James’ Story: An Unsuspecting Victim Meets An Unexpected Villain

One bullying victim's experience of how a high school classroom became a surprisingly hostile space to discuss trans identity.

James Story

From the moment a student enrolls, school becomes our second home. We create connections with our peers, mentor relationships with our teachers, and we learn the hallways of our schools inside and out. School serves as a refuge from conflicts in our personal lives, and sometimes the only solace we have is the familiar classroom of our favorite teacher.

Teachers are our de-facto parents for seven hours of the day. A teacher is who you run to for help when you’re being bullied.

But what if the bully is your teacher?

I was a freshman in a new school when my Biology teacher became my bully. In my personal life, I was struggling with my transgender identity. I was still coming out to my friends and family when I stepped into her classroom.

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Under the guise of a unit on chromosomes, we began to discuss trans identity. The instructor shared her thoughts about how trans people were ‘freaks of nature’. What began as a simple conversation rocketed into a Google image search and what seemed like a slow-motion slideshow of every trans person she could find online. My class laughed and pointed. They used slurs that made my skin crawl. None of it would have happened if my teacher had not started and encouraged the conversation.

My eyes stung and my heart weighed a hundred pounds. My teacher never singled me out during the conversation, but she didn’t have to make me feel alienated and wounded. I felt bullied.

As I left my classroom that day after our hour and a half lesson on why my identity was weird and wrong, I felt distinctly unsafe. My teacher was no longer someone I could talk to when I was called names in the hall, or laughed at during lunch. I was an unsuspecting victim. She was an unexpected villain.

The views or experiences expressed are solely those of the contributor or interview subject and do not represent the views of the Tyler Clementi Foundation, its staff or board. If you have any questions or concerns regarding the material, please contact the Tyler Clementi Foundation, and we appreciate your support and commitment to end bullying starting on #Day1.