Saturday 24 August 2019

'He would be completely dehydrated' - mum tells of how transgender son avoided food and water to avoid using school bathroom

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Stock photo

Aoife Walsh

The mother of a transgender teenager has told of how her child had stopped drinking water or eating food throughout the school day to avoid having to use a Dublin school bathroom.

The mother, who has remained anonymous to protect her child’s identity, told Independent.ie that her son (17), who was first registered in the secondary school as a female pupil, avoided eating breakfast and didn't even drink water during the day as he didn't feel comfortable using the bathrooms.

"There have been four occasions where I have collected him from school and I could tell he wasn't well," she said.

"He would come home completely dehydrated and would have to go to bed for hours and then get up and do his homework."

She said her son, who will sit his Leaving Certificate this school year, found it difficult to concentrate on school work as a result of the fasting.

She added that since her son came out as transgender to the school three years ago, she has been fighting for a safe space for her son and other transgender students to feel comfortable to use the toilet in.

According to the mother, the school first responded by allowing the boy to use one of three disabled bathrooms available on the premises, but she feels this isn't a sufficient solution for schools.

"It's not good enough. He's not disabled. He used it, and because it's a disabled bathroom it can be opened from the outside in the event that the person inside needs assistance. People walked in on him," she said.

The school has now recently changed the lock on the bathroom door and designated the bathroom as a gender neutral zone, but students who wish to use to the space must identify themselves to the school.

"It took me three years to get it to this to the stage to get them to change the lock and put a gender neutral sticker on the door. It has helped, but students have to make themselves known if they want to use it, which isn't fair."

She said that introducing gender neutral bathrooms from primary school level would help normalise the idea that the toilet facility does not have to be exclusive to gender.

"Yes, they will need monitoring, but if people need to use the bathroom they'll use the bathroom - they don't think about it. We have gender neutral bathrooms at home and on airplanes, why does this need to be different?" she added.

CEO of BeLonG To Youth Services, a charity for LGBT young people, Moninne Griffith said that choosing between male and female bathrooms can be a "very stressful" experience for young transgender people, and this teenager's experience is not an isolated incident.

She said: "We've had parents ringing and saying their children are coming home from school and fainting because they go all day without eating or drinking anything because they're nervous about going to the bathroom.

"Trans young people are at the highest risk of skipping or dropping out of school, as well as being at a high risk of self-harm and suicide ideation.

"12 is the most common age we hear of for young people to realise they are transgender, and 15 is the most common age young people first tell someone, but in some cases it has been as young as 6 or 7. It's up to the schools to create private, safe and inclusive bathrooms for all their students."

Dr Sidhbh Gallagher, originally from Co Louth, is a leading surgeon in gender affirmation surgery in the state of Indianapolis. She feels gender neutral bathrooms should be introduced to all schools and it would "take the issue away".

“It’s a huge issue for any young person transitioning. If individual gender neutral bathrooms are introduced it takes the issue away.

"Puberty for any kid can be a stressful time but for a transgender or non/binary kid it can be an especially tough time so it makes sense as a society to look out for that kid and make daily things like using the bathroom straight forward," she said.

“As a cisgender person, the idea of a gender neutral bathroom makes barely any difference to me. But for a kid, it’s huge."

However, psychotherapist Stella O’Malley said while she is “100% positive” about introducing gender neutral uniforms in schools, she feels the concept of gender neutral bathrooms is “a bit more complicated.”

 “I think it all depends on the execution of this concept; and it is vitally important that everyone's sensitivities are concerned for this issue,” she said.

“It is very difficult for girls when their bodies develop puberty early. Indeed, early physical development has been identified as a specific challenge to girls' mental health. At this stage, when the children are about 9 or 10-years-old, the boys are still very childish and think it's funny to laugh at a girl getting her period while the girls are generally mortified and need privacy and protecting around this. This would be hard to carry out in a large space for public toilets.

She continued; “However, if each separate room held a gender neutral toilet and each had its own space to wash your hands and dispose of your sanitary towels then it could work. “

Last month, the Sunday Independent revealed five soon-to-be built secondary schools have sought permission from the Department of Education to install gender neutral toilets for students. The department is also considering design proposals for new primary schools which would see the introduction of toilet facilities which would not be for any specific gender.

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