Monday, May 30, 2005

Gay guy as HS prom dates

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May 29, 2005

A Prince Charming for the Prom (Not Ever After, Though)

LATELY I've become wary of the question "Frank, what are you doing next Saturday night?" In the month of May it can only mean one thing: I'm going to yet another prom. And no, I'm not doing a favor for a cousin. Cousins are out. I'm this century's new answer to the last-minute prom date: the gay best friend.

By the end of June I'll have worn the tuxedo I swiped from the school drama department three or four times. While most 18-year-old guys are preparing for their one big night, I'm whipping up more magical evenings than Lance Burton or David Copperfield.

I am also swimming in corsages. I went to the florist today for the second time this week, and she gave me a suspicious look. Does she know what I'm up to? After all, I can't be the only one who understands that gay is the new cousin.

Until recently this wasn't really possible, because most gay men postponed coming out until college or later, if they came out at all. But now more and more young men are coming out in high school. I knew I was gay in sixth grade and came out in eighth. Originally I didn't plan to tell anyone until ninth grade, when I would enroll in a new school, but I decided I needed to let people know who I really was.

My decision had a traumatic aftermath. How is a school supposed to handle the coming out of an eighth grader? My middle school also contained an elementary school, and alarmed parents feared for their little children, worried, I suppose, that I might convert them or something.

I endured a set of excruciating meetings with school administrators during which parameters for my behavior were discussed. That and the cruelty of my classmates left me feeling isolated and scared, and I found myself turning mostly to girls for support and friendship.

Although things improved in high school, I still found myself relying primarily on friendships with girls, some of whom I met at summer drama camps and who attended different schools.

As I see it, these girls saved me, and now it's my turn to save them. Dancing a few steps in a beautified gymnasium is the least I could do to thank the girls who helped me become who I am.

I don't even have to go broke doing this. Any girl who's progressive enough to go to her prom with a gay guy understands that it's no longer the 1950's and that I shouldn't have to pay for everything. They also understand I won't turn into a drunken, groping creep in the middle of the evening, so I figure it's an even trade.

And unlike the goofy cousin who might arrive in a ruffled, powder-blue tux and tell embarrassing stories about computer camp, I'm a safe, chic choice. Neither of us will blush with sexual tension when it comes time to attach corsage to bosom. I won't make a fool of my date or myself with awkward straight-boy dancing. And I'll help her figure out the details of her dress and hairstyle. After all, we wouldn't want anyone committing social suicide on the biggest night of our tender young lives.

As the gay date, I also make one of the evening's most unpleasant moments a breeze. I have no problem meeting the girl's parents, a typical sticking point for most guys, because I know that wise and open-minded parents are smart enough to realize that a gay guy is their daughter's best and safest prom bet.

If I were a worried mother of a dateless daughter, I would scour the hip coffee shops of my town waving a rainbow flag in search of recruits. It might cause my daughter to die of embarrassment, but at least she would have a fabulous night out and wouldn't make me a grandmother anytime soon.

At the proms themselves, though, I'm supposed to be straight, so I do my best. Am I ever worried about being found out? Not really. My friend Katie goes to a Catholic high school, and at her prom I even passed rigid nun interrogation.

On our way through the lineup of nun inspectors, they shook my hand and eyed me up and down before pronouncing me a fit suitor. So what do I have to worry about? Then again, maybe nuns aren't known for their finely tuned gay-dar.

One thing I've discovered in my brief barrage of proms is that they're all pretty much the same. There's that sense of finality, of going out with a bang.

GAY or not, there's still that stomach-churning feeling of anticipation as you and your date see each other in your formal dress for the first time. There's the poor couple wearing the absolute wrong ensemble. There's that burned-out feeling in the early morning from so much fun packed into so little time. Rest assured that the onset of horror from wondering what the pictures will look like decades from now is there every time as well.

But sometimes our expectations get the better of us, and the prom's real purpose is lost. It's one of the last times to be together and have fun as a class before everyone scatters and comes back to the reunion 10 years later balding, divorced, wildly successful or exactly, pathetically the same.

Whether you loved your own prom, hated it, missed it, only made it to the parking lot or were too drunk to remember, there's no denying it's a milestone that happens only once. Or, in my case, several times.

The one thing I can't understand is why many of my female friends, who are charming, attractive and fun to be with, don't have straight male suitors to accompany them. Surely the school halls aren't filled with date-snatching floozies offering the one thing no teenage guy, except the gay best friend, can say no to. So I've got to believe I see things in these girls that straight guys can't because with me the element of sexual attraction was never there to begin with.

Many young gay men make friends with the cool girls who fly under the radar because they don't possess conventional good looks and they don't put out. We get to know these girls for the things about them that matter.

Sometimes I want to hold up a sign that says: "Here! Date this girl, you idiot!" Of course if they aren't smart enough to figure out a girl is worth dating, they probably aren't worthy of the girl in the first place.

Perhaps this is why certain girls and certain gay guys become such good friends in high school. They're waiting for an environment that isn't based on popularity or games, an atmosphere where they can thrive. While I've had an excellent time in high school these past four years, I have to believe there is something better out there for me in years to come. I know many of my friends feel the same way.

We've all heard famous women talk about how they were ostracized in high school or unpopular with the boys, only later to become gorgeous and desired. Even though they ended up successful, they never had that high school experience of the prom, that one magical time that can never be taken away. I'm here to provide this to many future famous women, even if I don't get it for myself.

As much as I'd like to, I will not be attending my own school's prom with a guy. My florist must know this because each time I walk in, she always flips past the boutonniere section of her prom accessories book.

I wish this weren't the case. I wish I could take someone with me, because I've got prom dreams of my own.

They involve buying expensive ingredients at the gourmet food store and spending the entire day making dinner with my date. We would enjoy the food even more knowing we put all the effort into making it ourselves.

When we walked into the dance, the two of us would initially stun people, not because we were two guys but just because we looked great. I wouldn't care if I had to learn to make clothes myself if it meant avoiding that awkward "I rented this, and it doesn't quite fit" look. I would be able to hold his hand all night without feeling weird or attracting attention. By the time it was over, we would be so tired we wouldn't even care.

RIGHT now, however, my prom dream is just that. My school is a great place, but out of about 500 students, there are only a few other openly gay kids. (There are also a handful of openly bisexual girls, but that's considered trendy, so they don't count.)

I'm pretty brave, but sorry, I just don't feel ready to take a boy to prom. I once tried to take a boy to a school dance, and it was just too weird. It felt like every eye was focused on us for all the wrong reasons.

Maybe things will be better for younger guys. I hope so.

At my school, attending the prom in groups of friends is normal and acceptable, so that's what I'm doing. Time to drag out that tuxedo again. But I'm looking forward to it. I will thank my friends for the great times and try not to focus on the thing I cannot yet have. I'll walk in feeling sad and knowing that, for better or worse, I'll be leaving these people in the fall. We'll all go off to our own lives. Who knows what'll happen in mine?

All proms have their cheesy themes, and ours is no exception. "Let the Dreams Begin!" cries out from invitations and prom updates throughout our school.

My dream began a long time ago. I'm just waiting for it to come true.

Frank Paiva graduates next month from the Lakeside School in Seattle. He will attend New York University in the fall.

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