My first post on my personal politics of location and early exposure to gender variant individuals discussed my inability to interact with trans people due to the segregated nature of the suburban, Midwestern United States. However, as I’ve discussed in class, I attended a high school which was more than 50% black students, with a large population of Hispanic students as well. In addition to this atypical racial composition, my high school had several gender variant students. I intend to relay a series of anecdotes about these students and discuss what their experiences at my high school suggest about the politics of location at my high school.
When I was a freshman at my school, there were two trans students in their senior year. Both were male-bodied and black, an important trait to note given the de facto segregation of races that occurred under the auspices of honors / AP classes and regular classes. I did not personally know either student, but their reputation was famous throughout the school. They were friends (or lovers, as different rumors had it) who both dressed in feminine clothing and presented as female. However, cruel jeers and gawking often greeted the pair as they moved through the halls of the school. Given my low class-standing and unfamiliarity with school politics at the time that they attended, I cannot say how they dealt with events like prom or graduation and the gendered clothing required for such events. I do not believe that they were treated differently based on their race, given the similar treatment of white gender variant students at the school.
One such student was a girl who wished to join the men’s wrestling team (there was no women’s wrestling team at my school). While she was not a trans individual, her behavior was extremely variant for the high school population around her and the reception she received was biased. She was mocked and initially the school did not wish her to join the team. However, her father was a faculty member (a psychology teacher) and confrontations with the school administration eventually resulted in her being allowed to join the team.
Other gender variant students lacked such influence. A white, male-bodied student attempted to wear a dress to my junior prom and was forced to change into “appropriate” clothing by faculty chaperons at the dance. I knew the student personally from my theater classes and he had been excited to wear the dress for weeks. However, student rumors and faculty reception claimed that he only “wanted attention” as if a male-bodied student could not possibly draw personal satisfaction from wearing a dress.
I think this event, examined alongside the cruel treatment but faculty acceptance of the pair of black trans students, summarizes my school’s position on gender variance. The faculty accepted gender variance during regular school hours, albeit sometimes only after confrontations with students and more understanding faculty. However, when gender variance was expressed in more ritualized, formal settings, such as dances, it was demonized and disallowed. I believe this false tolerance was symptomatic not only of trans politics at my high school, but also the racial politics. The school was heavily invested in the image of diversity and acceptance but implicitly maintained the same racial, sexual, and gendered divisions as the larger, conservative Midwestern society around it (as described in my first post).