience of trans people and raise further barriers to accessing the healthcare necessary for some people’s transition. We are made into pathologised subjects who must be medically and bureaucratically processed to within an inch of our lives before our transness is legitimised and supported.

Whilst some government action has been limited to transgender guidance for school children, rather than statutory changes, trans lives are increasingly categorised as safeguarding concerns - either for others or ourselves. 

I have meandered through my transition limbo in the past three years within this growing shadow. The draining feeling of masking my identity has eventually been outweighed by the joy of letting myself shine through aesthetically, even in shrouded form. At the same time, my resilience to bigoted interactions and the national conversation is growing. 

I am confident about remaining in education. My experience is a testament to how, despite hateful and ignorant anti-trans views becoming centred by a select vocal minority at a national level, empathy and solidarity exist all around us. Time and again, my line manager and HR have said, ‘we will be guided by you’. I hope this attitude will be applied by people across society so trans people are accepted, recognised and supported for who they are by those with the power and responsibility to do so.

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