Columnist discusses how the Homecoming court perpetuates student conformity to heteronormative stereotypes and gender roles within UAHS.
BY SAFIA MALHOTRA ’24.
I want to preface this story by saying two things. One: this is an opinion piece and merely a reflection of my own thoughts rather than that of the Arlingtonian as a whole. Two: this is absolutely not an attack on members of the Homecoming Court, but rather a discussion of the flaws of such an outdated celebration, whose roots in a homophobic society prolong heteronormativity in an increasingly progressive country.
As a queer person in a heterosexual relationship I often find it easy to invalidate my own sexuality due to how other people perceive me. When I first entered this relationship, it was somewhat difficult for me to process, considering the number of years I had spent grappling with and becoming comfortable with my sexuality. I have recently found that part of the reason it is difficult for me to be entirely comfortable within my sexuality is due to the role I feel that I must fill within the school.
I am quite aware of how stereotypes have influenced the person I am, as I’ve felt that there have been certain things expected of me from a young age based on certain demographics I fulfill. Having grown up in a patriarchal society, I’ve been aware of gender roles and stereotypes expected of me for far too long.
High school, in particular, perpetuates a definitive societal hierarchy that enforces many stereotypes upon teenagers, and is notorious for it. There appears to be certain roles that certain students must fulfill based on certain categories that pertain to them, which can be incredibly harmful to those who feel forced to confine to those expectations. There are many factors that aforementioned stereotypes stem from, one being Homecoming Court.
Homecoming itself (formerly known as “the coming home”) originated in the mid 19th century as a football game specifically meant to attract alumni and celebrate their return home, hence the name. While Homecoming originated in colleges, it was quickly adopted by high schools as well, and is now more typically celebrated in high schools. During the early development of Homecoming, there were often parades held prior to the game, in which a float contained two students who best represented the student body as its King and Queen.
Contestants for Homecoming King and Queen were judged based on beauty, popularity and academic success. Oftentimes there was also a Homecoming Court, in which runners-up were represented as well, typically ranging from five to six members on both the King’s and Queen’s Courts.
Seeing as the tradition of Homecoming Court originated in the mid 19th century, it is clearly outdated and in need of reformation. Up until the 20th century same-sex intimacy was still illegal, and while the LGBTQ+ community is not yet accepted in its entirety, we have clearly progressed from the 19th century. So why are we still celebrating Homecoming in such an outdated fashion?
The notion of Homecoming in it of itself is not homophobic per se; however, the way that school continues to celebrate it can certainly be viewed as such, seeing as intensely it not only enforces student conformity to heteronormative stereotypes, but to arbitrary and outdated gender roles as well. Ultimately, the tradition of Homecoming Court is highly invalidating to many members of the LGBTQ+ community.
There are many reasons for this, one being the idea that the two students who best represent the student body are singularly male and female in a way that is not only invalidating to queer students, but to non-binary and gender non-conforming students as well.
Homecoming King and Queen are often portrayed, in media consumed by teenagers, as romantically involved. The mere names of “King” and “Queen” also represent a heteronormative (and possibly romantic) relationship of some sort, and while this may not be entirely true for individuals, it certainly presents itself as such. Especially seeing as the King and Queen are revered in such a public fashion, enforcing the normativity of straight relationships over gay relationships.
I find it difficult to articulate just how much this isolates queer students, because it’s isolating to each individual in different ways. For me, one of the major reasons I’m wary of the Homecoming Court is due to the subconscious jealousy I feel towards straight people.
This jealousy stems from their ability to love openly and without fear, and for the obstacles I’ve had to overcome in my lifetime that they will never encounter (and I hope they never do — such obstacles are not anything I would wish on anybody who needs not experience them). I wholeheartedly admit that this is somewhat irrational, but I share this only to emphasize that every queer person is impacted by heteronormativity and its impact on every minute detail of their lives, even though it may be in different ways.
Another reason the Homecoming Court is invalidating to the LGBTQ+ community is the division of the Homecoming Court between “King’s Court” and “Queen’s Court”. This establishes a distinct separation of genders and, again, enforces the idea that individuals must either be female or male, which is irrefutably not true.
There is a biological difference between those of the female and male sex, that I will not argue with (although the presence of intersex peoples does negate the argument of there only being two sexes). However, sex and gender are not the same.
The American Psychological Association (APA) defines sex as “a person’s biological status … typically categorized as male, female, or intersex (i.e., atypical combinations of features that usually distinguish male from female).” And defines gender as “the attitudes, feelings, and behaviors that a given culture associates with a person’s biological sex.”
Unlike a person’s sex, which is determined by their biological makeup, one’s gender is not a fixed or innate fact, but rather varies across time and place. Social constructionism is a social theory describing how meaning is created through social interaction, and gender, like all social identities, is socially constructed. A person’s gender is the product of the manifestation of cultural origins and mechanisms of gender perception and expression in the context of interpersonal and group social interaction.
All of that to say: gender is not something that can so easily be broken down into two groups, and it’s unfair to expect people to be able to do so.
I am also a firm believer that no singular person is 100% masculine or 100% feminine. The separation of the Homecoming Court into solely “King’s” and “Queen’s” Courts is not only entirely invalidating to non-binary and gender non-conforming people, but also just incredibly inaccurate.
The LGBTQ+ community has always existed and has, consequently, always been discriminated against. However, we are privileged enough to live in a more progressive society than those in generations before us, and it is therefore up to us to eradicate such systemic discrimination.
There is always more we can do to better our community and create a more inclusive and accepting society for those who need it. And things like removing traditions deeply rooted in generational homophobia, no matter how minuscule that may appear, can go a long way toward those who benefit from it.