Boys just wanna wear eyeliner

An Ohio middle school denies a goth student his makeup.

Published September 26, 2008 8:40PM (EDT)

Ah, boys who wear makeup. I know them well. In fact, the guys I dated (and hooked up with) between the ages of 14 and 18 were almost exclusively eyeliner or nail-polish devotees. Some were goth, some were glam, some were just into rebellion and chaos, and most were just preening peacocks looking for a way to transcend their insufficiently exciting adolescent lives. And, clichéd as I find it now, I was interested in them because of my own inchoate longings for adventure and escape. But all psychoanalysis aside, one thing is for sure: Without boys who wore makeup, my high school years would have been a major drag.

So you can imagine my dismay at hearing about Matt Allsup, a 13-year-old from Hamilton, Ohio, who has been prohibited from wearing makeup to school. In a CNN video, Allsup, who identifies himself as goth, sports a relatively restrained palette of dark eye makeup, black lipstick and dark nail polish. "It expresses who I am," he explains. But his self-expression doesn't seem terribly important to Garfield Middle School's administration and board, who have invoked a vague dress code clause banning "extreme/distracting makeup." To hear one school board rep tell it, that means any makeup at all, so long as it's on a boy.

There is one positive aspect of this otherwise sad story: Allsup's mother, Mindy Ball, supports him 100 percent. "He's being sexually discriminated against," she says in the video, pointing out that students at Garfield participate in a character education program that asks them to "value the uniqueness of others." School is hard for kids who don't -- or can't -- fit in, but, as Kate Harding wrote in a post last month, parental support can make a huge difference.

Teenagers who fail to conform already face a litany of taunting and bullying from their peers. So school regulations denying them the right to let their freak (and sometimes, more crucially, gender non-normative) flags fly only punish them a second time for daring to be different. Garfield's teachers, principal and school board would do well to think about how fragile kids' burgeoning identities can be and to remember that it's often the outcasts and nonconformists who will go on to make an impact on the great, big world outside Hamilton.

By Judy Berman

Judy Berman is a writer and editor in Brooklyn. She is a regular contributor to Salon's Broadsheet.

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