Creating A More Inclusive Tradition

When school is already difficult enough for trans kids, why not create an activity that could actually be fun and comfortable for all?


Shira Nathan

A student waves a fan sporting the trans pride flag in the student section of Powderpuff

If you ask Centaurus students what school spirit looks like, they’ll probably say something like this: students cheering, the Centaurus colors, spirit week, HEART, and traditions like Powderpuff. Centaurus focuses on community engagement and inclusion, with school spirit at the heart of those ideas. In fact, there are big letters proclaiming ‘diversity’ on the side of the building as students drive up South Boulder. Doesn’t it defeat the purpose when some of our current traditions inherently cannot include all students?

Although meant to be a positive play on gender roles, in reality, Powderpuff ends up reinforcing them and leaving gender-nonconforming students to feel like there’s no space for them. To some of these students, Powderpuff and other gendered structures at school reflect a deeper lack of awareness in our community. So the question becomes: how do we improve? We interviewed trans and gender-nonconforming students to hear what they thought. 

The intention of Powderpuff is to have fun and create school spirit, while showing students that it’s ok to try new things and step out of gender roles. Unfortunately, that’s not the impact it’s having for all students. Jojo Folmar (they/them), stated “[After seeing the dances on Thursday] It feels like it’s treated as a joke….to a large extent it felt like the boys were making fun of feminine things…It definitely had a weird mood to it.” If a masculine trans person puts on a crop top and dances around, they could get harassed or worse. When cis guys do it for Powderpuff, they are applauded because the concept of people with male bodies doing things that aren’t considered masculine is just  hilarious. There is a dangerous double standard set up in our society surrounding feminine behavior (and Powderpuff enforces it): if LGBTQ+ people do feminine things, they are “flamboyant,” “twinks,” “not really gay”, or viewed as dangers to society. Cis men do it and it’s celebrated.

The Senior Powderpuff cheer team performing their dance at the homecoming assembly (Shira Nathan)

Trans and LGBTQ+ people don’t get to take their identity off like one can take off a dance uniform; it’s their existence, and treating the concept as an absurd joke can be harmful. Many other schools have done away with the tradition altogether because of equity concerns, some as early as the 1990s[1] [2]. When asked whether or not they would be comfortable participating in Powderpuff,  JoJo answered “Definitely not”.

Trans students are often left out from school life, and although it’s usually unintentional, the effects can be damaging: transgender students who feel excluded or victimized at school have a higher risk of increased absenteeism, lower academic achievement, and higher levels of depression, and low self esteem[3]. Things such as sports can be the hardest for students who don’t conform to the gender binary, either in gender or in presentation. Jojo expressed interest in joining cross country, but due to the gendered nature of the sport and most others, they said they wouldn’t feel good participating. 

Another gender-nonconforming student (who chose to remain anonymous) echoed Jojo’s statement, saying they were tired of sports being gendered and were frustrated with the way it limited their options for school activities and participation. They have chosen more gender neutral activities, and because of that have felt more included. In their opinion, sports shouldn’t be based on gender, because that basis restricts participation.

Two students on the Senior Powderpuff cheer team hype each other up for the game (Shira Nathan)

Beyond sports, other common areas of difficulty include P.E, locker rooms, and bathrooms. “[Jojo] I’ve definitely experienced transphobia at school, primarily in the locker rooms. They’re a very hard place to be in when you’re not cis-het [not trans, and straight]”. Combine this with the fact that many teachers are not receiving enough training around these issues (BVSD equity policy requires racial/cultural training, as it should, but does not yet require training around LGBTQ+ issues), and suddenly school becomes much more complicated. 

When school is already difficult enough for trans kids, why not create an activity that could actually be fun and comfortable for all? A potential way to broaden Powderpuff is to let trans kids pick which side they want to be on, similar to what P.E. teachers have opted to do when they separate the class into boys and girls. However, this forces non binary students to align with either male or female, and doesn’t respect their identity. It can also create an uncomfortable or even unsafe environment for the student. 

A better solution is to encourage anyone (who doesn’t already participate in the sport) to sign up for either cheerleading or football during Powderpuff. This would shift the pressure to align with either male or female presentation. It also still allows kids to step out of traditional gender roles, because boys can still do the cheerleading routine and girls can still play football, but it’s more inclusive to people who want to participate who would have otherwise been excluded. These changes would help stop nonconformity from being the butt of the joke, and expand the positive impact of the tradition.

 Powderpuff is a tradition that everybody should feel comfortable participating in, regardless of identity. Narrow structures have to change if we want to live up to our potential as an inclusive school. Thankfully, we’re beyond tolerance, and now we need to move into creating genuinely safe spaces. What that looks like can mean different things, but for starters it means simply holding space for students to participate as their full selves, without jumping through any hoops. Everybody wants an equal opportunity to share in school spirit and be part of the community, and change doesn’t mean that everything that was there before has to be abandoned. Just improved. 

It can be hard to exist in a world that feels like it has no space for you, and Centaurus should be somewhere that has space for all students, even when the rest of the world doesn’t.