Morgan Ball reminds me a lot of myself when I was seventeen, to be honest. Morgan’s an intelligent and soft-spoken honors student with a passion for musical theater, who's into experimenting with makeup while balancing choir practice and late-night community theater rehearsals. Everything in Morgan’s wardrobe looks a lot like the kind of stuff I was wearing to school at that age.
The major difference between us, of course, is that I'm a woman, and Morgan's a young man. And his seventeenth birthday was interrupted by a trip to the assistant principal's office, informing him that his outfit was "distracting" and that it was unacceptable for him to attend school in "women's clothing." The meeting ended in tears—and then a viral campaign that has taken off on Twitter with the hashtag #ClothingHasNoGender.
We caught up with this bright young man for an interview, where he dished on his style, the incident that made headlines, and his hopes for the future.
MTV: Hi, Morgan, it’s so lovely to talk to you tonight. So, tell us a little bit about yourself!
Morgan Ball: Hi! So, I’m Morgan Ball. I just turned seventeen years old, and I attend Lee’s Summit North High School. I’m really involved in our theater department and our choir department, and when I’m not there, I’m taking dance lessons.
MTV: Can you describe the incident that has now gained all of this national attention? What happened?
Morgan Ball: So, this was the outfit that I chose to wear to school on my birthday, and I wanted to dress, I suppose, a bit more flamboyantly than maybe on other days. But I wasn’t expecting anything, since this is basically how I’ve been dressing for the past two years. The assistant principal called me down to the office during second period, and I was really confused, and I didn’t know what to expect. The first question that they asked me was, “Do you have any gender identity issues?”
MTV: What did you say?
Morgan Ball: I mean, I was so taken aback. I couldn’t find any other way to interpret that than as offensively. So, I just said, “No.” They told me that they’d had some student and faculty complaints about what I was wearing. They sent me to the bathroom to change, which I did—I removed the shawl and some of the accessories. But when I returned to class, my French teacher said, “No, wait. This who you are. You shouldn’t have to do that. This is none of their business.” So, I put the accessories back on—because I knew that I wasn’t in violation of the dress code. I was called down again during seventh period, and I told my choir teacher, “They’re going to make me take this off again, but... I know that I’m not wrong.” He came with me back to the office, where I was told that the staff was very disappointed in me.
I told them that I had thought about it more and that I was uncomfortable being asked to suppress myself, to be asked to be someone who I am not. The administration used the words “disrespectful” and “disruptive,” which I have not been and never was. They told me that I had “crossed the line” and asked if I was aware that I was wearing women’s clothing. Which, you know, um, “Yes.”
Which is just such a frustrating double standard, to think that if I was a woman, my outfit would be OK, that I wouldn’t have been called down to the office. My French teacher pulled me aside because she saw I was very upset and told me that I had her support, that many people believed that what happened to me was not OK. Which is really why my friends started this movement; they thought that what the school was doing was wrong.
MTV: Yeah, tell me more about your friends! They were the ones who really started this hashtag?
Morgan Ball: Yes! So, my friend Jacob is the one who first said the phrase, “Clothing has no gender,” and my friend Emily—her family owns a printing business, so they started creating T-shirts. We’ve sold over 115 so far—although some were purchased from far away, so we’re trying to figure out how to deliver them! We’re all wearing the shirts to school next Monday, and on Tuesday, boys are wearing what girls are "supposed" to wear and vice versa. It’s been crazy and overwhelming, the amount of support from my friends and family.
MTV: Including your mom, I hear? Can you talk a bit about her response to all of this?
Morgan Ball: Well, they called her three times at work—my mom works in a nursing home. She was so upset on my behalf—she always sees what I wear before I leave the house, and she didn’t see any issue with what I was wearing.
I mean, I’d worn a similar outfit that Wednesday, just minus the shawl and with a different T-shirt. Sometimes I’ll come to school casually, sometimes I’ll wear a tiger blazer or a sparkly tie. I love makeup and gloves, and basically anything in the Katy Perry jewelry collection. It’s why I was so confused, and I didn’t understand—I’ve been dressing like this for years. Their excuse was, “We have two thousand students and we don’t see them every day.”
MTV: Dress codes have been in the headlines so often lately—this idea that teenagers aren’t afforded the same rights to expression as adults and the growing response that students should know their rights and be able to express themselves freely in the way that they dress. If you could say anything to other students right now who might be experiencing similar issues, what would it be?
Morgan Ball: I mean, “Always be yourself,” is a great place to start. Don’t be limited by clothing as an expression of gender. Try not to disobey the school policies but also realize that the school policies might need to change—so that schools aren’t limiting the way that people want to express themselves. Again, always be yourself. And know that there are other people out there who support you.
MTV: Do you have any hopes for what #ClothingHasNoGender might achieve?
Morgan Ball: At the top of the list, I want to change the way that the policy is written in the student handbook. It’s very vague and allows administrators to pull the “distracting” card, which can be discriminating. I’d also like to see a change not only in our district, but in the way we view dress codes in various schools across the country. I think it would honestly make for a more peaceful and accepting society.
MTV: And has your school attempted to have a further discussion with you about this?
Morgan Ball: We actually had a meeting yesterday. They issued an apology, and they’re going over a list of expectations about safe school training and looking at changing the policy in the handbook, although it might take awhile. They know that we’re planning to protest on Tuesday, and they told us that they wouldn’t be taking any disciplinary action, as long as it’s not breaking any dress code rules about specific clothing items.
MTV: Is the response online and from the media anything you could have expected?
Morgan Ball: I never could have expected this in a million years! I was just prepared to go to school on my birthday, come home, have a party. I never would have thought this would get so big. My friends and my family have been so supportive, and now I’m just excited to see what happens next.
MTV: We are too!