In high school, I went to prom five times. As a sophomore, I was dating a junior at another school, and went to prom with her. I was still dating her when I was a junior, so I went to my own prom, as well as her’s. Then as a senior, I got kicked out of high school. At this time I was dating a girl from the school from which I had been expelled, so I got to go to that prom as well as my new school’s prom.
I have a couple modest memories from these proms, but none of them were so noteworthy as to be worth talking about all these years later. It was an obligatory event, and I participated each time, but never really got excited about any of them. It’s unclear whether I’m abnormal in this, or whether most guys feel similarly about prom.
This Saturday, I had the unique privilege of attending prom again. The Columbus Gay Men’s Chorus hosted an 80s Prom as a fundraiser for their annual Forte event, and it was an absolute blast. It was much more memorable than any of the high school proms I attended!
I elected not to rent a tux, and while I discussed trying to deck myself out in 80s attire, I ultimately decided not to do so. In hindsight, either choice would have been well received, as I was one of the more boringly dressed people at the event. Several of the couples in attendance wore identical tuxedos, and at least two guys went totally old school by digging out their old letterman jackets. (Even if I had kept my school jacket, there’s no way it would fit me today!) There was only one drag queen attending, which surprised me a little bit; but I guess that reveals as much about my ignorance as it does my assumptions of a gay men’s event.
Drinks and hors d’oeuvres were enjoyed in a small room on the second floor of Pomerene Hall on the OSU campus. A photographer was set up in the corner for the traditional prom photo, complete with balloon bouquet and cheesy backdrop. 80s music was playing. The vibe was fun and silly, as more and more outrageously dressed men entered the room. Many of the attendees knew one another, so there was a lot of chatter around the room. We made small talk with a few folks, and just enjoyed the vibe before heading up to the gymnasium on the third floor for the dinner and prom proper.
My high school proms all happened at rented facilities, but I was informed that many schools used the school gym as the location for the prom. So in this respect, I felt like I was getting the proper prom experience. Moreover, there were the archetypical balloon arches just inside the entrance for that perfect prom ambiance. The decorations in the gym were superb, and the attention to detail was very impressive. Each table had a number, so that attendees knew where to sit. The numbers were printed as “channels” on boxes, each side of which showed a still photo from some iconic piece of 80s entertainment. It was a lot of fun to walk around the tables identifying The Facts of Life, Back to the Future, Miami Vice, and other blasts from the past. We sat at table 12, and had a lot of fun naming the girls from The Facts of Life. I got them all right, but couldn’t remember Mrs. Garret’s name!
After an absolutely delicious meal, the first Forte award was presented. There was a small speech given by one of the founders of the CGMC. His remarks were interesting, but James Arter, the recipient of the award, really blew me away with his acceptance speech. He told us that 42 years ago he had been on the OSU campus, locked in the psychiatric ward of Upham Hall, as doctors tried to rehabilitate him from his gay condition. I guess I’d known – intellectually – that homosexuality had at one time been seen as a problem that could be “cured”, but I’d never met anyone to whom this had actually occurred. So much has changed in the last four decades, and Arter’s speech touched on many of those positive changes. It was a very powerful and thought provoking.
After the speech, the prom court was elected by way of a raffle, which I thought was a nice touch. It wasn’t a popularity contest, but a random draw, so it was far more entertaining for everyone to watch. After this, the band started playing, and people took to the dance floor. It was surprising – and relieving! – to me to see several gay men who were worse dancers than I was, so I didn’t feel totally self conscious. After a long set of fast songs, a slow song was finally played, and all the couples snuggled up to one another.
My date Angela and I were one of only five or six heterosexual couples at the prom. It was a very unique experience for me to see so many male-male couples together, and the slow dance was a particularly novel experience. I’ve had bi- and homosexual friends since college, so hanging out with gays has never been a problem for me. I’ve never felt uncomfortable or uneasy around gay people; and I certainly didn’t feel uncomfortable on Saturday. Rather, I felt like a stranger at someone else’s event. Nothing happened to make me feel unwelcome, but I felt very much an outsider at this event.
During the slow dance, it occurred to me how special a moment that must have been. I take it for granted that I can enjoy a slow dance with my date at any venue, but there’s still sufficient homophobia in the world that I imagine that many gay couples would not dance together at a more traditional event. It was, frankly, heartwarming to see so many couples so clearly affectionate with one another. There were no slobbery kisses, or overt sexuality – just a lot of holding, tender touches, and genuine smiles between partners who really cared about one another. Angela and I discussed this at great length afterwards, and felt really privileged to be able to experience that side of the gay community. So much of what’s public is activism that we rarely see the softer side of commitment, affection, and love.
The 80s prom was a fantastic event, and a superb idea for a fundraiser! Having learned a bit more about the productions that the Columbus Gay Men’s Chorus put on, I’m definitely interested in attending a few. The people we met were all friendly, outgoing, and interesting. If you get the opportunity to go to anything they put on, you should definitely take it!