Michael DeShields doesn’t usually wear an aqua tutu, unless it’s Tutu Tuesday at PS 3 in the West Village.
When the 1st-grade teacher read a story about a school that encouraged students to try on tutus to explore assumptions about gender, he knew he had to bring the program to his classroom.
Now, Tutu Tuesday is a weekly opportunity for PS 3 students to challenge dominant gender norms, learn more about themselves and build a supportive environment for transgender students.
“It doesn’t matter what people wear or look like, they’re still the same person,” DeShields, the school’s chapter leader, said at Tutu Tuesday on Feb. 6. “We need, as a community, to support each other.”
About 25 students and staff participated that Tuesday, with people of all genders wearing tutus and some girls and women choosing to wear ties because they’re less traditional for women. Since Tutu Tuesdays began in 2017, students from kindergarten through 5th grade have taken part in increasing numbers.
Aubrey Miller, who teaches Games, the school’s physical education equivalent, says the lessons of Tutu Tuesdays are relevant for even the youngest students.
“The questions started to come up during Games,” said Miller, “What were boy jobs and what were girl jobs?”
Miller says children are exposed to gender stereotypes from a very early age, which can be harmful for anyone who doesn’t fit the mold. Tutu Tuesdays upend those stereotypes and create space to discuss the experiences of transgender people — space many kids might not otherwise have. PS 3 has several transgender students, and the staff uses Tutu Tuesday as a chance to get ahead of the issues they face.
According to Abby Shaw, another 1st-grade teacher, younger students can wrap their heads around the idea that somebody’s appearance may not necessarily reflect how they feel on the inside.
“How you feel in your heart — kids understand that,” Shaw said.
Older students use Tutu Tuesday as a jumping-off point for deeper conversations about how the binary gender model fails people whose gender doesn’t match the one assigned them at birth and excludes people who experience their gender as something more than just “boy” or “girl.”
“This,” said Shaw, “is what comes from me wearing a tutu.”