Why my kindergarten teacher coming to my college graduation meant so much to me as a trans guy

the voice and vision of a new generation
Image credit: Jayson Bijak

Why my kindergarten teacher coming to my college graduation meant so much to me as a trans guy

June 18, 2019

In my thirteen years of attending Texas public schools, I had a total of 45 teachers. Of these 45 teachers, only two of them created a classroom environment in which I felt comfortable enough to let my guard down and be honest with myself about my identity as a trans person. One was a high school teacher who educated herself about issues students face that are often left out of teacher education programs (i.e. issues faced by LGBTQ+ students). The other was my kindergarten teacher, Ms. Beavers.

Earlier this semester, I was given an assignment in which I had to contact a former teacher and let them know how they influenced my decision to become a teacher. As a trans person, this assignment terrified me. I wasn’t out in K-12–I had too many negative experiences surrounding my gender to allow me to be comfortable enough to be my true self. Because of this anxiety, I asked if I could contact a former college professor, so I wasn’t forced to out myself and face possible ignorance. Luckily I was allowed, but the assignment allowed me a moment of reflection. Most of the teachers I had lacked knowledge–or in some cases were ignorant–about the LGBTQ+ community. They didn’t understand how to support me or any LGBTQ+ student.

My first experience with expressing my true gender was in Ms. Beavers class. I left school one day with my long hair, pink tights, and princess shirt and was back the next day with my newly buzzed hair, blue jeans, and Pokémon shirt. While my peers spent the morning wondering who the “new student” was, Ms. Beavers didn’t bat an eye. She held the same respect for me and love for all of her students that she had the day before. Despite my drastic change in appearance, she treated me just the same. That moment changed my life.

Jayson, age 5, and Ms. Beavers in kindergarten in 2001.

The following year, when I had moved up a grade, I stopped using the school bathrooms, as I was bullied and questioned by students and teachers alike. I grew my hair out in hopes that I wouldn’t be asked if I was a boy or a girl. I hid myself in the back of the class, out of the spotlight so that people would hopefully forget about me. I was desperate for another teacher like Ms. Beavers, one who would stop the name-calling and encourage an accepting classroom environment. So, I decided to be that person for myself. I decided to pursue an education in teaching to become the teacher that our LGBTQ+ youth need. I even took it upon myself to do the work my university hadn’t done and educate my fellow student teachers about how they could support transgender students.

So, I decided to take inspiration from the assignment I was given early this semester. It took me months of writing and re-writing the perfect letter to send to Ms. Beavers. In it I explained how important her class message of love, kindness, and acceptance was to me then and now–I even invited her to my graduation.

About two weeks later I was in the middle of teaching a math lesson when my phone buzzed, alerting me me to an email: It was from Ms. Beavers. I damn near cried when I read it later, so relieved that she still saw me as the same person.

Jayson, age 23, and Ms. Beavers after Jayson's college graduation in 2019.

She showed up to my graduation and cheered me on as I walked across the stage. Knowing she was there and that she still supported me meant the world to me. I wouldn’t be where I am today without her. Teachers make an enormous impact on our lives, especially those that care about and love their students. My best hope is that, one day, I can be that teacher to a student, too.

Jayson Bijak is a GLAAD Campus Ambassador and a recent graduate at the University of Houston with a degree in Elementary and Special Education. He worked at his campus' LGBTQ+ Resource Center where he educated people on trans issues. Jayson hopes to teach students with disabilities.

the voice and vision of a new generation