How my child's school is handling her gender transition

Photo: Shutterstock
Photo: Shutterstock 

My 13-year-old daughter Sophie* recently embarked on the long and arduous process of changing her gender. It's not a decision she's come to lightly, and it has brought a range of challenges to not only her life, but to all those around her as well.

I should explain first up that Sophie was born a girl, and I still refer to her as "her". It's not that I don't support her transition to becoming a boy, it's just that she's felt more comfortable making those changes outside the home first. So for now, she's transitioning to being a boy at school, but is still a girl at home.

I don't know if this is a common approach, or even whether this change will be something that sticks in the long term. I just know I'm here to support her in any way she needs me, and for now, she's focused on the school transition, so that's what we're doing.

I've known for almost a year that Sophie is transgender. She came out to me before she told anyone else, and we've had lots of long, detailed discussions about what this means for her, what she wants her future to look like, and how she feels about it all.

The answers to these big questions are always changing, which is natural – I mean, who knows exactly what they want when they're a young teenager? But she's an incredibly articulate and bright kid, and I've always taken her need to be who she is seriously.

We regularly attend a gender clinic and are in talks with a team of psychologists, psychiatrists and other medical professionals in an effort to support Sophie and ensure she feels as safe as possible at all times.

When we started including Sophie's state high school in talks about the current and future support she'd need that I had no idea what to expect, but was bowled over by the level of care we received.

To her credit, Sophie was the one who informed the school she'd like to transition to being a boy. The school's dedicated junior school counsellor sat down, first just with Sophie, and then with both of us, to discuss how they could help make the process as smooth as possible for her.

The first suggestion was that Sophie might like to swap her girls' uniform for something more appropriate – either trading in her skirt for pants, or swapping her uniform entirely for the boys' uniform. It's at this point I realised how lucky we are that she attends a co-ed school. Making the transition if she was at a girls' school would add a whole other level of challenge.

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Sophie has chosen to wear the boys' uniform to school, and the school even sourced some second-hand uniforms for her to there was no outlay for us. If you've had to buy new school uniforms lately, you'll understand what an amazing gift that is.

Sophie's school counsellor has arranged for her to be able to use private staff toilets rather than worrying about whether to use the girls' or boys' toilets with everyone else, and risk being singled out no matter which one she chooses.

The counsellor has also emailed all of Sophie's teachers to let them know she'll now be wearing the boys' uniform from now on, and that they weren't to make a big deal about it.

Seeing Sophie wearing the boys' uniform for the first time was strange, but I haven't seen her beam as brightly as she did that day for well over a year, so it was worth it. And this was a great reminder that none of these decisions I'm making are about me – they're all about what's best for Sophie.

Sophie also wants to change her name to Lachlan*, and for teachers at school to start calling her by her masculine name. That's something we're considering to commence in a few months' time, and Sophie's counsellor is ready to help when the time comes. 

In the meantime, the counsellor has suggested that she could call Sophie by her new name while they were alone in her office. It would give Sophie a space where she felt like this new person she is striving so hard to become, while still giving her time and space before launching her new self, school-wide.

All along this process, the school has provided reading materials and support to both Sophie and me. Her counsellor is available to her whenever she needs to drop in, and has even attended some classes along with Sophie when she was feeling anxious.

The school counsellor also informed us that there are a few other students in higher grades at school who are in the process of transitioning. She offered to talk to them to see if they would spend some time with Sophie and take her under their wing as she explores the transition process for herself.

Watching my child go through a change like this is challenging, if only because I naturally want to shield Sophie from pain and suffering, and this isn't the easiest path to tread. But with support around like what we have at school, I know Sophie feels free and supported to be her true self.

*Names have been changed.