YOUNG VOICES

What Happens When You Realise You're Transgender... And You're At A Single Sex School

21/12/2015 11:32 GMT | Updated 21/12/2015 11:59 GMT

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Nick, a 15-year-old from the South East of England, is like just any other teenager his age; he loves sports and cars, and hanging out with his mates.

Except that Nick goes to an all-girls school. And, two years ago, he was living as a female.

Since beginning his transition he has found his school broadly supportive - although many teachers still call him "she", and he was told by one teacher to "just be a lesbian" when he revealed he was transgender.

"Being the only guy in an all girls school is tough," Nick says. "I stand out a lot compared to the the other pupils but over time you get used to people talking about you and asking you questions. It just becomes a part of your school life."

Nick, who doesn't want his surname published, says he knew he wanted to transition to male since he was just four years old.

"Even then I was very masculine and boyish, and I generally got on with boys better," he explains. "I can remember dismissing wanting to transition at an early age as I thought it was something only adults could do."

He continued living as a female for another nine years, until December 2013. "At this point I was suffering from depression, anxiety and an eating disorder so I was sent to a children's mental health clinic. It was then when I told my school, my parents and my counsellor that I felt uncomfortable with my gender and that I wished to live fully as male for the rest of my life."

boy school corridor

"I was told by one teacher 'just be a lesbian and transition when you leave'."

Since then, Nick has negotiated the difficulties around toilets and changing rooms as a boy in an all-girls school, but has found these to be small challenges compared to the lack of information out there to help schools and teachers when a student transitions.

He was referred to the Tavistock and Portman Clinic in London - which has seen a 50% increase in referrals each year since 2009. After six months of counselling, Nick was referred to University College London Hospital (UCLH) to deal with the medical aspects of transitioning. He is currently six months into taking hormone blockers, which stop his body producing oestrogen.

"This is a completely reversible process," he adds. "Although I have just been given the go-ahead by the professor I see at UCLH to start testosterone in July which is the next part of my transition."

But Nick's journey has not been an easy one - and has been blighted by a lack of available information and support.

"My school wasn't supportive at first, and instantly dismissed my dysphoria," he recalls.

"I was asked by a senior member of staff to 'just be a lesbian and transition when I left the school' which made me feel isolated and made the situation with the school a lot worse than it needed to be.

"However, they have started to become more supportive and I think what was holding them back from supporting me in the first place was the lack of knowledge the staff had about dealing with transgender pupils.

"I remember the deputy head telling me that she rang every school in the area to ask for information about the subject but no one could help her. This highlights the lack of knowledge people still have when it comes to transgender issues."

Despite transitioning to male, Nick was permitted to stay on at his single-sex school because the 2010 Equality Act determines: "A girls' school which permits a pupil who is undergoing gender reassignment to remain after they adopt a male gender role would not lose its single sex status."

The teen did not want to move to a mixed gender school as he would have to deal with settling in to a new environment, as well as addressing his transgender issues.

Nick continues: "I like to think that I have helped the school to support other transgender pupils in the school but the reality is that they are very conservative and haven't compromised as much as the law says they have to."

But, he adds, "any compromise is a win for me".

toilets sign

Nick has to use the girls' changing rooms, despite making it making him feel "uncomfortable"

When Nick told his mother Laura he was transgender, it came as a shock. "We didn't know anything about it, and had never met anyone who was transgender. We felt isolated and didn't know where to go to for advice and support."

Nick was referred to the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS), but Laura says staff there "didn't know much either", and so Nick was referred on to the specialist Gender Identity Service at Tavistock.

"While this was being processed we tried to find out what we could, mainly from the internet," Laura continues. "We didn't find it all that helpful and some of it, particularly in relation to suicide rates, was very worrying. We wanted someone to talk to.

"We found out about TG Pals, which is a charity supporting trans people. They are a small but extremely dedicated organisation and have helped, and continue to help us, enormously."

There are few statistics available around the number of transgender teens in the UK, but Tavistock says it receives more than 150 admissions annually, and referrals are rising more than 50% every year.

In 2014, Pace, a mental health charity for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, conducted a survey which found 48% of transgender people under 26 had attempted suicide - compared to 6% of 16 to 24 year olds who do not have gender identity issues.

Laura says she didn't know what the school's reaction would be, as it had not encountered the situation before either.

"They also found it difficult to get information and advice. They tried contacting other schools and colleges but couldn't find anyone who had encountered the situation. The increased media coverage has raised awareness and helped to foster a better understanding of trans issues.

"They have worked with Nick and now have a better understanding of the issues. Nick has done a lot to pave the way for future trans students there."

Despite saying he is not generally misgendered in public, as he is "lucky enough to be able to 'pass' as a male quite easily", Nick is still referred to as a "she" by teachers at school.

"The school have a policy they have put in place where all the teachers have call me by my name and no pronouns but some of the teachers have rejected this idea."

Nevertheless, Nick is grateful for the progress his school has made, and feel it should be held up as an example for schools nationwide on how to deal with pupils struggling with their gender identity.

The teen also has to use the female toilets at school, as he says there are no male toilets available for pupils.

"This does make me and the girls feel uncomfortable," he admits. "Especially when we are allowed to wear our own clothes as I am perceived as male to girls that don't know me personally.

"This is just something we all have to deal with for a couple of months until the next academic year begins [the school's sixth form is mixed]."

Guidance issued by the Intercom Trust, an LGBT community resource centre in Dorset and Somerset, notes: "The use of toilets and changing facilities often causes the most amount of debate.

"Concerns of trans pupils and students are that they may find themselves in vulnerable situations such as a toilet or changing room where they could fall victim to unwanted attention, that could (if escalated), lead to sexual bullying, assault or other physical or emotional harm, but equally, that they are seen and treated as a member of their true gender."

The organisation adds trans pupils and students are often told to use the ‘accessible’ facilities rather than those for their true gender and advises schools "rename these facilities using terms such as ‘unisex accessible toilets’ to reduce what is often perceived as the stigma of using toilets commonly identified as ‘Disabled Toilet’".

However, this is not yet a legal requirement.

Nick is studying GCSE PE, and also has to use the same changing rooms as the rest of the girls on his course. Although it bothers him, he is pragmatic about the situation: "It is just another compromise I've had to make and there are more important issues that need resolving."

Regardless of the difficulties he has faced at school, Nick says he counts himself lucky as he has a supportive group of friends. "I've built a strong friendship with most of the people in my class and they have supported me throughout my transition.

"We often joke about some aspects but it is purely for comedic value and not at all malicious. They are all very understanding of my situation. Some trans people I know have lost all of their friends - and sometimes their family too.

"There will always be people in the same situation as me who have less supportive parents and schools but I hope that the media coverage of this topic will educate some people and change their opinions of transgender people.

"The more people are exposed to this, the less it becomes a taboo and our tolerance and our willingness to accept transgender individuals increases. Britain is a very accepting country, if we compare ourselves to America, we are very forward thinking.

"However, there's always room for improvement."

See Also:

Useful websites and helplines:

  • The Gender Trust supports anyone affected by gender identity | 01527 894 838
  • Mermaids offers information, support, friendship and shared experiences for young people with gender identity issues | 0208 1234819
  • LGBT Youth Scotland is the largest youth and community-based organisation for LGBT people in Scotland. Text 07786 202 370
  • Gires provides information for trans people, their families and professionals who care for them | 01372 801554
  • Depend provides support, advice and information for anyone who knows, or is related to, a transsexual person in the UK