Teaching Trans – How I Kept My Job

(I originally wrote this for “Frock” Magazine, but felt I needed to pull it at the time due to district issues which are no longer applicable…so here it is)

I did not expect to be able to keep my job as a public high school Theatre Arts teacher.

When I started planning my transition, I made the very reasonable assumption that my days as a classroom teacher were coming to an end. After all, the majority of trans people lose their positions. This is what I discovered both anecdotal and statistically. Most trans people simply do not fare well and the majority experience some level of loss and that usually begins with their employment. I even went so far as to create an anonymous email account and send a note to my Human Resources person. Her response was a cut and paste of the school district’s Non-Discrimination policy that said the district did not discriminate against someone in regards to their sex, but had no direct language about gender identity. I wrote back for clarification and received none. Which, of course, led to reasonable assumptions to the negative on my part.

I did not expect to be able to keep my job as a public high school Theatre Arts teacher.

My school is in an area that is a combination of urban, suburban and rural and generally religious and conservative.  While not the most conservative part of the area, it is enough that my boss reminds me to be highly mindful that the materials I choose for our main stage shows are appropriate for our community standards.

I did not expect to be able to keep my job as a public high school Theatre Arts teacher.

More to the point, I imagined that should I attempt to transition on the job and should my district and school be progressive enough to allow me to do so, there would be people in the area who would be at the font of the school with tar and feathers and rails and pitchforks and, worse, news cameras. And they would have ugly signs and ugly chants and my presence would hurt my students’ ability to learn and participate in school plays or even take a Theatre Arts course. If that were the case, I would have walked away. My needs are not as important as theirs. I am here on their behalf and controversy would have killed the already endangered theatre program at my school.

I did not expect to be able to keep my job as a public high school Theatre Arts teacher.

That was scary. I had been a professional teacher at that point for five years and it was my career and I did not want to lose it. Life is about more than gender. I have ambitions and interests and goals. I have this career that I felt a calling to do that was about to be lost because of my need to transition and that should tell you how strong my need to transition was, that I was willing to sacrifice not just my employment, but my career to heal myself. And it was scary because I had to think about what I was going to do next to support my family. I started preparing to find work teaching online because, to be fair, I felt that I could do that without much controversy. But, truly, I was not sure what I would do next and feared that I would have very few, if any, options. Statistics are scary in this regard and they frightened me through many a sleepless night.

I did not expect to be able to keep my job as a public high school Theatre Arts teacher.

I had to transition, though. So I planned my exit from my job at the end of the 2011-2012 school year. In the meantime, I planned my first RLE (Real Life Experience…we are expected to live full time, for a time, before having surgery to be sure that this is really for us) for my summer break in 2011. I would have two months to live in the world as a woman before going back to the double life I had been living for the year prior. Just about all of my friends, especially those in the trans community, were deeply concerned that I would not be able to go back without the worst depression and while I agreed with them, I had to go through with it. As June turned to July, their concerns became my reality and I cried a lot of tears at the thought of having to play the male role again. I didn’t know if I could do it and I certainly did not want to and I had no choice but to do so.

At least I thought I didn’t because I certainly did not expect to be able to keep my job as a public high school Theatre Arts teacher.

But the Fates guided my Internet wanderings (and the Fates have found the Internet their simplest means to guide the lives of mortals) and I discovered an article about the legal protections for trans employees that already existed in the U.S. and while it did not explicitly say that public sector employees where I work were protected, there was an implication. I contacted the author of the article who kindly spoke to me for an hour and directed me to find legal assistance. I found some very helpful people at the national level who guided me to a pair of incredibly wonderful local attorneys, one of whom knew a member of my district’s Board of Governors. A day after my meeting with them, I received a call from one of the lawyers saying he spoke with the board member and that my district had policies in place in regards to employees transitioning and that I had nothing to worry about, that I should simply come out to my principal and he would help me work out a transition plan and that if there were any problems, I should contact her and she would assist me.

And so even though I had spent the last two years expecting the worst, I was able to transition and keep my job as a public high school Theatre Arts teacher.