By Bernie O’Flannigan
My experience of being the first open transgender teen at my school affected my education greatly. Because there were no policies related to my situation, I was constantly being told by my counselor and principals that I was the trailblazer at every road block we faced. My counselor and associate principal were very accepting and accommodating my sophomore year when I came out as transgender to the staff. The hardest part was emailing all my teachers and talking to them in-person. It was very nerve-wracking, but they promised to put in their best effort to use the correct pronouns.
However, some of my teachers didn’t seem to put in any effort and constantly misgendered me. It became harder to walk into school every day, and I knew I was going to be upset at the end of the day because of the staff or students purposely misgendering me. This caused my emotional and psychological state to be in turmoil. My time at school was soon more occupied with managing the negative effects of being discrimination against rather than on learning.
I ended up missing a lot of school that year. Going in to junior year I put my best foot forward and kept my head up high. A month into that school year my name was permanently changed in the school system. I was also on hormones, and my teachers would know right away to not use my birth name and the wrong pronouns. It was a fresh start, or so I thought. I was also told I could use the men’s bathroom at a meeting with my counselor and associate principal before school started. That quickly changed for me.
I was called into my associate principal’s office and was told I could no longer use the men’s bathroom. A few students had made complaints about me being in there. The consequence for using the men’s bathroom was suspension. I cried when I was told all of this. Later that day my mom came to discuss it with my counselor, associate principal, and the head principal. We brought up to them that they didn’t have any policies to back up suspending me if I used the men’s bathroom. They explained that the school board needed time to create a policy. The head principal was very rude and sighed or grumbled at every solution or question we had about the situation. We asked what we needed to do so I could use the bathroom. The head principal said that he needed documentation saying that “it” or “that” is male (referring to me).
My mom and I cried at how rude the principal was and how unfair the whole situation was. They had no rule or policy backing up suspension. They had no reason to not let me use the bathroom. They offered me the unisex bathroom in the basement or in the office, but the locations were out of my way for my classes. I didn’t feel right in the unisex bathroom. I felt like I had the right to be in men’s bathroom because I am a man. A few days later however, after I was not showing up to school, they called and said that I could use the restroom after talking with the school board. I was happy, but I also felt like the head principal was not on my side.
I didn’t feel comfortable or safe. I also had to confront my German teacher, because he kept using my birth name. He said he never misnamed me, and continued to call me the wrong name. I decided to drop the class because of it. During that year I was also isolated by students. I only had one friend. It felt like I was invisible and unimportant to everyone there. I was told by a group of girls that I was gross for being trans. I didn’t fit in, and I kept missing more school. I wasn’t getting an education. I decided it was in my best interest to get my GED and leave school. I ended up graduating with honors later that spring.
Being the open first transgender student wasn’t easy. I only sometimes had the support of my counselor, but the rest of the staff didn’t care or didn’t like me. It made getting my education harder knowing that I didn’t have all the support I needed at the school. I felt like I was always the odd one out. It was hard not knowing that I could always rely on a teacher or another adult there if anything went wrong. My counselor was always nice, but we both knew my head principal wouldn’t do anything if a situation popped up. It was scary going to school, but I won’t say that every part was terrible. Most trans kids don’t get to have any accommodations or acceptance by the staff. I did have it better than most kids like me, but that didn’t make it any easier.
Bernie O’Flannigan was a student in North Dakota until 2016. He currently resides in Oregon where he is planning on pursing further education as a radiologist.