Drag in High School

I think the first time I saw guys in drag was when we did the annual powderpuff football game in high school. That was where the girls played football — juniors against seniors — and a few boys became cheerleaders.

Only girls were cheerleaders in my high school, so the boys did their cheerleading in drag. Very comic drag, as I recall. Alas, I have no pictures, having lost my yearbook over the years, but it included very fake wigs and clownish makeup.

That struck me as weird back then, and even weirder today. We girls were not in drag as football players. I mean, we were dressed in gym clothes — this was flag football, not tackle — but we didn’t look like boys. We weren’t pretending to be boys to play.

The boys should have been dressed as themselves cheering, because the whole point of the event was the girls doing something and the boys cheering them on.

That is, if you were one of the girls playing that was the point. We took this very seriously. We practiced a lot. I, who was not much of an athlete back in high school, played both years. And I still remember that my team won both the years we played. (I have at least forgotten the scores.)

I didn’t score any points. I was, then as now, larger than the average woman, so I played defensive line. 

This was all before Title IX, of course, back when sports for girls in high school were severely limited. My high school offered three: volleyball, tennis, and swimming. Swimming was in the summer and just barely counted. In tennis we had girls go to state (they were very good athletes), so everyone knew about it. The volleyball players took volleyball very seriously, but no one else did.

There were no cheerleaders for the volleyball team. Actually, I don’t think cheerleaders cheered for much of anything but football, which is kind of sad. Our football team sucked every year.

But my point is how much this was gendered. Girls playing football couldn’t possibly be serious, so boys playing cheerleader had to do it in drag to make sure it was a mockery of the real thing. The fact that the girls playing were very serious about winning was irrelevant.

I don’t think this kind of drag is the kind the right wing extremists mean to ban with their silly laws. They like this sort, because it includes a significant element of contempt for women.

I’m pretty sure cheerleading drag expressed the general lack of respect the boys had for this athletic endeavor. It was a joke to them; it was serious to us.

I hope we have reached a point where schools no longer do powderpuff football because girls have lots of actual sports activities in high school. And I hope boys are learning to take girl athletes seriously, maybe even doing some cheerleading at the girls’ competitions.

Judging by the sports pages, we still have a long way to go, but at least these days women are on the sports pages both as athletes and journalists.

And I don’t think I’ve seen cheerleaders in comic drag cheering on the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team – you know, the one that, unlike the men’s team, wins the international competitions.

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