Having an understanding…

An RAD teacher shares her experience about supporting a Trans student at her school.

At our school, we are a family. Everyone is welcome – all shapes and sizes. I choose my staff very carefully; we have a firm ethos and have become well known for our caring and nurturing environment. I can genuinely say we don’t ‘create it’, we just are, and I think that’s what makes it safe.

Dance can absolutely be a uniquely useful tool to help people express themselves and their identity. In a dance class you can be free to express yourself, to let the ‘inside out’. Yes, everyone does the same steps in the syllabus, but I encourage everyone to be the individual they are when dancing.

To foster an accepting environment between students you lead from the front, if you are accepting, they will follow suit. I’ll give a nudge to make sure they’re including new people, if necessary, but our children, I know feel lucky to be part of our family and so that’s what they share with new students.

My advice for other teachers supporting students coming out or who identify as LGBTQIA+ is to listen, be kind, be open, be supportive, follow their lead, and give them time and the opportunity to be ‘them’.

It is important for teachers to be allies to the LGBTQIA+ community because, and as is the case with one of my students, you might just be the only, or one of, the few people who they trust and who do let them be who they want to be.

As an example, I have a young person in my ballet classes who identifies as Trans.

When I came back from maternity leave I noticed that one of my students didn’t seem comfortable at times – they weren’t quite right. One evening after class there was an envelope left on my desk, inside it was a hand-written, very heartfelt letter explaining that they are now identifying as Trans and letting me know their preferred pronouns. They spoke in the letter about feeling anxious about telling me and hoping that it would be ok and could I now call them by their chosen name. I’d recently renamed my school and they told me that they hadn’t ordered a new hoodie yet as they wanted to come out to me first so I wasn’t shocked or confused by the name they wanted on it. I felt truly touched by the time and thought that had gone into the letter.

I wrote a short email to their parent asking to pass on my thanks for the letter and to offer reassurance to them that all was well, and that I would reply myself in writing. I hand-wrote my reply too, and of course said we would do everything we could to support them and help them feel happy in themselves.

Since then we as a class have all been using their new name and new pronouns, everyone has shown them great support which has been lovely and there is a relaxed and happy atmosphere in class. We have worked together to find a uniform which they feel comfortable in too which they’re really proud of.

It’s not been perfect, and I admit there are the odd occasion where I still slip back and say things like ‘well done girls’, but my student and I have an understanding, and there is always a reassuring look to me on those occasions that it’s ok and they know it was just a slip.

In giving their approval, my student has written this wonderful statement to go with your piece:

“A lot of trans kids find it so hard to come out within their respective communities, to feel safe to come out and be comfortable. I, personally, was so nervous , unsure about how other people would react and respond, but nonetheless, I wrote a letter to my ballet teacher, coming out in a manner I felt comfortable. She was more than accepting. Not only did she allow me to reintroduce myself with my chosen name, but she put effort into finding me a new uniform to make me more comfortable. We addressed my identity together, discussing it and now ballet is the place I feel safest, happiest and most comfortable. Dance allows me to express myself in a safe environment. My journey has been hard and long but I am proud to be out as a young trans person in my class with a teacher who supports me more than I ever thought was possible. I am trans. I am proud. And I am a dancer.”

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