Drama students at a high school in Sherman, Texas WILL be allowed to play the roles they were originally cast in the production of “Oklahoma!”

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Even IF their roles don’t match their assigned birth genders.

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The kerfuffle began when old Max Hightower, a 17-year-old senior was cast in the role of Ali Hakim. Ali Hakim is a male role. Max Hightower is a transgender boy.

Max was reportedly very excited about the part but that was dashed when the principal told his parents that, because of a new school policy, only male actors could play male roles and only female actors could play female roles. Other female students, though not transgender, were told they also couldn’t play the male roles they’d been cast in.

The school, I’m glad to say, has reversed that decision after a school board meeting where dozens of speakers showed up to voice support for the students…and disappointment in the school for discriminating against a transgender child. This may say something about the current controversy gripping schools around the country: the idea that schools are indoctrinating children into being transgender.

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But (and I say this as a former theater geek who has been in no fewer than 3 productions of Oklahoma!), I think it also says something about how misguided and silly this anti-trans moral panic is.

When I was in theater (back in the unenlightened eighties) we occasionally had actors playing gender-bending roles.

That had more to do with “not having enough students for the available roles” than it did with gender politics. We did “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” in my junior year. We had Seven Brides…but only 5 Brothers. Fortunately, two of the girls were willing to put on fake beards and play two of the brothers. Not everything is an evil plot.

Of course, theater has a long history of rules against which gender can play which role. In Shakespeare’s day, women weren’t allowed to perform in a play so all the female parts had to be played by males.

Speaking of Shakespeare, at least a half dozen of his plays involve a woman dressing as a man (Twelfth Night, As You Like It, Two Gentlemen of Verona).

So, in Shakespeare’s day, a male actor would be playing a female character pretending to be a man who eventually is revealed to be a woman all along. Even though it’s actually a man. This scenario doesn’t seem any more ridiculous to me than a school board worrying about roles in a play matching the actor's birth gender.

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