***Trigger warnings for child abuse, misgendering, and trans erasure***
There is an incident I remember very clearly from infants’ school (age five to seven): we were making yoghurt* and I piped up that my mum makes yoghurt in the airing cupboard (she did: she put boiled milk and some starter yoghurt in an insulated tub and put it into the airing cupboard for 12 hours or so). The teacher replied “no, she doesn’t” and I went home and told my mum how silly the teacher was.
The first time a child made a disclosure of abuse to me, I was a year or so into my teaching career, thinking “of course I won’t be that adult who tries to cover up child abuse when I come across it or doubts a child when they disclose”, but when a child told me they were being beaten with stick at a religious class many of their classmates also attended, my first response was a disbelieving “really?”. Fortunately, the child replied that yes, it was real; I told them I was sorry this had happened to them and that I needed to tell other adults and get it stopped; several children made statements to the police; and that person was removed from their post.
Today I walked past a child on the street who said “hello, That Man”. The adult with them corrected them: “that’s a lady”. The child was right: they’d noticed all the gender performances I put effort into that signal masculinity and deduced, reasonably for someone who has been told there are two, and only two, genders, that I was a man.
Some weeks ago, I changed my hair style. As I passed a child I teach in a school corridor, they commented that they liked my hair. I thanked them and they followed it up with “you look like a boy” and I thanked them again. A teaching assistant overheard this, told the child off for “being rude”, and gave them a conduct mark.
In both the above examples (and these are two of many involving children reading my gender correctly or near-correctly, or asking because they’re unsure), an adult corrected a child who was right, with their own wrong assumption. We teach children to misread trans people’s gender, we punish them out of their correct readings, and embarrass them out of asking when they’re unsure in favour of erroneous assumptions.
In the yoghurt example, the teacher gaslit a six-year-old child. If I hadn’t talked and laughed about it with my mum afterwards, I may have started doubting the things that happen in my family are real (I remember another incident with that same teacher telling me my uncle’s computer didn’t have a mouse). She’d never been to my house and had a look in the airing cupboard; and she’d never asked my mum how she made yoghurt.
And the disclosure incident: when I’d had my mandatory safeguarding training, and lived with a foster sibling who disclosed all sorts of unimaginable abuse to me as a kid, I still fucked it up, being so conditioned into thinking horrific things don’t really happen to people we know and that what children say is unreliable. If that child hadn’t been so persistent and had given up after my first reaction, saying they were just joking, many children could still be being beaten at that religious class.
Adults are shit at listening to and believing kids, even when those kids are experts in what they’re talking about. We need to do better.
*It was all a bit garbled… the teacher put some stuff in some jars and promised there would strawberry yoghurt tomorrow, but I don’t remember ever seeing the yoghurt. Perhaps it didn’t work and she quietly threw it away…