Gender Neutral Uniforms – The Debate From an LGBT+ Perspective

Gender Neutral Uniforms – The Debate From an LGBT+ Perspective


Should skirts be banned in school? The BBC asked me to comment on a school’s decision to ban skirts and introduce a gender neutral
school uniform. Before we start, let’s not assume this gender neutral uniform debate
is just for schools. This is a conversation that needs to happen in workplaces across
the world too. Both schools and workplaces should be open, inclusive and tolerant environments
where everyone can be proud of and celebrate their Authentic Selves. A safe space where
you can bring ALL of who you are to work and school. No hiding, no masks. Showing up as
the real and true you. For reference, I’ve written a full article
on this topic. The link to it is in the description with this video. What follows is a snapshot
of what I discuss in that article. Gender is traditionally seen as a binary – meaning
there are 2 genders. Boy and girl. Our gender is assigned to us at birth. Most people think
gender is about your physical body. But that isn’t the case. Gender identity is how you
feel about yourself. It is how you feel on the inside. This can be different from the
sex you were assigned at birth. Gender expression is how you present your gender identity to
the world – through your individual preferences, how you look, how you wear your hair and your
clothes. It is about your demeanour, your voice and the way you speak. It is about your
mannerisms and movements. I prefer to see gender on a spectrum, where
our sense of gender exists somewhere between male and female. That is how I experience
my gender identity. And I know thousands of others that do too. Gender neutral means neither
male or female. Why is having a gender neutral uniform important?
When the gender neutral debate comes up, it is often thought it is for trans and non-binary
inclusion purposes only. I disagree with that. It is inclusive to a wide range of people.
Yes – lesbians, gay men, those that identify as bisexual and intersex are able to express
themselves more freely. BUT it also allows ANYONE that doesn’t feel comfortable in
the ‘dress code’ that is associated with their sex assigned at birth to be their authentic
self. When I was at school, which is a few years
ago now, and in a few jobs I have had, it was compulsory to wear a skirt. I felt incredibly
uncomfortable and it affected me mentally. I wasn’t able to bring all of who I was
to what I was doing because I felt so awkward, so so out of place and I lost my sense of
self. I was too busy in my head trying to come to some sort of peace about what I was
subjected to wear, against my will, to be educated and to do my job to the best of my
ability. Having a gender neutral uniform enables people
to express themselves fully, without any pressures to be or look a certain way. It gives a sense
of freedom and liberation and creativity. A gender neutral uniform allows everyone to
feel comfortable and not be confined by outdated gendered norms. I have always been gender non-conforming.
You can ask my mum. I didn’t attend any formal events at school, such as dinners or
the end of year Prom because it was expected that I wear a dress. NO WAY. If I had shown
up in my trouser suit, I would have ostracised myself from my classmates even further. Getting
the attention of a boy whilst wearing a trouser suit, can you imagine? Because I wouldn’t
want to ‘out’ myself by looking at the girls… So many elements to unpack here.
Even today. Wearing a suit and tie on public transport as a woman is very challenging.
The looks, the comments, the side glances, the hushed conversations under hands. I find
that rude, first and foremost. Secondly, I find it odd. When I was at school I had to
wear a tie. Adults didn’t give me a second look when I was in my school uniform. Yet
get me on a train today wearing a suit and tie (looking very dapper may I say) sitting
opposite a man in a suit and tie. Pfff. You can imagine. Why is there such a heated debate about this?
Good question. There are a few points to address here. 1. Some are using the gender neutral
uniform to ‘eliminate the short skirt’ issue. These are two very separate aspects.
One – dealing with inappropriately short skirts. Two – a much larger discussion around
inclusion. To mention the elimination of short skirts and introducing a gender neutral uniform
as the solution is mixing the two conversations and giving a warped perspective to the wider
population about gender neutral issues. The two matters need to be separated out. 2. What about boys? If you ban skirts, and
introduce trousers for the girls, what about the boys? They may want to wear skirts but
are now not able to. That isn’t being inclusive. Forgetting any social constraints they may
feel. I will come back to this point later. 3. And what about the girls that want to wear
skirts. But you ban them for everyone. What about them? That isn’t inclusive either.
4. Some people see this as LGBT+ inclusion gone mad. What people aren’t seeing here
is this isn’t only for the LGBT+ kids to feel included. Non-LGBT+ kids don’t feel
comfortable in skirts too. It also has practical issues such as restricting movement and denying
participation in sport in the playground. 5. Banning skirts versus giving choice and
freedom. Inclusion is about being given a choice. Not to take away choice and to create
further restriction. Every student should feel they have freedom of choice. Allowing
all elements of the uniform to be worn by any student regardless of gender is the way
forward. What is the real issue here? There is something
going on under the surface that people aren’t saying. Inclusion is bringing all of who you
are, to work and to school. With no censoring, no hiding and no pretending to be someone
else. The real issue that needs to be addressed is this. An environment and culture needs
to be cultivated where everyone can feel safe to wear what they want to wear.
This is my experience of high school. We could wear either skirts or trousers. Some days
I wanted to wear a skirt (on very few days may I add) but I predominantly wore trousers.
Social pressures, peer pressure and wanting to fit in meant I never did wear a skirt.
I didn’t feel the environment was one where I could feel comfortable to make that change
for the day. I saw others dressing differently for the day and the bullying and inappropriate
behaviour that took place as a result of it. I can’t imagine what a boy would have experienced
from his peers if he chose to wear a skirt for a day.
We are conditioned from a young age about what is ‘right’ and what is ‘wrong’. What
we should and shouldn’t wear dependent on whether we are male or female. And then there
is the way that people get used to seeing you dress and present yourself a certain way,
creating a fixed identity that cannot be broken easily. And lastly, what our choices of clothing
means to others. A boy dressed in a skirt means…? What? They are gay? They are trans?
They are a drag queen? We make judgements instantly about someone based on what they
are wearing. Let’s give our kids and adults in the
workplace choices to wear skirts, shorts, trousers or any other variation that feels
good to them, irrespective of their gender. More choice. Less restriction. AND most importantly,
work on the culture of the environment so everyone feels safe and supported to wear
what they want, without shame, criticism, judgement or bullying. Create that environment
and you have nailed inclusion. If you want to know more about this topic,
I have written a detailed article on it. The link to read it is in the description for
the video. And listen, if you like what you have seen today, please subscribe, share this
with your friends and leave me a message below. Thanks for watching and I’ll see you next
time.

3 Replies to “Gender Neutral Uniforms – The Debate From an LGBT+ Perspective”

  1. Well argued Gina. You made a lot of good points which should be common sense, but I fear that society will take a long time to creak in that direction, although I'm happy to be proved wrong πŸ™‚

  2. I enjoyed this video. Your insight on gender identity and expression as well as how to properly include people like me really resonated with me!

  3. We should not be seen as male or female, we are humans! Job applications should not request information about age, gender or nationality as that information could easily be used to discriminate. I was once taught that each applicant should be allocated an identity number as identifying your name can also be used against you. Everybody should be able to wear what they do wish so long as it is clean, safe and appropriate for the task at hand. If companies insist that female worker wear short skirts, tights, lip stick and high heels then that should be compulsory for all workers, managers and company directors! πŸ€­πŸ‘

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