Monday, March 25, 2024

'Why Can't I Wear A Dress?'

What schools can learn from preschools about supporting trans children

BY: Cris Townley
Postdoctoral research fellow,
Western Sydney Universit

A  new group of young children has just started school for the first time, with many excited about new friends, uniforms and being at "big school."

n daycare centres children are free to experiment
 with identity in their play. Klem Mitch/Shutterstock

But for trans kids, starting school can be a much more daunting process.

They have likely gone from preschools and daycare where they had the freedom to wear what they want and play what they want, whether that was dinosaurs, dolls or dress ups. The boy who likes to be Rapunzel was probably viewed as "cute" and the girl always playing pirates was encouraged to do so.

But school culture is much more cisnormative. This means schools tend to assume children can be sorted into boys and girls and everyone is comfortable in what category they are in.

You can see this in formal ways, with boys' and girls' uniforms and toilets and in informal ways, with boys and girls making different friendship groups and playing different games at lunch.

This makes it difficult for trans children to feel as though they belong at school. Trans students often have lower levels of well-being and lower educational outcomes than non-trans students.

My research looks at what schools can learn from preschools and other early learning settings such as daycare centers about how to support trans students.

My research

In 2023 I partnered with P-TYE, an advocacy network for parents of trans children. The study, which is currently in peer review, looked at how we can integrate support for trans children across a range of services including education, medical and mental health.

Through P-TYE and wider networks, we recruited 12 families with trans children. The children had an average age of 13 and had been recognized as trans between two and ten years.

What should schools do differently?

Schools should take the lead from early learning environments and stop “sorting” students based on gender.

This could mean:

  • having a range of uniform items children can select from as some schools already do

  • more all-gender toilet facilities, where privacy is protected for all students

  • preferred names and pronouns should be easy to change in school systems and teachers should use these.

Teachers also need access to resources and information so they can confidently have conversations about gender. This needs to be part of a whole-of-school approach to supporting trans students and their families.

1 comment:

  1. I really don’t understand why people are so concerned what other people wear or how they live their lives. I have a lot of conservative friends that are as I call them fiscal conservatives and social libertarians. They really don’t care how people dress or live their lives. I think we all just want to be left alone to do our own thing. We aren’t hurting anyone or trampling on their rights. They should just leave people alone and STFU!