As a mediocre student, “back to school” season would trigger some anxiety. A daily routine that demands you be polished, present, clear-eyed, and ready to learn at 7:15 a.m.? Dear God. Depending on the grade, fears of bullying could deepen the angst. I was rarely eager to return to the classroom.
To what degree being gay impacted my school experience, I’ll never know. I don’t know what school would have been like as a straight kid. Though, even before any libidinous yearnings, I was still gender-nonconforming, in subtle yet telling ways.
Certainly, we boys who preferred four-square with the girls rather than a round of “smear the queer” probably raised some adult eyebrows. (Note: As far as I could tell, “smear the queer” had no rules beyond hitting someone while yelling the phrase. Fun!)
Collectively, we should all hope for civilization to continuously evolve into something ever more civilized. After my K-12 years, I observed some progress, watching as “diversity” clubs launched in some relatively progressive locales. The opportunity to be out as something other than straight seemed to become more feasible in America’s schools.
Maybe some things do change for the better. Then again, plus ça change…?
Mead’s Trapper Keeper binders are still around. That surprised me. That today’s students can buy them styled in 1980s-esque geometric patterns also surprised me. Are these Trapper Keepers meant to be retro or ironic? Both? Kids usually understand retrospective style.
In the ’80s, we understood that so much of our dominant aesthetic pulled from the 1940s and ’50s. Hello, shoulder pads. But irony? We were only beginning to grasp irony.
As the institution of grade school conditions us to join higher levels of society, if done correctly, we begin to recognize that so many of the pillars of that society are flawed and hypocritical. That’s the irony that takes us from an ignorant childhood to a skeptical adulthood.
A very easy lesson for today’s kids to pick up comes at the expense of their Transgender peers.
Whether it’s school sports, bathrooms, or medical care, there’s a surge in unjustifiably frightened adults maligning Trans youth. That’s hardly news. You can’t miss it.
As the Associated Press noted in an Aug. 14 piece detailing efforts to bar Trans girls from participating in school sports, “This year’s new restrictions are part of a larger wave of legislation across the U.S. against transgender rights. Republican legislators in some states have banned gender-affirming care for minors, restricted transgender people’s use of school and public restrooms, limited what public schools can teach about gender and sexuality and barred schools from requiring the use of a transgender student’s preferred pronouns.”
To that “larger wave,” add a bit of late-2022 polling data from The Washington Post and the Kaiser Family Foundation: “Most Americans don’t believe it’s even possible to be a gender that differs from that assigned at birth.” In this case, most equals 57 percent. Also ironic, given that Transgender Americans serve in our legislatures. One of whom, Delaware State Sen. Sarah McBride, may even make it to the U.S. House of Representatives next year.
Our Transgender compatriots are not some peculiar bloc of exotica. They are our family members, our co-workers, partners, friends, and leaders. Beyond the irony of not seeing what’s in front of them, 57 percent of Americans dismissing an entire community’s identity is arrogant and absurd.
The school-sports angle is the lowest-hanging political fruit for the right wing. It’s easy to throw red meat that tastes like fairness and child safety. It’s something Americans will generally gobble up, believing it’s good for us. Though this really rockets the irony off the charts.
There’s a high school in Wisconsin where some girls quit playing because of a Trans girl. It’s ambiguous, because we’re talking about minors who are rightfully entitled to more privacy than the rest of us. Outkick, a right-leaning sports outlet, quoted a parent, Ryan Gusick, as saying to Green Bay’s Fox 11, “A lot of these girls are specifically quitting this team because they’re concerned for their safety.”
Certainly, no one should want kids to get hurt. Accordingly, Mr. Gusick must be similarly concerned about boys’ football, regardless of whether the boys playing are Trans or cis. High school football players experience concussions at a greater rate than college or professional players, if I’m to believe a Texas high school’s sports site. That would seem to be among the biggest red flags if we want to talk about safety in school sports.
And who’s going to stand up for the boys forced into football — or any other sport with obvious injury risks — by over-zealous parents wanting to “make a man” of their sons? Is Moms for Liberty going to advocate for the Queer boy who’d rather play four-square against bro-Dad’s wishes? Now that would be a joyous irony.
Beyond child safety and into the aforementioned fairness, it’s argued Trans girls have unfair athletic advantages. And who doesn’t like fairness? We’re a meritocracy! We love fairness! You betcha! That’s one of the ironic awakenings that unfolds as you age. The evidence illustrates we don’t really like fairness all that much. Especially not for kids.
According to an organization called EdBuild, founded by Rebecca Sibilia, former CFO at the D.C. Office of the State Superintendent of Education, “Nonwhite school districts get $23 billion less than white districts despite serving the same number of students.”
Or as Tom Vander Ark, CEO of Getting Smart, wrote for Forbes.com in 2020, “American education is largely a local affair including a historical dependence on local property taxes to fund schools (still over a third of average school revenue) leaving America the only developed country where students from rich families get more education funding than students from low-income families.”
If Americans were genuinely concerned with safety and fairness in our schools, there’s a hell of a lot more we could’ve been doing about it before throwing Trans kids under the school bus. But no, under the bus they go, because they’re simply too tempting to exploit for political purposes. Stuff that lesson in your Trapper Keepers, kids, and have a great school year!
If you’re a Trans kid, I wish you courage and calm in the coming year. And cis kids? Please don’t be jerks. You may very well be parenting a Trans kid of your own someday. As for the parents, please be mindful that all kids deserve to be treated with kindness. It’s the least we can teach them.
Will O’Bryan is a former Metro Weekly managing editor, living in D.C. with his husband. He is online at www.LifeInFlights.com.