Matthew Savage portrait

Written by Matthew Savage

Former international school Principal, proud father of two transgender adult children, Associate Consultant with LSC Education, and founder of #themonalisaeffect.

David Tennant’s regeneration of the Doctor, in exploring the conceptual complexity of time, explained to Sally Sparrow in 2007’s ‘Blink’, “People assume that time is a strict progression of cause to effect, but actually from a non-linear, non-subjective viewpoint, it’s more like a big ball of wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey stuff.”


As the father of two transgender young adults, and a school leader of two decades who has worked with and supported hundreds of children and young people questioning, openly or indirectly, their gender or sexuality, I have increasingly learned that gender identity and expression, sex and sexuality, are no less “wibbly-wobbly” or “timey-wimey”. Indeed, the more we back them into a binary backwater, the less we will understand, respect and celebrate the rich diversity of the Genderbread Person who makes us who we were, who we are and who we will be.


My youngest child, Jack – born AFAB in 2001, identifying as queer when adolescence first hit, as dysphoric shortly afterwards, and as transgender when the adolescent rollercoaster was well underway – at 19, now counts his trans identity as but a tiny fraction of who he is. To him, he is an artist first and foremost; a gay man; a recipe non-conforming chef; and many other identities besides, like all of us. But just as he happens to be a trans male, he obstinately and understandably ticked “Male” as his sex on the recent UK census, even though his first gender reassignment surgery is still a couple of months away.


My eldest child, however, born AMAB in 2000, has recently come out publicly as trans-feminine non-binary, and, about a year previously, as “obnoxiously bisexual”. In doing so, she has embarked on a journey both of discovery and also of worn, lived and breathed gender identity and expression. She is as uncertain about her precise route and destination as she is certain both of her pronouns (she/her, or, at a push, they/them) and also of her name, Phoebe. With her bravery has grown yet further my awe and humility, and, with her wisdom, so also my desire to learn, and to continue learning.


Just as Jack has now acquired the toxicity of male privilege and the pungency of male bathrooms, so has Phoebe gained (bizarrely conditional) access to misogyny, gender inequality and an increasingly unsafe society. Both are emerging into an adult world whose hostile environment permits so many of those who know nothing and represent no one to speak loudest and most hatefully. Much as I love both my children unconditionally (what is conditional love, after all, but something hateful dressed in love’s robes?) and beyond words (even though, as an English graduate and teacher, and wannabe writer, words are my thing!), I fear for their futures.


As a result, I want to do everything in my power, heaping every ‘Teaspoon of Change’ and feverishly flying Maathai’s ‘hummingbird’, to help reshape our world, one which they have the bravery and beauty, but not the obligation, to transform, into a nurturing and safe space: for Jack, for Phoebe, and for every transgender, non-binary and gender non-conforming child, young person and adult in this rainbow realm.


In a few days, I will be delivering a presentation at ECIS’ “Diversity and Belonging” Leadership Conference 2021, entitled, “A Principal’s Journey: what I learned about inclusive school leadership from my transgender son”. The abstract argues that, “to identify as LGBTQ+ whilst studying at an international school can present a unique set of challenges, rendering the student especially vulnerable to mental ill health, poor wellbeing and disrupted learning”.


And I will aim candidly to share my experience as the proud father of a gay, transgender child, and how it has taught me to be a truly inclusive leader. But, in reality, this is Jack’s story, and it needs to be told. I am not a religious person (Jack and I both entered “Dudeism” on that very same census!), but Phoebe and Jack are miracles; and miracles deserve to be shared, as far and wide as possible. If I could reach the Doctor’s next regeneration, I feel confident they would share it wherever the Tardis can travel.