Gender Expression vs. Schools and Universities

By Kenan Christian Paguirigan

The Philippines is home to plenty of highly diverse lifestyles that give its citizens color and vibrance. When gender enters the topic, it becomes more than just blue and pink, more than just trousers and skirts, and more than just a two-way system. Today, gender plays a vital role in developing young minds. As more and more voices are being heard, societal norms begin to be challenged. For instance, where the youth begins their journey, their learning grounds.

Photo Courtesy by Buffalo State College

Schools are the second homes of every young learner. After several years of comfort and security in the arms of their families, a new environment awaits them. In this unfamiliar space, freedom becomes limited. Though it could be to ensure everyone’s safety and belongingness, rules that forbid one to express oneself freely hinder them from discovering what they could be and more. Various school policies do such, and an example is recent news about graduating students being prohibited from wearing their desired form of clothing just because of their gender.

Many members of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender/Transsexual, Queer/Questioning, Intersex, Asexual/Allies, Nonbinary/Genderqueer + (LGBTQIA+) community have suffered from the wrath of society in this cruel world. For being different and unfamiliar, these people get treated in ways that become so inhumane that it scars someone’s heart so badly. This leads them to fail to realize that they’re not at all different from the rest, yet have a clear vision and understanding of what could go on in another’s mind. Even with the knowledge that the Philippines caters to a rich culture cultivated throughout the years, the behavior or the way one expresses oneself may still be threatened by rejection. 

In recent events, a voice for the roars that remained unlistened paved the way for the termination of whatever was blocking the path of the members of the LGBTQIA+ community to express themselves freely. Miss Trans Global 2020, Miss Mela Habijan, allowed her fellow “queens” to change the views of many who were blinded by norms for the longest time. Several trans women broke free from the chains that kept them from expressing their true selves. School graduation pictures required them to wear attire assigned to fit one’s biological gender. However, after hearing of such news, where male students were only given a chance to wear trousers while females only skirts, this caused Miss Mela used her platform to shed light on the topic.

Habijan gave a number of her fellow LGBTQIA+ members a chance to show their true selves in front of the camera and, more importantly, in front of the audience that suppressed such a phenomenal event from ever happening. This simple act of giving free opportunities that deserve much celebration received a lot of support from the public. It undoubtedly showed how the Philippines has a long way to go when it comes to schools and the freedom of expressing oneself without feeling the need to think twice before acting. 

Surprisingly, such an act sparked joy and inspiration throughout the country, where bullying and wrongful acts against the members of the LGBTQIA+ community are evident yet pushed off to the side. Although some still thought otherwise about how Miss Mela treated her fellow trans women, her aid to these new graduates is and will forever be appreciated. Even though this may be a small step toward where our country hopes to become, at least it’s headed in the right direction.

Expression Through Attire

A school’s dress code is a policy that has both positive and negative factors to it. Though many schools and universities have diverted their eyes from the said policy, many are still wondering how much could have come up. In 2008, the Department of Education ordered schools to no longer require students to wear uniforms to aid families who are less fortunate to save their money and spend it on their basic needs. The school dress code suggests that boys wear a top with sleeves, a pair of pants or shorts, and any type of footwear while girls wear a dress, blouse, skirt or pants, and any type of footwear. Both can be any color as long as they abide by the guidelines wherein respect must be reflected in the students’ attires. 

Three of the four top universities in the Philippines do not require their students to wear their uniforms. Schools that do not require their students to wear a uniform promote an environment with freedom for expression but can also become a breeding ground for violence. This is for the reason that when one student stands out in a group, it could become distracting and end up in a situation that one cannot handle. However, being able to express oneself freely is quite important also. The school dress code teaches students the fundamentals of wearing proper attire in the proper places, still within its limits.

Some schools enforce a rule for keeping one’s hair length to a size that would not be distracting to the people around them to keep their focus on the task at hand and away from any disturbance. The haircut policy is implemented in most schools and universities in the Philippines wherein males are ordered to follow it, which states that they must have a cut of 2 x 3 or more well-known as the “barber’s cut.” By implementing this policy, schools envision a more neat-looking and hygienic hairstyle which also gives the students more time to worry about their studies than how their hair looks. Many do not agree nor believe that this policy is promoting any form of good values other than stripping away the freedom of the students to express how they want themselves to be seen. 

This sets a barrier between freedom of expression and the students that desire to be who they are. Prohibitions, and restrictions, all of which suppress and invalidate the feelings of those that are unable to give themselves the treatment and love that they want and deserve. Members of the LGBTQIA+ community should be able to choose whatever they wear as long as it respects and will not hinder their way of learning.

Appreciating SOGIE

Appreciating Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity, and Expression (SOGIE) promotes anti-discrimination and seeks an environment where people can feel safe without worrying about anything else but themselves. Schools around the Philippines have opened separate all-gender bathrooms for the LGBTQIA+ community utilizing bathrooms previously reserved for PWD students only as a quick solution to the bathroom issue. 

Not only that, but places outside of schools also support all-gender restrooms which are established in various public or commercial spaces, citing anti-discrimination laws or ordinances passed by either the national government or the local government as their legal basis. Examples include Accenture, Shell, and a couple of municipal airports.
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