The journey of transitioning is one that is deeply personal, but for Rani Faye Brandt, an art teacher in the Bayport-Blue Point school district, one that was very public.
Through support from Trans Resource Center of Long Island (whose founders are based in Sayville) and the BBP School District, Brandt was able to communicate honestly with students and parents of students about her transition, which she announced to her superiors in October 2019, and began to take place in January 2020.
“It was a major decision of my life,” said Brandt, “and thankfully, my department chair, my union president, my principal—everyone in the district—gave me the feeling of ‘we support you.’”
Brandt, who is originally from Arkansas, began as a part-time art teacher in BBP High School in 2008.
“It’s definitely hard to get a job as an art teacher, so I’ve always treasured the role I’ve been given as one,” said Brandt.
After announcing her plans to transition, school superintendent Dr. Timothy Hearney and union president Eric Iberger, requested Brandt to send them reading materials that she thought would be helpful for them to understand and provide whatever assistance she needed.
The reaction was overwhelmingly positive, according to Brandt.
“At this point I had started to become more androgynous looking,” Brandt said. “I had started wearing more feminine hats, painting my nails a couple at a time. Eyeliner, just because I love it.”
Brandt said being an art teacher worked in her favor, as the changes to her wardrobe seemed more in line with being an artist than someone actively transitioning.
With over 400 treasured students (Brandt teaches at multiple elementary schools now), Brandt was overwhelmed with the idea of individually discussing her transition with so many parents, and asked the school for a buffer.
A letter was sent out over the summer from administration notifying parents about the transition, and confirmed Brandt’s pronouns to be used going forward. She also came out as a trans woman to her colleagues at the end of the 2020 school year in June on a Zoom meeting.
“It was just one big come out,” said Brandt. “I got so many friend requests on Facebook after that. There was such an empathy and sensitivity from everyone.”
Brandt said that being a “whole person” made her more grounded and more balanced, but the rush of emails professing love, support, and pride for her transition made her feel elated.
“I don’t want to have to be brave,” said Brandt. “Transitioning shouldn’t be frightening, and I wanted to show my students that, especially ones that could also be trans.”
While there are LGBTQ+ members in the faculty of BBP, Brandt said, “They are not visible as gay, whereas I had no choice but to be visible for our community.”
Being a role model, while something that had always been important to Brandt as a teacher, had taken on a broader meaning as she knew she would likely be the first—and perhaps only—trans person in the children’s lives.
“It’s important, too, for adults to use a person’s correct pronouns and to allow themselves to be corrected for using the wrong ones, especially in front of students, to show that it matters,” said Brandt.
In July 2020, Forbes published an article that discussed the renowned Trevor Project’s survey on LGBTQ+ youth and found that at least half of transgender and nonbinary children had thought about suicide, with about 60 percent engaging in self-harm.
“This has been a learning experience for everyone,” said Brandt. “For a long time, I felt that the real me was invisible. I had even gotten to the point where I dressed in the dark because I didn’t want to see the masculine clothes I felt I had to wear to hide in appeasement. But now, I live my life as it was intended to be, and everyone who has been open to accepting that has been rewarded.”