As a gay woman growing up in a small English town in the 1990s this story resonated with me on so many levels. When I was at school proms weren’t such a big thing as they are now. Still arguably not as significant they are in America, the trend has grown over here and now they are relatively commonplace and generally held at the end of Year 11 (High School).
I had not come out when I attended my prom aged 16, although by then I knew I was gay. Despite keeping myself to myself and having only a few close friends, the rumours flared as the bullies clamoured to find weaknesses and I was picked on. Luckily I didn’t suffer any physical bullying, it was all name-calling and mockery, but I did find out years later that my brother took a few punches for me defending my honour.
Despite all this, I defiantly attended my prom in a black trouser suit; I also went one step further and dyed my hair completely black with electric blue highlights. I didn’t do it to make a statement – I did it because I was incredibly uncomfortable in dresses and that was what I wanted to wear. The prom was also the only justification I had for dying my hair, much to my mother’s horror. I wish I had listened to her though – the blue faded, went white and I looked like a skunk until it grew out. Mother really does know best!
I went to prom with my friend Alex, who was also gay, but not out. Alex rocked an all-white tux with a black cummerbund and bow tie. In all honesty, we looked ridiculous, but we attended that prom as our authentic selves, we took no notice of the sniggers and as it was we ended up having an ok time.
Oh, how I wish we had musicals like The Prom in the ’90s. Although tolerance was much improved by then it still wasn’t brilliant and there was very little by way of mainstream representation to draw on. With the exception of a few soaps, there were precious few avenues in the media where I could see myself represented. This was an issue in terms of my own self-acceptance but also in terms of other people’s tolerance.
I am thrilled that The Prom is doing so well on Broadway and I was so elated to see the varied cross-section of people in the audience, theatre an incredibly inclusive and safe place where everyone should feel able to be themselves. In a world where LGBTQ people still have to battle daily, The Prom is a ray of sunshine that shines a big, bright spotlight on tolerance and acceptance and the message that love really is love and quite frankly it’s invigorating.