Can you tell me a little bit about yourself?
My name is Atticus (he/it). I am 17 years old, and I am the youth council president at Youth First, a resource center in Dallas, Texas. In this role, I teach queer sex ed once a month, and have also done interviews, webinars, and panels on this topic.
What is your experience with sex education in Texas?
Up until 4th grade, I attended a Christian school and received no information on sex education topics, except that “the gays are evil.” I then moved to public schools from 5th – 10th grade, and the sex education there wasn’t any better, especially when it came to queer people.
I remember in middle school, we were given a cup with liquid in it and were asked to pour our liquids into each other’s cups. They would then add a chemical that would change the color of the liquids. If your liquid turned a fun color, then it meant you had an STD. That is how they taught us how STDs spread – pretty weird. The information they gave us about STDs was very vague and the sex education we were given was puberty-based, with minimal education on healthy relationships. When we were taught about healthy relationships, it was very much like “if you do not want to do that, then don’t do it.” This topic was never about respecting people’s boundaries, it was mainly about setting boundaries.
I attended Hebron High School and was lucky to be in a more progressive high school, but Lewisville ISD still had the majority of their sex education be abstinence-based. In high school, I took the health class which was not mandatory and that was the only place I was able to get any sex education in high school.
How was your experience in school as a trans teen?
In high school, a Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) was already established, and it was a bit easier to receive help as a trans student. During 9th grade, my counselor was able to guide me in a lot of ways such as where I could go to the bathroom, getting a staff restroom pass, getting my name changed on my ID, and also emailing my teachers regarding my name and pronouns.
After 9th grade, things got a little more difficult because our 9th-grade building was separate from the 10th-12th grade building. When I went into the office on the first day of 10th grade to ask them where I could go to the bathroom, one of the administrators pulled me aside and asked “what do you want?” and looked very confused when I asked where I could go to the restroom in this building. They then proceeded to take me to the nurse’s office and asked the nurse, “where do these things go to the bathroom?” I remember that moment made me feel gross because an adult called me a “thing” which I think is pretty disrespectful.
What do you want teens right now to know?
Go to websites that are trustworthy, such as Planned Parenthood and Bedsider. They both answer so many good questions. If you have a teacher or a school counselor you feel close to, and you really trust, you can ask them questions as well.
What could have been offered to you as a teen to make you feel more supported in making decisions about sex and relationships?
Consent was not taught to me in a very practical way. I could have used a more straightforward approach to the topic of consent. Because I am autistic, I need things to be very blunt and straightforward, and the teachers did not do that. A lot of what they taught us came from outdated 90’s videos that did not show what boundaries looked like in real life. I also think we should all be taught about the “ask for my yes, wait for my no” concept.
Can you share a memory about a person or service who was most helpful to you when you were working through these decisions about sex and relationships?
Youth First did health relationship classes and those helped me. My 9th-grade counselor helped me transition well because I transitioned the summer before 9th grade. He was able to help me straighten out everything when I started high school.
What support do you think was missing that would have been most helpful to you?
More open and welcoming spaces to talk about anything in school. This can help students feel like it is okay to ask questions. Not only that, but I think there are not enough resources for queer people in middle school. If school staff can allow trans students to use the staff bathrooms, that would be more ideal. Nurse bathrooms are nightmares.
How do you wish to help others in your community?
Every school should have a GSA. I think trans people should be more respected and protected in schools. There should be mandatory trainings for teachers on how to be more inclusive of every minority such as queer people, disabled people, people of color, and minorities in general.
Do you have any advice for teens that are or think they are trans?
Do not be afraid to ask questions. It’s okay to not know what is going on, just trust your gut.