Last week, I saw one of those polls going around on social media, asking whether participants would “go back” to their high school days if they could. From what I could tell, the answers were a resounding “no.”
Sure, we all have some nostalgia tied up with our teenage years…the glory days of sports, the lack of adult responsibilities, all the “firsts” – first date, first kiss, first road trip.
But the more I think on my own high school years, the happier I am to have those days behind me. Because I also remember (and maybe you do too) how brutal they could be. I remember girlfriends suddenly turning on each other with gossip and rumors. I remember feeling the pressure of too much homework and not enough down time. I remember starting my period in the middle of band camp, and not being prepared or equipped. I remember wondering if I’d have a date to prom…and then subsequently wondering whether that date would be safe. I remember trying to change after P.E. as quickly and stealthily as I could. And I remember hoping to use the school bathrooms as little as humanly possible.
The teenage years can be so cruel. Even if everything is traditionally “good” in your life – supportive parents at home, a healthy environment…if you live without any disabilities or significant health issues…if you have access to all the resources you need and more…if you have a wealth of trusted adults in your life (a coach, a pastor, a teacher, an aunt or uncle, a mentor)…those years are still hard.
So my heart broke when I read the Virginia Department of Education’s “Model Policies for the Treatment of Transgender Students in Virginia’s Public Schools,” and tried to imagine what it must be like to go through those middle or high school years as a trans child. It’s hard to be “different” in any way – and I can only imagine what it would be like to navigate puberty and the teenage social world if my gender did not match my birth certificate.
My heart broke again when I watched the recording of the most recent Pulaski County School Board meeting, and listened to the fear and anger from so many of my neighbors and colleagues. I tried again to imagine what it would be like to hear those words, if I were a youth today.
I don’t fully understand the biology behind gender identity. I’m like a lot of cisgender people – I never really had to think about it. But I’m starting to learn about the diversity of gender identity. Sometimes it involves diversity in chromosomes or reproductive organs (not everyone’s DNA is a simple XY or XX; and some people have both a penis and a uterus). And more often than not, we don’t know “why” some people are cisgender and some people are transgender or nonbinary. Maybe it’s not a problem to be solved; maybe it’s part of the wonderful diversity found in all of God’s creation.
I’m a person of faith. And when I read Scripture, I see Jesus erring on the side of grace time and again. I see him embracing the social and religious outcasts of his day. I try my best to do the same.
As for the multiple concerns I heard in that meeting regarding sexual assault – welcome to the struggle. At least 1 out of every 6 women and girls (and at least 3% of men or boys) have been victims of sexual assault, and it’s not due to bathroom policies. We need to address this type of violence as a community. We have some wonderful experts through the Women’s Resource Center of the NRV. It’s a separate issue from the rights of transgender students, and it deserves our full attention.
It is my understanding that in the coming weeks, there will be some open forums and community meetings regarding the equity initiatives in the school system. I hope that all of us will watch or attend with an open heart, because in the end we are all on the same “team” here. We all want the children of Pulaski County to thrive.