While we have not yet finished it in it’s entirety, we have been reading Shon Faye’s book The Transgender Issue1. We can say it’s worth a read in our opinion,
However, it was the first few pages that really hit home. They articulated so well, why we have said from some time, that since we left teaching we would not return to working with young people again in the future. Teaching or any other role.
If you had asked us, we would have put primacy on the fact that constant masking of who we were, was a straight-jacket that led to several catastrophic burnouts over the years. Now, we would primarily articulate that in terms of our interface with the world as a neurodivergent person being difficult to sustain in many ways. Capacity we lack not, sustainability we do.
Yet, we knew underneath that this was not all of it. Reading the account in the extract below, well that brought home to us, that we could not consider working with young people in the future. It would not be safe for us.
It only takes one individual to instigate a pile on. Even if they later realise and try to stop it, the way a pile on works, it is out of their control.
So despite having taught students from the ages of 5 - 18 and worked to provide both care and education to those with profound additional needs2 over many years, we know we will never return.
Sure, we can rationalise this away with the fact that it is something we are unlikely to do, as we would struggle to sustain it. But the truth of the matter is, no matter how well we personally develop, the strategies we put in places, how much better we become, the value we could bring, how supportive an organisation might be, it comes down to the fact that the scenario below is all too possible.
We would like to say this would be an outlier. But we know the types of parents that would instigate this. We can point them out at the schools around here, we have dealt with them on other matters.
If we had to identify the emotions, something which we struggle to do, we would say it has left us with a mix of grief/anger/sadness.
So we guess that decision is made.
Below is the first part of the introduction to THE TRANSGENDER ISSUE An Argument for Justice by Shon Faye
Mr Upton has recently made a significant change in his life and will be transitioning to live as a woman. After the Christmas break, she will return to work as Miss Meadows.
This brief announcement in the parents’ newsletter of St Mary Magdalen’s School in Accrington, Lancashire, was easy to miss. It was buried, casually, amid a number of other staff changes being announced at the start of the 2012 Christmas break: a Year 1 teacher was increasing her hours to full time; another was reducing them; one teacher was leaving the school for a new position in Spain; one was becoming a woman. The headteacher, Karen Hardman, later admitted that she thought Miss Meadows’ transition was ‘bound to arouse interest’ in the school community; perhaps the announcement was placed among a list of more routine staff changes in the hope of minimizing any undue reaction, or to avoid sensationalizing the transition of a member of staff. If this was this case, it was a vain hope.
Within a few days of the school newsletter’s publication, the name Lucy Meadows – the name by which she wished to be called following her transition – was splashed across the national press, alongside her previous, male, name. Soon afterwards, journalists were encamped around her home. Within three months, Lucy Meadows, aged 32, was found dead under the stairs at her home; she had taken her own life.
The school and its headteacher had tried their best to support Lucy Meadows publicly, and the letter unleashed a wave of hysteria that they could not have anticipated. The first response came in a local newspaper, the Accrington Observer, which reported how the announcement had ‘provoked concerns from some parents, who claim it has confused pupils who have got to know him [sic] as a man’, adding that Lucy Meadows had given a statement in which she ‘thanked school governors and colleagues for their support, and asked for his [sic] privacy to be respected’.
The next day, the story went national, in rather less measured tones. ‘He’s Not Only in the Wrong Body … He’s in the Wrong Job’, shouted the headline of the Daily Mail columnist Richard Littlejohn’s weekly column, which was dedicated to an attack on Meadows. Referring to Meadows by her male name and with male pronouns throughout, the columnist’s tone was contemptuous. ‘He started turning up for class wearing pink nail varnish and sparkly headbands,’ Littlejohn wrote of Meadows. ‘The school might be extremely proud of its “commitment to equality and diversity”,’ he sneered, ‘but has anyone stopped for a moment to think of the devastating effect all this is having on those who really matter? Children as young as seven aren’t equipped to compute this kind of information.’ Despite insisting that he supported the right of trans people to ‘seek sex-changes’, Littlejohn placed the blame for the children’s possible confusion not on society but on Meadows herself: ‘By insisting on returning to St Mary Magdalen’s, he is putting his own selfish needs ahead of the well-being of the children he has taught for the past few years … if he cares so little for the sensibilities of the children he is paid to teach, he’s not only trapped in the wrong body, he’s in the wrong job.’
The Daily Mail kickstarted a media storm. Reporters lay in wait outside Meadows’ house; parents dropping off children at the school were harassed for negative comments; and – so Meadows said to friends – those trying to give supportive remarks to journalists were ignored. ‘I know the press offered parents money if they could get a picture of me,’ she wrote in an email to a friend on New Year’s Day 2013. In the end, unable to get their hands on such an image, media outlets lifted an old picture from the Facebook pages of Meadows’ brother and sister without permission. A Year 5 pupil’s drawing of Meadows after her transition, which had been removed from her school’s website to protect her, was accessed through caching (Littlejohn’s piece described this drawing). Meadows’ ex-partner, Ruth, with whom Meadows had had a son before she came out as trans, later said that Meadows had been very low, especially because of the death of a close friend and the strain of her own transition and the ensuing media coverage. In fact, Meadows had grown suicidal well before her death: on 7 February 2013, she had tried unsuccessfully to end her life. A month later, she tried again. This time, she didn’t survive the attempt.
It would be reductive to suggest that the gross and gratuitous invasion of her privacy was the sole reason for Lucy Meadows’ suicide. Suicide attempts occur at a higher rate among trans people than the general population. Indeed, the statistics are truly alarming: research by the UK charity Stonewall published in 2017 found that 45 per cent of trans young people had attempted suicide at least once. Yet, behind the statistics are individuals, suffering in private and leading complex human lives: there is rarely one simple explanation for such a tragedy. But we can surely say this: in the final months of her life, when she must have been experiencing a degree of mental anguish, Lucy Meadows was bullied, harassed, ridiculed and demonized by the British media. Her death remains one of the darkest chapters in the British trans community’s history, and one of the most shameful episodes in the long and shameful history of the British tabloid press. Even if she was struggling in other ways, Meadows had not been a public figure or a celebrity, nor had she ever sought to be. She had wrestled privately with gender for many years, and her decision to transition was, by all accounts, not taken lightly. All she had done was to be trans and to be honest about who she was, continuing with a job she had been good at in a school that supported her. Her story was not remotely in the public interest. At the inquest into her death, the coroner, Michael Singleton, stated that the media should be ashamed of their treatment of Meadows. Summing up his verdict, Singleton turned to the assembled press in the court gallery and told them, ‘Shame on all of you.’
They were the most amazing students we have had the privelege to work with. ↩︎