I wrote the following letter to my daughter’s school at the beginning of her first year of high school, after she spent most of 8th grade identified as a boy. As you will read, we made many changes over the summer, and saw a big difference in our child’s mental and physical health. The head of school replied to my letter, ensuring me that pronouns would not be asked for at the start of classes and that gender would not be a focus in school. She said that we would be notified if our child asked for alternate names and pronouns, which happened a few weeks later. She said she would remind teachers of this part of the school’s stated belief, which reads:
“We believe in parental choice and that we are here to serve families. As we strive to build upon connections with our families, we leave the job of parenting to our parents. They are responsible for imparting morals and values taught in their homes including practiced political, religious, and social viewpoints. We trust that they know what is best for their student as the student grows and develops into an adult.”
This school does not lean in any political or religious direction, but is instead focused on preparing kids for college or technical studies. They don’t allow clubs with politically charged intentions, only ones with an academic or hobby-related focus. Yes, there are trans identified kids at this school, some of whom are being supported by their parents, and the school supports these parents too. Because my daughter’s school does what school is supposed to do—prepare kids for college and the working world, while parents are allowed to do the parenting.
I had hoped that the beginning of high school would mark a new start for her, and I can joyfully report that it has, indeed, with the support of her school administrators and teachers. I’m sharing it in hopes that it will provide a ray of hope for distraught parents, a template to use for writing to their own children’s schools, or a policy to propose to schools still following secrecy guidelines.
Dear School Leaders,
We are writing with some concerns about our child’s experience in school around the issue of gender. We understand this is a challenging and controversial topic in schools, and respect that different children and their families have different needs and beliefs regarding gender identity. We fully support the school’s belief statements and appreciate the thoughtful attention given to these ideals.
In 8th grade, our daughter became involved with a small group of other young biological females who identified as transgender, and subsequently wanted to adopt a transgender identity herself. She began using a male name and pronouns at school with both her peers and teachers.
As deeply involved parents who know our child well and have educated ourselves extensively on this subject, we are certain this sudden identity change is driven by a desire for peer acceptance and not by any inherent gender identity disorder. D suffered from anxiety and depression in middle school, and it seemed only to be exacerbated by fixation on gender identity. Among D’s friends, body hatred was a main topic of conversation, and her friends advised her on breast binding, which constricted her breathing and worsened her anxiety and difficulty focusing. Over the summer, without any focus on gender or access to internet or social media, we have seen D’s mental health improve dramatically. We have concentrated instead on participation in healthy activities and building positive relationships, and this has been clearly beneficial for D. Though we will support and love her no matter how she identifies in her life, we believe she is still too young to decide her gender and sexual identity.
On the first day of class, many teachers now ask children to introduce themselves with their name and preferred pronouns. While this has become a standard inclusion practice for adults, it doesn’t always have the intended effect for children and teens, who are still figuring out who they are. For many teens, this practice creates an on-the-spot social pressure to label themselves with a gender identity, which is hard for them to reverse socially once they have identified themselves. This is especially difficult for a child like ours, who has deep social anxiety and fear of peer rejection.
May we ask that:
- Our child’s teachers do not focus on identifying pronouns, especially early in the semester?
- Our child’s given name and pronouns be used by teachers and administrators?
We work closely with each other as well as mental and physical health professionals to ensure our child’s well-being. With much care and evaluation, we are supporting D to stay focused on health, self-care and learning for the time being, rather than gender identity. We ask also that the school support us in our parenting decisions and let us know if any issues arise with D, gender-related or otherwise. And we are always open to more conversation and new ideas and solutions.