Many students in further and higher education are very reliant on their parents or guardians for financial support while studying. Trans students can often feel placed under intense pressure to conform to the gender stereotypes expected by their parents in order to secure continued financial aid for the duration of their education. Where trans students fear their parents may not accept their gender identity, this is often means the stress of either staying firmly in the closet or of struggling to keep different parts of their life very seperate.
Early adulthood is a time when some trans people reach an emotional crisis point regarding whether or not to hide their gender identity any longer. They may feel very anxious about telling their family and friends, yet also feel that keeping their gender identity hidden is very depressing and stressful. It is important that Student Welfare Services recognise the intensity of this dilemma because it can lead some trans students to feel so distressed that they self-harm or consider suicide. The risk of facing hostile reactions should not be trivialised and trans students should be supported to make their own personal decisions rather than be expected to follow a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach. Any transphobic bullying and harassment taking place within the university or college should be dealt with as seriously as racist or disability-related bullying and harassment.
If a trans student ‘comes out’ to their parents or guardians and the reaction is hostile, this can lead to either temporary or permanent estrangement, including the sudden loss of financial support. In such situations, the provision of urgent advice and assistance from Student Welfare Services is likely to be vital in helping students to continue with their education rather than ‘drop out’ for financial reasons. However, even where financial hardship problems are able to be avoided, trans students may find that the emotional upset of any family rejection can disrupt their ability to study for a period of time.
After having experienced a negative reaction to coming out as transgender, a student may be understandably nervous about telling further people about their situation. This can make it particularly difficult for such students to request academic extensions which they might need. Student welfare services should provide support to help trans students experiencing emotional distress to make their case for academic extensions without having to reveal intensely personal information to lots of different people.
Whether or not trans students come out to their families, the better the university or college welfare support available to them then the more likely it is that they will achieve their full academic potential. Therefore, Student Welfare Services need to be clearly trans-inclusive. The criteria for access to financial crisis funds should include financial difficulties resulting from coming out as transgender to family. All student welfare counsellors should receive trans-awareness training and information about transgender issues should be prominently displayed.