DEERFIELD, Illinois–Across the nation, sixth-graders are feeling a combination of nervousness and excitement as they prepare for the traditional Day of Decision,on which they will announce their chosen sexual orientation.
The Day of Decision was founded by Benjamin Franklin and proliferated in the 18th and 19th centuries, but largely faded from popularity in the mid-20th century as increasing numbers of Americans preferred to hide their sexual proclivities from one another. In recent years, however, thanks in part to strong support from celebrities such as George Clooney and Rachel Maddow, the tradition has made a comeback. This year’s Day of Decision is expected to be held in nearly 80% of middle schools across the nation.
“Sexual orientation is such an important choice, but it can also be difficult,” says Maddow, who hosts her own news program on MSNBC, “It can help to have a support group of fellow students to lean on when one makes the decision. And it can be empowering to stand in front of your classmates and declare, ‘I prefer vaginas over penises!'”
But there is also uneasiness. Some students aren’t sure if they are making the right choice. And the method the students use when announcing the decision can be confusing to some.
Traditionally, each student is presented with two paper hats, one blue and one pink. If the student is a boy, he will choose a pink hat if he wishes to announce he is straight, with the pink signifying his desire to find a female mate. But since most boys associate blue with males and pink with females, many inadvertently make the wrong choice. And it can get even trickier for girls.
“With girls, it can be even more confusing,” says Maddow, “If you pick blue, it doesn’t mean you pick a male mate, it means you want to be a male. It’s completely the opposite. So you pick a pink hat if you’re straight. Girls need to understand that they are being judged by a different set of criteria.”
Maddow claims it was that confusion that led her to choose her own sexual orientation. Her middle school was one of the first to revive the tradition in the late 1980s, and so few were familiar with the rules that she chose a blue hat, even though she had a huge crush on a boy named Billy Riley. But she says that even though she chose the wrong hat, she hasn’t really looked back.
“Do I have regrets? A few,” Maddow says, “But I don’t think you change the rules just because they don’t necessarily make sense to us. Ben Franklin was one of the founding fathers, and I think we’ve learned time and time again that our founding fathers were a lot smarter than us.”