Back in the age of the dinosaurs, aka 1995, I went to prom with a charming young man. I wore a long, lacy purple dress. He wore a black miniskirt and a baby-doll t-shirt with the words “Prom Queen” stencilled across the chest in frilly lavender script. Guess which one of us got to dance with the captain of the football team? Hint: it wasn’t me.
I guess we were trendsetters, because the New York Times now reports that schools are cracking down on kids’ cross-dressing to proms – or just to class. Are these teens finding a clever new way to stick it to the dress code, or just exploring their honest gender expression? Does it matter?
Most school dress codes outline appropriate dress for students: a skirt must be so long, torsos must be covered, etc. They don’t typically address the question of whether or not a student can dress in clothes normally worn by the opposite gender.
Not too long ago – say, when my mother was a student – these rules prohibited girls from wearing pants or slacks to school. Times have changed in one direction. Pants are now an accepted norm on female students. But what about boys in skirts?
Some schools, citing a need for tolerance of diverse sexual orientations and gender identities, are supporting cross-dressing in their classrooms. Others are cracking down, claiming concerns over student safety and the distraction an oddly dressed student can cause to others at school.
This is all exciting enough in high school, but what about when your grade schooler wants to dress up? Motherlode explored the question of little kids and gender expression last week, and suggested that very often kids play across gender lines in ways that don’t have a straight path to one kind of adulthood. Sure a little boy who likes dresses and dolls might grow up to be transgender. He could grow up to be a gay man. He could grow up to be a straight man with a promising career in fashion, or a man of any sexual orientation who wishes the earth would swallow him whole whenever his mom breaks out pictures of his six-year-old self playing dress up at family gatherings.
I have a friend whose six-year-old son sometimes wore dresses to school. He has two sisters and likes pretty clothes. His mom and the teacher agreed to let him work out for himself what he wanted to wear, and left it at that.
Would you ever let your little boy wear a dress to school? Could you see your daughter going to prom in a tux? How should schools handle kids coming to class dressed in ways that are unconventional for their gender?