My High School Gets It Right

The Webb Schools of California, which is the high school I went to way back when, has updated its handbook with a section for “Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming Students” and as far as I can see it gets it right — establishing explicitly that Webb students have a right to identify their own gender and to be called by the names and pronouns they choose, and that the school will work with them to accommodate their choices with dignity and respect. The relevant section of the handbook is here (and is immediately followed by a robust harassment and discrimination policy, which I also applaud). Note I am a cisgender hetrosexual so there may be things I miss, but to the extent I know about about this stuff, this is pretty great.

It makes me proud of my school, and it also shows the distance it’s come since I graduated there more than 30 years ago. In 1987, the gay students in our school were not out, and would not have been comfortable being out; likewise being trans or otherwise non-conforming would have been difficult. 1987 was a different time, which is neither a defense or an excuse, but is a small part of an explanation. I was mostly oblivious at the time to which schoolmates of mine were gay or non-conforming, and these days it makes me sad to think that their experience with our high school, which was positive and life-changing for me, was not everything it should have been for them.

I like the fact my high school now recognizes that not every one of its students is going to have an identity that fits comfortably in a box, and is willing to work with them so that their high school educational experience is fulfilling to them. I don’t expect Webb to execute on this perfectly at all times — my high school is full of people, and people are fallible on a daily basis — but the policy has been set, and people now know what they’re expected to live up to and work toward. That’s a good place for my school to be. I’m glad it’s there, now, for its students today.

20 Comments on “My High School Gets It Right”

  1. I guess I shouldn’t be *too* surprised to check my Jesuit high school’s current student handbook and find it has literally nothing to say about gay students, much less transgender ones. There is a pretty robust harassment section though, which is nice (oh, and throwing snowballs is prohibited).

  2. Every time someplace updates its policy like this it makes me doubly happy. Primarily because it means a group of people will hopefully benefit from it, but also because it demonstrates that it’s simply not that big a lift to simply treat people with respect and address them the way they’d like to be addressed. Nobody makes a big deal about it when I ask someone to call me “Don” instead of “Donald,” even though it’s not the name I was given at birth. There’s no reason the same uneventful courtesy can’t be extended to trans folks.

  3. Yeah!!!! It is SO important to note the areas where we’ve made progress – and we’ve made lots! – because people worked and sacrificed for it. Also because it keeps us motivated, and gives perspective to the young people especially.

    Especially important to celebrate the seemingly small victories because (a) they’re not as small as they seem, and (b) they create the foundation for / build up to big ones.

  4. I’ve never understood why people see self-determination as so much of a problem.

    But, I hear someone froth, the pronouns, how can I remember the pronouns!? Why should I have to remember the pronouns!? Well, I remember lots of people’s names, and would justifiably be considered rude if I just kept calling everyone either Gerald or Millicent based on which I thought they looked like on the basis it was just easier.

    But, the bad men will pretend to be women so they can use the wrong toilet! Speaking as a LARPer, i’ve tried being someone I’m not for a few hours, and found it a real effort to be consistent; I really don’t think someone will pull off pretending to be a different gender just so they can hear their crush flush rather than having to imagine it; and the sort of people who might be low enough to do that aren’t likely to be the sort of people who’d be comfortable pretending to be the opposite sex.

  5. That’s really awesome to see. I checked my old high school in rural Alabama and you’d probably not be surprised that harassment is only explicitly prohibited on the basis of sex, race, religion, national origin, disability or age. No mention anywhere of sexual orientation or gender identity. So nothing really changed since I was a closet gay kid in the late 70’s, early 80’s.

    I have no idea if the attitude of the student body has progressed at all. Somehow I doubt it.

    We still have a lot of work to do in this country.

  6. *clicks link*

    “The mission of The Webb Schools is to provide an exemplary learning community that nurtures and inspires boys and girls to become men and women who…”

    *enby wince*

    I was also pretty surprised to see a gendered formal dress code in what is otherwise a pretty well-thought-out policy; negotiated exceptions for trans and nonbinary kids are a step in the right direction but really not enough.

    I’m really nitpicking here, overall it’s excellent and I would have loved to go somewhere so progressive and inclusive. Mostly I’m just highlighting them for cishet people who know they won’t catch everything and want to know what sort of things to watch out for.

  7. As Hillary noted, celebrate the small victories.

    I can remember my elementary school principal talking about the non-violent work of Martin Luther King, I was in my teens when we learned that women wanted liberation. As recently as the year 2001, when President Bush said other nations hate us for our freedom, I was mostly unaware of transgender, and only aware of transgender adults.

    If we are hated, then maybe it is for our freedom to open our eyes and see differently.

  8. The mention of a gendered dress code (I had trouble reading the document on the website) brings up the question: where do GNC (Gender Non-Conforming) students fit in their policies?

  9. I’m not going to be so hasty to praise or damn any public school for their policies. After 30 plus years as an educator I know the reality is that people of every stripe work in the schools. Public schools frequently want to take the path of least controversy in the community they represent. That John’s old school is willing to accommodate the alphabet soup that gender ID is today is commendable. It does not address the root dysfunction at the bullying and social conformity present in many schools however. A policy such as this is a statement of intent. Real change lies within the individuals on all level and is about all genders and gender identities equally.

    I would only hope that real tolerance would mean people can get past the whole gender ID thing and everybody just show a little courtesy and forbearance about how gender tolerance can (and will continue) sometimes remain awkward.

  10. @Dave Higgins: You wrote: “Well, I remember lots of people’s names, and would justifiably be considered rude if I just kept calling everyone either Gerald or Millicent based on which I thought they looked like on the basis it was just easier.”

    This called to mind a passage from “The Secret Sin of Septimus Brope” by Saki (who wrote moe mor less between 1906 and 1914 and is still well worth reading, IMO)

    “Why ever did you allow your maid to use a name like ‘Florinda’? Whenever *I* have a maid with an unsuitable name, i simply call her ‘Jane’. They soon get used to it.”

    “No doubt an excellent system, but I am rather used to being called ‘Jane’ myself. It happens to be my name. Anyway the question isn’t whether my maid may call herself Florinda, but whether Mr Brope shall be permitted to call her ‘Florrie’. I am strongly of the opinion that he shall not.”

    (The above is from memory, and may not be exactly correct, but I am sure it is close.)

    OH how times have changed. The first woman is meant, even 110 years ago, to be seen as rude and thoughtless (I think) but not as implausible. She is willing to casually reassign her employees’ names for her own convenience. (She also can’t remember her own friend’s and hostesess’s first name.) Both women have no problem with the idea that they should have a veto on their employees’ romantic attachments. We are far from perfect yet, and written policies may not reflect reality on the ground, but things have come a long way.

  11. It’s nice but at the same time…well, it just feels like some odd, patronizing othering. As if we’re all made of glass that’ll shatter at the first wrong pronoun. Maybe it’s me being just being an old-fashioned Transchick.

  12. Sean: “If we are hated, then maybe it is for ”

    Operation ajax and iran flight 655?

    A public school respecting transgender students is a small step forward, but we have a lot of steps back in our past.

  13. Folks, since it’s been assumed here twice now:

    Webb is not a public (ie, state-funded) school. It’s a private boarding school. Current annual tuition: $63,000.

  14. @Susan Montgomery: Quite a number of people demand that everyone address and refer to trans people by their chosen pronouns. This is often put very strongly, as if using an unpreferred pronoun was morally equivalent to using an intentional and obvious slur (such as “F–T”, “N–r” or “C–t”). Thus institutions wanted to do the write thing adopt policies such as this one, requiring that people’s preferred pronouns be used, and then this is criticized by you as being “othering”. What policy would you have such a school adopt, then? If any?

    Obviously this issue will not be fully dealt with until such policies are not needed, or are needed only to deal with outliers whose actions are already seen as totally unacceptable by the vast majority of members of society. But that won’t happen overnight. Such a policy seems reasonable to me in the present state of the world.

  15. I have to wonder if orientation and physical gender are not qualifiers for separate but equal restrooms, why have separate facilities.

  16. @David E Siegel

    I don’t know, really. Like I said, it’s more a feeling rather than anything I can put my finger on. I kind of wish that all they said was “respect people and don’t be jerks” and left it at that. In a better world that’s all that should be needed – and we wouldn’t even need that, of course.

    There are so few of us (trans*people literally number in the single millions and you’ve got a better chance of being hit by lightning than meeting one of us) and it feels like an elaborate set of guidelines puts the few of us out there on the spot.

    It’s a version of the identity politics paradox: How do we both ensure equal treatment while acknowledging our differences. People have a long way to go before we get to the point where “different” doesn’t mean “wrong” or “worse”.

  17. Susan Montgomery:

    There are so few of us (trans*people literally number in the single millions and you’ve got a better chance of being hit by lightning than meeting one of us)

    This is not correct; it is off by 4 or 5 orders of magnitude. The best data that I’m aware of, from the Williams Institute at UCLA, puts our prevalence in the adult population at about 0.6%, and our prevalence in the child population at about 1%-2%. (Search on “Williams Institute transgender prevalence”.) Even if you limit yourself to the minority of the adult trans population which has been willing and able to access genital surgery, we come in at 1:2500, or about 0.04%. (Search on “Lynne Conway transgender prevalence”.)

    99.9+% of people, cis or trans, have met trans people. They just may not have known it, because trans people who are able to pass as cis generally don’t lead with the fact that we’re trans.

    I make part of my income teaching and consulting in this area. Since we don’t live in the ideal world we would like to, policies are absolutely necessary. They provide guidance to people of goodwill who have not had the time or inclination to think deeply about the topic. They provide protection for people who are implementing the policy as written, against fearful people who want to exclude trans people (which, in schools, is usually parents or grandparents — for examples, search on “Nicole Maines Supreme Court” (the actual case is Doe v. Clenchy) and read the facts of the case, or search on “Coy Mathis” and read the facts of the case). Critically, policies give closeted trans people some idea of how they are supposed to be treated when they come out and when they transition (or not).

    Webb’s policy is necessary and good. I am pointing to it in a letter I am writing to my own alma mater.


  18. @Grace I’ll have to take your word for that – and I will. I’m sorry to say it’s not a matter I’ve really put too much thought into. It’s not the facet that defines me as a person and I’ve generally don’t pay much attention to it. Thanks for the correction and added info.

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