Just finished watching the movie The Prom on Netflix. I’m a sucker for a Broadway musical. And a queer one with a fabulous score and cast? I’m in! But the story depicted in the movie was based on a real one and the movie borrowed greatly from the real thing. But I’m not mad at it. I honestly loved everything about this movie. Not only is it right up there on my list of favorite Broadway shows, it surpasses them. If you’re interested, the other two in my top three are Rent and A Chorus Line.
Underneath all the glitz of this movie was a soft, blueberry center of a heart about love and acceptance…and high school. The movie inspired me to think about my high school experiences as a small-town gay kid. No, there was no prom controversy, I wasn’t dating the daughter of the PTA president, and my parents never disowned me. I wasn’t even out of the closet yet.
I was in high school in the late eighties/early nineties. The town I grew up in had only about 5,000 people in it. And the only lesbian I knew of in town was a little older than me and scared me a little. But she was kind of cute. I never even considered being out in high school. Hell, even though I’d known I liked girls since I was ten years old, I hadn’t put the name to it until I was 15. The one thing I did know was that I had to keep my feelings to myself. So, I avoided any conversation about who I might have a crush on or who I thought was hot by either turning the conversation back to the person trying to get me to talk or by making a joke. I think being a closeted queer helped develop my sense of humor. Deflect, deflect, deflect.
One reason I had no concept of what it would be like to be out of the closet was because it just wasn’t talked about. Being gay was something that, if it was mentioned it all, was only mentioned with fear and derision. As Melissa Etheridge would later sing about, it was “thinly veiled intolerance, bigotry and hate.” Who would want to come out to that? So, I spent my high school years hiding who I really was from everyone. I didn’t even let my eyes linger on any girl I liked for too long for fear of being found out. And I didn’t let anyone get too close because it was easier to keep up the ruse that way. But I also didn’t date guys either, opting instead for an asexual persona, even though I had yet to hear the term and definitely wasn’t that anyway.
It wasn’t until college that I got the courage to come out. By then I had a group of friends who truly understood and accepted me. When I finally did get the courage to come out, at the age of 24, not one friend rejected me or said anything unkind. And I even lucked out with my family’s reaction too. It wasn’t all sunshine and roses, but they accepted me and that was enough. Today, I am fortunate to have many friends in my life, queer and otherwise, who love me for me and don’t mind my quirks.
The movie also briefly touched on the idea of going back to your high school self and telling them that it gets better, repeating the campaign started by author and activist Dan Savage and his husband Terry Miller. The It Gets Better Project aims to stop queer suicide by letting queer teens know that life does indeed get better. If I could go back to my closeted teen self, I would tell her: just wait. You will meet so many wonderful people who will love you for you and accept all that you are. You will know love. Some of it romantic, most of it platonic, but so much more love than you ever expected. You will find joy and fulfillment in using your creativity to tell stories about what it’s like to be queer, and you will love every minute of it. It won’t always be easy, but it will be better. Because you will be you and you will let the world see you. And you will shine.