NACAC - Spring 2020 - 18

My own experience
supporting TGNC
youth really pivoted
when I came out as
trans and nonbinary
in my late 20s. I had been a college access
counselor for almost seven years at that point.
And even though I worked at one of the most
progressive high schools in New York City, It
was only after the city passed an ordinance
prohibiting workplace harassment and deliberate
misgendering that I did it. I thought to myself,
"What would I want the young people I work
with to be able to do?" and the answer became
clear; I put on my big kid pants and shared with
the whole community.
Opening that door changed me. Soon, the little
queerlings, as I like to call them, knocked on my
door. "How did you KNOW? And when?" they'd
ask. As I answered and listened I learned all the
ways that TGNC young people learned to hide
One student came in as a junior. Listless and
disheveled most days, she could barely hold
eye contact. Then one day her mom shared
after a College Fair Night that her child was
trans. I understood why this young person's
light was dimmed. Over the next few months,
she transitioned. She changed her name, began
hormone therapy, began to dress as she wished,
dyed her hair fire engine red, and wore eyeliner
to school for the first time.
She was truly alive and it was a sight to
behold. Now she had a supportive family, a
supportive school, and a supportive counselor.
Can you imagine what would have happened if
even one of those had been more hostile to her?
When I met the principal of my new school
this year, we talked about her students-
predominantly black and brown young people,

mostly boys. Our meeting, coincidently, was on
Trans Day of Remembrance. The event honors
the many trans people who are slain each year-
mostly black and Latina trans women who were,
not unlike my new school's students, also told
they were "boys." We talked about how even
with no "out" trans students, we owed it to our
students' future selves to make the school as
affirming as possible. I asked her what it would be
like to have an openly genderqueer counselor, and
she said: "We'll all just have to learn."
We all just have to learn.
We have to.
We owe it to the young people we serve, to
our colleagues, and to ourselves to learn and to
demand environments that not only openly support
trans youth, but help them turn their brights on.
As counselors who
are committed to
supporting our students
in finding the best
and most welcoming
universities for their continued education, we
must also ensure that our high schools are
equally welcoming.
Efforts to dismantle heteronormativity and
cisnormativity must be intentional and explicitly
supportive of trans and gender-expansive
experiences. The following steps can help
support that work.
1.	 Educate your professional community!
Take a look at your dress codes, bathrooms,
school materials, and school climate. Is your
school still upholding the gender binary (boy/
girl)? Suggest an all-gender bathroom and
talk about the dangers of continuing to see
gender and expression through sex assumed
at birth. Bring it up in staff meetings. Be

the agitator so that students don't have
to be. Don't wait until you have an out
trans student needing support to make the
2.	 Respect name preferences. Ask students
how they want to be referred to (by their
legal name, their preferred name, etc.) and
to whom. Due to safety and privacy reasons,
students may ask to be called different
names in different scenarios. In some cases,
they may still use their birth name or "dead
name." As a counselor, it is important that
your relationship with your student be a
space where they can experience being
called by the name(s) of their choice.
3.	 Don't assume. Young people are constantly
figuring themselves out. If a student tells you
they are trans you should feel lucky-it's a
sign they trust you! But don't assume this
is a phase and don't assume it's forever,
either. Young people have the right to try
on identities and see which ones fit. Young
people have the right to change.
4.	 Update your paperwork. Change your
counseling intake forms to make space for
nonbinary students. Many colleges have
already done this.
5.	 Practice pronouns. Practice asking for
pronouns at the beginning of all meetings
and events. Practice correcting yourself
or others if someone messes up another
person's pronouns. Ask admission counselors
to share their pronouns in introductions.
6.	 Seek out diverse job candidates. Hire
queer and trans people, including queer and
trans people of color. Young people need to
see themselves reflected in your staff. Once
you hire them, do more than tokenize them.
Listen to their insights and make changes
when they suggest them.
María Mónica Andia is director of college
success at the Brooklyn Emerging Leaders
Academy (NY). Lenni Yesner is a school
counselor and director of college, career & future
planning at City Polytechnic High School of
Engineering, Architecture and Technology (NY).





NACAC - Spring 2020

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