Bullying and harassment is something one-third adult transgender learners go through, according to a group of MPs. Beatrix Groves, who has worked in further and adult education for around 30 years, explains her experiences of the sector having changed gender in 2008.
I have been a teacher in further and adult education since 1986, though only in my current gender identity since 2008.
The post 2008 period has been interesting, and mostly successful. Indeed, I’d go as far as to say that the business of actual teaching and being a transgender person has been relatively straight-forward. This (of course) comes with the caveat that I know I’ve been lucky.
I seem to have picked the right time and right places to go through my transitional phase, dropped the ‘bloke’ identity and picked up the current female one with few of the expected horrors. For this I must particularly thank my students, who have been unfailingly sympathetic, interested, supportive, and at the very least willing to learn how to work with a transperson in a teaching role.
If I were to pick up on issues that have bothered me, then these have very much been in relation to my employers.
As someone who is heavily embedded in the ‘contract culture’ I have a very strong opportunity to compare and contrast the reactions of educational providers to both my transition and my day-to-day working regime.
For the most part, changing identity within the job was easy. One organisation happily put my old male records under ‘seal’ to prevent them being accessed by staff without my authority. Most organisations seem to have looked on the whole process as being no more important than a marital name change. Whether this was because of ignorance or attitude is unclear, but what was plain was that they took no cognisance of the issues that can impact on a transperson in the workplace. None of them implemented any ‘post-change’ support. There was no monitoring, and no attempt to find out how I was ‘settling in’.
As a transperson I felt myself to be very much ‘on my own’
Additionally, there was also little or no attempt to give training on transgender issues to colleagues and other staff, something that I would have valued as a sign that they were taking my change seriously.
One (very famous) adult education body called in a ‘transgender expert’ from their head office to do some training, but failed to ask me to come along to be involved. When I complained I was ignored. I later asked to do some follow-up training with their staff (my colleagues) on issues they’d missed, but had to request this at least three times over a 12-month period before any action was taken. There was a distinct sense of embarrassment at having a trans tutor around, and an unwillingness to admit that they hadn’t a clue how to cope.
This shines a powerful light into the workings of Equality and Diversity policy and practice within AE/FE. Just about every provider has an E&D policy, but the impression (from experience) that I get is that these are simply words on paper, and little actual initiative is taken to make them functioning aspects of organisational culture.
In effect, as a transperson I felt myself to be very much ‘on my own’ as regards to issues that I might encounter.
The legal aspects of compliance having been taken care of, providers seemed to not care to much as to how I was fairing in my work unless there was a problem that directly affected my capacity to be a good teacher.
Trans equality has to be more than just words on paper. Recognition of difference needs to be proactive, and not (as it is at present) largely a process of hoping nothing nasty happens that might get into the press. FE/AE needs to pull its cultural socks up, get weaving with processes that flexibly support policy, and that work collectively to create an accepting, inclusive environment.