Seeing women’s and feminist issues relegated to the “Styles” section of The New York Times is nothing new. And while I was glad to see students’ rights and gender taken up in the NYT, presenting the continued harassment of trans students (by peers and educators) as a mere dress code problem is incredibly problematic.
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.
Outside of the fact that the article explicitly refers to someone who identifies as male as a ‘girl’, positioning these recent stories as nothing more than “dress code conflicts” ignores what’s actually going on in schools across the U.S. – straight up discrimination. Dress codes are a policing tool being used by school administrators to enforce traditional gender norms and presentation – they’re not the real issue.
And though the article touches on student safety and how young people are challenging the gender binary, it narrowly describes students’ gender identities in terms of skirts, tuxes or lipsticks – furthering the notion that trans students’ genders are a put-on or a performance instead of, you know, who they are.