Being open about your sexual orientation or gender identity in high school can be hard. And so can be prom.
While some look back at their proms with a nostalgic smile, this is hardly ever the case for LGBTI people.
Gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans people often have traumatic memories of their own proms — if they went at all.
Bullying and anxiety to fit into the heteronormative mould turn what should be a fun night into a nightmare.
Those who did brave the annual celebration of outdated gender stereotypes sometimes wish they could do it all over again. That’s where Queer Prom comes in.
At Queer Prom, created by Vicki Cook, everyone can rewrite their prom stories.
LGBTI have the chance to attend an inclusive event designed for them. They can wear whatever outfit they want and invite whoever they want to be with.
The next events will take place in Brighton on 31 May and Birmingham on 12 July.
‘We plan to take Queer Prom all over the UK, and one day beyond,’ said Cook.
She explained she’d like to give everyone the ‘opportunity to rewrite those negative or non-existent prom stories’.
Ahead of the upcoming proms, 9 LGBTI people reminisced of their own — good and bad.
‘I spent my childhood and teenage years extremely ill and missed out on a lot of school and events that my peers went to,’ they said.
‘I didn’t have a prom or school dance and even if I had I’m not sure I would have been able to go as I would like to have presented. Being non-binary and visibly disabled is hard as a teenager and I felt very self-conscious whenever around my peers.
‘Coming to Queer Prom allows me to be who I am without fear of ridicule or shame – knowing I’ll be not just accepted, but celebrated, and that means the world to me.’
‘I was incredibly fortunate to have a supportive gang of friends who would probably have been disappointed if I’d turned up to prom in anything resembling “normal,”‘ she said.
‘I did my best not to disappoint, rocking up with my fabulous girlfriend, and wearing a kilt – an ode to my future university career in Scotland and the closest thing to genderqueer formal wear I could come up with in the early 2000s home counties.
‘That night, I also professed my long-standing affections for my favourite teacher, to which she replied, “yep, I know”. Then we shared a dance. I like to think that if we had elected a prom king and queen, I would have won them both!
‘I realise how unusual that experience was, especially back in the last dirty days of Section 28.’
‘My high school prom would have been the last time anyone saw me with long hair and a dress on,’ he said.
‘I’ve always wanted to stand out but before I came out I was making myself stand out for the wrong reasons. Being at prom, even being complimented so much, looking the way I did, didn’t feel right. I felt like a stranger among people I’d known forever.
‘Since moving to Brighton, it’s events like Queer Prom, where anything goes that are so important. Queer people need a safe space to express themselves, and fashion and nightlife is such a huge part of our culture.’
‘When I look at the pictures from my school prom, it’s painfully obvious how much I was trying to fit in and be a normal girl, when that just isn’t me,’ they said.
‘I forced myself into this awful navy blue ball gown that I thought was what I was “supposed to” wear, and I was visibly uncomfortable the whole night. I didn’t dance, I got in as fewer photos as I could, and I was one of the first to leave.’
‘When I first went to prom, it was completely unremarkable,’ they said.
‘I followed the rules, I wore a men’s suit, danced to music I didn’t like and did everything I could to fit in. If I were to go now I would express my femininity with unabashed freedom.’
‘I actually had two proms growing up, one when I was 16 and one when I was 18 and both were very different,’ she said.
‘At my first prom I was still in the closet. I hadn’t accepted who I was yet and being part of an Islamic family. I’d been taught that being gay was wrong.
She also said: ‘I wore a dress, had long hair and wore a face full of makeup to my prom, and even though I looked lovely and felt confident, I wasn’t happy and wasn’t able to present myself as I had always wanted to present myself. I wanted to wear a suit, have short hair and present myself in a way that society would label as masculine.’
‘By my second prom, I had overcome all this and accepted myself. I had come out and was lucky enough to have the support of my friends, but I wasn’t yet out to my family.
She added: ‘I went to my second prom in a suit, bow tie and suspenders, with short hair dyed different crazy colours. I absolutely loved it.’
‘I didn’t have a school prom. There was one at my college but there wasn’t a chance I was going to that,’ she said.
‘The thought of being forced into a dress and go with a boy was actually my worst nightmare. So I just had an ‘alternative prom’ with my friend Steve.’
‘My prom night reflected my experience of school. I felt isolated and very much an outsider, I never really fit in and if I did it was because I was pretending to be someone I wasn’t just to get by,’ she said.
She also said: ‘I did everything I was expected to, I went to my prom, I wore a beautiful dress and got all dolled up. Yet I still felt lost and like I was on the outside looking in.
‘I decided to create Queer Prom as a way of offering the LGBTI community a chance experience prom as they always should have been able to. A prom without fear of discrimination, homophobia and transphobia. It has been absolutely magical to see people doing just that.’
Queer Prom is inclusive
‘It’s a breath of fresh air,’ a non-binary person of color who wishes to remain anonymous said of Queer Prom.
‘Being part of such a marginalised community that is also full of so much love and acceptance, it can be especially painful when events are thrown and not all of us are considered in the organisational process.’
All pictures by Kaleido Shoots