This is a teen-written article from our friends at Youth Communication, a nonprofit organization that helps marginalized youth develop their full potential through reading and writing.
By Linda Sankat
One uneventful Saturday in October I was sorting through the mail on the kitchen table when I noticed a glossy postcard from a local photo studio. They were coming to my school to take yearbook photos. Immediately, I had a sinking feeling. I thought back to my older sister’s high school yearbook in which all of the students donned gender-specific attire: a tuxedo for males and a drape for females.
It bothered me that students were being forced into traditional gender roles of male and female. I was born female, and I proudly identify as such to this day. But ever since I was a little girl, I hated wearing dresses, or anything else markedly feminine by societal standards. It felt dishonest, and it made me feel insecure. Today I choose my clothes based on what makes me feel comfortable and confident. I usually wear Levi’s, T-shirts and Doc Martens. But I also love getting manicures, and even paint my nails glittery pink sometimes.
I attend a New York City public high school that is diverse in all respects. There are students of various races, ethnicities, religions, sexual orientations—and student organizations dedicated to these specific groups. We also have “Respect For All Week,” when the diversity of the student body is celebrated and students are encouraged to appreciate their differences. A yearbook that suggests there are only two categories of gender did not reflect my school’s diversity. I felt something needed to be done, but what?
Just Being Who I Am
In 2010, there was a high profile case regarding this very issue. Ceara Sturgis, a high school senior in Mississippi, was denied inclusion in her yearbook because her school district did not approve of a female student wearing a tuxedo for the photo. Like me, she considered succumbing to the drape, but she cried at the thought of having such an insincere photo forever serving as a defining representation of who she was. Not only was her picture omitted, but her name was as well, and this caused her a great deal of emotional grief. In an article by the Associated Press, Sturgis expressed that she was being punished for “just being who I am.”
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) sued Sturgis’s school district for discrimination and an agreement was reached. They have now done away with gender-specific yearbook attire in favor of the gender-neutral cap and gown.
The case highlights the fact that not every student fits neatly into one gender “box.” What about my friend Noah Delos Reyes who describes himself as a feminine man who is not gay? He wears makeup and feminine clothes that he says accentuate his body. He believes it should be OK to mix and match masculine and feminine. If a student finds both the tux and the drape to be too gender-defining, I think offering a gender-neutral option of cap and gown makes the most sense.
Reprinted with permission from Youth Communication.