Anika P., seventeen, a transgender youth
who has lived for the last seven years as a girl, was in the Texas foster
care system when we spoke with her in March 2000. She attended a small
public school in South Texas through the first three years of high school.
While a student, she decided to dress as a girl and use the name she has
chosen for herself. She was harassed by her peers and unable to get support
because teachers and other school officials neither understood her being
transgender nor made any effort to understand. Instead, they tried to keep
her from expressing her gender identity at school. "I had to quit [school]
because the teachers were, like, `You can't wear a dress, you can't wear
your hair like that,'" she told us.
"I was ten when it started. It freaked them
out, I guess. . . . When I started dressing as a woman, they didn't know
what to do. Then they decided they couldn't have that kind of thing going
"They started making up rules, like, you
can't dress in a way to interrupt class, so no long hair or makeup. The
teachers were rude. I had to use the boys' restroom or the nurse's restroom,
but if the nurse wasn't there, then I didn't go at all."
Using the restroom was particularly challenging
because the nurse's office was so far away from her classes. "They give
you three minutes between classes, so I'd have to race from one side of
the building to another. The teachers were like, `What took you so long?'"
Her teachers often disciplined her for being late to class.
She wouldn't go to gym. "I'd skip. I had
to use the boys' locker room; I'd have to shower in the boys' shower."
The school put her in a special education
class. "They didn't know what to do," she recalled. "They said it was for
my own safety."
She was attacked physically once. "I got
beat over the head with a bottle in gym," she reports.
Verbal threats were much more common. "Mainly
guys would be coming up to me, saying, `What's your problem?'" she said.
They'd be, like, `What are you going to do, faggot? You still a man? Going
to kick your ass.'"
And she was often sexually harassed. Many
of the boys who threatened her also came on to her sexually, knowing that
their advances were unwelcome. "That was mainly the problem, guys who wanted
to hit on me," she told us.
When she entered the foster care system during
her junior year, she moved through a number of placements and schools.
"They moved me from shelter to shelter. They're like, `We don't want to
confuse the other kids.'" She told us that she was scheduled to move to
another placement at the end of the month.
"A lot of them refuse to take transgender
youth," she said. "For the past seven years I've been dressing as a woman.
But they're like, `You have to cut your hair, you can't put makeup on.'
Sometimes they tell me I can't wear a bra."
"The shelters are separated. They put me
in the men's shelter. The other kids say, `She's supposed to be over with
Some of the shelters have their own schools,
so she often attended school under the same conditions that she faced at
the shelters. "The rules were the same as the shelter. I couldn't talk
about my life with the other kids. It was the same rules about dress and
everything." At one shelter, she chose not to attend school at all. "I
knew the principal wouldn't let me dress the way I dress," she explained.
From September to December 1999, however,
she attended a regular public school that was generally respectful of her
gender identity and her privacy. "The only people that knew were the principal,
the counselor, and the nurse," she explained. "They were good with that
She also appreciated the fact that the school
put the name she uses on her records and her school identification card.
"They put my girl name on my ID. That was cool. They put it as my middle
name," with the boy's name she was given at birth abbreviated as a first
initial. "They put my girl name on everything-like, `[D. Anika.]' It was
a really good school."
The other students accepted her as female
until some of her classmates saw an old piece of identification. "They
looked through my purse and found a picture of me as a boy," said Anika.
Until that time, she said, "I used the female dressing room and everything.
It was impossible to find out until they looked through my purse.
"The girls kept my picture, they hid it from
me. Guys started coming up to me, they said `faggot' and stuff."
Anika felt that school officials placed the
burden of addressing the harassment on her by asking her to take the lead
in educating her peers about gender identity issues. "They wanted me to
go in front of all the kids," she recounted. "They told me, `We have a
few gay students who are also willing to go talk to them.'"
School administrators failed to appreciate
the pressure she would feel from such a request, she told us. "I just chose
not to tell my personal business," she explained.
When she balked at speaking at a school assembly,
administrators didn't make an effort to explore other options, she said.
"They told me it was a good idea to leave the school. They were like, `We
think that's a good idea.'"