Tips for Transgender Youth and Caregivers During Quarantine
By GDI team members Lizette Trujillo and Em Bowen
With the school year winding down but still very much in our midst, educators and caregivers of youth are now all too aware of the difficulties of navigating suddenly imposed remote schooling and life. Like their cis-gender counterparts, transgender youth have been facing the challenges of social distancing, a drastic change in their routine, and online rather than in-person education for the last six weeks or more. For transgender youth, these now common challenges can come with added weight and possibly unconsidered impacts. Youth may feel disconnected from systems of support once offered by peers or find issues with their name and pronouns on online education platforms.
From how to best deal with remote learning, grounding in the face of pandemic, and creating loving connection at home—here are a few tips for parent allies and caregivers to help support and affirm their transgender youth, as well as tips for transgender youth to better survive and thrive in the midst of their new normal.
Dealing in Remote Learning
Sending a Friendly Reminder Email to Teachers (Tip for Caregivers from Lizette)
For many teachers, this has been a difficult, sad, and challenging time. They are having to learn quickly how to teach online, and ensure that they are meeting the needs of the class while social distancing. Because of these pressures, a friendly reminder email about ensuring that the correct name and pronoun is being used might help open a dialogue on how to make sure that your transgender youth is feeling safe and affirmed while remote learning. Here is a short stock email to start the conversation:
Dear (Teacher’s Name),
As we adjust to remote learning, I wanted to take a moment to touch base about ways that we can make sure that my child is still feeling supported and affirmed through online learning. I know that their legal name must be shown on official school documents, but I would like to work with you on creating ways of ensuring that their privacy is protected and that their correct name and pronouns are used. The ultimate goal is to ensure they feel safe and able to focus on learning during this new and difficult time. I look forward to scheduling a time for us to discuss this, and thank you so much for your time.
(Parent Ally/Caregiver’s Name)
The Post-it Note (Tip for Caregivers from Lizette)
One of the biggest challenges parents and their kids have mentioned to me is having their legal name shown on the classroom screen. A quick way to mitigate this is to write your student’s chosen name on a Post It Note and place it over the name shown on the screen. It is a small and short-term fix, but one that would show you care enough to find a solution. It might also open up important conversations about privacy and safety that you might not have considered. Use this time to learn from your transgender youth’s experience and listen to the ways in which they are impacted, so that you can create a plan of support to follow up on for the year to come.
Self-Advocacy (Tip for Caregivers from Lizette)
I often talk to my transgender son about the importance of feeling safe and empowered enough to advocate for himself when he encounters situations at school that feel uncomfortable or unsafe. I know this isn’t always an easy ask, and requires practice. We have worked hard to let our son know that we trust his instincts and decisions on what that would look like, and often reassure him that he can trust in our constant support.
What is wonderful about remote learning is that our children have the safety of being behind a computer screen, and distance to ensure that they can feel safe to test what self-advocacy looks like. Have them send a short message to their teacher if they are misgendered or the incorrect name is used, or practice correcting their teacher or their peer should it happen during their Google classroom session. Correcting people quickly can feel uncomfortable at first, but this practice will help reassure your child that they can advocate for themselves when you are not able to.
Grounding in the Time of Pandemic
Create Routine (Tip for Youth from Em)
My students love routine when we are sharing learning space at school. They tell me that knowing what to expect each day makes them feel at ease. Finding a routine even without the school day can help life feel more contained and predictable. Creating a routine at home doesn’t have to be elaborate and can even include some things you might not normally have time for on a school day. Write out your routine and post it somewhere you can see it. I like to write mine on a whiteboard so I can erase and edit it as needed. I am always sure to include time for meal breaks, time to move or stretch, and time to do things I enjoy alongside any school (or in my case teaching!) work I have to do.
Get Moving (Tip for Youth and Caregivers from Em)
We all inhabit a body. As a transgender person, I’ve often struggled to find way to land in my body. As a younger person, sometimes I forgot I had one! What I’ve learned about bodies is that sometimes they can override our mind in a way we can’t outright notice. Finding ways to move that you find enjoyable can help manage stress, anxiety, or other tough emotions. The more regularly you move, the more the benefits stack up. Movement can be fast, slow, or soft. It can involve lifting heavy things, taking a walk, or simply stretching and breathing. Think of movement as a well-earned rest from the thinking of the day: you deserve it.
Creating a Culture of Support and Connection at Home
Communicate Lovingly (Tip for Caregivers from Lizette and Em)
When Lizette and I were discussing best methods for building loving communication with youth, we first thought about what a caregiver or parent ally might say by soon realized that the most effective question to consider was how. While you might not be able to relate to the exact experiences of your transgender youth, you can try to place yourself in a loving and empathetic mindset by drawing up the feelings of times you have felt out-of-place, wrong, or frustrated about your body or being. Rather than communicating these similar experiences to your youth, let your experiential memory inform your dialogue or listening.
Think receiving rather than reaction. It’s a practice for sure but one that Lizette and I think is worthwhile.
Take It Easy (Tip for Youth and Caregivers from Lizette and Em)
Sometimes the simplest solution is to take the easy route. Do one fun thing a day. Take a nap. Watch a movie. Shut a door. Living in close proximity in a stressful time, we think that sometimes the best you can do that day is enough.