This month marks 10 years since I had a weird yet amazing experience and went to prom...with a girl. No, I didn’t hide my desire to go with a girl. No, I didn’t pretend to have a male date and sneak off into the night with my female paramour. And No, my mom did not care.
With the 2020 prom season in full swing, I find myself once again looking through social media hashtags and gawking at how far teens have come since my day. Saying “my day” makes 26-year-old me feel like a fossil but I truly must face the damn facts...I attended prom almost a decade ago. It’s not just the iconic dresses and tuxedos fit for a Hollywood movie premiere or the Fast and Furious style cars, but what grabs me is the freedom I see and the feeling that the new generation is able to flaunt their style, gender identity, gender expression, gender neutrality, and sexual orientation. It is remarkable to see especially since I went to prom in 2010 having a same-sex prom date was virtually unheard of and unseen in the South.
To paint a picture for y’all — I went to an amazing high school in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. For the majority of my high school career, I was an out and feminine lesbian and one of the only ones. There were rumors of girls who liked girls but proclaiming to be a lesbian or queer just wasn’t really a thing. I wasn’t necessarily “popular” but if I were being introduced to someone, typically they would already know of me and say “Tracey? The gay one? Hey!” as if some missing lynx they were waiting to meet. I’d laugh every time because it was a reminder of two things: my gayness and how I wished I was known for something else.
My senior year was as normal as anyones until all of my friends started buzzing about prom, prom dresses, prom hairstyles, and PROM DATES. Gay Gasp! Did I really manage to go my entire high school career without having to actually bring a formal date anywhere? The first time I dodged such a bullet the Gay Gods looked out for me and the dance was canceled.
A question that plagues every young person eventually is who the fuck am I? For a queer young person that’s amplified with who will accept me? Will my friends shun me? Can I get married to the person I love? To what extent can I really be myself? Can I go to prom with the person I love? Shit, can I even go to prom with the person I like? Will my parents understand? Cliché as fuck, I know! But it’s true. All my friends were straight and they all knew who they were going to prom with. I, however, was loosely dating a girl who went to a different school and lived almost an hour away. We always talked about going to prom together but the reality of actually walking into prom with a “stud” and truly putting myself at risk of judgment was far fetched.
SIDE NOTE: My situation-ship girlfriend was a masculine lesbian aka Stud aka Butch. My friends knew I didn’t want to take a guy to prom, but would I really take a woman in a tuxedo? “Nahhhhhh!” one of them mentioned, “Don’t do that to your mom!” I remember laughing it off, although in hindsight I should’ve said “Do what? Allow her to see my happy and living my truth?”
It plagued me. I really thought long and hard about it. Most of the women’s basketball team that liked women and dressed very masculine, were wearing dresses and not tuxedos to prom. Even my best friend who was also into women was going to prom with a guy because her Uncle threatened to not pay for her prom dress and accessories if she went with a girl. Who the fuck was I to show up with a masculine woman on my arm? Around March I had a conversation with the girl I was dating and was like “Look! I don’t know if I can do this!” and went on a rant about her wearing a tuxedo, what would people think, and especially what my mom would think. Someway somehow she kept convincing me that things would be fine and that it would be a great night regardless.
I casually told my mom on a random car ride home after she picked me up from work. She asked me who I’m going to prom with and I mentioned that my recently turned ex-girlfriend was being flaky and she hadn’t confirmed. I’d been out to my mom for a few years, She had met my ex before and thought fondly of her — but that didn’t mean she’d be “okay” with her only daughter going to prom with a stud. When I mentioned it, she didn’t flinch, make a face or even sigh. She asked a follow-up question, smiled and swiftly changed the topic. Her enthusiasm did not shift at all. Instead, it was me who shifted. I fell into a discomfort similar to holding your breath underwater for too long and rushing to the top to break the surface for air. In those moments, I thought certainly I had just caught my mom off guard and maybe in a few days or so she’d comment on my decision to take a masculine lesbian to my only prom. But she never did. I realize now that I internalized her not making negative comments, not filling my head with doubt and not really saying anything as the best thing she could have done for me. Why? The black community is notoriously homophobic. Especially at the time when I was growing up in the South, it was normal for me to hear black boys in the hallways calling each other faggot if a girl turned them down or if their pants were too tight. Hell, it was normal to hear the “F-bomb” casually, as a butt of a joke, in the midst of a story or as a general slander amongst any teenage group. It was common for me to be in conversations where people would talk disgustingly about Gays and Lesbians (not knowing I am one) and be an insider on how the rest of the world will view me. It was normal for me to never believe gay marriage would ever be legal anywhere and that I would have to move to Massachusetts if I wanted a happy and gay life. It was normal for me to be at work and hear customers talk about how disappointed that California legalized gay marriage in 2008. It was the status quo for me to have to pretend that homophobic comments didn’t bother me just to avoid tension or arguments, especially amongst friends so I didn’t seem like the “take everything too serious” type of gay. It was normal for me to know that in this world I will not be accepted, liked, praised, and especially not normal.
But to my mom — I was normal. To my mom, it wasn’t about the optics it was about my happiness. Prom day came, my mom did my hair and makeup to perfection. I looked like a completely different person. Actually I was a completely different person. I had not worn heels since my 8th-grade graduation dance. My date arrived, in a full black suit, her dreadlocks neatly braided backward, silver star earring in both ears and just so beautiful. It was like every other prom date arriving to pick up their date I guess, we were nervous to see each other, I had pigeons in my stomach, my Mom kept telling me to sit still and we were blasting old Toni Braxton. When she finally saw me she lit up! Again, she wasn’t my girlfriend anymore but I think we were both blown away with how well we cleaned up. She put on my Orchid corsage (which had me feeling exclusive as fuck because I didn’t have no basic bitch roses on my wrist). When we kissed my mom was right there: snapping pictures, fixing her bowtie, getting lipstick off my teeth, and being a typical Prom Mom. Everything was perfect and I felt like a normal girl going to her first prom.
Walking into Prom was a whole different monster. Everyone was staring and made it uncomfortable for all of 60 seconds. Two coaches stood right by the door after we stepped into the hotel entrance and dropped their jaws. One remained reticent and visibly shocked, but the other - who had previously verbalized his doubt in my date plans - said something to the effect of ’you really did the damn thing huh?’ in a shocked but happy tone and reached out for an embrace. Everything was cool until I got into the foyer with all my peers. EEK! So many stares, a lot of compliments but sooo many confused glares. I wondered if people could tell she was a girl and then I thought, of course, they can dumb ass. After the initial shock and awe, the night was magical, fun, and it was a bomb-ass-night and an unforgettable prom and that all started with my mother.
Despite all the negativity, my mom allowed me to find my way and truly express myself. Her support was and still is the most important thing to me. To this day, if my mom is okay with it, I could give zero shits about what the rest of the world has to say. So as we go in and out of prom season, everyday life, loss and love, I hope there continues to be dope-ass parents, helping their kids freely express who they are with love and pride and reminding them just as normal they really are.