Constance McMillen and Barack Obama: Spiritual Prom Dates


You may have read or heard a story about Mississippi high school senior Constance McMillen, who teamed up with the ACLU to exercise her inalienable right to don a tuxedo and take her sophomore girlfriend to the senior prom. Miss McMillen and her lawyers were nonplussed when the school board responded to their suit with the following statement: “Due to the distractions to the educational process caused by recent events, the Itawamba County School District has decided to not host a prom at Itawamba Agricultural High School this year.” Elsewhere in its statement, the board suggests that private citizens or groups might sponsor a prom in lieu of the school function.

Proms are a touchy subject for me. My journey down the dusty road to spinsterhood began early: I didn’t attend the Varsity Club dance (semi-formal). I didn’t attend the Junior Prom (formal). I didn’t have a date for either. Full disclosure: I did not attend a single dance the entire time I was sentenced to high school.

This was back in the days when prom-goers counted themselves lucky if they could borrow dad’s car to drive to the gym, not order up a pimped-out limo to deliver them to the Crowne Plaza “ballroom” and then on to the obligatory round of after-parties. Girls bought their prom dresses in shops with names like “Deb’s Den,” “The Yankee Lady,” or “Grad’s.” (Had I gone to the prom, mine would have come from Lerner’s.) What the boys wore was of little consequence, as long as they produced the requisite wrist corsage to match their date’s perfect dress and shoes. Established cliques schemed to get their sisters elected prom queen and her court. There was always a bottle or two of vodka to be had. Or so I have been told, having had no firsthand experience.

I give my parents a lot of credit for not getting all bent out of shape about my lack of a date to the prom. While they may have sprung for a pizza for dinner on prom night, they did not go running to the principal’s office to complain that it was unfair I couldn’t get a date. And they certainly didn’t hire a lawyer to fight for my right to be a wallflower.

So you will understand if I have a mixed and somewhat jaundiced take on Miss McMillen’s courageous litigation. I am robust proof that one can live a promless life. For Miss McMillen, and for her classmates, missing the prom will be a lifelong catastrophe only if high school proves to be the highpoint of their social experience. And if that is true, then they have more problems than can be solved by “An Evening in Paradise,” “A Night at the Copa” or “An Undersea Fantasy” -themed school dance. Or by a lawsuit aided and abetted by the ACLU.

“But..but..but…” you are sputtering, “Miss McMillen is a lesbian! Don’t you understand how marginalized she is by society and her peers?” Having seen a picture or two of her, I assure you Miss McMillen is anything but marginal. And if you don’t believe me, listen to her, as she defends the second suit she and the ACLU have just filed—to force the school district to hold the prom: “This isn’t just about me and my rights anymore—now I’m fighting for the right of all the students at my school to have our prom.” Uh-uh. Apparently when apprising Miss McMillen of her legal rights, the ACLU neglected to fill her in on the risks of bringing a suit.

Miss McMillen is quoted in The San Diego Tribune as saying “she never expected the district to respond [by canceling the prom]. ‘A lot of people said that was going to happen, but I said, they [sic] had already spent too much money on the prom’ to cancel it, she said.” In other words, Miss McMillen assumed that only she and she alone could take a principled stand: the school district would be guided by money alone. Oops.

I don’t really care how l’affaire prom resolves itself, or what color carnation Miss McMillen’s boutonniere will sport. I hope that she goes on to live a happy and productive life, and that she finds a partner to share that life with. But I do care that high school proms and yearbooks have become easy targets for publicity-seeking self-perceived misfits, and that the ACLU is trigger-happy to lend them an instigating, enabling hand. When I was in school these kids channeled their non-conformist yearnings into plotting their escapes to college, New York or Paris. Rather than wanting “them” to be like “me,” the “me’s” longed for the day when they could leave the squares behind. It’s so interesting to me that teens today have so utterly lost that desire to escape. They’d rather go to the prom. Sad.

Perhaps the president will give Miss McMillen the name of his tailor.

Sadder still is the give-me-what-I-want-now-or-I’ll-make-you-pay attitude that runs through Miss McMillen’s story, and the dozen variations on it we will read from now until the high school prom then graduation seasons are over. It’s the same attitude that President Obama has adopted to push through his version of health care “reform.” Damn the consequences, damn the consensus, full speed ahead with what I want. Because I’m right. And you’re wrong.

On the other hand, if I had to choose between one of these dainty frocks, I'd probably demand a tuxedo, too.

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12 thoughts on “Constance McMillen and Barack Obama: Spiritual Prom Dates

  1. Pingback: Constance McMillen Gets Her Day in Court « Call Me "Miss"!

  2. The first article about the whole hullabaloo that I liked. I’m shocked by the hatred aimed at the other students. Maybe Miss Constance should think a bit about the fact, that she can get a court-ordered party, but can’t force people to attend it. Or – will be there in the future court orders to attend, dance and smile?

    At the Czech equivalent of a high school we also have sorta prom night, but there is a small detail that would not allow Constances of this world show of such an extent – no-one cares about any (or no) dates, only the formal attire is requested.
    At the festive moment

    only the students of the last year enter the dancing floor and teachers decorate them with sashes of their own design. Then everybody applauds and afterwards a formal dance with teachers followed by a dance with their own parents follows.
    And that’s it – so the only problem in the Czech variant might be a tux – but some girls wear trousers and corsages as well…

    • Thank you for your kind words–and thank you for a glimpse at how another culture handles proms. I have always thought that the most important part of the ritual was the dress!

      • Regarding dresses – and more about the othe cultures 😉

        I don’t know how it is in the USA, but there’s another more or less middle-class tradition here in the countries that formerly belonged under the Austria-Hungary empire and that is formal dancing lessons. Boys go there at the age of 17, girls at 16, mostly “unpaired” and even when they are, the dance teacher orders partner switches several times per lesson. The dances taught are basically those like in the dance competitions including latin ones, but in the “common dance floor” variant; some lecturing in the behavior at banquets or rauts is also included.

        Included in the course are at least three “ball-like” lessons and in general something approaching formal attire is requested, so that the young ladies and gentlemen So that the kids at our “prom night” don’t dress-up in the suits and shoulder-free ball gowns for the first time, usually.

        You’re right with that comment about how formerly those who didn’t fit just went away to find a better place for themselves. Now it seems to me, that forcing those around me to comply and laugh at their unease is the way to go. Unfortunately.

        I myself didn’t exactly fit in at the high school years and years ago, being a nerdy geeky 5′ 10 bespectacled girl, but when I think about that after all those years – I don’t think I would have been happier if there would have been an option to “force them” with the help of the law to accept me. Interpersonal relationships just don’t work that way.

        Someone at another blog wrote about the terrible small-minded small towns while praising some “lesbian towns” in Massachusetts. That gave me some thought – can’t we have towns with a traditional mindsets as well as the other ones?

        Sorry for the long outpouring.

  3. Pingback: When Bad Proms Happen to Bad People: Constance McMillen, Yet Again « Call Me "Miss"!

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