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.
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.