Op-ed: A Gown With No Gender

Why high schools should really drop the gender segregation when it comes to graduation robes.

BY Michelle Garcia

June 03 2013 7:39 PM ET

In some high schools, there are two graduation robes. Female students wear one color robe, and male students wear the other. After four years of high school, it doesn't matter that you're a straight-A student on the scholarship track to the best university you could get into or that you're just a traditional dummy who shocks everyone by showing up sober, let alone actually receiving a diploma. No, you're a girl, so you must wear The Girl Robe. 
 
It's absurd that in 2013, something that should be gender-neutral like education can culminate in gender segregation. Women are probably told to wear a dress and heels underneath — because you're a lady, darn it, and you're going to be dignified! 
 
What’s worse, some schools eschew school colors by ensuring that girls wear white robes and boys wear black. Is this like wearing a white dress on your wedding day to declare your virginity to the world? If that's the case, some of those robes should be off-white, but fortunately most high schools don't like to slut-shame their students in such an official capacity. 
 
When it comes to the gendered gown, we've received a few reports of transgender and gender-nonconforming students who are being forced to wear graduation gowns that do not correspond with the gender with which they identify. 
 
In particular, Pennsylvania student Issak Wolfe won the right to run for prom king. Initially, however, his principal placed his female birth name in the column for prom queen, so there's that. But after that was rectified, when graduation came around, the Red Lion Area School District told him he could wear the boy's cap and gown, but his female birth name would be read when he accepted his diploma. Damian Garcia, a transgender male senior at a Catholic school in Albuquerque, was told that he had to wear the white cap and gown that was intended for female students. Sadly, he's decided that the only dignified thing left for him to do would be to miss his own high school graduation. Fortunately, Chris Calderon-Perez, a transgender student in Fostoria, Ohio, will be allowed to wear the female gown, because she is female, and her principal understands that. 
 
Is there really any point to carrying out this clearly dated practice — the gendered graduation gown — in the first place? Last time I checked no one died from wearing the same color robe as someone of the opposite gender. Society didn't crumble when all 1,028 students in my graduating class wore the same convection oven-like black robe. But maybe that was because underneath, we girls had to wear dresses.  
 
What is the point of male and female gowns? No matter what, they're all that hideous, unflattering bell shape. From neck to knees, we're all a bunch of genderless blobs anyway. Maybe if you've got great ankles, you may benefit from these hideous polyester tarps. So maybe it's time for high schools to get rid of this practice. Academic achievement does not have a gender, and neither should graduation robes. But in the meantime, Calderon-Perez will be able to proudly walk across the stage in the graduation robe she feels most comfortable in. 
 
"All I want to see is my mom proud of me, to see me walking — because I deserve it," Calderon-Perez said, according to ABC News. "My academic achievement has nothing to do with my appearance." 
 
 
MICHELLE GARCIA is the commentary editor of The Advocate. Follow her at @GarciaReporting 

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