Life Lessons, Parenting, Raising a Trans Child, Ranting

Childhood Trauma Isn’t A Rite of Passage. Period.

A few months before quarantine, it was decided that my son will attend our State Virtual School next year for 6th grade.

It was a decision him and I have made together, something we’ve discussed for many months. We toured the middle school he’s districted for, we weighed out all pros and cons. I suggested maybe we start at the bricks and mortar school and switch to virtual if he doesn’t excel.

But after much deliberation, we decided it’s best to try virtual first. For many reasons.

We are privileged to be able to do this since I work from home about 50% of the time (and he’s responsible enough to be at home if I’m not here). We are privileged to have a public virtual school (because Lord knows I’m not a homeschooling parent).

He loved his elementary school years. We are so sad they’re over, especially ending in this way, without closure and without the typical celebrations. He misses his friends and he will miss his school.

He wasn’t bullied. Even after coming out as trans in 3rd grade, he was {mostly} surrounded by love and support. We had bumps in the road and I had to do a lot of advocating, but his friends were quite amazing.

And we all know how different middle school hits. In every single way.

The fact that my son is transgender was a deciding factor of why we are choosing virtual school. It does add a layer of complexity that cisgender (non trans) kids do not have to think about. For example, locker rooms, dressing out for PE, differences in puberty. And we cannot ignore the statistics on trans youth- how they’re treated by their peers, how they’re “othered”, how 93% experience some sort of physical or verbal assault in schools, how 51% of trans boys attempt suicide. These are heavy stats and ones that never leave my mind as his sword and his shield.

We’ve come a long way, yes. My son’s generation is far more progressed and accepting of gender expansiveness. And this is still a highly marginalized group of youth who are at risk. Especially because many schools aren’t progressed in their trainings and policies on transgender and LGBTQ issues.

Ultimately, this decision is about being in the best learning environment. Because, you know, school is about learning. Or should be, right?

What’s really not sitting well with me is the reactions I get from some when I say we are virtual schooling.

The “We all went to middle school and survived! It’s hard for everyone!”, or, “You can’t shelter him from everything”, or, “How will he socialize?!”, or, the WORST, “Most of us were bullied in middle school and we turned out just fine”.

No.

We need to rid of these narratives.

Bullying is not a rite of passage. Suffering in these formative preteen years is not a rite of passage. And there are other forms of socialization, by the way.

It’s so crazy how we’ve all been programmed, isn’t it? To suffer. Suffering is so human, so American, that we believe that’s what we have to experience out in the world by age 11.

I was bullied relentlessly from 5th to 7th grade. I was a regular girl who moved from Chicago to Florida at the age of 10. I was quiet and awkward and I was immediately sniffed out as a weak link. Florida was a different world. We didn’t have bullies in the elementary school I attended in Chicago. No one wanted to let me into their circle as the new girl. I hated school. I hated Florida. I was miserable for almost 3 years. I begged and begged and cried to stay home from school daily. I made myself physically ill over it.

I remember those years like they just happened. I remember what I was wearing the day I was punched in the face on the bus. I remember what my bully was wearing the day she slammed desks into my hand in 6th grade and broke my pinky finger.

We didn’t have the awareness on bullying then. My parents were angry with me because they thought I just didn’t want to go to school. And, as a matter of a fact, our principal used to paddle kids for misbehaving. Yep. 1985 and that was happening.

Thank the universe that we didn’t have social media in those days. At least that wasn’t an added platform of bullying as it is now.

That suffering at the ages of 10-13 did not make me stronger. It was unnecessarily traumatic.

Yes, it helped shape me alright. It helped shape the fact that the remainder of my school years I would do almost anything to fit in so I wouldn’t feel that way again, (including becoming a bully at one time). And I carried these feelings with me into adulthood.

If I would have had the chance to virtual school and avoid this pain, I would have. No question.

I would have loved to have been able to skip out on that relentless attack on my spirit and my self esteem and my worth and the anxiety that going to school caused.

It goes without mention that my son could absolutely have a different middle school experience. I’m not projecting my shit onto him. I can delineate.

But my story isn’t rare, right?

I’m not writing this piece to defend our decision about virtual school. The fact that we all choose what’s right for our families should be a given.

Where I’m trying to dive deep is this misnomer that experiencing bullying, or trauma, in childhood via a school setting is a must. That if we turned out ok, it must be a part of the whole experience thought process.

Are we…ok? Are we?

Based on many factors, including the pervasive adult bullying that exists, I’m going to say we’re not really ok.

Just because childhood trauma is common does not mean it’s necessary.

When asking neighborhood kids of all ages if they’re missing school because of quarantine, most of them say yes, they’re missing their friends.

You know which children aren’t missing school at all?

Those who struggle to fit in.

Those who have a bully or many bullies.

Those who aren’t supported at school in the way they are at home. Many LGBTQ kids, (although, it should be noted that many are quarantined at home with unsupportive family members and sometimes school is the safest place for LGBTQ kids).

So, for us, yes, I’m glad we have the option to virtual school, which, again, is such a privilege.

And if it wasn’t an option, I would be writing the same post, demanding that we don’t perpetuate a dangerous narrative that there is a rite of passage of being terrible to one another as kids. Let’s stop teaching our kids to “suck it up” and that it’s somehow normal kid stuff.

It isn’t. It shouldn’t be. It’s not a necessary part of life.

Will it still happen? Of course. Can we spin traumatic experiences into a positive? Of course. Because we have to.

But. Can we try to do better to eliminate them instead?

Bullies raise bullies. Hurt people hurt people. Cycles of abuse continue to cycle. We know the drill. It needs to never be ok to experience bullying. Never.

It’s up to us as parents to be vigilant in creating new narratives.

And we can do that by raising better humans.

And we can raise better humans by changing patterns and diverging from what we learned as kids, venture into learning about things, ideas, and people that we didn’t know existed.

We need to be committed to teaching our kids about differences in race, culture, abilities, disabilities, identities, etc. Teach better history, teach better lessons.

Pass it on.

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