Feminism | Posted by Nellie B on 05/24/2010

Prom and Assimilation

Constance McMillen: This Years Unlikely Prom Poster Girl

Constance McMillen: This Year's Prom Poster Girl

As a senior in high school, I am less than ecstatic about senior year and its attendant rites.  That’s right: it’s prom time.

It’s a fortuitous year to be queer and prom-bound, as Constance McMillen has brought the issue to the forefront of America’s pop culturally-inclined social consciousness.  You may have heard this already: McMillen asked to take her girlfriend to prom.  School went nuts, canceled their prom, then sent Constance to a fake prom with other excluded kids while the rest of the class partied in secret.  The one-two punch of bigotry and cruelty sent buzz not just through the gay community but the media at large.  Impassioned Facebook groups such as “Let Constance Take Her Girlfriend to Prom!” sprouted up, along with offers of an alternate prom paid for by LGBT grande dame Ellen DeGeneres and a gig for McMillen to grand marshall the NYC Pride Parade.

And so, since young activists like McMillen are putting their lives on hold to fight for the right to take same-sex dates to prom, we should all be going to prom too! Like, in solidarity and to be an activist! I’m oh-so-oppressed! Right?

The whole argument reminds me of the gay marriage debate.  I’m not talking about the culture war of “sinners” versus “equal rights,” I’m talking about the age-old queer debate of assimilation versus sovereignty.  The mainstream, HRC-loving gay community has taken up gay marriage as its rallying cause, and it is a worthy cause.  But just because gays can now get married in some states, that doesn’t mean they are all jumping to exercise a right that’s grounded in patriarchal, state- and church-based tradition. Similarly, the right to go to prom is not the only issue facing queer students.

Think about prom: Us ladies are supposed to get dressed up and pretty in long dresses, etc., for the most magical night of our lives, spent with the boy (excuse me, partner) of our dreams.  We dance and maybe lose our virginities, in the grand tradition of the event.  Sound familiar? Prom, and its paraphernalia, sound a lot like marriage.  And yes, queers should be able to participate without fear.  But as in marriage, some of us would rather not give hundreds of dollars to the prom-industrial complex—or the marriage industrial complex—and choose to commemorate the culmination of secondary education differently.  Some of us like to opt-out of capitalist, patriarchy-based institutions altogether.  I’d rather work for queer kids to be safe in school every day, not just on prom night.

Why are you going to prom?

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  • Amy CT @ at 1:31 pm, May 24th, 2010

    I’m going because it’s a very different phenomenon in Britain. Sure, we do the “dressing up” thing, but length of dresses, as mentioned above, is not mentioned… and being as we can all legally drink, it’s basically just a normal party, but with nicer clothes.

    In Britain, we also don’t have the “going with someone” thing. I’d never even considered that “going with someone” was an option, actually, until this article reminded me.

    I know: I’ll go with my best friend.

    We’ll dress nicely, have some champagne and a nice meal, dance, take some photos, then go back to her house for DVDs and chocolate.

    Sounds like a good night to me!

  • Saskia @ at 2:37 pm, May 24th, 2010

    Just a thought – marriage is not just a religious thing. Some form of marriage takes place in pretty much every society, also those without western religious influences. (Just think of marriage as it existed before Christianity did).

  • Claire @ at 3:41 pm, May 24th, 2010

    I agree with Amy CT. For me it is about saying goodbye to my year and having a good time with friends.

    Boys (or girls as I’m queer too) don’t even come into it.

  • Sydney @ at 3:45 pm, May 24th, 2010

    I went to my prom (in Georgia, y’all) to have one last hurrah with my boyfriend and all of our friends. I agree with Claire and Amy, it’s saying goodbye to lame, school related dances and to my year.

  • Nyxelestia @ at 7:38 pm, May 24th, 2010

    I’m a junior, so I’m not headed to prom until next year, but I am still planning to attend. Why? I’m going to prom to laugh at the idiots who’re spending hundreds or even thousands of dollars on that single night.

    Me, and a few of my friends, have a plan to go to prom dressed in jeans or tee-shirts, or more modern-ish party clothes (which is basically flashy daywear as opposed to regular daywear). At a stretch, we might get some dresses at Ross or someplace for a couple bucks. Because realistically, this hundreds of dollars you’re spending on one night, which is just ridiculous, especially in economically troubled times like these.

    Crass? Probably, but still promising to be fun as hell.

  • CaptFamous @ at 10:03 am, May 25th, 2010

    I see it as part of a bigger question – How much can you expect individuals to sacrifice for the greater good? Queer folk and women may come to feel that institutions like marriage are dressed-up elements of their own oppression, but this is still the society that they were raised in, and they’ve likely internalized many of it’s values.

    Essentially, I’m saying that it’s too late for a lot of people. They already have the marriage (or prom) itch, and it won’t be rationalized away. But if we can foster a true environment of choice for future generations, maybe we can loosen the connection between love and marriage, or marriage and womanhood.

  • RebJ @ at 10:17 pm, May 26th, 2010

    “I’d rather work for queer kids to be safe in school every day, not just on prom night.”

    This is a great post, so so true. The hypocrisy is blatant in the way people my age, stick up for gay marriage b/c its so “cool, hip, and progressive”, but continue to use homophobic language, and be openly repulsed or condescendingly amused by their gay/lesbian classmates.

    Personal story: my school recently had a “Day of Silence” for LBTQ people affected by sexual violence. They handed out small ribbons to wear as displays of support for the cause. Coming to school that day, I was a bit wary of the homophobia that might rear its ugly head on that day. Then I was pleasantly surprised to see many of my classmates sporting these ribbons. But no, it must have been the fashion statement of the day, because the next week the girl who organized the event called someone a “homosexual” after he insulted her, and the entire ribbon-clad class burst into laughter, cuz, you know, being gay is a joke….

  • Anne Marie @ at 6:24 pm, May 29th, 2010

    I really like the connection you make between proms and weddings. Your pointing out the similarities helped me to put a finger on why I’ve had a deep-seated yet unexplained hatred for prom.

  • Kitty @ at 10:41 pm, June 18th, 2010

    Being in year 11 this year, it is the first year for official “formals” (equivalent to a prom) at school. The formal however falls on the date of a 30 hour ‘Improvathon’ (improv stand up comedy) that a few friends and I plan to attend. The shock from family and peers at school when I announced that I didn’t have any desire to go to the formal shocked me. People could not understand why I would want to miss out on one of the greatest nights of the year. But really, the idea of listening to crap music, while girls dance around me with their orange fake tans, bleached hair and satin gowns, for a few hours isn’t enticing. Especially considering the fact that I planned to take a close girl-friend of mine from a different school… And then was told that we were not allowed to bring same-sex dates.
    I resorted to inviting a gay male friend of mine (which surely would have stirred things up)… When I found out about the Improvathon, and boycotted the whole formal altogether.

  • Kaez @ at 4:27 pm, July 1st, 2010

    Mine is tonight… everyone else is there right now. I opted out from the start, told everyone I’d not be seen dead there. Not purely because of the gendered dress code – I kept being told, you don’t have to wear the assigned garment of your biological sex, you can wear that of the opposite, but nobody really appreciated that I objected to the either/or thing, being agender. I also knew the music would be not to my taste (and my life is music), that all the despicable plastic people I’ve hated all my school life would be there, and that there would be dancing (and the only type of dancing I am capable of is headbanging). So there’s my reasons for not going… apart from the purely economic. Some of my friends, sensible people all, have spent HUNDREDS OF POUNDS on their clothes and accessories. One night. It’s not worth it.

  • Glinda Qiu @ at 6:42 pm, July 10th, 2010

    finally found somewhere with helpful info. thank you and keep it coming :)

  • Jess @ at 12:09 am, July 30th, 2012

    I outright refuse to go to mine because I don’t want to end up spending so much for one night and one dress that I’ll never wear again. I also find todays pop music to be rather sexist and I cant help but over analyze it. I also never enjoyed any other dances at all at my school. Some of my reasons are like Kaez’s above.

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