For M, and every other trans student, the daily roll call at the beginning of the class can feel like a punch in the gut.
“When I first started switching names, I didn't really mind my old name. It didn't really bother me, but now I hear it and it just doesn't match with who I am anymore,” explained M.
M has been transitioning for a few years now. And this is very common. The process of transitioning is a long and complicated one.
“I'm nonbinary so I wasn't exactly sure what I wanted to do like transition-wise right away. So, I mean, I kept things the same for a while, I had two feet of hair, I wore skirts and dresses and stuff like that,” said M.
About two years ago M decided to cut xer hair (M uses xe/xer/xerself pronouns) and that's when things started to change. M noticed that people were treating xer differently. They didn't want to be in group projects with xer, or just avoided xer altogether.
“I think once I looked more trans people started to treat me differently; it became a little bit more difficult for people to stomach when it wasn't something they could ignore. There was everybody else and then there was me,” explained M.
The latest research by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that LGBTQ+ students are at a higher risk of adverse mental health problems than their straight, cisgender counterparts. When looking specifically at transgender students, the gap widens. The Trevor Project, a worldwide nonprofit organization that advocates for the safety of LGTBQ+ youth, is reporting that in the past year one in three transgender youth reported attempting suicide, and almost one-third reported being a victim of sexual violence.
According to Casey Pick, senior fellow for advocacy and government affairs at the Trevor Project, for an LGBTQ+ youth, to have just one supporting adult in their lives reduces their odds of a suicide attempt by 40%. And this support can come in many different forms.
“We've seen some adults that will start with the introduction and mention their pronouns. I've seen some teachers that will include a small rainbow flag somewhere in their classroom, or a sticker on the door that says safe space. So there are lots of different ways to signal that," says Pick.
But I find that the most effective way to really communicate to young people that I am a safe and welcoming person is to make sure that I say things that are clear to that effect.
"Introducing my class as being this is a safe space where we respect everybody's differences, and that we embrace all kinds of families, just putting it out there, there's no reason not to,” explains Pick.
For M, that support would come in the way of people addressing xer the way M identifies.
“I think it would be really really great if there was some sort of like general education about nonbinary people and neopronouns that I could introduce myself, say my name, say that I use these xe/xer/xerself and all of that. And people would know what it meant and I could be done with just those two sentences, instead of having to go through the whole explanation of the history of neopronouns and like, where they come from and why they're not grammatically incorrect,” explains M.
While research has shown that LGBTQ+ inclusive curriculums at schools have a positive impact on the lives of students, as of right now, only six states in the country have implemented them.
North Carolina is not one of them.