Supporting a young trans person who wishes to transition
What does transitioning mean?
A trans person may take social steps to transition, for example changing their name and pronoun, telling friends and family, dressing differently or changing official documents. Coming out is sometimes seen as the first of these social steps.
How will a young person want to transition?
A trans young person will transition so as to be understood by others in their self-identified gender and to look and feel the way that makes them comfortable. Most trans young people will want to take social steps to transition. Support for trans young people is available through a health service called the Gender Identity Development Service.
There is no ‘best time’ for a young person to transition. A young person should transition when they are ready. They may take steps to transition over a period of time or choose a specific time to make several changes at once, for example to coincide with moving to sixth form. All schools and colleges, including single-sex schools, have a responsibility to support a trans young person through a transition and enable them to remain at their school or college.
What might a young person transitioning have concerns about?
Young people wishing to transition at school or college may have concerns such as:
- How will it work?
- How long will it take?
- Will I fit in and be accepted in my self-identified gender?
- Will I need to leave as I'm in a single-sex school?
It is important to talk through any concerns a young person has about their transition and to signpost to information that can help. It may reassure a young person to assign them a support member of staff who they can approach with any worries or concerns before, during or after their transition at school or college.
Specific areas of support
The following areas of support are essential for staff to consider when supporting a trans young person.
Names and pronouns
One of the steps a trans young person may take is to change their name and the pronoun by which they are referred to. Some may wish to change their pronoun from ‘he’ to ‘she’ or vice versa, while others, for example a non-binary young person, may prefer a pronoun that doesn’t relate to male or female gender, such as ‘they’ or ‘zir’.
A young person may want to be known by this preferred name and pronoun at school or college, in which case both will need to be clearly communicated to, and used consistently by, others. It is important to listen to how a young person wants their name and pronoun shared, and with whom. For instance, they might want to tell their friends first, or prefer a teacher to tell the year group all together. Schools and colleges can update SIMS records to reflect a young person’s preferred name and change settings to select this name for class registers. A trans young person does not need to go through a ‘legal’ process to be known by their preferred name (and pronoun) at school or college. However, some young people may want to change their name on other documentation, such as bus pass, passport or bank statements. Any person can evidence a change of name by deed poll, parental consent is required for under 16s. Once changed, passports and bank statements can be amended and exam certificates will reflect the new name. A young person who wishes to change the gender on their passport and bank statement can do so with a supporting letter from a health practitioner, but the assigned gender will remain on some things, including exam certificates.
Uniform and dress
A trans young person may take steps to change how they dress or the uniform they wear to school to reflect their gender identity. They are much more likely to feel comfortable in a school where all approved uniform items are available to all young people, regardless of gender. However if there are different uniforms or dress codes for ‘male’ and ‘female’ students, a young person should be able to wear the uniform items that they feel reflect their self-identified gender.
Toilets and changing rooms
A trans young person may wish to use the toilets and changing rooms of their self-identified gender rather than of their assigned sex. Schools and colleges should make sure that a trans student is supported to do so and be aware that this is a legal requirement under the Equality Act. Schools and colleges should also support trans young people to use gender neutral facilities or a private space if that is what they prefer. The most important thing is to talk to the young person rather than make assumptions about the facilities they would like to use.
It is important a trans young person is able to participate in sports teams consistent with their gender identity, unless there are reasonable safety concerns. This is unlikely for most sports and age groups under 18, although staff may wish to ask advice from relevant sporting bodies for competitions. Playing in a different sports team or deciding which team to play in may be a daunting step for a young person, so staff should consider this area of support with sensitivity and care, particularly when supporting a non-binary young person.
Ensure trans young people are able to sleep in the room of their self-identified gender, or in a gender neutral dorm or private space if that’s what would make them feel comfortable. Trips overseas may need more thought in advance. Some aspects may cause worry or concern for a trans young person, such as their documentation not corresponding to their self-identified gender, or how they look. Staff should talk worries through with the young person and may want to be aware of legal protections afforded to lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people in the country they are visiting.
A trans young person may feel unhappy or distressed about living with a body they don’t feel reflects their gender identity. Schools and colleges can help by ensuring that young people know how to access support services, can talk to others and learn about self-esteem and body confidence in PSHE.
- Every young person will need different things to feel comfortable at school or college. A young person’s needs in these areas may change, or new situations requiring consideration may arise, so staff will need to take a flexible approach to support.
- A young person who has already transitioned will need to be supported across these areas.
- Lots of things in schools and colleges are often separated by gender, including toilets, changing rooms and, sometimes, uniforms. Schools and colleges may need to make changes across areas where this is the case to ensure that a trans young person feels safe and comfortable, for instance by providing toilets, changing rooms and school uniform items that are not gender specific. Remember that some young people don’t identify as ‘male’ or ‘female’ or may not feel happy using either ‘male’ or ‘female’ facilities. Many schools and colleges are taking steps to provide ‘gender neutral’ facilities – irrespective of whether there are trans young people in the school or college – to help create a more inclusive environment for everyone.