Kings Junior High School student Nicki Chambers began her gender transition years ago, in first grade. Like many other students who are transgender, the idea of spending the majority of her day in the classroom with other kids could seem intimidating at times.
"Sometimes the less social, the better for me," she said. "Some days I'm just not feeling social."
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, students in the LGBTQ community are at higher risk of being bullied by their classmates. For students like Chambers, the move to remote learning during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic has provided an opportunity, said Nicki's parent, Kim Chambers.
Jaclyn Keller is a senior at Summit Academy in Middletown. She could relate to Nicki Chamber's anxiety over the social pressures of in-person schooling.
"People were asking me if I was gay and taking my things," said Keller, who began her transition when she was 13. "Later on, they started getting better at respecting me more."
"As she's becoming a teenager, experimenting with how she wants to look, a lot of things regarding transitioning are a lot easier to do at home," they said. "If something goes wrong with something that she's experimenting, it's not a big deal. She can keep her camera off for the day, and nobody will ever know the difference."
When asked if she has experienced any bullying since switching to remote learning, Keller said, "Not at all."
Kim Chambers' younger daughter, Briella, is also transgender, but for her, the remote learning experience has proven more a challenge than an opportunity.
"(Briella) really needs the social interaction to actually be in person, and it's been a struggle," Kim Chambers said. "Nicki is a lot more introverted, and Briella is a lot more extroverted."
Beyond general concerns over isolation, transgender students can face unique struggles when a pandemic demands social distancing and limited contact with friends outside one's household, said Dr. Elise Pine, a pediatrician who specializes in trans-youth issues.
"They're home and isolated and can't meet with friends, and it's been very difficult in terms of depression and anxiety and struggling," Pine said.
Pine's advice for anyone struggling with such isolation right now: Find someone to talk to. Parents of a child struggling with gender issues should make sure they have an outlet where they feel safe.
If you or someone you know is struggling with gender identity or a mental health crisis, help is available. The Trevor Project specializes in providing support for young people who are transgender and can be reached by phone 24/7 at 1-866-488-7386. Call 1-800-273-8255 any time to reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. The Crisis Text Line is available 24/7 at 741-741 for those who might be uncomfortable with a phone call.