Each year at my kids’ school, it’s tradition for the year 12 students to swap uniforms with each other in their last week of Term 4 as part of their ‘passing out’ parade. The girls put on the boys’ uniform and the boys put on the girls’ uniform. It’s lovingly referred to as ‘Gender Bender’.
It’s been taking place for quite a few years now and going seemingly unnoticed. This year, however, it caused a bit of a kerfuffle. The transgender kids in the school protested and so the school had to get creative and combine the ‘gender bender’ tradition with the ‘free dress’ code that goes hand in hand with book week.
It certainly opened the door for some great discussions in our household, raised a few eyebrows elsewhere and within the school itself, questions were asked as to whether or not this was something that should now be banned in future years, or whether or not it was gender equality gone mad.
It’s unchartered waters for the teachers and understandably, ruffled a few feathers amongst families throughout the community.
Despite the unhappy murmurings, ‘Gender Bender’ went ahead anyway, much to the frustration and displeasure of the trans kids within the school.
Their argument was that it was making a mockery of them, disrespecting and belittling their rights and their choices, and ultimately leaving them feeling ridiculed and judged.
Interestingly, it seemed that until it was pointed out to them, the Year 12 kids were completely innocent and naive about the whole thing, seeing it merely as a ‘tradition’, as opposed to something offensive and gender insensitive. In fact, most of them felt sorry for the transgender kids that were affected, because as far as they were concerned, it has now created a problem that they didn’t believe was there in the first place.
That being said, all students and their families should feel that they belong in their school community. A sense of belonging is conducive to an environment in which students feel confident to participate, and which enables them to reach their full potential. Being supportive and inclusive of trans and gender diverse students should be embedded deep in the heart of the school’s culture, and not just ‘on show’ in the presence of people who belong to the trans and gender diverse community.
There may be many students in a school community who have not ‘come out’, or who have family and friends who are trans and gender diverse. Behaviours, attitudes, and language should always be inclusive in order to avoid hurting or offending others.
So, the question is, should Gender Bender go ahead next year? My response to this is quite simple: consult the gender-fluid or non-binary students and take it from there - I’m pretty sure that’s the mature way to approach any situation that involves decisions affecting all communities working or living together, why should the school environment be any different?