In today's society, school is regarded as a “safe space.” It prides itself on being a place where people can share their ideas freely. The surface is seen as sheltered. More often than not, parents will send their children off knowing that they will be “safe.” Is this really true though?
From personal experience, it depends on the setting. I attend Traip Academy, a small school of about 300 kids in Kittery. Being transgender, I am greatly in the minority. Last year there were just three transgender kids at my school, just one of every 100. But does this mean that we are targeted? Not necessarily.
From what I have seen, my school is such a tight knit community where everyone has history with everyone. And although sometimes people have had their differences, from my experience, there has never been an unhealthy degree of harassment. I have heard stories from other schools; friends have been assaulted, even physically, because of their choices.
So that led me to wonder, what sets my school apart from others that are in the area? What systems are in place in the Kittery school system to prevent this behavior and how can we transfer this over to other schools?
During a writing workshop in Portland last summer, I interviewed some people downtown. When I asked one man how we make schools safe, he was at first hesitant, trying to put himself in other people’s shoes. Soon after he responded, saying that he would be fearful given the recent remarks of the president, but it also might make him feel empowered, a chance to make school a safe space.
My next two interviews were a pair of girls who were collecting signatures for Planned Parenthood. They said that in their experience growing up, school had not been a safe space for transgender individuals. In asking what could be done, they gave me a very unique response, saying that gender and sexuality should be talked about in health classes instead of “how to make babies and how not to make babies if you don’t wanna make babies.” This, I thought, was an interesting solution because in schools there is rarely any education on this topic.
To find a younger demographic, I put out on my social media that I was searching for answers and opinions to my questions. And I was instantly drowning in a flood of information that was all pointing to the idea that school is a safe space. This was strange, I thought, because I have gotten information from different people of incidents popping up in schools across Maine, yet when I asked this age group about whether this was an issue, if not with them then with their peers, they replied that treatment of transgender individuals is not a relevant problem. And I think that is exactly where the problem lies.
People are turning blind eyes to these events and trying to push them down when they are still happening. Kids are in denial about this happening, which is enabling even more of this unacceptable behavior.
It is important to start educating young people on this topic,. The only way this epidemic is going to get better is if my generation accepts and stands up to this problem rather than pretending that it does not exist. School should be a place where people feel free to be themselves, so that they focus less on being afraid of their peers and more on academics.
Kaleb Roth is a junior at Traip Academy in Kittery. He produced this piece as part of the 2017 Raise Your Voice Workshop in Portland sponsored by Maine Public and the Maine Writing Project.