Kings and queens of the prom

Tales of queer love from high school's Big Night.


David Boyer
June 15, 2004 8:14PM (UTC)

The Valedictorian
Arthur Larsen
Harvey Milk High School (the country's only public school for LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender] students)
New York, N.Y.
Class of 2003

I think my story is a little unique from the kids at Harvey: before I went there, I was still attending school regularly and my academics were a little bit stronger. And a lot of my classmates had just given up on school before they went to Harvey.

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I remember my first day there. That was a scary moment, because I came from this really academic school. And then I got there and it's a bunch of trannies vogueing. And I'd never met a tranny before; I didn't know what that was. So that was a culture shock. I wanted out right away; I begged to be kicked out. And they wouldn't let me. They knew it was an adjustment and they knew I would do really well there. And they were absolutely right.

Harvey is definitely different than other schools, because individuality is encouraged to no end; that's a big part of being there. There's a lot of acceptance. But in many ways, it's not so different from other high schools: there's pettiness, there's gossip, there's all of that. There's a lot of harshness, because when you receive nothing but hate all of your life, you just sort of know to give that back.

There were also cliques, but they were very sexuality-aware. The transgendered girls hung out with the other transgendered girls who were in the drag ball scene; the pretty, gay, white club boys hung out together; the quieter, white lesbians hung out together. Then there was a group of us who were mixed and a little more mingled.

My best friend from Harvey was this girl Laura, she's actually a straight girl -- like the only one there -- and this kid Paul. And they were both a little more with me academically. And they had similar interests, you know, just music and the arts. I missed the friends that I had from my old school, but I think that's with any transition. And they were really great about my whole switcherooni. They came to volunteer at Harvey and they joined the after-school program. They even came to my prom!

I just think prom was this awe-inspiring moment: seeing all of these same-sex couples dancing together and feeling that was normative. You know, it didn't seem forced or out of the ordinary in that situation. It just sends this chill, this chill of happiness through you.

I actually went to two proms. Junior year, I wound up taking my best friend and her girlfriend. And then senior year I took Paul, because he had graduated already and so he wanted to come back. Since I wasn't dating anyone, going with my best friend seemed like the next best thing. It was a fun night and, you know, it was my senior year, so it was just good to be with friends and be sociable.

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In terms of dress, they always try to encourage more of an elegant, traditional prom. But this is Harvey Milk, so people do their own thing; people did come in leather pants, and people did come in capes. The first year, I had this outfit made -- this amazing gold, black and copper outfit. Custom made. With a top hat. It was amazing. The second year, I dressed down a little bit with sort of a club outfit.

Graduation was like two or three days after prom. It meant a lot to me to be the valedictorian; it sort of affirmed all the work I put into going there and being there. It was nerve-wracking, but I really loved my speech. I was nervous because I knew it wasn't your typical valedictory speech. I could have given a speech about "how lucky we are" and "go forth" and "yeah!" Instead, I talked about the divisions and the need for unity. We're cast in these roles of, you know, the gays hate the dykes, the this hates the that. And it's like, why are we doing that? The goal is unified, why can't the actions be? It was received really well; I got a standing ovation.

And my father was there and my stepmother, and they were really proud of it. They were tearful actually. This was sort of new for them -- to be in this room with all of these queer-identified people.

If I hadn't gone to Harvey Milk, I think I would have finished high school. Grudgingly. But I'd probably be in some community college somewhere just barely getting through classes. And it's shaped what I want to do with my life: I've decided, as a result of going there, that this is a community I want to be a part of; this is the community I want to work in.

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Arthur is now at SUNY Purchase double-majoring in sociology and women's studies.

The Girl Jock
Summer Lee
Aragon High School
San Mateo, Calif.
Class of 1993

I went to my junior prom with my boyfriend at the time. He was always pressuring me to have sex, and I almost lost my virginity that night. But I totally just didn't feel moved by him and I knew you were supposed to feel something more. So I faked starting my period!

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Before that I kind of thought it might be him, but after that I was like, Okay, maybe it's not him. Maybe it's me.

A few months later, I happened to go to a cafe, and a bunch of dykes were there smoking. One of them winked at me, and I wanted to faint. The friend I was with -- who's straight -- looked at me and was like, "Are you gay?" And I'm like, "Oh my god, yeah." And she's like, "My dad's gay."

At my school, there was also a lot of pressure to fit into a certain mold and dress a certain way, kind of preppy. And I think before I came out I fit that mold: I had long hair, but not too much makeup; you didn't want to be too slutty. I ended up cutting a lot of my hair off right before coming out. And when I came out, I cut even more off. Plus, the girlfriend I was dating at the time was very militant and dykey. And so, I started wearing combat boots -- before, I was wearing little loafers.

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So that was really noticeable to people. But nobody really said anything, except once in a while these guys that nobody liked would say, "Oh, are you a San Francisco dyke?" But they were kind of on the margins of our high school anyway, so everybody was like "Whatever!" And I would just laugh or say, "Fuck you."

I never really gave it too much thought, but clearly some of the adults noticed something was going on, too. My sister, who is two years younger, was called into the office at my high school by a school counselor -- she was this busybody lady -- and she's like, "What's going on with your sister? Is she gay?" And my sister is pretty evolved and she was like, "Why are you asking me? Ask her!" So then the counselor called me in and was like, "Summer, is there anything going on in your life that you want to talk about?" And I was like, "I'm fine. Thanks. Ba-bye."

I was able to use my coming out as sort of an excuse for things. I was a 4.0 student, and my senior year I wasn't doing as well. I ended up getting two Bs or something. And one of my teachers saw me drinking a beer with one of my new gay friends and I'm underage. So the next day at school, she was like, "I saw you drinking in public and I am appalled; you're senior class president and it's See Red, Say No Week" -- that was Barbara Bush's thing; she thought that if we saw red, we would "say no" to drugs; everybody was supposed to wear red or put red posters up. I had nothing to say to my teacher but, "I'm gay." And she was like, "Oh, honey," and gave me this big hug. She was hugging me so hard I was choking; so she thought I was crying.

For a minute, I think my girlfriend and I were gonna go to the senior prom. We even talked about what we were going to wear -- "Should we do the drag thing or what?" -- but I think it came down to that there was a good girl party, G-spot, going on that night and, because I went to a bougie high school, prom tickets were like 180 dollars for a couple or something really outrageous. I also sensed that she was more freaked out about the prom than she would have fun with it.

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So we went to G-spot instead. It was really happening: it was a young, hip crowd. To me, this was where "lesbian chic" was coming out of at the time. Even the music was cutting edge. I mean, they're still playing "Push It," that stupid Salt-N-Pepa song. But it was cool then.

Obviously nothing at G-Spot was going to resemble the prom, but I remember telling people, "Okay, this is my prom night. Let's have fun and let's all get along," because I was in a group of particularly dyke-drama people. And I remember drinking more than I usually do just to say "it was my prom."

There was some of that "fuck prom, fuck them -- this is where I'm at." But I think that was a front for deeper feelings of sentimentality about losing something that was precious. And my friends from high school were pretty disappointed, too. I think it was a signal that we were all changing away from each other a little bit. And it wasn't going to be the same.

Summer plays on a women's golf team and is an aspiring screenwriter. She and her partner recently wed in San Francisco.

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The High School Sweethearts
David Pace and Bob Moon
Hoover High School
North Canton, Ohio
Class of 1973

David: I saw him that first day of Miss Neglucci's art class. He sat with his friends from Catholic school at one table; and I was with the more outré people. We hit it off right away, even though we were sitting at opposite ends of the room. Then we ended up sitting at the same lunch table.

Bob: He walked in the room, and I had a huge crush. At the time, I didn't know what the hell to do about it. Because it was so unexpected. And what are you going to do about it in an environment that curses it?

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So we became best friends. We had a really ideal, fabulous relationship before it was ever physical. First of all, the thing that bound us to one another most tightly was a commonality of thought: we were interested in the same things; we took the same art classes; and we were in the same little singing group. So we did all that stuff together.

We actually went all through high school before we consummated our relationship. And we didn't even discuss it until senior year.

David: It's hard to understand, but you just didn't couch things in those terms -- not in the Midwest in the 1970s. It was very tentative.

Bob: Of course, we went to the prom together -- we did everything together. I just thought prom was stupid, but if we had to do it, we might as well do it together.

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We double dated: David went with Judy Lukens, and Jody Matthie was my date. I went with her because she was a really pretty, lovely, nice girl -- and we weren't looking to find a girl to marry or lay. I mean, it was not this nasty case of using her just to spend the evening with him; that's just who I wanted to go with.

I've forgotten a lot, because, you know, I didn't wear my glasses that night. But I suppose, if you want to get all dewy-eyed about it, I can remember dancing with my date and thinking, I wish I was dancing with David. And I remember what he wore: that brown suit.

David: That was the year of really, really hideous tuxes; we're talking about powder-blue velvet tuxedoes. No way was I going to wear that. In fact, we both wore suits, which was really pioneering. Bob's suit was blue with a little bit of white; it was polyester.

We got to the prom about nine. It was in the gym. We were at the prom until eleven. Then we dumped the girls off -- which was the correct thing to do -- and we drove around for hours by ourselves in Bob's father's midnight-blue Buick Electra. And the first time we kissed -- it was in that car. Boy, that was a little seduction machine; the backseat was as wide as a sofa.

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Bob: Both of our families are kind, but they come from conservative, religious backgrounds. Had we been found out, there's a really good chance that the knee-jerk reaction would have been, "Get out of our house."

Still, it's not like we were just celibate little boys. In fourth grade I had this hot thing going with a friend of mine. It went on for a while, then it stopped. Then in eighth grade we had these giant orgies, and he and I were always with one another. Then there was like a two-year hiatus, and one night it was just like bang! all over again. So there was always something going on. But David and I had become such important figures to one another -- it was almost like there was a time when it was the right thing to do rather than just tawdry.

David: Oh, I had lots of boyfriends before Bob. I can't say I was a slut, but you know, pubescent slap and tickle. I didn't go there with Bob, because I didn't think he would respect me if he thought I was a tramp. So I just played it cool until I was sure.

I think I really knew the summer after graduating high school. He was going to go to Notre Dame, and his parents wanted him to. But I talked him out of it. And that's when I thought ...

Bob: He really didn't have to talk me out of it. I didn't want to be away from him. And I didn't want to go back to a whole Catholic regimen at a university that did nothing for me. Then you stacked that up against going to Kent State, a very liberal school with someone you're mad about.

We lived in separate dorm rooms that first year of college, but we always had dinner together. It was really a natural progression that had stewed for such a long time that, when it happened, it was hot in every way -- mentally, physically. It was just really wonderful.

David, a graphic artist and creative director, and Bob, an architect, have been partners for over 30 years. They live in New York.


David Boyer

David Boyer is a writer living in New York.

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