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Back to School: Tips for Trans Students

Student working on laptop in classroom smiles at the camera
Note: This article was originally published in 2017 and has been updated to reflect recent recommendations.

Each year, the phrase “Back to School” drums up an array of feelings for people in all stages of life.

For LGBTQ youth, a return to school can bring calm and stability for some, or anxiety and pressure for others. If you’re a trans or gender non-conforming/non-binary student, any of these feelings are valid. No matter where you are in your K-12 experience, these tips should serve as guidance for smooth and successful back to school preparation.

"How do I get ready for the first day of school?"

It may sound cheesy, but if you aren’t feeling confident and this year could be your coming out year, having an amazing first day of school outfit has the potential to set the tone for your school year. You don’t have to go all out and you may not even buy anything, but choosing what makes you feel like your best self can work towards easing you into a daunting first day. Confidence is key when TGNC people are told they are “too young to know who they are.”

Tell your teachers your name/nickname ahead of time. (Personally, I don’t like to use “preferred name” – it’s your name.) Depending upon how long you have been at your school and which stage of the coming out process you are in, you might know which teachers to talk to first, or some teachers at your school may already know your name.

  • When communicating with your teachers, especially if it is your first contact with them, make sure you are polite, explicit, and grammatically correct (to the best of your abilities).
  • If you prefer to tell them in person or are unable to contact them, you may have Open Houses at your school – that could be an opportune chance to connect face-to-face. All of this serves to support you having your name called correctly on the first day of school instead of having to correct your teacher either openly or privately after the fact.

Consider sharing your pronouns ahead of time. It can be a bit tricky to know whether or not it's safe for you to disclose your pronouns at school – it depends on a number of factors, like the social climate of your community, the policies of your school, and specific state laws. In some places, there are rules that protect the rights and privacy of trans students. In other places, schools may be required to inform your parents of your pronouns, or there might be hostility towards trans and gender diverse students. It's a good idea to connect with a local LGBTQ+ organization ahead of time: they can provide advice, resources, and support based on the experiences of other trans youth. CenterLink's LGBTQ+ directory is a good tool to find organizations in your area to reach out to.

Breathe. I know education and trans student rights aren’t in the best place right now, but do not forget there are activists fighting everyday to make sure you only have to focus on academics. If you encounter push back and/or blatant discrimination, there are organizations out there to support you both emotionally and legally.

"Alright, I am back to school. What now?"

Once the school year gets underway, I am sure you won’t be a fan of all of your teachers for one reason or another, that’s just how school works. Find supportive adults (especially if you don’t have supportive adults outside of school.) Having a trusted person, whether they are a teacher or someone who works at your school, will give you space to decompress on bad days and give you joy when you share positive life moments.

Does your school have a Gay Straight Alliance (GSA)? Do you want to start one? No matter the type of club, there are common routes all students have to take when starting the club creation process. All clubs will need a teacher to sponsor them and a time for them to be held. Make sure you plan ahead as you build a schedule and advertisements. Having a safe space with a common understanding and language will help you find peers to lean on and learn from. I recommend you check out GLSEN’s Jump Start Guide to learn more. If your school gives you pushback, which is often an unfortunate reality, you may need to reach out to legal service organizations for help and support.

Do you want to play sports? Are you worried about whether you will be able to play for your preferred team? This bullet is the most abstract of them all because each state has different policies and may not even have a policy on the books (I looked up my home state of Maryland as a possible example and found nothing in their state sports handbook). You could be in many possible situations, but you have options for competing on the team that reflects who you are. I recommend being proactive and contacting the coach of the sport you want to play. If you show up on the first day of tryouts, you may run the risk of spending the better part of a season working through policies

Are you a junior or a senior in high school? Are you looking to attend trade school or college? As you look toward higher education, you need to start mapping out your steps, like which school you want to attend, or what tests are required and the deadlines to take those tests.

  • Being organized is important since application dates are often different and can sneak up on you.
  • As you think about schools, student life should be near the top of your list. If you know which schools will set you up for career success, then make your final choices based off of quality of life at each institution.
  • If you are able, visit your schools of choice. If it doesn’t feel right, it may not be your fit. Look up in their student organizations to see if there are any LGBTQ clubs, and look up whether they have an LGBTQ resource center on campus. These things all add up to the type of climate you can expect on campus.

I hope you are feeling positively about the first day of school. You deserve to be excited for a new school year. You deserve to be excited to learn. These bullet points are only the beginning of deeper conversations.

Everything can happen in a school year. Stay strong and believe in yourself.