Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Cross Dress Day

This week is Spirit Week at school, one of my favorite events of the year. I love ridiculous costumes for any reason, so Spirit Week gives me five days worth of entertainment. Plus, how can you pass up wearing pajamas to work? (BTW, if anyone finds good/awful footy pajamas, I'm in the market). Pictures coming at some point--I have to say I'm proud of what I came up with for Crazy Hair Day.

When the Social Committee announced themes for each day, Wednesday was listed at "Cross Dress Day." That did not sit well with me at all. The whole reason why Spirit Week is fun is that you get to wear things that oppose convention--Pajama Day is fun because generally we don't wear pajamas outside our homes; my quasi-mohawk made kids laugh today because it's so far from my usual  hairstyle. My worry with Cross Dress Day is the implied message that (1) gender should dictate the way we dress and (2) dressing contrary to gender expectations is not only frowned-upon on a normal day, but is actually something that we should consider funny or silly. I have no idea if we have any transgender students at our school, but I imagine that if you're already restricted from expressing your identity through your appearance (which could be anyone, not just transgendered students), you don't need a school-sponsored reminder that the way you want to look/feel is a joke.

I brought this up with some other faculty members, who seemed to agree that Cross Dress Day sends the wrong message. We agreed that we'd never have a "Dress Like Another Race Day," an analogy that in my mind is pretty applicable. Word was passed down to the Social Committee faculty sponsor that Cross Dress Day needed to be replaced. And it was. Tomorrow is Sports Day (go Giants!). Problem solved.

However, I'm worried that the reasons for the change was poorly communicated to the students. Many students seemed to think that it was because the teachers were opposed to the act of cross-dressing in itself, which is the exact opposite of why we (or at least I) thought it should be canceled. I tried to explain to my advisory that saying that we need a special day when it's okay to dress like the opposite gender means that on normal days it wouldn't be okay to do this. It should be okay for a boy to wear a skirt on any day the year. I'm not sure how much they understood, but they seemed to calm down when I told them that I'm not against cross-dressing.

The more difficult thing is that after talking with some other faculty members today, I'm not sure they understood my view. When I explained that supporting Cross Dress Day also supports the idea that men and women should dress a certain way, one teacher responded that most people do believe in those gender expectations. Luckily he caught himself in his faulty logic, but I was ready to list off all the other things that "most people believe" that we probably shouldn't be supporting. This teacher also told me that I should be okay with Cross Dress Day because his gay students were excited about it. I didn't know where to start on this one--would it be better to talk about the difference between gender and sexuality? To explain how people can contribute to their own oppression? To remind him that the opinions of a few people within an identity group do not represent the group as a whole? Sometimes talking to educated, well-meaning adults is much more frustrating than talking to teenagers.

On the other hand, I have to wonder whether I'm overreacting. I think back to the openly transgender student I had when I was student teaching--would he have felt uncomfortable with Cross Dress Day or would he have welcomed it as an opportunity to finally dress like he so desperately wanted to? Even in the latter case, does is that enough to negate the message that cross-dressing should be considered abnormal? Is it better for that kid to have one day where he can wear what he wants under the pretense of it being a joke, or for him never to even have the opportunity to be that joke? Will the presence of kids in gender-bending clothing once a year eventually have the effect of making it acceptable on other days?

On a semi-related note, I recently read this article in Vibe about the dress code at Morehouse. It's an interesting question of what is "appropriate attire" for a scholarly environment and what happens to gender norms in a single-gender setting. I wonder what the men in this article would have to say about Cross Dress Day.

1 comment:

teana said...

good for you for voicing your concerns. its hard to say whether or not you overreacted but at least you said something.

the cross dress day reminds me of this guy i went to high school with that would occasionally wear a skirt to school. it didn't really cause any ripples though i do remember being jealous because he had the most fabulous legs ever. so not fair.

btw, i saw some adult sized footy pjs at target just last week!