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Monday, November 9, 2009

Can a Boy Wear a Skirt to School?

Posted by Sarah Mirk on Mon, Nov 9, 2009 at 1:45 PM

Okay, so usually the Sunday New York Times style section pisses me off, reporting stories that seem like they're of interest to mostly upper class New York housewives (like this week's story about the FASCINATING trend among new Barbie dolls to have more "boho" than luxury accessories). But it was raining so hard this weekend that I stayed inside and ate two (2) Grand Central Bakery jammers and read the entire paper, even the dreaded Style section.

And hey! It turned out there was actually an interesting article in there after all. Though "trend" articles are kind of annoying, the front-page story about high school kids wearing clothes that challenge gender norms is at least relevant.

In recent years, a growing number of teenagers have been dressing to articulate — or confound — gender identity and sexual orientation. Certainly they have been confounding school officials, whose responses have ranged from indifference to applause to bans.

Last week, a cross-dressing Houston senior was sent home because his wig violated the school’s dress code rule that a boy’s hair may not be “longer than the bottom of a regular shirt collar.” In October, officials at a high school in Cobb County, Ga., sent home a boy who favored wigs, makeup and skinny jeans. In August, a Mississippi student’s senior portrait was barred from her yearbook because she had posed in a tuxedo.

Other schools are more accepting of unconventional gender expression. In September, a freshman girl at Rincon High School in Tucson who identifies as male was nominated for homecoming prince. Last May, a gay male student at a Los Angeles high school was crowned prom queen.

Dress code conflicts often reflect a generational divide, with students coming of age in a culture that is more accepting of ambiguity and difference than that of the adults who make the rules.

The comments on the article are pretty against the students mentioned in the article, reiterating that schools are not places for gender expression but instead where young people need to learn how to follow the rules of mainstream society. Bullshit. High school is a place for students to learn and experiment socially, not just in the classroom. Cracking down on gender-questioning boys wearing skirts is the same as banning students from wearing black armbands during the Vietnam War.

A friend of mine in high school experimented with wearing a skirt during his junior year—I remember it wasn't a very classy skirt, more like a sarong sloppily tied at the waist. And while kids made fun of him and others wrote him off as a weirdo, the school administrators didn't kick him out or force him to wear more "normal" clothes just like they didn't force him to make "normal" friends instead of reading sci-fi books in the English classroom during lunch. And after a while, he went back to pants. No big deal. Later, he moved to Oklahoma and became a vegan. Some people are different. Young people experiment and more and more, high school administrators are going to have to learn how to respect that.

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