I am someone who strongly believes in personal choices. In addition to teaching Science, I always make sure to create opportunities in the classroom to discuss ‘other matters’. We discuss everything under the sun along with Science. This is so that students can form their own opinions. I insist that my classroom should always be a safe place for students. They are allowed to bring ideas and opinions and put it on the table. But once it is on the table it belongs to no one and everyone.
And so one fine day we came upon the topic of gender identities, quiet by chance. There were pride celebrations happening all around in the media. There were opinions of all sorts flying around in my classroom. Students coming from households practicing strong faith were set on certain opinions. My views were shared first and I started off by emphasizing that I respect others views but my opinion is that everyone is free to express their own identity. And so the conversations continued. I was deeply moved by the thoughtful questions put forward by those 17-year-olds. One such question which gave me pause, and something to take home was – “Ms L, how would you feel if your daughter chose to identify as your son?” Hmmm…
Months went by and we were knee-deep in the academic year. One evening I am wrapping up my house chores and checking my emails before bed. And here pops the following message:
“Hi, Ms Lakshmi,
I just wanted to let you know that I am transgender and I would greatly appreciate it if you could refer to me as xxx or xxxxxxxx and use he/him pronouns. I understand that this might be a bit difficult to get used to at first and it’s fine if you accidentally call me yyyyy but it would make me more comfortable in class.
Thank you for your understanding,
Such a lovely and courageous email! My moment of reckoning was here. This was, to put it mildly, a shock for me as I really didn’t see this coming. I had taught xxx the previous year too and so I knew their parents very well. I knew their family background well. This felt too close for me. As if my daughter had chosen to become my son. And this was my moment to respond. This was my moment to stop preaching and ACT!
I went to bed but I didn’t go to sleep. A million thoughts rushed through my head. I realized how difficult this felt for me. For someone who strongly believed in individual choices. I couldn’t quite identify or label the feelings inside me. It was chaos because I accepted this but I didn’t know how to respond. But I did reply – Love you the same, xxx.
I knew this news will not be easy for xxx’s family. I said a prayer to give them the strength to welcome this. I wondered why I didn’t get any emails officially though- from the high school counselor, Principal? My first class the next morning at 8.30 am was xxx’s. How can I just go in and address yyyyy as xxx? Did the other kids know of this? So the next morning at 8.00 am I rushed to the counselor’s office. But his door was closed as he was in a meeting. Minutes crawled by and he was still in the meeting. I wanted an official word before I faced that 16 yr old courageous soul. At 8.20 am I decided to discuss this with M, my supervisor, as he was the only one available. I went to his office and asked him why I was not informed?
M was equally surprised. And that’s when the realization struck!!! xxx has shared this only with me. M and I had a moment of understanding. “Why me?” I asked. M replied,” Congratulations, Lakshmi! What a privilege that xxx came out to you. Thank you for creating that safe place.” A smile and a tear.
Now back to business. We both interrupted the counsellor’s meeting and informed J. My immediate question was, do I address yyyyy as xxx today? We decided that I was to acknowledge xxx’s message privately and let them know that. But not to use xxx as there was a lot of official paperwork and most importantly, consent from parents, before I am allowed to do that. But neither will I be using yyyyy.
As I walked into that yr. 10 Science classroom that morning, my mind had clarity of my convictions and my heart felt lighter, eyes sparkled with a love full of understanding. A very hesitant and unsure xxx was most definitely waiting for me. I walked over and gave xxx the tightest and longest hug. I whispered- Love you the same, xxx! into their ears. I tried my best to impart acceptance through my body language. I also realized that at least some of the other students were aware of what was happening and they visibly relaxed. It was and continues to be, a safe classroom.