Students at King City Public School in Toronto were all set to cross-dress on Friday as part of Opposite Gender Day — and then school officials abruptly canceled the planned event, which encouraged K-8 students to attend classes in gender-bending apparel. The day, which was actually proposed by the Student Council and approved by the principal as part of a series of “Spirit Days,” “has been cancelled in the wake of concerns of parents,” school board member Ross Virgo said in a statement. “The idea of (kids) experiencing being people of the opposite gender has offended some people in the community, and the school does not want to do that. … [Students] discussed the fun that the day might generate, plus how the experience might help boys and girls understand a bit more what what it felt like to be a member of the opposite sex…That was the plan.” Ah yes, the inevitable debate as to whether Opposite Gender Day helps kids develop understanding of gender roles or reenforces things like transphobia.
“I am 13 and on student council at this school,” says a Toronto Sun commenter identifying herself as Jessica. “As a student council group we decided to hold a fun spirit day (opposite gender day). It was only meant to be fun. No one was meant to be offended by it, it was optional. Our school is a great school and please, if you don’t have anything nice to say about our school then please don’t say it at all. I love our school and I’m sure many others who are currently attending or have attended will agree with me.” But what might be “fun” for some students might be torture for others. Notably, those whose gender identity doesn’t mesh with the norms of others.
So how do let kids express gender roles in an environment free from mockery? That’s an almost impossible scenario; these are kids, after all. (Not that I’d expect much more from gown adults.) But for the same reasons we should encourage trans students to freely express their gender identity in school, there’s definitely a benefit to encouraging gender normative kids to put themselves in the shoes — literally — of others for a change. The challenge, of course, is doing it in a way that’s responsible, rather than in a way that will have children throwing around words like “prissy,” “queer,” and “butch” in what’s guaranteed to be a derogatory manner. An impossible task? Maybe.
But while some parents and children think playing dress up is just a silly game, being bullied for not dressing in your gender can be a reality for some kids. And don’t we want schools to be safe spaces for all?
[photos: Opposite Gender Day at Storm Lake High School in Iowa, via]