It’s time to dethrone our outdated traditions

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Photo provided by @northwoodinstrumental

HOCO NO MO’: Seniors Mei Ono and Rachel Gima celebrate their historic victory, breaking the precendent of cisgender courts.

By Mei Ono, Northwood High School

The Homecoming King clutched their tightly folded suit as they exited the girl’s bathroom on the first floor of the 900s building after changing post-rally. An uncommon sight that will only become more common as some of the campus’s age-old traditions become queerer and queerer.
I am beyond fortunate to be able to say that my friends, my family and the faculty have been immensely supportive of me from the initial Homecoming court nominations to the weeks leading up to and after the Homecoming football game. Words cannot sufficiently express how honored I am to receive the title of Homecoming King alongside a court of such gracious peers.
But this moment of celebration for many queer people such as myself comes with skepticism for the court selection and crowning process rooted heavily in cisgender and heterosexual (cishet) constructs.
Chances are, you personally know someone who is transgender or goes by gender-neutral pronouns. Even still, in a state where 27% of adolescents say they are viewed as gender nonconforming and a staggering estimated 22,200 of those ages 13-17 identify as transgender, institutionalized cisnormativity and heteronormativity persists in all corners of the classroom. The construct that everyone is cisgender—having one’s gender identity align with their sex assigned at birth—is reflected in academic settings, from the gendered terms used to address groups of students (“gentlemen,” “girls,” etc.), to surveys that equate sex and gender with no option to self-identify the latter. Not only does this cisnormative default promote erasure of trans identities and their social marginalization, but it completely rejects the existence of nonbinary people.
The Homecoming tradition is a direct manifestation of these ideas, along with a coupling of princes and princesses and the king and queen that reinforces presumed heterosexuality, attraction to the opposite sex.
It is important to note that my experience as a transmasculine nonbinary person on the Homecoming court was overall extremely validating for me and my family; however, my experience is not indicative of any or all experiences of other future trans people on court. Was I asked for my pronouns because of my femimine name? What if, unlike me, a trans person uncomfortable with the historically gendered titles of “king” and “queen” was nominated?
Now for the million-dollar question: How can the school remove gender and sexuality as a barrier for those who want to participate in these activities that seemingly cater towards cishet individuals?
Dozens of high schools and universities across the nation have already claimed the prize money on the inclusive-Homecoming game show: Northwestern elects a singular “Homecoming Wildcat” while no longer limiting their court to six women and six men, and offers a third gender-neutral option for headwear. Redwood High School in California (who recently crowned their first openly nonbinary royal), Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School in Maryland, New Mexico’s largest high school, several high schools in Texas, Florida and more have all adopted gender-neutral titles for those selected for the final crowning ceremony; most commonly, “royal.”
A unified selection process for all “Homecoming court” members where students elect the top 10 individual nominees regardless of gender, as well an additional third option of a sash reading “Homecoming royalty” for any one or two students that culminated the most votes would serve as a good starting point. Since binary trans people, cisgender people or slightly more masculine or feminine-leaning nonbinary people may find euphoria in the original titles of king or queen, leaving them as open options may also prove validating.
These patterns of cisnormativity and heteronormativity in high school tradition aren’t limited to Homecoming, of course—need I mention courts for Winter Formal and Prom, the Sadie Hawkins Dance and Northwood’s own Mr. Timberwolf? As a school, we must recognize the problematic roots of traditions that perpetuate the cishet norm we claim to combat. Altering traditions is not easy, but non-queer people often fail to recognize the amount of joy they are capable of bringing to queer folk simply by acknowledging and supporting them. I encourage everyone to have the guts to set a new tradition, to adapt and empower queer people by allowing something as miniscule as a high school dance to be a gateway for larger systemic change that has the power to change lives. And I couldn’t have put it better than Redwood High School’s 2017 gender nonconforming Homecoming King Raven Chalif.
“It’s important because even something as unimportant as Homecoming should be integrated and available to everybody,” Chalif said. “If there [are] people who are more ignorant or more educated about gender, gender inequality, nonbinary genders or anything like that, then it’s a starting point for education on that.”

This story was originally published on The Northwood Howler on December 9, 2021.