Monday, November 09, 2009

He's Pretty. Let Him Dress That Way.

Students from Rincon High School, where differences are accommodated and protected. Photographed for The New York Times by Joshua Lott.

The Styles section of the Times recently had a very interesting article on high school dress codes as they apply to transgendered students. The question of dressing appropriately for a school day no longer centers around the length of a skirt or the thickness of a tank top strap; instead, the issue is whether that skirt of the proper length can be worn by that boy in tenth grade.

15 year-old Rochelle Evans of Fort Worth started her high school career as Rodney Evans, but now has the school's blessing to dress as she wants after a hard fought public battle.

The article made me realize just how grateful I am to have been raised in a liberal environment. I am a whole-hearted champion of the freedom of self-expression, and say that students should be able to dress however they want as long as it's not indecent. Detractors of my favored stance on this issue site the distracting effect of gender blurring dress on the "normal" student population. Or, the safety of the students who choose to dress outside the proscribed gender norms. To these points I say, what about the transgendered student him/herself? The confusion and distraction of having to live as someone you don't feel you are, the complete lack of freedom in having to hide your identity and lead a double life doesn't exactly leave much mental real estate for math homework. And safety? What about the transgendered students' mental health? Laura's Playground, an online help site for transgendered youth, handled 78,800 suicide outreach cases in a five year period and reports that their research has found that over 50% of transsexuals had made at least one suicide attempt by the age of 20. These are conservative estimates and figures due to peoples' reluctance to admit the transgender status of their young family members.

Openly gay senior Ceara Sturgis, left, posed in a tuxedo for her senior yearbook photo and caused a dress code policy change at Wesson Attendance Center.

Weren't there people who thought that the racial integration of schools would be unsafe for children of color and distracting for the white students? Doesn't that seem utterly archaic and unfortunate in retrospect? The times, people, they are a-changing. Schools should focus on acceptance and sensitivity training. It's time for adults of the administration to put aside their own prejudices and encourage responsible expression. Kids adapt. Yes, the first time Ricky shows up in a skirt, he may draw some undue attention, but the second time will be much less disruptive, especially when people are taught how to be sensitive and accepting, rather than having their ignorance coddled.

The beautiful, tre chic, Jonathan Escobar who was asked by North Cobb High School to dress more like a boy, or not come back.

Another point raised in the article was that schools are breeding grounds for professional environments, and teach children to dress for work. If you ask me, the professional veneer needs to go just a much as the school dress codes. How completely weird are most working environments? People show up kind of shellacked and shelled in corporate gear. They can't wait to get home and slip off their sensible flats and let loose. People are stifled and suffocating in their ponytails and gray skirt suits. They are losing their identities, if they ever found them, in the first place. I foresee a breakdown of the professional code in coming years. With the advent of Facebook and social networking sites, people are integrating their social selves with their images in their families and their offices. Everything from personal interests to weekend party photos are becoming public knowedge--for better and worse we are getting to see how people really are, how their lives really go. People are showing up as themselves in every area of their lives. Which can be downright disturbing, but si mostly just a sigh of relief. Yes, some people are doing this with more class than others, but the integration is a sign that less airs and pleasantries are required in modern life.

I have nightmares about corporate casual dressing.

My basic point? Let your freak flag fly and accept others for who they are. Everyone's perfectly normal until you get to know them, right? There is no "normal" only what you allow and what you prohibit. It's time for the parameters to stretch and the dress codes to acknowledge that gender is invented anyways. Wow, my liberal arts college education is really having its starring moment right now, huh? Thanks Professor Gellar, wherever you are!

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