My Queer Life: Prom Queen
|by Michael Thomas Ford|
Spring is traditionally the time for high schools across the country to hold that most agonizing of teenage experiencesthe senior prom. As planning committees perfect the art of making tissue paper roses and fight over choosing "The Times of Our Lives" or "An End and a Beginning" as the theme, girls fret about what to wear and boys wonder if theyll get lucky.
Things were a little more agonizing than usual this year for 18-year-old Charles Rice, a senior at Taylor High School in Pierson, Florida. Charles, who is gay, not only had to worry about what to wear, he had to be concerned with dancing in heels. Putting a new twist on an old theme, Charles attended his prom in full drag, which featured a stunning red satin evening gown and rhinestone accessories.
Not surprisingly, this did not go unnoticed. When Charless plans were first announced, school officials told him he would be barred from the event "for his own protection," even though he had appeared in drag at several school functions before with no negative results. They later reversed the decision when Rice threatened legal action.
When I read about Charles, I found myself thinking back to my own high school days, when Carla Becker wore a tuxedo to the prom. Carla, who played left field on the softball team and wore her hair in the prototypical dyke haircut of long in back and short all around, brought as her date a femme who came in the traditional gaudy dress with too many bows and too-big hair. The two of them danced the night away to the sounds of "Ive Had the Time of My Life" while everyone applauded their individuality, never once considering that they might be more than gal pals poking fun at prom culture.
I didnt get to see Carla and her date in person. Being the school fag, I didnt find things like dances to be wonderful opportunities for social interaction. Even though some of my female friends begged me to go with them to save them from other, less-appealing options, I opted to stay home and think about how much above it all I was. But I heard about it afterwards in a long, breathless phone call from my friend Rebecca, who recounted what everyone was wearing and just how slutty Mary Lou Ackerby looked after shed given John Kernans head in the parking lot and came back with her lipstick smeared and an oil stain on her dress.
I did get a chance to experience a prom first hand, but it wasnt until my sophomore year in college, when my friend Leslie invited me to be her date to the spring formal. This was a big deal at our little religious college. It was to be held on a boat that sailed around New York, and it would feature music, if not dancing and alcohol, both of which were forbidden to us. Making it even more festive, Leslie and I were double dating with my friend James and a young woman named Vickie.
Now, James and I assumed that Leslie and Vickie knew we were both gay. After all, wed hung around with them for two years, and even though the word had never been uttered aloud (Christian colleges being the originators of the "dont ask, dont tell" policy) we thought the situation was fairly clear. In our minds, the evening was simply one of four friends hanging out together and having a good time.
We were wrong. As it turned out, Leslie and Vickie indeed thought we were on dates. Real dates. With hand-holding and kissing and things to tell their mothers about later. This realization hit us when at one point in the evening James grabbed Vickies stunning beaded bag and started doing his best Marilyn Monroe impression. When I joined in on the chorus of "Diamonds Are a Girls Best Friend," the confused expressions on the girls faces caused me to declare an emergency planning session with James in the mens room.
"What do you mean they dont know?" he said, shocked, when I voiced my suspicions. "How could they not know. I mean, I complimented Leslie on her shoes, for heavens sake. How many straight guys would do that?"
There really wasnt anything we could do about the situation except see it through, so we went back to the table and tried to continue on as if nothing were out of the ordinary. Except that something was out of the ordinary, and all of us felt it. Now that I knew Leslie thought we were on an actual date, I felt like it was high school all over again. I did not belong on that boat, and I did not want to be there. To make things even worse, the man I had a heartbreaking crush on was there with his girlfriend, looking as handsome as could be in his tux only a few tables away. As Leslie took little disinterested bites of cheesecake, I imagined dancing with the object of my obsession and feeling his big hands on my back.
The rest of the event is something of a blur of strained conversation, nervous laughter, and an awkward ride home. Back at the dorms, as I said goodnight to Leslie, I fumbled with my words while she looked at her feet. Then, perhaps in a last ditch effort to salvage her vision of what the night should have been, she kissed me. It was a restrained romantic effort, wanting to be something more than it could be, and when it was over we quickly went our separate ways.
I might never have had my prom fantasy come true, but I love thinking of Charles Rice dancing the night away, the lights flashing off his rhinestones as he laughed and enjoyed himself with his friends. Im proud of himand of all the openly gay young people out therefor being who they are. And I hope at the end of the night, he got kissed by the man of his dreams.
Michael Thomas Fords new book, Thats Mr. Faggot to You, will be invading stores shortly. He welcomes e-mail at Shopiltee@aol.com.
LETTERS From CAMP Rehoboth, Vol. 9, No. 4, May 7, 1999