Transgender status, Christianity, and Students

Once in a while, I see a social media comment that gives me pause, a moment of reflection that helps me understand “the other side”. In this case, in response to a call to eradicate “transgenderism”, I saw this from Twitter user NiocoleeO: “Imagine this. A teacher speaks to your child about Jesus. Your child starts believing in Jesus and God and because they know how you would react, the teacher keeps this secret from you. Would you be angry?”

This is firmly rooted in the belief that youth are just minding their own business, being students, growing up, while queer teachers are “indoctrinating” them and then keeping that indoctrination silent.

If I honestly believed that that’s what was happening most of the time, I would be up in arms too. Absolutely. If I ever caught wind of a fellow teacher telling a boy, “You’re wearing a skirt, I know you’re really a girl”, I would be outraged as well.

But I think that, if that happens at all, it’s extremely rare; indeed, that example is more likely to be said by a cis man teacher bullying a child than by a trans teacher trying to indoctrinate them.

I know that some of my fellow teachers are Christian. Some are Muslim. Some, like me, are atheist, or at least secular enough that they might as well be. There are other faiths represented as well. I know that my students are aware of this as well, and that it’s likely that some of them have gone to their teachers to talk about religion.

There is a line here that I firmly believe in.

If a student goes to a teacher with genuine curiosity about that teacher’s religious beliefs, and the teacher discusses those beliefs in private, without an intent to convert or convince, that’s okay.

If a student goes to a teacher because the student is exploring a religious faith that will likely be unpopular with their family, and the teacher agrees to keep the conversations discreet, that’s okay.

If a student goes to a teacher because the student is feeling lost or unhappy, and the teacher tells the student about the teacher’s religious beliefs with the intent to convert the student, that’s absolutely not okay. “Maybe you’d be happier with the love of Jesus.” No. Absolutely not. Stay away from my child.

To a certain extent, I do think my fellow transgender folks are ignoring a part of this conversation that is significant to a lot of the anti-trans folks. It’s easy to lose sight of it behind all the open bigotry, but it does need addressing.

I’m 55 years old. I remember when open displays of Christianity were far more allowed in public schools than they are now.

As recently as ten years ago, in a charter school in Detroit, I had a colleague who had several large Christian posters behind their desk. The Supreme Court ruled last year in favor of a coach that prays with his players after games. But these displays are increasingly rare.

When I was growing up, the standard narrative from the Evangelical Christians was that students weren’t allowed to be Christian in school, something that is not true at all. One problem is that Evangelism often calls for proselytizing as a practice of faith, and so it is indeed inconsistent to say that everyone is allowed to practice their faith as they see fit, but that Christian students aren’t allowed to proselytize on public school grounds.

This gets into a complicated mess of “your rights end where your fist ends and my nose begins”, but it would be disingenuous to utterly ignore the reality of this cultural shift.

If teachers are not allowed to discuss Christianity with their students, why should they be allowed to discuss being transgender with their students?

That is an excellent question. At least it would be, if it didn’t have false presuppositions.

Teachers are, in fact, allowed to disclose their Christianity with their students. What they’re not allowed to do is attempt to convert students to Christianity.

Just as teachers should, in fact, be allowed to disclose their transgender status with their students, so long as they’re not attempting to “convert” students to being transgender.

Teachers should be allowed to be discreet if a student discloses their religious beliefs, just as teachers should be allowed to be discreet if a student discloses their transgender status.

As a reminder: I am transgender. I am an atheist. I mention these facts because I know some of you might be wanting to argue that being transgender is more integral, more innate, than being Christian. I do not personally disagree, but my bias clearly leads me to agree with that perspective.

I am saying that, within the context that holding religious beliefs and holding personal beliefs about gender are equivalent, at least some of this current anti-trans backlash is rooted in bitterness about the place of religion, and specifically Christianity, in the public sphere.

A bitterness which, in turn, is based on a misunderstanding of the law.

Every single public school student, every single one, is allowed to pray to whatever form of God they wish to pray to. In school. During school hours. So long as they don’t try to coerce other students to be involved, fine.

Things do get complicated when it comes to discussions involving teachers, but even there, as the Supreme Court affirmed last year, the key criterion remains: Teachers are not allowed to try to convince students to follow a particular faith.

There are gray areas about what that entails. Teachers praying silently over the lunch they’re eating at their desk? I would be fine with that. Teachers leading the entire class in a prayer? Absolutely not. Teachers wearing a cross necklace? Okay, many of them do. Teachers putting a 4×6 poster of Jesus Christ Savior of Humanity on their wall? That’s a no from me. And I disagreed with the SCOTUS ruling that a coach praying publicly with students after a game was okay, because that leads some non-Christian players to feel pressured or left out.

But there is indeed a lot of confusion, fueled by inaccurate information, within the Christian community about this topic. So, for those Christians who are legitimately confused about the parameters of their ability to express their faith in public, I can see how “But trans people can strut their stuff with impunity” would be a significant affront. It’s understandable how that would be met with “If we can’t, you can’t, either.”

Except, to reiterate: YOU CAN.

What I have heard of: Queer teachers being openly proud about who they are. Queer teachers putting up pride flags in their classroom (“how is that different from a picture of Jesus?”). Teachers, both queer and not, providing a space for students to talk about their queer status discreetly (“how is that different from an afterschool prayer circle?”). Teachers failing to disclose a student’s queer status to their caregivers.

What I’ve personally never heard of: A teacher convincing a student that they (the student) are queer.

I’ll freely admit: I’m uncomfortable with teachers putting up fullsize pride flags in their rooms. I have a pride flag in my room; it’s small, about the size of a standard piece of paper. I sometimes wear pride jewelry. Many Christian teachers wear crosses. I have no problem with subtle displays of anything that doesn’t actively support hatred.

As for afterschool GSAs, again: YOU CAN. Schools are allowed to host religious student groups after school. It does indeed get dicey for a student to discuss religion directly with their teachers, but if you’re concerned about that, let’s have a civil discussion.

That’s what’s largely missing from this discussion: Civility. There is a lot of petulance. A lot of not listening to each other. If we think that the parameters of what teachers can discuss with students need to be tweaked, fine. Let’s do that. Mature adults, let’s talk.

But don’t ground that discussion in misinformation about what teachers can already do, or what students can already do. And don’t be distracted by open bigotry of who transgender people aren’t.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.