Before Andrew Cruz came out as transgender to his school last year, just sitting in class could inspire an anxiety attack.
First, he’d feel the pain in his chest. Then the shaking and tears — a feeling that made it impossible to concentrate, and often left him in the school social worker’s office.
“I just wanted to lay under the desk. I [didn’t] want the world to see me,” said Cruz, an 11th-grader at the Richard R. Green High School of Teaching in downtown Manhattan. These thoughts swirled through his mind: “I’m gross, I’m disgusting, why was I made like this?”
That was before.
Before his mother let him cut his hair. Before the testosterone injections. Before his principal sent out a letter to the school’s faculty telling them to call him Andrew.
Last week, the Trump administration rolled back protections that directed schools to let students like Cruz use the bathrooms that match their gender identities. That move won’t directly affect Cruz — he uses the school’s gender-neutral bathroom — or alter the protections for trans students already enshrined in New York state law.
“On the state level, New Yorkers should be pretty confident that things shouldn’t change on the ground,” said Bobby Hodgson, a staff attorney at the New York Civil Liberties Union. “But it has a terrible effect of sending a message to transgender students that the administration won’t be protecting them from discrimination.”
That’s why, Cruz says, it’s even more important for teachers to be sensitive to the experiences of trans students — starting with using a student’s preferred pronoun, a policy the city recently made even more explicit.
“It may not seem like a big aspect, but for someone who’s trans, it’s the biggest thing you can do,” Cruz said.
Even though his teachers were mostly supportive, Cruz added, they sometimes didn’t understand why he had to leave their classroom during an anxiety attack, or pick up on the terror that can wash over him in more “masculine” situations like gym class. A teacher, presumably trying to be helpful, gave Cruz a transgender-themed article, which made him feel singled out.
“You have to ask what makes someone comfortable even if you feel like they’re not really [okay] today,” Cruz added. “Maybe it’s because they can’t be.”
The support he’s gotten from his mother and his school has lessened the anxiety that once paralyzed him. But he worries about transgender students across the country, and has a message for a president and administration making their lives more humiliating.
“Would they want their kids to be afraid to walk down the hallway, afraid to use the bathroom, afraid that they’re going to turn a corner and get beat up?” Cruz asks. “He’s just trying to reverse history.”