The Meaning of a Transgender Homecoming King

A student's victory points to the power of some campus traditions, and the need to challenge them, writes Hugo Schwyzer.

December 4, 2007

The story from The Pasadena Star-News has now been picked up nationally: "King for a Day: Transgender Student Elected Homecoming King."

For Andrew Gomez, the month of November has been one of firsts.

First, he broke the news to his mother that he was transitioning from a female to a male. Then the 24-year-old transgender student was elected Homecoming king at Pasadena City College. Neither event came easily, but the second milestone nearly did not happen. PCC's Homecoming committee initially ruled Gomez ineligible because of his pierced ear.
But after students complained, lodging charges of discrimination, the committee relented and reversed its decision. Gomez said his election earlier this month as Homecoming king surprised him, even though he initially ran hoping to become a source of inspiration for other gay, lesbian and transgender students.

"I wanted them to feel like they could do something like this, instead of having them feel, 'I am not straight so I can't do this,'" Gomez said.

I'm very proud of Andrew, who was a student in my Introduction to Lesbian and Gay American History class in the spring of 2006. Andrew's election -- which has been reported as far away as Boston -- represents a significant milestone for Pasadena City College and the broader Pasadena community. Pasadena, after all, is home to the Tournament of Roses Parade and the Rose Queen. There are very few other communities in the United States where elected "courts" of queens or kings are taken more seriously than here. (Technically, in order to be on the Rose Court, a young woman must live within our college district boundaries, a little-known fact.)

Most community colleges in California don't celebrate homecoming week with PCC's enthusiasm and sense of tradition. We're one of the state's oldest community colleges (founded in 1924), and our homecoming tradition predates the days when Jackie Robinson starred for our football team (before he transferred on to the University of California at Los Angeles and the Brooklyn Dodgers.) So Andrew's election -- as a transgendered man, and not merely to the Homecoming Court but to "King" itself -- is a remarkable and noteworthy occurrence.

Of course, the novelty of Andrew's victory, as exciting as it is, is a reminder that on countless high school and college campuses this fall, homecoming rituals played out in ways that weren't innovative or inclusive. In most places, the popular, good-looking kids who exhibited "ideal heterosexual behavior" won homecoming titles. In most places, the criteria for participating in this nearly-century old tradition haven't changed in decades. Homecoming rituals may not have the same grip on the majority of students the way we imagine that they did in the 1950's. That doesn't mean, however, that for the substantial minority of students who do care passionately about who "wins" king and queen that the process has become any less sexist and reactionary. Of all the important battles that need to be fought on college campuses, the struggle to transform homecoming (or abandon it altogether) may not seem the most pressing. But Andrew Gomez's victory reminds us that these rituals still have power, still have meaning, and still need to be confronted.


Hugo Schwyzer teaches history and gender studies at Pasadena City College. He teaches and blogs about such issues as the interplay of faith and sexuality, American history, and masculinity.


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