A Lesson, Then a Plan: How a Sixth Grade Student Changed a Trans Teacher’s Life

by Kai Morley

I identified as a girl for most of my life, but in 5th grade I started getting a lot of anxiety around school. And it wasn’t until I realized that clothing and the way people showed up to school and were talking about crushes, that that’s kind of when I realized I don’t really feel like I fit in. I tried really hard to conform to them. They would be wearing matching outfits that were pink, talking about boys in school. 

And it wasn’t until I got home where I could be free, take off my outfit, put on a baggy t-shirt, shorts, get dirty. I was always a tomboy. I’d be in the neighborhood out until the sun would go down playing basketball on my little tripod bike that had pegs on it, would set up a little skate park. 

But in school, when I was in school, I felt completely emotionally unsafe, but I didn’t have the language to really know why. I actually started seeing a psychiatrist when I was in 7th grade, and she actually said that I had what they call the school phobia, which always felt kind of weird for me because I loved learning and I did well in school. But just the thought of going to school caused me so much pain and anxiety.

So my junior year of high school, we were doing some career exploration, looking at our skills, our strengths, taking different assessments, and I ultimately decided to be a teacher. I made that decision because I really wanted to work with young people and provide them better life experiences and a better school experience than I had. 

I went and I got my degree in K to 8 special education and at the age of 22, I started teaching. I was teaching 6th, 7th, and 8th graders with special education, and I then transitioned to become a health educator. At this point in time, I was still identifying as a girl, as a woman, and I honestly didn’t really think much about my gender.

The state of Maine in general is a very, very small state, very white, very few marginalized groups of people. So the only representation of the trans community I’d see was just some really harmful, problematic representations in the media.

So now I’m 25 years old. I’m teaching middle school health, and I I had one student in particular who is just a ray of sunshine, and they brought their full authentic selves to school every single day. And for them, this looked like wearing dresses that their friends would help pick out. They were wearing the most bright glitter-ful shoes, sometimes even heels, and they weren’t embarrassed by it. They didn’t feel any shame. Their joy would just radiate out of them. In meeting this student, I knew that they were making me realize some things and truths about myself that I didn’t, again, really want to look into.

So it’s about 7:30 in the morning. The teachers, or my coworkers, were standing outside in the hallway waiting just for the flood of students to come up at 7:45 when the bell goes off. And at this point in time, teachers are chit-chatting, we’re talking about our lesson plans, we’re talking about what we’re going to do after school, but we’re also kind of talking about some students. And I hear one of my teachers misgender this 6th grade student, not once, not twice, but three times. Hearing this teacher misgender that student just made me incredibly angry, it made me sad, and it made me really honestly disappointed.

I hear one of my teachers misgender this 6th grade student, not once, not twice, but three times.

I didn’t really have the courage to say anything or stand up for that student in that moment, which I still think about a lot. But what it did do was it kind of set an alarm off, internally, for myself of Where is this coming from? I feel very protective about this student for a variety of reasons. Why do I feel so uncomfortable about looking inward and showing up as my authentic self when I see a sixth grader do this every day? It was just the most inspiring thing.

The rest of the day moved so slow. Every class period I felt like lasted hours, they were 45 minutes, and at the end of the day, I was out of the school as soon as the last bell went off. So after school, I got in my car. I picked up the phone, I called Planned Parenthood. The reason for this call was to set up a consultation just to talk about hormone replacement therapy, what that means, what that looks like. It was about a five-minute call, but the wait time to talk to a nurse was longer than the call itself.

I hung up the phone and I just sat in silence for 20 minutes as I drove home, snow was falling down around me, and tears were just falling down my face, but they weren’t tears of being sad as much as they were just tears of absolute relief. And so really that relief really stemmed from me stepping forward in my own truth and knowing that my life is going to be changed completely and in the best ways and the ways that they’ve always intended to be.

I had the opportunity to teach this 6th grader for three years as a 6th, 7th, and 8th grader actually. And without them knowing it, they inspired me and they honestly changed the trajectory of my life. 

So I’ve now been on testosterone for three and a half years. I actually started really slowly physically transitioning, so I started on the lowest dose possible as a gel. And then every three weeks I’d have a nurse from Planned Parenthood, and I would remember them asking me, “What changes are you welcoming?” And I’d always say, “All of them. I want more changes, more and more and more.” And so we just slowly just jumped, made small increments up to the full dose that I’m at now, which so probably has been about two and a half years. It has changed my life in the best possible ways. 

I think a lot of the times the narrative around the trans experience is one that’s really harmful, holds a lot of pain, a lot of hurt, But honestly, our trans experience is just full of joy and love and just being able to show that every day, I’m hoping that it can build more empathy from the cisgender community, but also for the trans community, which is really what my platform is for. just to have language and representation of what their life could possibly look like, and one that is rooted in joy and love and freedom.

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