So we’re at that point in the night where everyone’s clinging to the edge of their seat waiting to see who gets those shiny satin sashes. For many, this is what it’s all about. The murmurs of “I hope she gets best dressed” and “oh he’s definitely getting king” have finally died down; they’re calling out the nominees for the award of cutest couple. And me? I’m just sitting there, hand-in-hand with my girlfriend, not really hoping because I’m not a sash kind of girl. Then suddenly people are turning to look at us, smiling and clapping. Different voices are beginning to chant out the nominee’s names’ and I can hear mine rising above the crowd a little and all I can do is laugh because it all seems so surreal.
Reading Toni Duder’s opinion piece ‘Spiking the Punch’ I was reminded of how so many GLBTI youth don’t get their fairytale ball. It’s the same story we see plastered everywhere, the lack of acceptance from students and staff alike and those brave individuals who had the courage to go anyway, bring whoever they want to bring and keep that smile on their face like they’re bulletproof. In many ways I thought that was going to be my story too. In fact, I was preparing myself for just that fight. I’d heard rumors of what I’d have to do to be able to bring my girlfriend to the ball, tales of special meetings and paperwork declaring my ‘gay-ness.’ I was prepared to do what it took to attend with her, but I was sure as hell going to make a statement while doing so.
But in fact I found no such issues with my school. When a friend enquired for me as to what the process of same-sex partner applications was going to be she met an icy reply of “Why should they be any different?” and the issue was left at that. I filled out the same out of school date application as everyone else and my girlfriend officially found herself thrown into a world of shoes and high school drama that she too had avoided at her own opportunity. For my own part I began the endless preparation of the perfect dress, shoes and styling – all on a budget. So far our school ball experience had been no different than anyone else’s.
“And the winners of Long Bay’s Cutest couple 2013 are…” And we’re up, I’m dragging my girlfriend by the hand, half running, half walking onto the dance floor with everyone’s screams and cheers echoing around us. In all honesty I’m a little bit close to tears. Smiles, a kiss and we’re back to our seats, in a somewhat dazed sort of trance, receiving the first of many congratulations and pats on the back. If my life were a romcom, the credits would be rolling.
But it wasn’t just getting named cutest couple that got me; it wasn’t winning that satin sash to hang on my wall as a sweet memento or sticking it to that one group of people at the back who blatantly didn’t want us there. No, what got me was the overwhelming response from the people around us. People who I’d barely spoken to before literally screaming out their support, the people who came up to us afterwards to congratulate us, to tell us how happy they were that we got it, how proud they were that we were so open. It was when we went back up to join the king and queen in the slow dance and the hysterical shouting and cheering started all over again. It was the people who actually cried for us, who said that us winning it made their nights, it was the idea that people could care so much for satin sashes that were worn by somebody else.
My ball was everything I wanted it to be. I felt beautiful and thoroughly enjoying my night admiring how my classmates cleaned up, bouncing from person to person, girlfriend in tow, through names after countless names of people who wanted to meet her. Despite a few glares and one shoulder bash by a mysterious girl in white the night ran smoothly. Those people didn’t affect us, they couldn’t affect us. For their part our teachers shook our hands and smiled, true to their word we were not treated any differently than any other couple there.
I understand that those of us who have positive experiences don’t feel the need to write about them, simply taking them for granted as the kind of treatment we should receive. However maybe it is important to spread those moments too, moments that hopefully one day will be nothing special, but that right now show hope and change in our society. I am extremely lucky to be surrounded by so much love and support within my school community. I know that not every school would have been so supportive. But I believe that many schools are changing their policies and attitudes. Many schools have been successfully working towards creating societies where diversity is celebrated, where its students don’t have to worry about who they want to bring to the ball, or whether they want to wear a suit or a dress; where two girls who don’t fit the ‘American dream’ style world can still live it. If only for one night.
| Joni Nelson, 17 from Auckland