The Day I Had to Take off the Skirt I Was Wearing

The men’s and women’s cross country teams in their skiing psych. Photo courtesy of Sophie Axelrod.

On Nov. 5, I walked around school wearing a purple skirt, Birkenstock sandals and my mom’s old sorority sweatshirt. My intention was to psych myself and my teammates up for our upcoming D.C. State Athletic Association cross country championships. But our head coach, Anthony Belber, and our captains asked the team to take off our psych because we were potentially harming members of the community.

For many years, GDS sports teams have coordinated game-day outfits known as psychs as a way to bond and get pumped up for upcoming competitions. A common choice for girls’ teams is the frat boy psych, in which players dress up in button-down shirts, khaki shorts, backward hats and ties to recreate the stereotypical frat boy’s outfit. 

On Thursday, Nov. 4, the cross country team captains settled on our men’s team wearing stereotypical sorority girl attire and women’s team wearing stereotypical frat boy outfits for our psych the next day. 

A few members of the boys’ team were at first uncomfortable with the idea because they thought we could be seen as mocking how people express themselves. Some seniors explained in our group chat that previous girls’ teams had done the comparable frat boy psych and that in 2019, the men’s cross country team did a VSCO girls psych, dressing up as stereotypical teenage girls with short shorts, scrunchies and oversized t-shirts, without hearing any complaints. (The seniors also stressed that anyone who felt uncomfortable with the psych could not do it or do a version of it that felt more comfortable.)

Senior Luke Flyer, a fellow member of the cross country team, told me in an interview he thought the psych was acceptable “because other girls teams at GDS had done frat boy psychs many times before.”

Fast-forwarding to Friday morning, most of the men’s and women’s cross country teams dressed up as sorority girls and frat boys, respectively, in the Forum. Greek letters were being drawn on shirts, skirts were being handed out and I was given compliments about my outfit from schoolmates I didn’t know that well. 

Midway through the morning, my teammates and I received a message from the boys’ team captains instructing us to take our outfits off. Accompanying the text was a screenshot of an email from Belber kindly letting the captains know that we had offended a faculty member by cross-dressing and that it would be smart to put the psych on halt. 

The faculty member seemed to imply that the men’s team’s psych was the issue because the many previous women’s team psychs involving cross-dressing had gone unchallenged. Our captains rightly followed Belber’s instructions; certain things aren’t worth fighting in the moment.

When other students saw me taking my skirt off, they asked me why in confusion. I simply responded that a member of the GDS community had been bothered by the psych, and we might have been offending others. Immediately, word got around, and I, along with many of the teammates and other students I spoke with, were upset that we were told to take our psych off. 

A single community member’s power to effectively overturn our psych after we had seen so many similar ones in the past struck me as inconsistent—a double standard, as many students put it.

Junior Ben Carter, who is not on the team, told me that the double standard applied to the cross country team was “dumb” and “hypocritical.” 

Some friends told me and the rest of the cross country team to put our psychs back on in protest of what they thought of as an unfair reaction. Even though I agreed with them that the psych’s cancellation was unnecessary, amid the controversy that day, I decided it was best to join my teammates in reluctantly respecting the anonymous complaint.

Carter also pointed out that students should be allowed to dress in clothing traditionally associated with any gender at school. “Saying what clothes someone can wear based on gender is conforming to gender norms,” Carter said.

For the last week of fall championship tournaments, team psychs had to be approved by GDS administrators. It was concerning that a large portion of the student body was vocally dismayed by the cancellation of our cross country psych, yet administrators chose to go in the opposite direction, moving to regulate and potentially censor future psychs. 

At the end of the day, students at GDS should be able to wear what we want as long as we follow school guidelines, which our psych did. Students should not be told to take off a psych because a few people, or just one person, are uncomfortable with the way we dress—or an administrator predicts that someone could be.