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“They could never keep me straight enough” –  Coming Out in Catholic School

Warning: This article contains references to transphobia

Imagine attending a strict, Catholic, all-girls school, where sex education is non-existent, and being queer is still often thought of as unnatural. Now imagine being a full year away from graduation, and realising you are transgender.

Tyler McRae is a trans rights activist and past writer for Farrago, a prominent queer magazine for Melbourne youth. In 2015, they began their transition process, involving a name change and preparing for top surgery, while still attending their religious high school.

Tyler’s college was one of many expensive, Gossip Girl-esque, private schools residing on the Melbourne East Side. These colleges were often under scrutiny for outdated practices allegedly leading to toxic environments. In opposition to this, the institution proposed an inclusive, feminist environment – Involving an advertising slogan, “Educating for Tomorrow.”

Despite that, they failed to support Tyler in their transition, causing backlash on the young teen’s mental health. Today, Tyler speaks out from a better place, hoping to provide support to others in similar situations.

Q: Are your circumstances different now, compared to when you first came out?

A: Definitely. I came out when I was 17, right at the start of Year 12. I had a great support system, my family has always been lovely and I had amazing friends but… when you first come out, you can be very insecure, and sensitive.

Everything is new, and you don’t know what’s going on. I felt so lost. It’s been very much a journey from that point to where I am now, where I’m stable and secure in my identity. I’m comfortable and happy about everything in my life at the moment.

Q: How would you describe your old school?

A: I definitely can’t fault them for the quality of education. The resources and learning that school gave me, I have to be thankful for. However, in terms of supporting students, especially queer students, it was extraordinarily lacking, it wasn’t just that they weren’t equipped to help, they weren’t interested in being equipped to help…

I remember, part-way through the year I sent a letter to my principal, signed by my parents, asking to wear pants instead of the skirt and tights.  It brought me down every day to have to put that skirt on. I was physically uncomfortable all the time, and that’s just not something you need when you’re already dealing with the stress of year 12.

I told [the principal] that it was affecting my mental health, and my ability to concentrate in class. She called me into a meeting, without my parents, and said “if we bend the rules for you, we’ll have to bend the rules for everyone.” They didn’t want to be seen supporting me.

I feel like they had an opportunity to take a stand, to be at the forefront of inclusivity, but they chose not to. They wouldn’t do more than the bare minimum. Something as small as not referring to us “girls” or “young women.” After confiding in my team leader saying that sort of language made me feel invisible and small, she asked that same principal if teachers could avoid addressing at least my class like that. They told her “that’s too much to ask.”

Q: Would you say this institution advertised itself as feminist?

A: Their brand was very much about producing empowered, strong women, but they fell short of that goal for many people, not just queer kids. The ‘purity culture’ that exists there, the way that they didn’t offer any semblance of sex ed., abstinence only!

It was a way of slut-shaming girls into being too afraid of sex to have it (which didn’t work, and was never going to). All it did was make students more vulnerable. They never taught us how to protect ourselves and yet they had those big ‘Empower Women!’ Billboards. It was just as much a problem as the queer-erasure.

Q: What was your experience beginning your transition in that environment?

A: Every morning, I was excited to see my friends, I was excited to do my work, but I knew that the moment I crossed that threshold, I didn’t belong. I’d sit in this smog of ‘there’s something wrong with me,’ ‘I don’t belong here.’ They were acting like I was misbehaving, so I felt like I was doing something wrong.

Feeling that every day, drowning in that environment, can really take a toll. I felt like I wasn’t fit to be a student, because I was too queer. And that sucked!

Because I’m not the sort of person who likes to rock the boat. I had good grades, that I worked hard for. It cut me that I wasn’t being a good student, when all that I wanted to do was do well.  But at the end of the day, they could never keep me straight enough.


Q: How did things change after high school?

A: As soon as I graduated, it was a huge sigh of relief. You can’t heal in the place where you feel like you’re being hurt. Graduation kickstarted me onto a better path. I found spaces where I felt like I belonged, and I wasn’t seen as lesser just for rocking up.

All the queer magazines I wrote for in uni reached out to people who were interested in talking about things that were previously taboo. Meeting all these people in uni who had queer experiences was nourishing to the soul.

Q: Tell me about your work with Farrago.

A: Farrago is the largest of three magazines that I’ve written for. It’s great writing for a community interested in reading about issues of sexuality, gender exploration, religion, issues that queer people often have to wrangle with at a young age. There’s great value in a platform to make art around that.

Q: What’s are some important measures parents of trans children should consider regarding their child’s educational environment?

A: I think that all parents should consider the idea that their children might be queer before they have them. Sending your child to a catholic private school is all well and good, but if you’re banking on the idea that they won’t run into any challenges because they’re straight, don’t.

There were no signs I wasn’t straight for 17 years. If your child has come out, and they’re in an environment that isn’t ideal, to some extent you should let them lead the way – as much as it’s reasonable to. They might want to stay, I couldn’t have left as it was too late in my education, but maybe if I was younger I would’ve chosen differently.

Listen to what they’re saying, and always be encouraging. 



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