A mother to a transgender Leaving Cert student recently spoke with the Irish Independent on how her son fasted during the school day in fear of using the school’s bathrooms, a struggle relatable to many trans students throughout the country. The mother has remained anonymous in order to protect her son’s identity.
Her seventeen year-old son first registered to a secondary school in Dublin as a female student. At this stage, he avoids using the bathrooms at all costs, to the extent of not eating or drinking during the school day. The mother touched upon the impact of fasting on her son’s health and academic performance as she recollected noticing him looking ill when picking him up from school:
“He would come home completely dehydrated and would have to go to bed for hours and then get up and do his homework.”
The lack of hydration and irregular sleep patterns had noticeable effects on her son’s performance, so when he came out a trans three years ago, the mother began a long struggle with the school to ensure the provision of spaces where trans students can comfortably use the bathroom.
At first, her son was told that he could use a disabled bathroom, but this provision came with its own range of problems: “It’s not good enough. He’s not disabled. He used it, and because it’s a disabled bathroom it can be opened from the outside in the event that the person inside needs assistance. People walked in on him,” the mother comments. Once again, her son was forced to avoid school bathrooms.
After three years, the lock is finally changed, a gender-neutral sticker has replaced the disabled one, and students that identify themselves as transgender are permitted to use the bathroom. The mother acknowledges the progress made but notes that forcing students to identify themselves “isn’t fair”.
Bathrooms can be the focal point for many of the challenges faced by trans youth; feeling uncomfortable in a school bathroom can trigger dysphoria in some students. Especially as schools should provide a safe space for all young people, the introduction of gender-neutral bathrooms in all schools could act as tremendous ease to this pressure.
Leading gender affirmation surgeon Dr Sidhbh Gallagher is an advocate for this: “Puberty for any kid can be a stressful time but for a transgender or non-binary kid it can be an especially tough time so it makes sense as a society to look out for that kid and make daily things like using the bathroom straight forward.”
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