As a – hopefully cathartic – writing exercise, this is the letter I’d like to send to the administrators at the school which fired me for being trans. I’m talking with my lawyer about whether actually sending it would be productive.
To whom it may concern,
In the Fall of 2010, I was hired by the Piven Theatre Workshop in Evanston to teach an 8-week session of after school theatre classes to the students at Neal Math and Science Academy. After having taught the first class, on Tuesday, September 28, I was asked not to return. One or more of your school administrators felt my presence would bring up “uncomfortable conversations,” specifically due to my status as a transgender woman. As a result of your actions, I lost income from the workshops, and your students lost the opportunity to learn the world-class theatre techniques of the Piven Theatre Workshop. But beyond that, you damaged my sense of safety, and the integrity of your school community.
Bald-faced bigotry is something no one should face, but that was what happened here. You asked me not to return not because I had done a poor job teaching, not because the students hadn’t enjoyed the workshop, not because of space or budget issues, but because of who I am. You don’t know me. You’ve never met me. And yet you felt comfortable firing me for reasons that were irrelevant to my skills as an educator. I hope you never have to experience the self-doubt, the feelings of worthlessness, that you inflicted on me.
More importantly, your actions damaged the integrity of your school community. My understanding is that, within the last twelve months, a student at Neal Math and Science Academy committed suicide following teasing relating to gender identity or expression. Bullying targeted at the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community is a very real issue, as the rash of student suicides around the country this past year has shown. But by sweeping the issue under the rug, by avoiding potential “uncomfortable questions,” you ensure that no student is safe. Four out of every five students who are teased for reasons relating to sexuality or gender expression are not gay. (I need to find this citation.) By ignoring issue sof gender and sexuality, you leave your entire student population at risk.
I have no doubt your actions stemmed from a desire to protect your student population. But bringing up difficult issues – like how to deal with a transgender student or teacher – is infinitely preferable to pretending those issues don’t exist. Had you asked, I would have assured you that my status as a transgender woman would have no place in my Piven classroom, because it’s irrelevant to teaching youth acting skills. You, not I, have made this an issue.
My motivation for sending you this letter stems from two desires: First, for you to understand the harm your actions caused, both to myself and your larger school community. Second, to offer the opportunity to move forward and strengthen that same community. The Illinois Safe School Alliance offers training to create safe spaces for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students, and I myself offer ‘Trans 101’ workshops to cover the basics of transgender-related issues and terminology.
Instead of using my presence as a teaching opportunity, you furthered the very problems you were no doubt trying to avoid.
I hope to hear from you, so that this matter may be resolved in an adult and professional fashion, instead of simply sticking your head in the sand and pretending such issues are not worthy of your time.