Hi, my name is Daniel. I am an 18-year-old, white, transgender boy. Though coming out as trans is quite recent for me, I have always been vocal about equal rights, and not just for the LGBTQ+ community. I’m going to be talking about my experiences at my former school, which is not limited to just my identity as trans. I want to share my story so it can be an example for everyone who attends or works in a school, whether they’re working with a student who is queer, a POC, practices other religions that Christianity, is disabled, or is marginalized in any other way.
CW: Daniel’s story includes homophobic slurs.
We start this story in the first semester of my junior year. I identified very openly as nonbinary and pansexual. I was also very open about the fact that I was a practicing pagan; a witch. Everyone knew I was the school heathen.
I didn’t get much shit for it, at least not before what I like to call “The Great Debate.”
Protests against police brutality and racism in the police force were popping up all over the country, and the huge controversy around the Confederate flag had come to a peak. I walked into my U.S. History class one day to see it projected up on the board. Before I even made it to my seat — directly in the front of the classroom and right next to the image of the flag — I knew it was going to be a bad day. So, I sat down and saw that the bellringer assignment was a question on how we felt about the Confederate flag, given the controversy.
Let me just say: I went to school where there were, at the time, only two black students. I desperately hoped that I could just write my opinion in my class notebook and we could get on with class. Safe to say, that didn’t happen.
When she thought we had all written down the assignment, the teacher walked to the front of the classroom and asked if any of us wanted to read out what we wrote. I didn’t raise my hand. She called on a boy across the room and he said that he felt the flag was “heritage, and should be flown freely.” A whopping majority of the class nodded their heads and made quiet noises of agreement. The teacher then asked if anybody had any different opinions. I was the only one that raised my hand.
My written response was something like, “I believe that the Confederate flag is a symbol of racism and white oppression, and should not be flown on public, government-owned property.” But before I could even finish my sentence, there were groans and incredulous looks thrown my way. Whispered slurs and insults of “fucking f*ggot liberal” could be heard from across the room. The teacher only silenced them so I could explain further, not because she wanted to defend me from the disgusting language her students were using.
Let me just add that there are many details about this situation that I’ve forgotten, because it wasn’t just a bellringer. It lasted the entire hour and a half class. And it didn’t just cover the Confederate flag, oh no. The “debate” ranged from abortion to gay rights to “reverse racism.” I say “debate” because it wasn’t a debate at all, and yet that’s what the teacher and the rest of the class insisted that it was. Debates revolve around facts, and they allow both sides time to speak. This was more like me trying to bring up actual facts, and then being yelled over.
Two interactions happened during this class that really stick out to me. The first was when, while discussing gay rights, a girl kept telling me I was going to go to hell. It went something like this.
Her: “Well, the Bible say homosexuals are sinners, so they go to hell.”
Me: “Are you seriously telling me I’m gonna go to hell right now?” *Cue exasperated look to teacher. Teacher does absolutely nothing.*
Her: “Yeah. If you’re a homo, then you’re going to hell.”
Me: “Well, good thing I’m a pagan and I don’t believe in hell.”
Her: “You what now?”
Me: “I’m a pagan. I practice witchcraft. Hell is a Christian concept that I don’t believe in.”
Her: “You’re a witch??!! You don’t believe in Jesus??!!? You’re gonna go to hell!!11!1”
Me: “I literally just said that I don’t believe that hell exists. It’s like you’re telling me that some dude up on a cloud is booking a trip for me to go to the Lost City of Atlantis. Except there’s actually more proof that Atlantis exists than hell.”
Now, I couldn’t care less about people talking to me like this. Their threats of eternal damnation don’t faze me. Even though I was shaking like a leaf and my heart was pumping like I’d just run a mile, I wasn’t scared.
I was angry. Angry that this was happening to me. Angry that there was nobody on my side. And particularly angry that the teacher was doing jack-shit to stop it.
I say I wasn’t scared, and that was true. Until the second incident that, once class was over, left me having a panic attack in the bathroom and calling my mom to come get me.
Towards the end of class, you could cut the tension with a knife. We had somehow moved onto abortion and a woman’s right to control her body. There was actually a pregnant girl in the classroom, so of course her friends were at my throat about it. I had said that, as a person who has a uterus, it should be the person who is pregnant’s choice, and their choice alone, to decide whether or not to carry a pregnancy. The word “baby-killer” was thrown my way, which I brushed off. I came back with “What if going through with a pregnancy would kill you?” A girl replied, “If that’s God’s will, then so be it.”
A few moments later, while I was trying to explain that science should be taken into account before religion when it comes to the lives of not only the mother, but also the child, I saw another girl get up from her chair and start to move toward me, her hands clenched by her sides and a glare on her face. For a good two seconds, I thought she was going to physically attack me. But then I saw her mentally talk herself out of it and sit back down. That’s what had me shaken. I’ve never been in a fight, but I wasn’t necessarily afraid of one. What made me scared was the fact that about everyone at that school would bring pocket knives to school if they owned one.
I knew that if somebody was gonna get shanked at this school, it would have either been me, or one of the two black kids.
After this incident, I went to the principal, who brushed me off and said that nobody was going to hurt me. It was because of this, and many other incidents that I don’t have the wordcount to go into, that made me withdraw from this school for my safety.
When I asked if I could tell my story, I was asked in return to provide some examples for teachers of what to do, in addition to what happened to me. To that, I can say that literally everything that happened in my time in high school was absolutely horrific, mostly because of teacher and administration inaction. Even still, I will give try and give some ideas.
One: do not start controversial discussions unless you know for a fact that you will be able to control it.
Two: protect your marginalized students! If you hear slurs or insults, shut that shit down immediately and educate the perpetrator on the severity and historical weight of the words they’re flinging around. Provide backup for students who are standing up against a barrage of ignorance and hatred.
Three: Even if there aren’t any marginalized students in your class, you have to act as if there are. I know am one of the kids that will actually stand up for myself and others, but you have to take on that role and stand up for us as well, because some of us are too scared to do it ourselves.
All in all, protect your students. Don’t let what happened to me happen to anybody else. Don’t be the reason that kids want to die at the thought of going to school. You are the authority in your classrooms. Please use it to provide an environment for everyone to feel safe and welcomed, not hated and isolated.
Hey fam, Mads here. I’m so humbled that Daniel has trusted Learning Liberation to publish this story. I hope reading it motivates you to be the kind of person who empowers, protects, and LOVES all students and youth. If you’re not sure how to make schools a safer place for trans and queer teens, check out my blog Beyond Bathrooms, or visit TransStudent.org.
Please show Daniel some serious love in the comments for sharing his story with us! I am beyond grateful that he is willing to write about a painful time in his life in order to make things better for the kids who will come after him.