Last March Given Seoketsi, a student in South Africa, was expelled from school because he wore a dress. The principal was particularly concerned with whether or not he was a boy or a girl and demanded that he declare his gender identity. When he responded that he was gay, the principal requested that his mother attend an interview.
Neisi Seoketsi, Given’s mother, is reported as saying that the principal demanded that her son choose whether he was a boy or a girl. His reason was that because the school was divided into boys and girls, that there would be no place for Given.
Neisi Seoketsi, insisted that her son was born this way. “He wanted dresses though we tried to force him to wear trousers.” she stated. The department of education is investigating and it is hoped that the child will be able to return to school shortly.
Despite the violence and the bigotry aimed at the GLBTQI community, South Africa has a very liberal constitution, wherein gay rights are enshrined. It is however extremely problematic, that an educational institution would perpetuate this kind of bigotry. The only way to fight homophobia is with education.
The principal is in charge of ensuring that these children receive a proper education and yet he could not see beyond the gender binary himself. Given, should never have been asked to choose or to alter his appearance to make others comfortable. Wearing a dress does not make him any less masculine, than any other male and his sexuality has nothing to do with his gender identity.
The principals resistance to Given calls to light an essential truth about schools, as much as they are about teaching children basic lessons, they are also about ensuring that all students conform to social norms. Given was centered out because the school felt it was necessary to enforce a strict gender performance. Schools are coercive, in that they stamp out individuality and teach children to submit to authority, even when it is not in their best interest to do so. Is it any wonder, that so many are docile in the face of oppression, when they have been taught from childhood to simply accept injustice.
Teaching children that they must adhere to a strict gender codes is harmful and further reinforces modernist binary thinking. Though conservatives would like to maintain their privileges, we do not actually live in an either or world. There are those that choose to identify as neither male or female and they straddle the gender binary both in their presentation and performance. We must learn to make room for all people and a desire to maintain heterosexual, and or cisgender privilege, will mean that many will be excluded. It starts with education. It matters not if the law is open and progressive, if the agents of socialization are determined to infer that difference is problematic.