It was a big day for our family. My youngest of three was graduating from high school. It seems just like yesterday she was just starting kindergarten, and now here we were. As old as that makes me feel, I was so proud of my daughter and I was excited about seeing her get her diploma. After 18 years of raising a child, it is one of those landmark moments in being a parent. My adorable little girl is now an adult. It was both a relief that we made it to this very day and a moment when I realized that my children are no longer little. As a parent, you hope that you did everything right to prepare them for this crazy world that they are about to enter. When I look at her I still see that little girl who was full of hope and wonder, and I think about what kind of person she is to become as she embarks on her own journey into adulthood.
My wife and I, along my daughter’s boyfriend and her two sisters were all decked out for the event. It was a beautiful Friday evening, and after waiting on a long line to get in, we finally made it to the school gym where the graduation was being held. It was packed to the hilt with family members and friends of the graduates, along with the teachers and school staff. After a little more waiting, the ceremony finally began. I was excited to see my daughter walk down the aisle and celebrate this moment in her life. The last thing I expected was that gender would somehow come into play as the evening played out, but there it was.
As the students made their way into the room to the usual “Pomp and Circumstance” graduation song, I couldn’t help but immediately notice that they had all the “female” students dressed in white gowns while all the “male” students dressed in dark blue gowns according to the colors of the school. My first thought was how binary the whole thing was. As the students all filed in, I feverishly looked for my daughter while my wife did her best to get a picture of her walking down the aisle. You would think we were pro’s at this by now as it was our third high school graduation, but it is always a struggle to catch a shot of them walking in. As more students began to make their way into the room, my thoughts went from excitement for my daughter to moments of anger over what could possibly be happening for some of the other students who didn’t fit into this school’s 1950’s worldview. Seriously, what if there were non-binary kids who were graduating? Would they be forced to choose one of these binary identifiers? It immediately took me back to my own childhood and the trauma of being forced to line up as ‘girls” and “boys” according to what the school had defined my gender to be. I did my best to put it all out of my mind for the moment. After all, it was my daughter’s graduation. I could always write a letter to the school and deal with their binary worldview at another time.
"SHE PROCEEDED TO TELL ME THAT HER FRIEND WAS TRANSGENDER AND THAT THE SCHOOL HAD FORCED HER TO WEAR THE BLUE 'MALE' GOWN."
My daughter along with her fellow classmates all received their diplomas and they proceeded back down the aisles as the ceremony concluded. It was here when I realized that the problem with this school went way beyond the colors of caps and gowns. They were bigots, and I wasn’t even sure if they realized it. After the ceremony, the students all filed into the school courtyard where the families were taking pictures of the new high school graduates. As we made our way into the courtyard and finally located my daughter, I saw her taking off her graduation gown as she was giving it to another student. I quickly asked my daughter what was going on as she was the only student in the courtyard who was taking off their graduation gown. We also wanted to get pictures with her and her sisters in her graduation cap and gown. She proceeded to tell me that her friend was transgender and that the school had forced her to wear the blue “male” gown. All that mattered to my daughter in that moment was that she could help this person.
The activist in me quickly came to a boil as visions of picket lines and transgender rights signs began to fill my thoughts. Amidst my anger over what I had just learned, I looked over at my daughter’s friend, a transgender girl who was now smiling from ear to ear as she was finally able to take pictures with her family in the proper gown. I was going back and forth about being angry over what was done to this poor girl and being proud of the incredible daughter I had helped to raise as I watched her do this amazing thing for one of her classmates.
My wife and I introduced ourselves to the girl’s parents who were now also smiling and my daughter introduced me to her friend. She told me that the school had forced her to wear the blue “male” gown because their policy was to assign gowns based on what was listed on the student’s birth certificate. I really couldn’t believe this was happening in town where I live, or maybe I could. Well actually I sure could and I was just getting really angry about it regardless. I spoke with the girl and her family while offering to reach out to the school board to get this ignorant policy changed. They said they were just happy to get the pictures in the proper gown. To me that was just not good enough and something needed to be done about it.
I would later learn that this was happening in schools all across the United States. This binary view of gender is being enforced everywhere. My daughter’s boyfriend would later tell me that he was chastised by teachers in his school for having long hair and that some teachers even made him pin his hair up to appear more masculine in order to be allowed in their classroom. I realized that it was in our schools where society’s gender roles where so forcibly put upon us. It is a toxic practice that hurts not only transgender, non-binary and gender non-conforming students, but cisgender students as well. Being told how to look and act based on body parts sends the message that we are not all equal, and that because of these parts, our options in life would be somehow limited. It implies that certain achievements in life can only be made if you have the required parts.
"SCHOOLS INDOCTRINATE OUR CHILDREN INTO THE BINARY BONDS FROM DAY ONE ALL THE WAY UP TO GRADUATION."
Schools indoctrinate our children into the binary bonds from day one all the way up to graduation. From an early age they are divided into gender groups, lining up for gym class with ‘boys” on one side and “girls” on the other. Children are teased by their peers and teachers alike when they don’t conform to these assigned roles. It could be simply be for wearing sneakers that don’t conform to these roles or for having the wrong lunch box. I remember one of my daughters not being allowed to take shop class in school because she was a girl. The list goes on and on.
What I thought would just be a simple graduation turned into a moment of many realizations for me on that day. One was that we have so much work to do in our schools. It is a tall order in the era of Trump and Betsy DeVos, but it is a fight I am ready to have. It was also a moment when I realized that my daughter was an even more amazing person than I already thought she was. To witness her putting someone else’s needs before her own, without question or condition. To bring a moment of joy into this transgender girl’s life after she had been through such a horrible experience. I am so proud of my daughter, not just for graduating, but for being the amazing person she has become. I realize that perhaps my wife and I did a better job in preparing her for this crazy world than we had thought. I realized that her path in life is only limited by the boundaries of her imagination. It is with pride I look forward to seeing where her journey takes her.