Section: Opinion

Deb Ball, a ‘night of revelry’ at the expense of trans students

[Editor’s Note: While the opinions selection does not frequently  publish anonymous pieces, the author of this article wrote on the condition of anonymity because she is trans and does not want to be identified as such by loved ones and friends in her hometown. Any questions regarding the opinions section’s policy on anonymity may be directed to Cameron Austin ’20 at austin1@kenyon.edu.]

There’s a week every year where I can’t even work because all I feel is jealousy and longing. By the time I arrive at the day of Deb Ball itself, I’m lucky if I can think straight, and even luckier if I can avoid snapping at my friends. Five mornings where I wake up, if I bother getting up at all, wondering how exactly I could go about leaping out of my own body and going somewhere else. There’s something I’ve been unable to do safely my whole life, and for three days I get to watch the entire campus do it as a joke.

Is Deb Ball worth causing that rage, that jealousy, that sense of isolation? How many people deserve to feel it? How intensely? For how long?

Are cisgender people who enjoy Deb Ball willing to sit with trans people as they feel these things, listen day by day as they think about the looks they give themselves in the mirror, how quickly they shower without looking down at themselves? Are cisgender people willing to follow a trans person into Mount Vernon while they’re dressed how they deserve to be?

I am absolutely certain that the PEEPS don’t intend to hurt any trans person on this campus; but I’m absolutely certain that they do, every year, and even more certain that they know that they do.

They’ve said that they want Deb Ball to be an event where everyone, for a night, can shake off the constraints of society. But those constraints never apply equally; the people who have to choose every day between living a safe lie and a dangerous truth need more than that one night of uneasy experimentation Deb Ball may provide for some.

They need a safe campus. One where someone who you thought was a boy can show up to your statistics class in a dress and no one bats an eye, or someone who you thought was a girl can go safely into Mount Vernon with buzzed hair and a chest-binder.

Deb Ball does not bring us closer to that safety: cisgender men would not wear a dress to Deb Ball if they thought it would change their reputation the next day, if it “counted” toward their real identity and against their safety.

The luxury of fun experimentation is just that. Playing around with gender presentation is something that every trans person I know would love for cis people to try, once all of us felt safe. Once cis people have stood up for those to whom this has never been an experiment. One night of revelry a semester does not create and cannot sustain a climate of safety and pride on the other hundred-plus days.

If experimentation is so necessary, fight for it like it’s necessary for everyone. Trans people at Kenyon — some of whom can live their truths openly more often than others — are trying to create that climate. If you’re cis, fight for us in a dress or a suit or nothing at all, but don’t sit by and pretend that your drunken antics alone make our next mornings, and the ones after that, any easier. 

Trans people want what all people want. We want to feel joy instead of jealousy, pride instead of pain. That requires you to look at us with something more than a curious glance once a year. 

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