No one ever will mistake W&M for PCU. "The College," which has produced such diverse graduates as Jon Stewart '84 of "The Daily Show," former FCC chairman and noted wingnut Michael Powell '85 (newly announced as a director of internet dinosaur AOL), actor/comedian Patton Oswalt '91, actresses Glenn Close '74 and Linda Lavin '59, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates '65, the NFL's active career interception leader Darren Sharper '97, Super Bowl champion head coach Mike Tomlin '95, and me '87 (not to mention infamous wingnut plagiarist Ben Domenech, who never graduated, and some old dude named Thomas Jefferson '62 ... 1762), traditionally has been a fairly conservative place, where not too long ago the Board of Visitors -- led, not coincidentally, by the aforementioned Powell -- disgracefully drove out an effective, but liberal and therefore controversial, college president on purely ideological grounds.
But every so often, you find a kernel of openness at W&M -- an indication that perhaps all is not lost. In a state where, unfortunately, it looks like intolerant ultra-wingnut Bob McDonnell will be the next governor, The College did something historic last week in the name of tolerance and diversity: its students elected a transgender person to the Homecoming Court.
Jessee Vasold ’11 made history at the College of William and Mary Wednesday when ze was announced as the school’s first transgender homecoming queen, representing the Class of 2011.
Vasold identifies as gender-queer and prefers to be referred to with gender neutral pronouns: "ze" in place of he or she and "zir" rather than him or her. Vasold has also created a Facebook account for a female identity, Kathy Middlesex.
Friends suggested that Vasold run for homecoming queen. Even though Vasold thought that there was a good chance at being elected, Vasold said the win was still surprising to hear.
"We figured it would be something different for the school to go through, something that hasn’t happened too often," Vasold said. "I was kind of surprised that I won because I knew the other girls running. I know that they’re really friendly; they’re wonderful people, so I was unsure."
According to [Junior Class President Mike] Tsidulko, there is no rule against men or women running for opposite roles. Students who made nominations were simply asked to describe how the candidate exemplified Tribe pride.
"In general, most descriptions were about what activities they were involved in on campus or spiritedness at sporting events or any other kind of campus activity," Senior Class President Alyssa Wallace said.
Those students nominated with a description were put on the ballot.
"It basically came down to nominations," Wallace said. "Jessee was nominated, Jessee’s peers voted and Jessee won. That’s really all there is to it."
It may be that Vasold (left) was a member of the Homecoming Court, representing the Class of 2011, with a senior (Class of 2010) actually taking the title of Homecoming Queen -- the sources are unclear on that count -- but that minor quibble aside, this is a huge step forward for William & Mary and for recognition of its long-active GLBT community. Naturally, the comments on the article were somewhat mixed (although the "anti" position was dominated by a single vulgar, closed-minded person), but by and large, there appears to be a real sense that The College is a changing, if not changed, place, not unlike the country as a whole. Even College President Taylor Reveley was supportive, commenting that "[it's] a little more publicity than normal for a homecoming queen, but it's just fine." From a personal standpoint, even I've discovered today that the archaic, anachronistic labels used to identify people are beginning to fade away as we allow each individual the freedom to identify as he or she or ze sees fit ... I wasn't familiar with the terms ze and zir before.
How refreshing. And, frankly, how surprising -- yet how heartening -- to see this happening at, of all places, my dear alma mater. I'm very proud to be a W&M graduate today. Congratulations to Jessee ... and congratulations to the entire College community. Welcome to the 21st Century. And ... Go Tribe!
(cross-posted sans introduction at Blast Off!)