Tuesday, April 6, 2010


From Merriam-Webster's online dictionary:

Etymology: Middle English, from Middle French, from Latin constant-, constans, from present participle of constare to stand firm, be consistent, from com- + stare to stand — more at stand
Date: 14th century
1 : marked by firm steadfast resolution or faithfulness : exhibiting constancy of mind or attachment

Constance is well named.

Most of us have read about Constance MacMillan's struggle for acceptance into her high-school prom. And I'm sure many of us heard the news today about the prom she did attend. If not, you can read about it here.http://www.advocate.com/News/Daily_News/2010/04/05/ACLU_Investigating_Fake_Prom/.

I am beyond appalled. Perhaps this is affecting me so deeply because of my own high school experiences. Nobody barred me from prom. Nobody set up a fake prom for me to go to - but I was bullied and ostracized when I was in high school. I was a pariah. I was different. Even I hadn't figured out why. 

What bothers me about Contsance's situation is the same thing that bothers me about my past. The kids involved were only a part of the picture. Sure, they were cruel. But they were kids. Their parents taught them how to hate.  And their teachers. And the other adults in their world who told them and demonstrated to  them that it's not okay to be different. That looking, speaking, or acting outside of the realm of what they considered to be "normal." is unacceptable. We don't want your kind around here.

Some of the kids who attended the real prom are out commenting on different news sites, and it makes me sad. They blame Constance, because she brought too much attention to their town, and their prom. The believe that she's making the situation public knowledge in order to gain attention for herself. It's her fault, they're all screaming. 

Well, she's not the bigot in this situation. And she's not the one who decided to deliberately ostracize not one, but several kids, because they are somehow not acceptable to the rest of the student body. And the students, the ones who are so vigorously defending their actions - they didn't act alone. Proms can't usually be organized without adult assistance. 

I am saddened by the story, and at the same time, I am so full of admiration for Constance. This beautiful young woman has something that I didn't have at her age:the courage and self-esteem to speak out against injustice.

I didn't go to prom. I spent the evening with friends. We had a fancy dinner - and did something else afterwards. I can't remember what, but there may have been some alcohol involved at some point. It doesn't matter - we knew that going to prom would only prolong our agony - that if we attempted the dance floor, someone would laugh at us, or make cat calls. I was terrified that someone was going to throw something at me - I was always finding rotten lunches in my locker, and there were a few incidents in the school cafeteria that I'd rather forget. I always said it didn't matter, and in the twenty-seven years since prom night, I've discovered that it really doesn't. We had fun. We didn't have to worry about dresses that fit, or whether or not we had dates, or what to do with ourselves during slow dances.

It's not the end of the world, missing prom. But I wish I could have been a bit more like Constance. I wish I'd been strong enough to advocate for myself, and for my friends, who were bullied as much as I was. 

But I do know a few things about what happened to some of the people who went to prom on the night I didn't go.

Many of them grew up, moved away, and learned that there's a big world out there, and that diversity is a good thing.

Some of them regretted the way they treated other people and changed their behaviour.

Some of them gained weight. And failed in their careers and their marriages just like many other people. They learned humility.

One of the boys in my class found out that when your parent breaks the law, your peers are not always kind to you.

Many of the girls became mothers, and the boys became fathers, before they left their teen years behind.

And sadly, some of them didn't change at all. And they are passing on their values to the next generation. The prom-goers of today. They gossip just as much as they ever did. They still make fun of their high school classmates, like it was yesterday. They live very, very small lives.

I am inspired by Constance's courage. So much so that I've made two decisions today. I'm going to that kiss-in on Saturday. So that I can stand up and be counted. So that I can lend support to my community. And so that I can demonstrate that I have the courage of my convictions - I've been worried, you see, that someone at work will see me, and ask questions. Well, let them ask!

And next July I'm going to my high school reunion. Well, not a reunion, really. It's a thing called Homecoming, where everyone who ever lived there is supposed to go back and celebrate the wonderfulness of small-town living.


The only thing is, I need a date....


B said...

Excellent post!

Making Space said...

Wow. Amazing post.

I think you should contact all the people you went to the non-prom with and stage a kiss-in (group experience, natch) at the reunion. You should videotape this for the edification of people who live too far a way to join in. Just sayin.

Seriously. You are a brave woman. You are a strong woman. You are a wise woman. And wherever you go, truth and love win out - just because you're there. I'm appalled at how you were treated when you were in school. And I'm proud to "know" you now. You are a blessing.

Anonymous said...

I went to my junior prom and hated it, didn't go to my senior prom. I dont' regret it but if there was more understanding and less bigotry, I probably would have gone. I am not big into fancy anyway.

So very sad to see her go through all that. Makes me mad to see the kids being so hateful towards her but what is even worse is the adults and parents encouraging and helping them to be just as hateful. Kids will follow in their parents footsteps. I blame the adults with this. I couldn't imagine bringing pain to another kid (she is a teen but still a kid) wheither it is phsycial or emotional and that is exactly what these parents are doing. Shame on them!

jelly said...

Excellent post.

And the whole thing makes me sick, really.
Shame on those people who have such ignorance and hatred.