This OZY Genius Is Educating the Educators on Trans Students
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Dan Eggers is fighting for a world where there’s no excuse for misgendering in the classroom.
By Isabelle Lee
Why do we need trans awareness training for educators? According to student and 2021 OZY Genius Award recipient Dan Eggers, “Just existing as a trans person in the world, there’s a lot of educating that you have to do, everywhere you go.” It’s needed so trans youth like Eggers don’t have to “keep doing it on a daily basis.”
As the first openly trans student to enter a top college music theater program, Eggers is no stranger to feeling alienated or like a guinea pig. And he’s not alone: Most LGBTQ students report feeling uncomfortable in school. And considering that kids spend the majority of their days at school, he’s determined to make classrooms — all classrooms, not simply the theater and arts spaces — more LGBTQ friendly. What’s more, many trans youth don’t have supportive parents or other adults in their life, which can be devastating to their mental health. Eggers sees educators stepping in to fill that void — becoming a support network of adults who can listen to and help guide trans youth who show up in their classrooms five days a week. And educators are already responding. “I’ve gotten some wonderful emails from teachers within my institution saying ‘Whenever this is ready, I really want to participate in this,’” says the 19-year-old, who grew up in Birmingham, Alabama. And the response isn’t limited to the United States. “An educator in Canada reached out saying, ‘Hi, I have a bunch of trans students at my high school in the performing arts. Would you come to talk to them to help support them?’”
Victoria Bussert, a theater professor at Baldwin Wallace University in Ohio, was selected to mentor Eggers when he won the OGA. “It’s amazing for a student to decide that it is time to educate the educators, particularly since he was just a freshman last year,” she says. “I admire his commitment to lead the way to make the academic world better and safer for trans students.” And while Bussert is serving as a mentor to Eggers, she admits to learning from him as well — first and foremost, she says, “that you may think you know about your trans students, but you don’t. There’s always more to learn.”
What’s step one toward creating a more welcoming space for LGBTQ students? Allow students to introduce themselves instead of reading off the roster. Asking students to announce their names prevents educators from using a trans student’s dead name or misgendering or outing them in front of their peers. Invite students to introduce themselves with their pronouns: “Hi, I’m Daniel. I use he/him/his pronouns.” But trans awareness training goes far beyond pronouns. There is a lot of knowledge, especially within the performing arts world, that is crucial to making trans students feel comfortable, from costumes to makeup to intimacy coaching. “Part of what I’m doing is dysphoria training,” says Eggers, “helping cis people understand and know what things are uncomfortable for us.”
Discomfort and anxiety attach to many aspects of a trans student’s life and gender identity, and educators need to be prepared for how to respond. For instance, how should a teacher handle a student coming out to them? Not by going to the student’s parents, who may not be supportive, putting the student at risk of abuse or even homelessness. The average age that trans youth become homeless in New York City is 13, and 68% of homeless LGBTQ youth have experienced family rejection. In situations where the parents are supportive, oftentimes the student’s peers aren’t. Expecting trans youth to do the educating is unfair, especially since many of them feel unsafe in their school environment. It’s the job of educators to create a safe space for learning.
In the U.S., a country that is turning its regulatory powers toward regulating trans bodies and students, educators are the first line of defense on the ground to make sure that students feel supported instead of maligned and attacked. “If you don’t know us, of course, we are going to seem scary and unknown,” says Eggers. “I’ve seen that the people proposing these bills against trans youth have come out and admitted that they have never met a trans youth in their life. So it’s a lack of knowledge that’s leading this discrimination and hate.”
For Eggers, the greatest burden as he moves forward with his project is “feeling this sense of responsibility for the entire trans community and a fear of letting them down.” So he’s meeting that responsibility by throwing himself into the work. First up? Creating a survey and interviewing trans people from lots of different backgrounds so that his training program will reflect the “breadth and depth of the trans community” — Eggers’ biggest challenge, in Bussert’s view. And eventually? He’s looking beyond the classroom. “Essentially, I’m creating a skeleton and then tailoring it. I hope to tailor it for other industries as well; this training is needed everywhere.”
- Isabelle Lee, OZY Author Contact Isabelle Lee