While I wish I didn’t have to talk about extra or special precautions for transgender teens, it’s a topic every transgender teen needs to face. While a gay, lesbian, or bisexual teen’s identity may not be visible to those who look at them in passing, a transgender teen may not be able to (or want to) hide that they are transgender. Transphobic people may react negatively to this.
We can’t always tell who is accepting of transgender people and who may respond to transgender people with fear, dismissal, or even rage. Here are a few tips to share with your teen, to ensure they stay safe on their journey through adolescence.
- School should be a safe place. Unlike gay, lesbian, and bisexual students, who are explicitly protected against discrimination in schools by state law, transgender students are not named as receiving this legal protection. This does not mean that you or your teen are helpless if they are being bullied or harrassed for being transgender! Read over our post written for gay, lesbian, and transgender students about school rights. The organizations and strategies listed can be very helpful if a teen is suffering harassment for a gender issue. Schools are responsible for providing all students a safe place to learn, regardless of why their safety is jeopardized.
- Travel in a group. If your teen is in a place where they have experienced harassment, or might be harassed- including school- encouraged them to enlist friends to be with them. Someone alone is much more likely to be harrassed than someone surrounded by friends.
- Using the “right” bathroom is hard. Our gendered bathroom system can make it almost impossible for some transgender people to use the “right” one for them. Some places have unisex bathrooms, which makes it easier. See if your teen can do a “sweep” of places they normally hang out and locate unisex bathrooms there. They can even anonymously call places ahead of time and ask if they have unisex bathrooms. If all else fails, they should go with whatever seems safest, enter and exit quickly, and use a stall. (If they bring hand sanitizer, they don’t have to stop at the sink.)
- Be up-front with romantic partners. A person discovering their romantic partner is transgender from someone else, or by accident, or “in the heat of the moment,” has led to violence in the past. Your teen doesn’t have to walk around with a “Transgender” sign hanging around their neck, but by the time they are getting physically affectionate with someone, this is something that should have been made clear. They don’t have to give all the details; simply stating that they are transgender or genderqueer is enough.
- Online dating. Your teen should never meet up with someone they have met online for romantic purposes without someone else coming along. This is actually true for all teens, but especially transgender teens. If they are not “out” as being transgender online, their prospective dating partner may react with anger. If they are, that person may be looking to commit a hate crime. Either way, they need at least one person with them.
- Speak up. If your teen is bullied, harrassed, or attacked- no matter where they are- talk to the authorities. You and/ or your teen can meet with the principal, speak with the manager, call the police. Your teen has a right to be safe from emotional, mental, and physical abuse.
The real safe place that every transgender teen should have is at home. It’s likely that they will face discrimination and harrassment in their daily life, and having a supportive, loving family is key. Keep telling your transgender teen how wonderful, special, and loved they are, and it can serve as an armor against the difficulties- and an amplifier for the joy- of living transgender.