Trans awareness week and educational psychology
Each year between the 13th and 19th November, people, communities and organisations participate in Transgender Awareness Week.
This is a week where trans* people and allies “take action to bring attention to the community by educating the public about who transgender people are, sharing stories and experiences, and advancing advocacy around the issues of prejudice, discrimination, and violence that affect the transgender community” (GLAAD, 2021). Recognising this therefore, as a profession, what can we do to demonstrate support and allyship, and ensure the voices of transgender young people are heard and supported?
Developing our self-awareness
Perhaps one of the first steps can be recognising our own positions and our role within systems. Recently on edpsy, there has been a fascinating exploration into the use of the Social GRACES (Burnham, 2012) as a part of a transcultural supervision exercise to support both supervisor and supervisee in developing a shared awareness of cultural perspectives and to explore working in a culturally sensitive way.
The GRACES and their relation to LGBTQ+ identity is also something I discussed briefly in a blog last year. I believe that the GRACES and other reflection tools are a hugely important tool for our continued professional development, and something particularly useful within the current discussion. By recognising our own positioning in terms of identity, and the privilege, power or powerlessness this affords us, we can begin to explore how we can use this to offer our voices and experiences to others. This can range from small but powerful actions such as adding pronouns in email signatures, to actively naming and challenging discrimination and uncertainty (from ourselves and others) when we come across it.
After we have developed our understanding of ourselves and our own areas of power/lessness, how then, can we apply this to our work?
Apply psychology in systems and elevating voices
There is an increasing awareness around issues relating to gender identity among the EP profession, as well as our role within it. Over the past couple of years, there has been some fantastic research completed by EPs/TEPs highlighting the views of educational professionals, including EPs, and the role we can have in both supporting young people as well as the schools and systems around them (e.g. see Bowskill, 2017; Gavin, 2021; Yavuz, 2016).
This work has highlighted the importance of systemic working through sharing psychological theory and development; training in both schools and wider systems; the prioritising of young people’s voices; and exploring systems’ readiness to change. As Yavuz (2016) highlights, as EPs, we are perhaps in a unique position in this regard, as we can work across the system from individual work eliciting pupil voice, to supporting families and schools, and up to a wider Local Authority level, developing policy, guidelines, training and other resources.
In general, research has consistently suggested that while schools and other professionals want to demonstrate support for trans* young people, a lack of awareness and fear of doing the ‘wrong thing’ has often led to general avoidance of any action (e.g. Gavin, 2021; Meyer, 2008; Payne & Smith, 2014). This has then perhaps added to the fact that the predominant message being highlighted for trans* children and young people is an overwhelmingly negative experience across school. However, as well as considering the systems around the young person, as a profession EPs/TEPs are also exploring and highlighting the views of trans* young people in order to identify both positive and negative experiences and, where necessary, advocate on their behalf (e.g. see Freedman, 2019; Lowe, 2020; McGowan 2020). This is also the area in which I completed my own doctoral research, highlighting the positive school experiences for trans* children and young people.
In research within our profession, and outside(e.g. Evans and Rawlings, 2021), the consistent message is one of respect. Respect for names and language; respect for gendered activities and provisions (e.g. uniforms, toilets, changing facilities); and respect as a human being. As a profession, not only can we highlight and share these voices, but we can understand the impact of such respect – both when it is demonstrated and when it is not – on a CYP’s development, self-concept and own sense of power/lessness.
I will end this blog with another quote:
There should really be little reason why an educational psychologist would need to work directly with the young person other than if their voice is not being heard or if the educational psychologist is required to advocate on their behalf.Yavuz, 2016, pg.403
Instead, consider how can we use our psychological knowledge and understanding, our experiences across different environments, and our relationships with schools, communities and LAs to ensure these voices are heard, and the experiences that make Transgender Awareness Week necessary are acknowledged, addressed and managed, to create a safer environment for all people.
Bowskill, T. (2017). How educational professionals can improve the outcomes for transgender children and young people. Educational and Child Psychology, 34(3), 96–108.
Burnham, J. (2012). Developments in social GRRRAAACCEEESSS: Visible–invisible and voiced–unvoiced. In I.-B. Krause (Ed.) Culture and Reflexivity in Systemic Psychotherapy: Mutual Perspectives. London: Karnac
Evans, I. & Rawlings, V. (2021): “It was Just One Less Thing that I Had to Worry about”: Positive Experiences of Schooling for Gender Diverse and Transgender Students, Journal of Homosexuality, 68(9), 1489-1508
Freedman, A. (2019). The Experiences of Transgender Young People and Their Parents: Informing the Work of Educational Psychologists (unpublished doctoral dissertation). London, UK: University College London.
Gavin, J. (2021). Building a Better Understanding of How Educational Professionals Engage with Systems to Support Trans* Young People (unpublished doctoral dissertation). London, UK: University College London
Leonard, M. (2019). Growing Up Trans*: Exploring the Positive School Experiences of Transgender Children and Young People (unpublished doctoral dissertation). London, UK: University of East London.
Lowe, R. (2020) Exploring the Experiences of Transgender Adolescents using the Creative Arts and a Participatory Approach to Research (unpublished doctoral dissertation). London, UK: University of Sheffield.
McGowan, A. (14 August, 2020) Exploration of the Views and Experiences of Transgender Youth in Secondary Education [Video]. YouTube. Annie McGowan: Exploration of the Views and Experiences of Transgender Youth in Secondary Education – YouTube
Meyer, E.J. (2008). Gendered harassment in secondary schools: Understanding teachers’ (non) interventions. Gender & Education, 20(6), 555–570.
Payne, E. & Smith, M. (2014). The big freak out: Educator fear in response to the presence of transgender elementary school students. Journal of Homosexuality, 61, 399–418.
Yavuz, C. (2016). Gender variance and educational psychology: Implications for practice. Educational Psychology in Practice, 20, 1–15.