In eighth grade, my history teacher told the class that he believed gay and transgender people could not lead productive and successful lives in the "real world" due to such "alternative lifestyles,” and that they would all end up in hell. (There was much gasping from the naive middle school class.)
This was after I placed a notecard on my desk about supporting LGBT+ people on The Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network’s (GLSEN) annual "Day of Silence" to combat bullying and the silence that LGBT+ youth face and express when bullied.
That teacher’s words played a huge part in hindering my confidence to come out in school and in my community until the second semester of my sophomore year, when I came out as a transgender male.
My primary goal for high school was to work toward grades that would get me into the college of my choice, with the help of teachers willing and able to support me. That applies to students of any identity or background.
And walking into a classroom for the first time, all students are naturally nervous. What is the teacher like? What is the teaching style? What will the work load be like? Will I do well? For me, there were a few other questions: How will the teacher perceive me when I say not to refer to me as female as the roster states? Will this teacher respect my male pronouns? Will this teacher take me as seriously as any non-transgender student?
Thankfully, most of my teachers in my sophomore through senior years in high school answered a firm “Yes!.” That boosted my motivation, GPA, and networking.
Confidence is motivating
When a boss or teacher supports and respects you, productivity is soon to follow! When I came out to one of my five art teachers and asked her to follow my pronouns (with room for error, of course), she said yes, gave me a hug, and wished me the best on my journey. Classes continued as normal and I worked on my various pottery and sculpture pieces with confidence. This confidence and motivation blended into my other arts and academic classes as I came out to my teachers. I knew I wouldn't be singled out, seen as a joke, or harshly graded due to any disagreement with my "alternative lifestyle."
Support helps your GPA
My freshman and sophomore years of high school were a rocky start. High school was a new experience and I was still learning how to study properly and manage my time between college-level art classes, academics, and time with my family and friends. That's a given for many students.
But I was also unhappy due to the emotional stress of wanting to come out as transgender and having trouble to find the words for my community inside and outside of school.
My GPA was around 3.4 by the end of sophomore year but II felt that I could do better. I proved that with a 4.0 at the end of my junior year.
Once I funneled so much positivity into my life with the help of many supportive teachers, my gay/straight/ transgender alliance, and my family, my grades shot up, my standardized test scores shot up, and I found my focus again. This focus wasn't on my gender or perception of my being from others, but on my career goals and path to the college of my dreams (and, yes, I got in!)
Why you need to network
When I came out as transgender, I blossomed into a more social person. This is the case for many others as we begin to live our authentic lives.
In coming out to my teachers at the beginning of my junior and senior years, the conversation usually went like this before class: "Hi, I'm Casey. I'm the one who emailed you about my pronouns being different than what's listed on the roster. Let me know if you have any questions."
This simple conversation is one that blossomed into conversations about how I was doing, what I was interested in, and how to connect to opportunities surrounding activism and careers. My English teacher junior and senior year was a prime example. She connected me to local conferences where I could present my own LGBT+ "Art and Identity" focused lectures and workshops, recommended books to me based on my interests, and showed that she truly cared each day by watching out for and challenging discriminatory language or actions toward me and others in her classes.
Teachers are a very involved group in student's lives each day. They dictate the night's work load, challenge students to ask and think, and help with extracurricular activities. I was so busy in my latter half of high school with art shows, diversity clubs, and my college plans that my teachers became a second family and prime resources in my life. With their open support, communication, guidance, and willingness to learn from me and ask questions on supporting transgender and other youth with differing identities, I was able to raise my GPA, find my career focus, get into my dream college, and challenge the chilling words from my eighth-grade teacher.