Request for Advice: Ungendering Graduation?

I just received this request for help. Can you offer support or advice?

I am an androgynous female; I identify as female or androgynous most of the time. And I have a problem at school I’m seeking to rectify.

For graduation, we have robes. Girls wear white and boys wear green. When asked if that was mandatory, we were told it was. Any switching? No. I know there is at least one other person upset about this. It’s not purely a gender issue, but also an issue of separating the genders — mandatory separation of genders — which upsets the feminists in some of us females. Combine that with the fact that the white robes come with a ton of regulations (you can only wear white under them) and the fact that girls have a much stricter dress code (we must wear stockings), quite a few people are up in arms.

My request is for help from people with more experience with these things than I have. I need help getting support, building a convincing argument, just getting help making sure both genders are allowed to wear what they want to wear, to express their gender the way they wish to, and not feel closeted by this. I know if I have to walk across the stage on my graduation day in a white robe, it will break my heart. It seems trivial, but it’s a trivial issue in the first place that the school is reacting in an unreasonable, disrespectful, and unyielding way. I’m asking you, and the community to please help giving any advice at all you can.

Thank you,

You can respond in a comment below or email Ellie directly:
ellieforpeace at

Thanks for your support,

Posted by on September 11th, 2009 at 06:42 pm

Category: requests 20 comments »

20 Responses to “Request for Advice: Ungendering Graduation?”

  1. Jane from Boston

    You don’t say where you are graduating from but it’s safe to say you are going to be done with this institution as soon as you have your diploma in your hot little hand.
    My advice would to be go bare and hairy legged and dare them to throw you out. In all likelihood they won’t even notice but you will know and graduate with your dignity intact.
    As an androgynous person you will have bigger battles ahead. Those fights may be ones you as an adult will have more power to actually make changes that matter.


  2. Sarah/Matt

    I’ve been thinking about the same problem that I will have to encounter this year at my school. At graduation boys will wear black robes, girls will wear grey. I believe they want the girls to wear dresses (the other highschools have white robes for the girls, and so beyond that, they want the girls to wear *white* dresses). As an androgynous/genderqueer/questioning transgender person, this……bothers me…… a lot.
    It even bothers my parents, who aren’t aware of my gender-issues…..
    I don’t know how to help you, but I just wanted to express that you’re definitely not the only one that has this problem.

    Good luck to you.


  3. ellejohara

    Will this institution deny you your diploma if you fail to meet this dress code? If not, then hang the system and wear what you like. Alternatively, you could embrace a snarky androgynous side and wear a robe that is green on the inside and white on the outside. Flip it over when you get your diploma, like moving the tassel from one side to the other. As for the stockings, does the dress code specify *how* they are supposed to be worn? Maybe use them as gloves, or earmuffs.


  4. Sarah

    I went to a high school that had its phys ed policy changed by students… they gathered signatures, got meetings, flyered, and pushed for student-wide support of the policy change. It took a few years, but they won.

    I believe it can be done.


  5. Stef

    I don’t have any suggestions, but my high school was like that with requiring girls to wear white and stockings on various occasions, and generally having an unreasonably gendered dress code. I’m now 47 years old and it still bugs me to this day when I think about it.

    However it turns out, I’m glad that you understand you have the right to object to this. It never would have occurred to me to fight it because at the time I thought I was the only girl who’d ever had an issue with wearing dresses or white shoes.


  6. sexgenderbody

    I would ask you to consider who & what you’re doing something for? Is it just for yourself? For students to follow?

    Before you select an action to solve your dilemma, first decide what your commitments are.

    As I see it, you have two basic camps of solutions and both are good, depending on who you care to impact.

    The singular act – for you / by you / the only person you care about in the equation is you. In this situation, you can do whatever the hell you want. You will either be happy about it or you won’t and only you will know.

    In this situation you can wear both, wear neither, shred the garments, tie-dye the garments, paint / sew letters on the garments, wear a disguise, drench the documents in something smelly, etc. You’re either ‘dropping your pants’ or ‘flipping the bird’ in this situation and any answer is the right answer as long as you like it.

    The community act – for other students / faculty today, tomorrow and (perhaps) past. In this situation, you address the real conversation about gender and the school’s relationship to gender. Meet the school’s people involved, ask them where the rules came from. Ask them if they are committed to arcane rules or respect for their student body? Find out what commitments they have as people and an institution toward the respect of their student body and find out how this rule is in conflict with that. Invite them to help you create a solution together that honors the school, the students as groups and individuals.

    Create a campaign for awareness and support for both the students and the school on facebook. Turn it into a positive PR campaign. Invite the school to help you create that message together, so that the press and any other PR group you create are getting a story of how the school is supporting their student body. Enroll the support of the cap / gown rental company. Find out what options they have and would like to offer. Research to see if other schools are addressing this issue.

    Turn this into a gift for those to follow and celebrate those who are here today to participate in this event.



  7. Ellie

    Thanks for the advice, and please keep it coming! I am doing this for people other than myself, including the girl who actually stood up and asked these questions at the class meeting. It’s definitely something we’re trying to fix now and for any later years, and we want to bring up all arguments, sexism arguments, gender arguments. We’re a tiny school (90 in graduating class), so gathering a massive support is pretty impossible, but we’re going to try.


  8. genderkid

    Are there any laws in your area which forbid discrimination by gender/sex? My school’s principal didn’t want to change my name on the registers, but when I mentioned a law that allowed it, she opened up a little.

    Good luck. Your school is really being obnoxious and I’m glad you’re standing up for justice.


  9. Avery

    Hi there,

    I hope my email went through ok. Anyway, I second what Arvan says and want to add one more thing. I too went to two different TINY high schools. If I’d stayed at the first, I would have graduated in a class of 19. As It happened I changed schools and graduated in a class of 62. Both classes were had some pretty awesome movers and shakers together we managed to move a some mountains.

    the point is, it’s not sheer numbers that matter; it’s percentages. so there are only 90 of you? if 70 of the 90 or even 50 of the 90 side with you, that’s huge. Also never discredit the support of underclassmen. Get them involved! Their participation will show this isn’t just about your class but the next three to come and all of the kids after that. If your class doesn’t succeed chances are, one of the next three will and convincing the school of that could be just good as making the point that it matters specifically to your class. seriously, the promise of a continued headache can work wonders. (that said, it’s not great ground to start from but it may become useful if this turns into a big drawn out thing.)

    just some more thoughts,


  10. Ellie

    Thanks Avery. If you were trying to email me, I didn’t receive it.

    Also, an update: got an email today from the class sponsor recapping the meeting. Among other things, it says, “Class of 2010 graduation gowns will be green for male graduates and white for female graduates. This decision is final… Seniors are reminded that graduation is a faculty-run event; however, there are opportunities for the class members to have input. Class members will have input with respect to reflections speakers, senior class film, and other small details.” I can’t imagine that any of those things are more trivial than our graduation gowns, about which they remain firm. Although they are trying to amend the stocking rule, so that’s good.

    Also, does anyone know any other sites where I could work this out? After all, this isn’t really the goal of Genderfork, and I am really looking for support and advice in an active forum. You all are wonderful help, but I need something more.


  11. Tom Adams

    I believe if they’re being wankers that your best bet is to cite legislation appropriate to your juristiction. You might not be able to change their policy this year, but you should be able to get it changed for future graduands if you bring up the breach of law to a body with oversight over your institution.

    That is assuming you have good equality laws where you live.


  12. Ellie

    I live in Virginia, largely conservative, and i have no clue about the equality laws. I’m looking hard, but I can’t find anything at all that will apply to this situation. I doubt there are any special laws like in California to accommodate transgendered youths. But if anyone does know any legislation in Virginia that will help, please tell me!


  13. Sarah

    Would it be relevant to invoke the same values/principles that (hopefully) prevents public schools in your area from requiring girls wear strict dress code of skirts and stockings on a daily basis?


  14. Avery

    Hi again,

    Is your school public or private? I’m doing some research for state policy and the like, but its applicability is all dependent on if your school is public or private.

    You should look through your student handbook (or some similar publication.) it ought to have something along the lines of an anti-discrimination policy. Either it’s going to be the godsend you’re looking for or it will be further proof of a double standard (which is also helpful.) If there is a faculty or staff member on your side, you could try talking to them about what kind of anti-discrimination policies are in effect for school employees.

    I’ll keep poking around the internet and let you know if I find anything that’s going to be useful.



  15. Ellie

    Well, the school situation is tricky. It’s public, but I’m not sure how much of public policy applies to it because it’s something like a magnet school. You don’t have to go there, and can go to the public school in your district, so something like that keeps it from adhering to public policy on certain things.


  16. Anonymous

    Why can’t everyone wear the same colour. This is just weird.


  17. Ellie

    There is no discrimination policy outlined in the handbook for our school. But it’s another weird school thing because of its status, anything not outlined in the handbook for our school is covered by the policy of another school district, which provides a compliance policy, but does not define a single thing, just says contact someone if you think there’s discrimination in their schools, not ours. Extremely frustrating.


  18. J

    You could look into Title IX laws.


  19. Pierce

    If you can cite a law and get them to change it before the graduation, great, but if not:
    We live in a semi-socialist world nowadays, so use their own “Curve” against them–Groups win, and bigger groups win bigger.
    If you can get the entire class or a large portion (like a majority of the females at least) to break the code in protest they will have no choice but to allow them all to graduate. Maybe all the females could show up with green ink on their white robes, or something similar.
    Get organizations in your area involved–feminist groups, queer groups, even libertarian or constitutionalist groups who fight for freedom of speech–as long as they are non-violent and agree to abide by all other applicable laws and rules in this situation (no vandalisim of school property, etc).
    Also get legal help and advice, if your school is state-funded, you can contact ACLU–copy this letter to them and ask for help–You claim to be ready to graduate, so it’s time to Get organized!


  20. danika

    this is a very frustrating issue. i just straight up skipped the convocation part of my graduation for similar reasons.

    if you can’t possibly get out of wearing a white robe and really want to participate in the ceremony, i would suggest wearing whatever the males are required to wear under the robe (slacks, dress shoes, shirt & tie, etc).

    and if your school is like mine, they don’t even give you the actual diploma at the ceremony; they just give out a “certificate of recognition” for having attended the high school. the real diploma comes in the mail once the final exams are done.


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