Oyster River High School boasts of acceptance and diversity amongst their student body. As just one part of the larger community, the transgender students within the school are a niche but equally important part of the student population. Students who identify as transgender have had to navigate not only the normal angst which accompanies everyones highschool experience but also the complicated matter of figuring out their own gender identity and expresion. In order to accommodate for these students and give them the support they need the school has created policies and set up support systems tailored to helping transgender students. However these policies can’t account for the challenges that many transgender students face at home, outside of school, and internally.
When talking about transgender students it is important to know what it means to be transgender. Transgender is an umbrella term, which, according to the Planned Parenthood website, refers to people whose, “gender identities can be different from the sex they were assigned at birth.” As an umbrella term transgender can be used to encompas a lot of different identities, including both binary, trans men and women, and non-binary, those who don’t identify with either the male or female gender, individuals who identify as trans. There are even more ways of identifying within the trans community since each person’s experience is unique to them but this article will focus primarily on binary and non binary members of Oyster River’s trans community.
Seth Heirtzler (‘22) is a transgender male student. He first came out in seventh grade and has since legally changed his name, started testosterone, and received top-surgery. “I didn’t really want to acknowledge it so I first came out in multiple stages, so first I came out as a lesbian and then I came out as nonbinary with a preference to he/him but then I just came out as trans male around Christmas and my gift was a haircut,” said Heirtzler. With being transgender comes many legal hoops to jump through even after one has managed their own personal feelings about their identity. Currently Heirtzler is working on getting the gender marker on his driver’s license changed but since it is attached to his social security number related to his birth gender it has proven difficult.
This has not been the only challenger for Heirtzler along the way. Before starting Testosterone he had to get diagnosed with gender dysphoria, a psychological diagnosis that details when someone’s birth gender is different from their gender identity. In order to get his diagnosis he had to go to therapy for three months. “I went to see a therapist that was trained in gender dysphoria and they gave me the diagnosis. After that they had to write me a letter of recommendation to my general physician and then I could go to an endocrinologist. I think it took two separate visits. It was 3 hours away,” said Heirzler. While this process ultimately worked for Heirtzler it was lengthy and at times very difficult. “We should have easier ways to transition. It really doesn’t need to be a 6-month process for you to get diagnosed with dysphoria,” said Heirzler. “There are a lot of trans people who don’t have dysphoria and they would like to take testosterone but they can’t because they can’t get a diagnosis of dysphoria because they just don’t have it so sometimes you have to lie and I feel like that’s more disingenuous.”
After finally starting testosterone in December of 2016 Heirzler was able to begin his physical transition. On June 27th of 2019 he was able to get top surgery. After his surgery, while being grateful for the physical change, before he could truly celebrate it he had to go through the nearly 3 month recovery process. “Your body is going through so much trauma [and] you’re angry at yourself for putting yourself through all that trouble so you’re always second-guessing yourself like was this worth it,” said Heirzler.
While Heirzler, with the support of his family, was able to physically transition other youth who wish to transition are unable to. While some tranasgender people choose not to alter themselves with surgical procedures of hormones it is common in order to induce a physical transition. Elliot Orchard-Blowen (‘24) is currently unable to transition how he wants. “I’m presenting as my gender and comfortable using my pronouns but physically I am not really allowed to,” said Orchard-Blowen.
Though not able to physically change his appearance or legally change his name or gender marker Orchard-Blowen has been able to change his name on his school records and contacted all of his teachers about his preferred pronouns at the beginning of the year. “All of my teachers have been pretty great,” said Orchard-Blowen. “I didn’t expect it to be that good and get such a positive response.”
At Oyster River the administration makes a point of trying to include and support all of their students but specifically their transgender students. According to the Oyster River’s policy in order to be considered transgender at school if, “they consistently assert a gender identity or expression different from that traditionally associated with their assigned sex at birth. This involves more than a casual declaration of gender identity or expression, but it does not necessarily require a medical diagnosis.” Oyster River was one of the first schools in the area to create and adapt such a policy to their schools.
Jason Baker, one of four councillors at ORHS, helped to create the policy after one of his students came out as transgender and he realized a change needed to be made. Baker explained his desire to help the student and, “make this place the most supportive it can be for them.” Baker brought up the idea of the policy to then principal Todd Allen and Superintendent James Morse in the winter of 2015. They spoke to lawyers, UNH officials, and school board members about the correct wording and initiative before the policy was adapted by the school board that summer. “We tried to be as precise as we could with flexibility so it can change at any moment to include new phrases, words, or identities,” said Baker.
While changing names in powerschool is “very easy” for administration, other actions are more difficult to do without a parent’s permission. “Sometimes you’re just working confidentially with the student until they are 18 and they can get out of the house,” said Baker. Home situations are very hard to change especially when parents aren’t willing to accommodate their kids’ changes but Baker says, “We are here and we are ready, willing, and able to help.”
While this is helpful to those who need documents changed and support from councillors, many of the challenges faced by transgender youth within the school can be unintentional but still harmful. One issue many students have faced whether unintentional or intentional has been the binary curriculum.
“There’s an element of being non binary within a very binary world where a lot of things which shouldnt be hard can be,” said Juno Ball (‘23) a non-binary student at Oyster River. They have had a lot of support from counseling, their advisors, and teachers who have wanted to make them as comfortable as possible. “It was very clear that they wanted to make sure I was comfortable with everything and that everything happened on my terms,” said Ball. There have still been instances in which the binaries of society have ostracized them. They have had issues with teachers assigning seats in a boy girl pattern but then they end up in a seat that seemingly labels them as one gender over the other. “It makes me really uncomfortable,” said Ball.
Ball is not the only student to have experienced this. In health class Heirzler also noticed that the curriculum catered primarily to cisgendered straight students. One moment which stood out to him was when the class had to split into boys and girls to learn how to self examine for cancer. Heirzler and another trans student were caught in the middle between their identity and their anatomy.
Teachers are trained to be inclusive of all their students so they make it a point to properly gender their students and take into account their circumstances. The student population is not. Many of the issues transgender kids have not only in school but everywhere is deadnaming and misgendering. Deadnaming refers to when someone uses the name a transgender person used to use before they tranistion and misgendering refers to when people use someone’s incorrect pronouns.
“There’s something to be said about learning the best ways to cope with being misgendered,” said Heirzler. Heirzler now presents as masculine and even has a beard but while he is not often misgendered anymore he used to more often. For those who are at the start of their transition being misgendered and deadnamed is sadly not uncommon. Orchard-Blowen has experienced this as he gets both deadnamed and misgendered often. He has been able to come out with identity comfortably but still struggles with correcting people. “I wish I could tell you I did [correct people] but I don’t have the confidence to do that,” said Orchard-Blowen. “It’s hard but I hope that one day I will be able to just do it without thinking.”
While most misgendering and deadnaming is done unintentionally sometimes it is done on purpose with malicious intent. Ball faced this recently when they once had a kid use their deadname and incorrect pronouns because they were “Annoyed” with them. “That’s just not how it works,” said Ball who was upset that people thought it was okay to switch between the two as they pleased.
“As soon as you are misgendered everything you see about you is changed,” said Heirzler. Prior to transitioning he used to spend hours looking at himself in the mirror and comparing his face and body to the standard anatomy of a male. “I would look at mine and wonder if I’d ever be able to pass.” Looking back though he realizes that there is no one correct way to be a man. “Don’t look at bones,” said Heirzler as he emphasized that if you compare yourself solely to what you’re not you will never be happy. “There’s no one way to be trans or to be non binary,” says Ball. Ball also reminds people that uncertainty doesn’t invalidate your thoughts. “Questioning your gender is something a lot of people do and it’s completely valid.” For students who are questioning their gender identity or experiencing problems because of their identity and want someone to talk to, Baker highly recommends that they utilize their councillors. “We don’t know the answer to everything but we are a safe place,” says Baker.
By Madla Wash