Gender-Bending at Morehouse College.

Last year, I wrote about a dress code Morehouse attempted to enforce that banned naughty t-shirts, jeans at fancy events, and “clothing associated with women’s garb (for example, dresses, tunics, purses, handbags, pumps, wigs, make-up, etc.).” Aliya S. King’s recent story for Vibe picks up where my annoyance left off, and she speaks to several young men who attended or currently attend Morehouse and dress in so-called “women’s garb”:

Built like an NFL linebacker, the 6’4” freshman politely turned down the Morehouse head football coach’s invite for a tryout soon after he arrived on campus. Phillip—who hails from Fort Lauderdale, Fla.—came to Morehouse in hopes of pleasing his father, a minister from Jamaica who he says is staunchly homophobic. “I’ve always wanted to be a man’s man,” says Phillip, with a sigh. “I wanted to be masculine. I thought by coming here to Morehouse I could be the masculine man my father wanted me to be. The first day I got to campus, I was a boy. I had my little dreads pulled back, jeans and all that. Trying to be this masculine boy, real cool and real quiet.”

It took exactly one day on campus for Phillip to see that this plan was not going to work. “The first time I walked from my dorm to student services, someone yelled out ‘faggot’ and a crew of boys started laughing at me.” Phillip throws his hands up dramatically. “That was it. I was going to have to be me. There was no hiding that I was not masculine. That I was not a boy. I went back to taking my female hormones and rocking my hair.”

King also talks to some members of Morehouse’s non-gender-bending gay community who explain: “In some ways, it’s like it’s okay to be gay. But not that gay. Or it’s okay to be queer. But not that queer. There is homophobia even within the gay community—which is something we have to deal with if Morehouse is going to progress.”

MC alumnus L’Heureux Dumi Lewis has a piece up at The Grio responding to the negative reactions to King’s story:

Many of the outcries I have read suggest the article is another stain on the legacy of Morehouse and a part of a larger project of tearing down black men. Near chants of, “why don’t you highlight something positive?” are flooding social media. While this perspective is common, it can only persist if we think being gay or being transgendered is bad. Over the past few years, Morehouse has entered the national spotlight for violence in the forms of gay bashing and shootings between students. These are serious problems that take lives not just at Morehouse but within our larger communities. Being androgynous or loving the same gender is not the problem. In fact, queer people are often at the receiving end of the problems of violence, bigotry, and harassment.

All these issues remain deeply tied to how we define black manhood and community. Rather than constructing an inclusive definition that centers on a healthy, functioning diversity of identity and responsibility, we quickly close ranks and try to exclude people who may not dress or love in ways that fit a neat image of a “real” black man.

Latest posts by Shani (see all)

  • CuteLittleMe

    Im confused though..if they identify with women therefore wearing womens clothes, shoes, etc then why select a historically black men’s university?? There are many HBCU’s to attend. Clearly the only thing that’s holding some of them back from being women is gender stated by the gentle(man)who said he went back to taking his hormones. I would assume that it is a Mens only college for a reason. Do they allow Men to attend Spellman college? This baffles me, its almost the same issue of white’s wanting to go to an HBCU, primarily because they ‘can’. I would venture to say that some of these guys might be attending Morehouse for all of the wrong being an all male school and all. It also looks like some of the men within the gay community at the school dont seem to agree with the gender-benders either. I’m sorry, I think the school did the right thing. NO, you can’t come to school dressed like a woman, No you can’t wear 6in heels to class. If you want to do it on your own time away from school then so be it. No one is bashing them for being gay. The school has the right to divert from these types of distractions. They are just doing Waaaay too much! You are there to learn, not dress to impress with your Lipgloss, T*tties, Weave and booty poppin’. YES, I would say the same to a young lady going to a University doing the exact same things. You are there to learn.

    • Gender identity is not a “distraction” and treating it as such is insulting. Exceedingly narrow definitions of “man” and “woman” are killing people who don’t fit into those paradigms. Literally (gay-bashing, queer teen suicide rate, etc.) I fail to see how astudent’s attire affect another’s academic performance. If the dude sitting next to you wearing foundation is enough to make you fail a class, then your chances at success in college, in the job market, and life in general are pretty low.

      That these BIOLOGICALLY male students chose to attend an all-men college because they (mistakenly) thought they could thrive there says that they understand manhood better than most of us. The strength of a man is in his character, his integrity, and his heart–not in his genitals or his clothes. I’m so uncomfortable with the nasty insinuation that these young men chose to attend Morehouse to cruise for ass, that I don’t even know how to respond to it. Yes, I do. Stop it!

      As for whether men are allowed to attend Spelman, the answer is YES! Students in the AUC (Atlanta University Center) frequently attend classes at other institutions. Maybe you meant are they allowed to enroll. Probably not. But is a butch woman a man? NO! Just like effeminate, gender-bending, cross-dressing men are STILL MEN! Even the one who stopped his transition in order to appeal to his homophobic father.

      And I can’t believe this needs to be said, but just because other gay-identified men are uncomfortable with these young men does not make it right, fair or ok. When people of color co-sign silly ass arguments we all agree are racist (or at the very least racially insensitive), we say “What are they thinking??!?” not “Oh, well I guess it really wasn’t racist, then.”

      What I would say to all college students is this: You are not there to police what other people wear. You are there to learn.

      • MH8D

        sorry, but it is a distraction. Morehouse is an institution whose purpose is to educate and mold men, specifically Morehouse men. Anyone who does not agree with the institution’s definition and standards of manhood is free not to attend.
        Why would you go to an all-men’s school if your ambition in life is to turn yourself into a woman? It is completely ridiculous.
        I am baffled that these people don’t see the hypocrisy of intentionally confronting the institution with their outrageous lifestyle, but then complaining about the erosion of their personal liberties. What gives them the right to walk onto the campus and demand that a decades-old culture be changed to accommodate them. They are not comfortable dressing like men, but they don’t seem to care that no one else is comfortable being around that. The whole thing reeks of shameless attention-seeking behavior masquerading as a civil rights issue.
        Do you absolutely have to wear a dress to survive? Yes? Well that’s fine, you just can’t do it here. I don’t see the problem.

        • “What gives them the right to walk onto the campus and demand that a decades-old culture be changed to accommodate them.”

          This is so endlessly problematic. First of all, the dress code in question is not a decades-old policy. It was enacted last year, after these men were ALREADY accepted to and enrolled in the college. Many people believe the policy was enacted specifically to exclude them. But I mean, what gives them the right to believe that the rules that they agreed to would remain the same once they started walking around campus? CRAZINESS, right?

          You know what your question sounds a lot like? “Why would black people even WANT to go to white public schools, white-owned hotels, white restrooms, white colleges, neighborhoods and most public spaces? What gives them the right to walk into these places and then complain about lack of personal liberties? Why should WE change our centuries-old culture to accommodate them. There are free to shop, learn, sleep, eat, live, etc. wherever they like!!”

          • CuteLittleMe

            Craziness, it is. These gentlemen know exactly what their doing. This is not about civil liberties, its about a dress codes. No one is telling these men that they cannot get a good education, have fair housing, or be treated like a human being. What they are saying, as with most institutions is that there is a dress code. You asked the question “what gives them the right to believe that the rules that they agreed to would remain the same once they started walking around campus?” Hmmm, I dont know MAYBE because the school had never had MEN, prancing and masquerading as women on campus before. YES masquerading until they are gender reassigned & biologically women. Let’s be logical here…sometimes rules are created when an issue presents itself that hasn’t occurred before. So YES, the original rule will be tweaked. It happens everyday. In schools, in corporate environments, in government.

            I am sure you have heard of “casual Fridays” at a place of business before, well lets just say the rules say :”No sandals, flip flops, or jellies.” Just because it doesn’t say you can’t show up barefoot dosen’t mean that after you do and the rule now states “No sandals, flip flops, or jellies, no bare feet.” that they have been dishonest with you. Its a rule, because its common sense.

            The same way that it’s common sense for you not to wear a push up bra and a T-back if you are a man at an all male school. The “Politically correctness” is going too far. These men weren’t denied anything but the ability to wear skirts and stilettos to class. Get over it.

            • You know what’s interesting. This: “No one is telling these men that they cannot get a good education, have fair housing, or be treated like a human being.”

              Because the guys said that even when they dressed as unambiguous men, people still pointed at them and laughed at them and shouted “faggot” at them. Wearing women’s clothes OR wearing makeup (because not all of them DID wear women’s clothes) is not the reason people are uncomfortable with them. It’s an excuse. People are uncomfortable with them because they fall outside of a rigid male/female binary, no matter what they have on.

              And new rules that target or exclude specific people can, in fact, constitute a civil rights violation.

          • MH8D

            You have chosen to obscure the conversation into a narrative of good vs. evil to effectively end the debate through shame. I’ll try to get back on track…

            1. I disagree with you. It is highly disrespectful to compare the civil rights movement to this. It’s really not the same thing, at all. Black people of that era were being denied basic civil rights in the country where they lived and worked without a choice. These men want to go to the school, then erase and redefine the school’s boundaries of what is and isn’t acceptable behavior to suit their own ideas.

            2. Integration is the course that history took, but everyone wasn’t fighting for integration. A good portion of black people were fine with the idea of ‘separate but equal’ – the problem was that we had plenty of separate, but no equal. Marcus Garvey promoted going back to Africa; Malcolm X and the Nation advocated a separate and autonomous black society. Many black people had no particular desire to integrate, they just wanted their own communities to have fair access to the rights, freedoms, and resources that were only available to white America. Even today, I exist in white establishments because that’s where the money is. If I could make a substantial living and live the good life in America without mingling with white people, I probably would.
            I personally never had the desire to force myself into places where I am not wanted. If there is a restaurant run by a guy who doesn’t respect black people, I wouldn’t WANT to eat there. The problem would be if I was denied the right to eat at all because no comparable black establishment existed as my alternative.

            3. As you personally demonstrate, there are lots of people and places in America today that don’t have a problem with that kind of behavior. Morehouse is a private institution, why is it unacceptable for them to try and maintain a higher standard of behavior and appearance for the confines and the legacy of their establishment?
            This is America, you can be whoever you want to be and this nation is vast enough that there is a place for everyone. These men are free and have the right to choose their own lifestyle and methods of self-expression, just as Morehouse has the right to say that they do not want to be involved or associated with that.

            • “You have chosen to obscure the conversation into a narrative of good vs. evil to effectively end the debate through shame. I’ll try to get back on track…”

              Simply untrue. I disagree with you, but do not mis-characterize my intent. I have pointed out that arguments very similar to your own (you can still do it, just do it elsewhere!) have been used to mistreat black people. If you feel shame, it’s yours alone. And black people always get up in arms about the civil rights movement like it belongs to us and no one else.

              Black folks have sued companies for refusing to hire them with natural hair. I mean, they could always just get a relaxer or cut the dreds, but they shouldn’t HAVE to, especially when their peers are not required to chemically alter themselves. Black people have sued to gain access to universities, when they could have gone elsewhere. You can say these men are being treated equally, but that wouldn’t be honest. At the end of the day, the new dress code would only require MAYBE SEVEN PEOPLE ON A CAMPUS OF 3,000 to stop wearing the clothes they already had. You may think it reasonable (I don’t), you may think it a fair compromise (I don’t), but it is absolutely not EQUAL if a new rule targets less than 1/100 of 1% of students. It is in its nature discriminatory.

              I don’t know if this is clear to folks, either, but university dress codes are for the ENTIRE campus, at least it was at my HBCU. This means that despite people arguing that these guys can dress however they want “on their own time,” they actually can’t. CAN. NOT. Not anywhere on campus, at any time dress in a way that makes them comfortable. THAT is, in fact, a violation of their rights.

              Anyway, the “rights” discussion is mostly moot anyway. Most of the men left Morehouse, because they were denied the basic right to walk around campus and not be ostracized.

  • vivian jones

    I really don’t understand why African american folk acn’t understand the damage we do to ourselves. We take one of the few historically places that we can be proud of and turn it into a circus. We as a race are so selfish, and only think about “me”. How quickly forget the people that paved the way for us. As a race we take 2 steps forward and ten steps back. I had a nephew that was attending Morehouse and was killed on the way home in an automobile accident. My family was so proud of him and his accomplishments. I hate to know this is what this great HBCU has come to. Everyone is titled to their own way of life, but some things you do on your own time. Don’t hurt everyone else while trying to pursue your selfish dreams.

    • i wish that stupidity was painful, so that every keystroke of that response felt like the burning of hot pokers.

      jesus christ on a pony.

  • @CuteLittleMe, @MH8D and @Vivian Jones,

    I am curious, if the University made a dress code demand that didn’t police gender expression but rather mandated acceptable styles, would that satisfy you? Because a dress code that says “No low-cut blouses in class” is fundamentally different than one that says “no blouses at all.” So which is it–dresses on boys or clubwear on students in general? Because the second one is a reasonable prohibition but the first one isn’t.

    I make it a policy not to discuss my students online so will speak in general terms: I have taught students whose style of dress and/or the gender expression they perform didn’t match their biology and they are NOT “distracting” in class. Know what IS distracting though? Students who radiate self-hatred because they are trying so hard to conform in order to fit in that they are crippled with self-consciousness.

    If some of the faculty, students and administration at Morehouse (where I do not teach) are so fragile that the sight of a young man in lipgloss sends them into a tailspin of questioning then I’d suggest that they have some personal work ahead of them. But none of that has anything to do with what the men profiled here do and don’t wear.

    • April

      Also, it should be noted that Morehouse’s dress code bans its students from wearing certain classes of attire, including women’s clothing, on campus grounds, period.

      9. No wearing of clothing associated with women’s garb (dresses, tops, tunics, purses, pumps, etc.) on the Morehouse campus or at College-sponsored events.

      It’s not just a matter of what attire Morehouse feels is appropriate for class, but what the university feels is appropriate for the so-called “Morehouse Man” to be wearing at all. So the argument that the dress code was put in place to eliminate distractions in class is spurious.

  • I love want that purple stuff!

    I think this is all very interesting. As a black lesbian, I must say that homophobia and discrimination are what I make of it – ignorance. Sexuality and gender are actually the least of my concerns in this argument – what concerns me is the definition of blackness in this country and how skewed and limited it is.

    On the one hand, black people are always talking about equality, but seem to act in a way that is starved for mainstream acceptance. In my opinion, equality is not really about acceptance. To me, it’s mainly about respect. As black people we treat ourselves as inferior and buy into negative stereotypes – that’s why they remain powerful. In the case of Morehouse’s dress code, it’s the stereotype of baggy = bad and/or effeminate man = bad.

    As black people, we must challenge ourselves to think more critically about these labels. Exactly, what are we trying to fit in to? Corporate America? That’s not the be all, end all and it’s time black people realize that corporate America has many, many flaws that affect all people, not just black people. Why are we trying so hard (to the point of hating and ostracizing our own people) to fit into that dusty mold? Why does it matter so much?

    Let me take a guess. If we don’t meet those standards, than it MUST mean that are truly inferior and have been all along. Ha! What a mind-f*#$#ck! And once again, black people are on the short end of the stick. It’s time that we gain and exhibit some higher esteem for our people as a whole – that includes so-called “ghetto” people and “faggots” and stop trying to live by mainstream society’s ridiculous, inherently exclusive rules.

    Newsflash: The American Dream is a crock! Case in point: recession ’09. Working yourself to death and being denied promotions or being laid off because of racial and gender politics is so, well, tired. Black women, for example, make way less in corporate America than white (and/or black) male counterparts; they like most others make more money in business for themselves.

    It’s time for black people to give up the tantalizing, yet unyielding social war and start fighting the economic one. You don’t like something, make your own. You don’t like the “rules,” do they seem unfair? Define your own! True freedom is being able to do what you want, when you want – and not being overly concerned with fitting someone else’s view of what’s socially acceptable.

    In closing, Morehouse is a lot of things, but socially liberal and accepting is probably not one of them. Then again, I don’t really expect much from a HBCU with NO African-American studies department – but if we didn’t pay for it, they wouldn’t condone this type of discrimination. That’s right – if people stopped alumni contributions until this dress code was banished, how long do you think it would last? Black people, let’s stop exercising our mouths and start using the power of the purse! (Morehouse men, included!)