Skirting an issue

Okay, normally you’ll find me writing about sexuality and aging (‘cos I’m, you know, over 50 and somewhat disposed to thinking about that kind of thing), but I stumbled across an interesting article that now has me thinking about issues on the other end of the life scale.Just the title of the article from Sunday’s  NY Times Fashion & Style section gives you an idea of what’s coming up:

Can a boy wear a skirt to school?

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.

But this paragraph really sums up the trend:

“This generation is really challenging the gender norms we grew up with,” said Diane Ehrensaft, an Oakland psychologist who writes about gender. “A lot of youths say they won’t be bound by boys having to wear this or girls wearing that. For them, gender is a creative playing field.” Adults, she added, “become the gender police through dress codes.”

Now, you’d think that this would be a Yay! moment for our society, and personally, I’m glad that we have a society that is, in some part, acknowledging the fluidity of gender and sexuality, especially at that age. But on the other hand, I’m reminded that not that many years ago some feminist and LGBT groups expressed concerns over the growing acknowledgment of lesbian sex by way of those titillating evening dramas in which lesbians were almost always portrayed as young, thin, and attractive by straight-appearing standards.The concern was that such media portrayals reduced the lesbian community into a stereotype no less restrictive than the old short-haired gym teacher stereotype that it seemed to be replacing.

Why am I reminded of this?

At minimum, more students are trying on their curiosity for size. Typically during “Mix ’n’ Match Day,” at Ramapo High School in Spring Valley, N.Y., students might wear polka dots with stripes, said Diane Schneider, a teacher who is a chairwoman of the Hudson Valley chapter of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network. But this year, she said, “about 50 kids came as cross-dressers.”

The point is that, teens being how teens are, it’s quite possible that many are simply adopting gender-bending attires for the sake of being a little rebellious, without giving any thought as to what it means for those who actually have sexuality issues.

Interesting, too, although not exactly surprising, are the comments seen on the several web forums discussing this and similar articles. Most of them can be summed up as such:

Yeah, it’s great and all, but guaranteed that kid will get the crap beat our of him on the way home from school next week.

It doesn’t take a crystal ball to see that, although unless something has changed since I went to high school back during 19*coff coff*‘s, somebody always got picked on after school. Maybe if some of the football players take to wearing skirts (Skirt? No, no, this is a kilt, I tell ya!) as a sign of rebellion, then eventually nobody will notice — or care — what anyone else is wearing, and we can get down to learning the more important skill of minding our  own business.

About Tom Allen

The Grey Geezer Dauntless defender of, um, something that needed dauntless defending. Dammit, I can't read this script without my glasses. Hey, you kids, get off my damn lawn!
This entry was posted in Appearance, Body Image, Gender Bending, Manliness, Sexuality & Relationships. Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to Skirting an issue

  1. mosthandysub says:

    …and I thought it was a big deal when we got to wear jeans to school….not to mention not having to wear ties!

  2. Jz says:

    I do think it’s true that today’s kids are more accepting on the whole of ambiguity and difference. They just don’t care the way we used to. But I still wonder if part of this trend isn’t that as our society becomes more open and tolerant (“more” being a relative term, I grant you) that teens have to stretch farther and farther to do things that will annoy and appall adults. Jeans and T-shirts and long hair don’t do the trick anymore. They’re a norm. Grunge and goth still work but they’re becoming a standard, too. So, what to do next to raise eyebrows?

  3. Andras Miko says:


    I’m a member or the Porn or Art team (, and I found this great article looking for potential link partners on the web.

    I’m very lucky, because this post, and many other part of your site is discussing very interesting topics, which are closely related to our content.

    And I’m personally affected, because I (male) have very long hair for more than 15 years, and I was permanently criticized in the school. What’s more it happened in the communist era in Hungary, the rules were a bit harder, than it is used in a democracy:). And I think, the students and any other people should have the right to express their aesthetic preferences, sexual orientation, social criticism etc. on their body and clothes too. Tolerance, pluralism and rational thinking is the key, instead of following out of date guidelines.

    I’ve just found your email address, I will send you a mail about my link exchange request soon.

  4. maymay says:

    There will always be the chic factor. I’m a little perturbed by it, but given the alternative (i.e., violence), I’d much rather be thought of as a phony than a target.

  5. Well, why not wear a skirt to school? Being a Scot, my dad wore a kilt loads when he was younger. They’re smart things, them.

  6. Aarkey says:

    Great post, and interesting questions. I know that in my high school the dress code was pretty clear and limited – which I think is smart in general, IMO – but maybe I’m dating myself.

    I did find it interesting how the homecoming skit always had the cheerleaders dressing in football pads and the football players in cheerleader skirts, but there wasn’t any where near the bending that goes on today.

    Teenage boys are putting on eye liner and nail polish, and girls cut their hair short and have no problem wearing pants every day. Obviously some areas are going to be more tolerant and progressive, but local custom and tradition probably will still dominate what’s ok and what’s not ok for a long while.

    But at least it’s being talked about. 🙂

    And what kind of lame school doesn’t allow girls to wear stiletto heels! Poop on them!

  7. Joanna Cake says:

    I can remember the amazing sense of victory when we girls were finally allowed to wear trousers to school. No more blue knees in the middle of winter. Naturally many of us then wore our pinafore dresses over the top of our trousers, just to confound the adults 🙂
    Kids today are far more tolerant of sexuality and a large number will have experimented with at least kissing a member of the same sex but there are also definitely some who say that they are gay or bi-sexual purely to be different… whether they are truly that way or not.

  8. Recent teaching experiences in Aussie high schools have shown me that the violence directed at gay kids is often subtly verbal bullying and teasing, the stuff that accumulates over time, in addition to the physical picking on. Cross-dressing is still the only guffaw and camp way that ultra-macho blokes can play with gender identity. To be sure they secretly love it!

    It’s less secret in Thailand, where kids cross-dressed at every possible opportunity; balloon boobs were highly popular, wigs and make-up – all borrow by the kids from their Thai teachers.

    Thailand is a fascinating study of contemporary sexuality: older people are sexier and respected over the young. Pop culture and smulture is changing this slightly. They are deeply into and enamoured of genderbending, and welcome/support sex changes in teens. Transgender teens and university students are incredibly common.

  9. Oh, I so like your blog, Tom. I so appreciate an open mind. I am thrilled by the sliding scales of human diversity and long for a time when tolerance prevails. Thankyou for being.

  10. Anais says:

    My new (male, though he identifies as “genderqueer”) 30-something um, friend (see my journal), wears skirts sometimes, and nail polish and make-up. So far, I’ve only seen photos, but I think I will like his feminine side almost as much as I like his masculine side.

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