I'M TOTALLY FLUMMOXED BY PEOPLE who have any nostalgia for their high school days. I hated everything about it and I never felt part of that community for many reasons. So I can't imagine why I would have gone to the prom. In fact, one reason I didn't go is that I had moved up to Boston before I even graduated.
I moved to get away and find an apartment, but it was also the height of the student strikes. The Museum School in Boston, which is where I ended up going to college, was producing posters that all the other colleges would come pick up and wheat paste around town. It was open twenty-four hours, and people were sleeping there, and there were stacks of posters drying in the hallway. And I was going up there to do that for the summer.
So, on prom night I was probably stoned off my ass, sleeping on the floor in Boston. Not that if I had stayed on Long Island I would have gone to prom. I think I went to one dance; it was in junior high school, and I blanked it out it was so uncomfortable.
Now, there's another part of the story that I think is worth mentioning. Which is: it was the '60s. And a lot of people thought it was uncool to go to the prom, and my friends in particular thought it was very uncool. A few of them did go, but they got high and goofed on it. If you went to the prom, you were "straight," in the old term. You were a goody-goody. You were a cheerleader. You were an over-achiever. And my friends were anything but that.
The fact that it wasn't cool gave me a reason to feel comfortable about not going. But the reason I didn't go was that I didn't feel safe, because I was gay. I was tormented for being gay by that community. I mean, I was one of those sissy boys who couldn't walk home from school without having a gang of kids chasing me.
But actually, I probably could have gone without getting the shit kicked out of me. At that point, I started dealing drugs in high school to pay for my own drugs. When all the straight kids who used to beat the crap out of me found out that I was into drugs, all of a sudden they were my best friends. But I didn't want anything to do with them and I didn't want to celebrate my history with that community, because I felt they were total fucks. They made my life completely miserable, and I was obstinate enough to not want to forgive them for it.
One thought that's occurred to me is, "What would it have been like to have had to make a decision about prom after Will & Grace?" Because being out in high school was inconceivable. It might as well have been 1952. Leo Kutch was my closest friend, and people knew he was a fag: he was one of those queens who was so out that there was never going to be a debate. But I don't think that he ever had an easy time of it. And all the indications about being gay in my house were that it wasn't okay. That was the line in the sand--I could support the Weather Underground all I wanted, but I couldn't be gay. So, I didn't come out until I was in college; I did the classic gay thing of leaving town to reinvent myself.
I think going to the prom is, in hindsight, very significant. The prom signifies a way in which gay people have to adapt to the greater world surrounding them, because there's the heterosexual matchmaking subtext. What it says when you can't bring a same-sex date to the prom is that you're destructive to the community just by being yourself. Which is the gay rights struggle.
This is seminal to my politic: there's always a dividing line. With straight people, there's always a dividing line and you never know when you're going to hit up against it. No matter how progressive a community, a person or a family member thinks they are, there is a dividing line past which they have no idea what our lives are about and they have no idea what constitutes acceptance from our point of view.