I meant to write this blog post about being trans while teaching.
It will be about that, but as I write this during the first week of the new semester, I can’t help but reflect on my educational and trans journeys as a whole.
I have never felt as comfortable with my gender in an academic setting as I do today. I know this is in large part due to using he/him/his pronouns instead of they/them/theirs as I did in previous years. I chose to use he/him because that’s what I’m most comfortable with at this point in my life and transition. While this choice was not to made in order to make life simpler for other people, there is no denying that it has that effect as well. While using they/them pronouns, I would have to explain to professors and classmates that I am nonbinary, often introducing them to new concepts in the process. By using he/him, I can either state that I am transgender, or let people assume that I am either a cisgender or transgender man.
It’s an odd feeling to think about other people assuming I am a trans man. While on the one hand it may be preferable to be read as a woman, it is not truly how I identify. Additionally, I know that skipping conversations about being nonbinary is not helpful in the long run for creating the type of world I want to live in. So while I feel fully respected and accepted in my classrooms for the first time, my true identity is not being recognized. And while I understand that the previous sentence doesn’t make logical sense, it is nevertheless the truth.
I encountered similar issues (or non-issues, as the case may be) while tutoring this summer, and I expect to encounter them again while tutoring and teaching in the future. I did not address the issue of gender with any of my students over the summer, and I do not know what their thoughts were on it. I was introduced to at least one family with he/him pronouns, and I doubt that they were expecting someone who looks like me on the first day we met. With another student, I purposely avoided the subject, although I believe he probably knew I am trans, because I doubted his opinions on the matter would be ones I wanted to hear. And yet, despite all of this, I felt relatively comfortable with the situation. Had I presented purposefully androgynous, or worn one of my queer t-shirts, I understand that may not have remained the case.
As long as the people I work with can fit me into a neat little box – cisgender woman, transgender man, or even cisgender man – I can avoid most (but not all) conversations about my gender, and be spared any misconceptions. But this does raise the question: is it worth it to censor my dress and speech in order to avoid these conversations? Or is it better to express myself fully, have the conversations and educate people in the process, but be exhausted by explaining myself and dealing with confusion almost every day?
The question will only get more complicated if I become a high school math teacher, which is my current plan. At that point, I will not only need to decide what to tell or not tell my students, but also my colleagues, as well as the parents and caretakers of my students. Having talked with various trans people who are either currently teaching or training to become teachers, I know that many school administrations don’t want trans teachers to tell their students. Most of the time, the reason is that they don’t want to deal with parents who are angry about a trans person teaching their kids. I don’t want to deal with those parents either, and yet by telling trans teachers to keep their identity a secret, schools are not only censoring the individuals in question, but also denying trans role models to students.
I want to be a teacher because I like teaching math, but I specifically like teaching because I like helping students learn and grow. As a teacher, I would have a responsibility to my students to not only help them learn math, but also to support them in their growth as people. I will, without a doubt, have trans students. Whether or not I know who these students are will largely depend on the school environment and how comfortable they are with me. While I would love to see a day when young trans people do not need to seek out role models because they have no question in their minds that they belong and can be successful, I certainly don’t believe that will happen in the next ten years.
So I am left with a question: do I tell my students that I am trans, live my life openly, and provide support and visibility for the trans community? Or do I present as a cisgender man or woman, making my professional life easier but essentially lying to my peers at work?
There may not be a good answer. All I can do is do what feels right at the time. Right now, I’m enjoying my current compromise, letting people read me however they like so long as they use my correct name and pronouns. In the future that might not be possible – but for the moment, for the first time in my life, I feel happy and comfortable with being trans in a classroom.
Skylar currently attends the University of Maryland, majoring in mathematics as well as studying linguistics and German. Skylar is the Executive Director of QUMBC, an LGBTQ+ activist student organization, and is also very active in the work of Spectrum, a group for transgender students. Learn more about Skylar here.