Alternate August Contest: Breaking Tradition

My hometown is a boring place. It’s just like any other small town in the middle of nowhere. We have a single bank, a single general store, a single restaurant, a single theater showing a variety of movies, and we have a single doctor. We have everything you would expect from a small town. What sets us apart from every other small town is our peculiar tradition.

What could possibly be peculiar about our traditions? Well every year for one week we force students to wear the clothes of the other gender. Yes, our parents force us to crossdress.

It’s supposed to suppress our hormonal nature and quell interest in the opposite sex in hopes that we see each other as people. The whole town gets involved. Everyone helps one another with families competing for the prestige of having their son or daughter crowned “prettiest boy” or “handsomest girl”. Dads gloat about their sons’ dresses and mothers fawn over their daughters’ suits and tuxedos.

I hate this tradition. I hate being forced to do anything. I am my own person but being your own person in this town puts a target on your back. For being so liberal we are still pretty conservative when it comes to differences.

I stick out like a sore thumb. I push boundaries. I make people think. I make people change their ways. I am my own person but it comes at a price. I am all but alone in the world.

My friends are into the traditions. They know I can’t stand them but they still drone on with one another about them. They are respectful of me but they know the real me and don’t force the issue. They would rather have me sit out the traditions than lose me as a friend.

Their parents though hate that I always try to be different and think for myself. Their sons are their pride and joy and seeing them with me brings them grief. The boys don’t notice it but I do.

Their mothers are no better. This is the one time of year where they get to dress the boys up like girls and not feel guilty or weird. For a few mothers taking the boys shopping for panties and bras is as close as they will get to experiencing this with a daughter.

My friend Parker is one of those boys. His mother had a hysterectomy after he was born so she can’t have any more children. They have thought about adopting another child but they don’t have the time to devote to the process.

Parker loves his mother immensely and will do whatever he can to make her feel good including dressing up as a girl for her even when it isn’t crossover week. His father approves of his behavior because his wife’s health matters more than anything. Parker in turn keeps the event inside and never goes beyond his living room and only comes out in dresses when the blinds and curtains are closed.

My presence at his house makes things tentative. His parents know what’s really going on with my beliefs and disagree with me but Parker is drawing on my support more and more as he gets older and getting dressed gets tougher and tougher for him. His mother knows he is struggling with becoming a young man and his needs to help her are starting to come at the cost of himself. I am his support and she sees me as the one who will help him most so our disagreements over traditions are set aside for Parker’s benefit.

Crossover week is set for mid-January every year. This was intentionally done so that families have four whole months to get things together once school starts and five whole months after it to get things back to normal. It also happens that midterms are taking place the week before so the week is treated as a skip week by the school allowing us to unwind and unfurl after weeks of cramming for exams.

It just happens to be that the tension creates for some elaborate outfits and performances as well as some comedic fails. Those who do better on exams usually end up getting better dresses and suits and those who did poorly end up getting ratty, old outfits that are clear hand-me-downs. The incentive to do well is clear: take exams seriously or it will reflect upon you for all to see.

My parents know though that I am not going to bother with dressing up. I always work hard and I always do my best so the incentive just doesn’t exist. Parker keeps me grounded in reality and if not for his support I’d probably be looking like a drag queen rather than a beauty queen, with my parents insisting that I participate as punishment.

So the exams are my make-or-break mark. If I do well I get to not participate. If I do less than well I have to go to school in a long, flowing evening gown. I had to make sure that I did my best.

The exams passed and I did well on every one of my exams. Mom and dad were thrilled but still disappointed that I held firm in my beliefs that I didn’t need to participate. They didn’t go back on their word, they told me that I did not have to wear girls’ clothing if I didn’t want to.

Parker and I worked out the perfect outfits for the week for him. He had a decent chest and hair that was down to his neck allowing him to pass as a normal 14-year-old girl. He was a natural with makeup and he had an eye for fashion but he still needed his mom to help him put on his bra, that was one thing he never wore when he dressed for her and his dad had long since forgotten how to wear one himself.

School started off well but once we started to change classes it was apparent that I was the school oddity again. I was the only person wearing jeans and a polo shirt. The “boys” were all dressed in suits or tuxedos. The “girls” were in dresses or skirts with leggings. I was the only person dressed down like it was any other day.

Once word got around things turned for the worst. The taunting started immediately with the “boys” telling me how much of a freak I was and “girls” telling me that I “wasn’t man enough” for them. They really got into character of their temporary genders and it didn’t help in the slightest that the teachers encouraged them to do it.

By the end of third period I had enough and left. I wasn’t about to let them get their jollies and I refused to let the teachers abuse me anymore. Screw the suspension and detentions, I’m not in the wrong here and I’ll be damned if I am going to put up with it.

Mom was already aware that I was on my way as the principal called her immediately when I walked out. She didn’t need to ask why, she only asked “are you ready to fight back?” I nodded silently, I was going to get them as much as they got me.

Mom was protective of me even if she wanted me to be “one of the boys”. There’s a line she won’t let anyone cross, teasing is one thing but abuse is another. She would make the school pay.

Dad was less than happy with me when he got home from work. He listened to my explanation and when he heard that it was being encouraged by the teachers he got on the phone and called our lawyer and his brother. His anger was apparent; he wouldn’t call them unless he was really pissed off at someone.

My uncle just happened to be vice principal and was out at a meeting all day today. To him the coincidence of him not being there and the teachers abusing me was no coincidence in his or dad’s eyes. My uncle is my staunchest defender and at the first sign of trouble would have stomped out the problem. Nobody wants him angry especially the teachers.

Dad and our lawyer talked for several hours. My uncle kept me informed about their discussion and what they came to a conclusion about. I was to stay home from school the following day as my uncle got the story from the principal and my teachers, he would then inform dad and our lawyer.

I’d go back to school on Wednesday as normal. The principal was already aware that I was not coming back the following day and until I showed up I could not be officially disciplined by the school lest my lawyer go after them. Simply put, I had a valid reason for leaving school and he knew it. Uncle would be on him about what happened and would force the principal to address the problems with me directly.

The principal wasn’t a fool. He had to appear to be tough on me but he knew he didn’t have a leg to stand on. The meeting was for show and the actual discipline would be light. Uncle already talked with him and he had his hands tied but if there was actual evidence that I was being abused by students and teachers then he’d have to go easy on me and hard on them. He was in my corner and he was going to bat for me against the old time traditionalists.

Tuesday mom and I spent much of the day together. I wouldn’t dress up for her but I did indulge in some mom/son bonding. She tried to called it mother/daughter bonding but I glared at her making her stop midsentence.

Parker came over after school and was brimming with joy when mom told him how beautiful he looked in his dress. He spent a good deal of time working on his hair and makeup and if not for the flat chest he looked like he could really be a girl. He blushed and tried to change the subject but there was something a little off about it. Mom picked it up right away and told me to not dwell on it, it wasn’t my right to pry and Parker would tell me if he wanted to.

When dad came home he sat down with our lawyer and my uncle. Uncle was angry about what was being said behind my back about me and dad had to hold him back at times. I knew already what was said, I was to blame and everyone was innocent except me.

My English teacher claimed that I incited the teasing by refusing to explain why I wasn’t in a dress. That was true, but it was the kids who were demanding not him. He just sat back and encouraged them to make me feel miserable.

My math teacher was worse. She came right out and told me that I was a freak and should be run off. She hated me for two years so I expected her to do exactly as she did. Uncle knew as well and had heard her complaints about me for months and if not for his self-control he would have beaten her to a bloody pulp.

The worst offender was the home economics teacher. He was an effeminate man who once owned a restaurant but sold it for millions, retiring to a life of teaching. He moved to our town specifically because of our tradition and hated anyone who refused to participate, and being the only one in school who chose not to he swore that unless I went to school in a dress he would fail me. He was careful to not say that around uncle but uncle’s friends among the teachers let him know exactly what was going on.

The stage was set. I refused to give in and I refused to wear a dress. I would not even wear a skirt or blouse or even leggings- I was a boy and I would not wear them. It was my choice and I wouldn’t do it.

Mom drove me in and dad slipped me a miniature recording device which our lawyer had already told the principal I would be wearing. I actually had three of them as I knew one would be found at some point in the day so I hedged my bet. I’d wear one on me that was visible, I’d have one in my pocket with a small microphone in my shirt, and I had one hidden in my backpack It felt like I was a spy but it was serious business.

Right away I caught the bullying as I was stopped multiple times by boys telling me how much of a freak I was for refusing to participate. I confidently told them to let me pass and captured one of the teachers telling me to take it like a man and shut up. I suppressed a grin as he said that, it was enough already to have them by the balls but I wanted more. I wanted to end the forced participation. I needed more evidence.

I didn’t have to wait long as my English teacher made crude remarks about me not being man enough to wear a dress. I ignored them but he kept at it, getting the class to join in. I calmly told him that my parents were aware of what he was saying to me and that they would be informed prompting him to take away my visible recorder but capturing him say “you little bastard won’t stop this, we are going to get rid of you no matter what.”

I just grinned and told him “my uncle knows that I am recording this class and will ask for the recording. If I am unable to produce it, he will demand to know why and you will be the one to have to explain. He saw me with it entering and he will be looking for it as I leave.” This shut the man up but he refused to return it, claiming that I had no right to record the class even though it was allowed by law for all students especially if it had been pre-cleared by the administration.

Uncle was just outside the door as we left and I nodded to him. I watched as he went inside and demanded the return of my recorder and listened to the rants and raves until he calmly told my teacher “duly noted and will be reported. Violation of a student’s rights is a serious offense especially when it is a right guaranteed by law. But being an English teacher I am sure you will be able to read up on the law before your disciplinary hearing.”

I walked on, with the recorder returned and students now whispering instead of outright talking about me. It still picked up their conversations especially the obnoxious chess club boys. For a group of geeks who nobody wanted they had a lot of gall to insult me for being different. I guess it’s the only chance they have at doing so, so why not make the most of it.

I am used to them staring at me. I am after all, the school outcast. Parker is my best friend and if not for him I’d be all alone. Some of the guys are cool with me and we hang out but it was Parker who was the one who went above and beyond. He has shown me nothing but kindness and respect and if he was a girl I’d date him in a heartbeat. But he wasn’t, he was just the boy who cared about me more than anyone else.

Home economics was next and I received a loud, booming “get out.” I didn’t listen to it, I just sat at my station and waited for him to slipup. Parker looked at me oddly but I indicated that it was alright which alleviated his fears.

My teacher came right up to my face and told me “you are a mockery of this school and all that it stands for. You blatantly slap tradition in the face and should be banned from attending classes here. I gave up a lot to come here, I won’t have the likes of you insulting others with your presence. Get out, just get the hell out.”

Parker asked why he was acting that way getting a stern “People like him make traditions into their own personal things. They are for everyone, and if you aren’t going to participate you don’t belong. Freaks like that don’t belong in society, they should be shuttered away and kept segregated. He doesn’t belong in this school and I won’t let someone who doesn’t belong stay. Get out and don’t come back.”

I just smiled and promptly told him “I’ll leave but I’ll be here tomorrow. You won’t. Traditions go both ways; they will die out if they can’t be allowed to not be celebrated or altered. And if you can’t be open to people not accepting traditions or that are different you have no business being a teacher. You are just a bully with a paycheck.”

I walked right to the principal’s office and handed over a copy of the recording in class. My uncle was already there with dad and our lawyer and all four listened to what happened. I was informed that I wasn’t in trouble for what happened and that Parker texted that I handled the situation “like a real man and not some overgrown boy.” He always had a way with words especially about me.

The principal’s mouth dropped open upon hearing the recording of what happened in home economics with our lawyer telling him “this ends now. He’s being pulled out for his own safety and we will file suit against your school. I am sorry but you are losing three good teachers. The school has no right to force participation in this tradition especially if the student is uncomfortable and/or makes his or her feelings known that they choose not to participate.”

The principal sighed heavily and announced “this will end the tradition”. Dad countered with “some traditions need to end. No child should be made to feel like an outsider because they don’t want to join in on the festivities. The children should always come first, and I know for a fact that he isn’t the only one in this school who feels the same way.”

I asked pointedly “how many others feel the same way?” Dad grinned and told me “100 students, 300 parents.” The principal gasped at the number blurting out “that’s almost half the school!” Dad nodded, adding “that’s the numbers we know of, likely it’s close to 2/3rds of the students and just as many parents.”

Uncle adds “the only reason the tradition hasn’t died a natural death was bullies forcing their views that it should continue. The kids are fine with gender roles; they don’t need this to learn about how boys or girls live. It went beyond the original meaning, it’s now just a glamor show for a few select shops. It’s no coincidence that those shops happen to control the town council and mayor.”

I nodded in agreement. The principal and our lawyer were quietly thinking. I added “if I’m going to be removed from the school I at least want it to be for something that I did. I want everyone to know why I did it. I am already the school outcast, I don’t care anymore.”

The principal nodded in agreement and hammered out a deal. I was going to be withdrawn, being homeschooled for the rest of the year and then attend private school. This school would not take any crap from any parent no matter how much money they had and being independent from the town the businesses had no sway over them.

Dad signed off on it. Our lawyer told the principal he was filing a lawsuit for x amount of money which the principal had agreed to. It was several million dollars and paid for my education in full for the next eight years and bought me a new house for when I graduated college but it was worth it.

The next day the news that our home economics teacher was fired for his actions spread like wildfire throughout the school. I was blamed for it all but the principal made it clear that his actions were abusive, abhorrent, and inexcusable. Further my English and math teachers were reassigned to other classes, with both being assigned the worst students for the rest of the year. Neither would be retained after this year with each barely escaping being outright fired for their actions.

Naturally my appearance at the assembly pissed off most of the students but I ignored them. The principal made it clear why I was there: I was making a big announcement. They shut up quickly but glared at me.

I got up and announced “per agreement with the school district the annual tradition of crossover week is ended. Students will no longer be forced to wear the clothing of their opposing gender again. What started as a way of making boys understand girls has been corrupted into a commercial holiday and the true meaning lost. Your own actions during this assembly shows why it needs to end- what you did to me as I entered goes against everything this tradition was meant to stop.”

I sat down and to the shock of all in the room an old man and woman got up to the podium. Both looked at me and nodded. The man said loudly “we started this tradition 75 years ago to help us understand our siblings during a time of personal change. Girls were growing breasts and boys were betting bigger and stronger and we didn’t understand one another anymore. We thought that if we lived life as our sisters and brothers for a week we might understand them better.”

The woman added “we moved away 25 years ago after we retired and have not returned since. That was until we were asked by our grandsons and great-grandson to come. Well after listening to what your teachers have said about our great-grandson we are appalled at what you have twisted our meager week of understanding into. You turned it into a week of pure commercialism and vanity, you ignored the meaning of tolerance and understanding. The only one this week who has shown any real understanding of this week is our great-grandson. This tradition ends now.”

She was fiery. For a woman in her 90s she acted like a person in her 60s or even younger. Cheers went up from around the auditorium as the once silent majority started to speak. The one person who I had hoped would cheer the most was silent. I saw Parker in tears.

As the assembly ended the principal received constant complaints from the vocal minority but he gladly told the crowd of complainers “the ones who started the tradition have every right to end it and I agree with them. This ends now. Tomorrow is the last day of crossover week and will be the last time we celebrate it. No more discussion, it’s over.”

Great-Grandma and Great-Grandpa hugged and kissed me when we left. Parker came over and asked to speak with me in private at his house. My great-grandparents whispered to me “he has something important to tell you after all this time. Support him no matter what he says.” I got the meaning and I think I already knew what Parker wanted to say.

At Parker’s house he broke down and told me “I loved this holiday. It was the only time I could be the real me! I want to be a girl, I need to be a girl! I don’t have the courage to be out like you do, I can’t live as a boy anymore. I can already feel myself becoming a man and I hate it.”

I sat him, sorry her, down and told her “I love you no matter what you do. You are my friend and the only one who truly supports me.” I leaned in and kissed her, stopping her tears and opening up her eyes to what I meant. I did love her, and she loved me. We were a boy and a girl, and it was fate that kept us together.

Parker came out to her mother getting a big sigh of relief from her. Her father was saddened to lose his son but happy that his daughter was going to stop being someone she wasn’t just for his sake. They saw that we were together as more than friends and gave their blessing, I was “safe” in their eyes and if Parker loved me then they’d love me too.

I took Parker to my house and told my parents about Parker’s revelation. Dad was fine with it, as was mom. They didn’t trust other girls and were glad that we cared about each other so much especially during this emotionally trying times.

Uncle nodded in approval and suggested that Parker go to the same school I was going to go to next year. Our lawyer added that Parker should consider doing as I was doing with home school so she could transition in peace instead of enduring the troubles of school. Her mother approved and we were set to study together, albeit with strict parental oversight so we didn’t do anything unbecoming.

Parker’s parents and my parents sat us down and after all of the emotional stress of the announcement had passed asked me pointedly “why all the fuss about a dress?” I simply drew a sharp breath and announced “I wore them for 13 years until I came out to you that I needed to become a boy. I swore to you that I’d never wear one again and I am holding true to that word. I am a boy and I will not wear a dress! I am a boy, not a girl but a boy!”



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