Heaven and Hell

Some people can't get past the hate; others find happiness in the midst of it

If there’s still any wonder why America’s high schools are a simultaneous case of heaven and hell for teenagers, look no further than the latest chapter in the Constance McMillen story.

To recap: Mississippi teen McMillen wanted to take her girlfriend to senior prom; she also wanted to wear a tuxedo. The school refused and, when the ACLU threatened to sue to ensure McMillen’s attendance, the school cancelled prom rather than change its position. One lawsuit later, an alternate prom was ordered.

And that’s when the story becomes an amalgamation of Heathers, Mean Girls and Carrie, sans any psychokinetic outbursts.

According to The Advocate, McMillen was given information for an alternate prom to be held at the small town’s country club. Unbeknownst to her, the ”real” prom — the prom for the not openly lesbian and not openly subverting gender dress norms — was being held across town.

McMillen, her girlfriend and five fellow students — including two with learning disabilities — attended the ”alternate” prom at the country club.

All the other students partied in another, ”secret” prom at an undisclosed location, organized by parents and students.

Pretty petty.

A flurry of Internet activity followed news of the ”secret” prom, with activists quickly snagging captures of Facebook photos and comments that just as quickly disappeared into privacy settings. Classmates of McMillen’s left comments on some LGBT websites defending their choice to have a prom that pointedly left out the undesirables. The defense comes down to two points:

1. If Constance would just stop being such a lesbian none of this would have had to happen.

2. They’re tired of being a national object of scorn and ridicule.

So, to fight back against being made fun of by those picky coastal cultural elites the town banded together to host a secret prom that would never remain a secret and would instantly invite all sorts of comparisons to Carrie.

Smart move, that.

As I’ve said before, while rural America imagines itself as the ”real” America, that self image masks a near obsession with what non-rural America thinks of them — the ever-present, gnawing suspicion that someone in the big city is making fun of them.

And sometimes we are.

My guess, based on my own experience in rural American high school, is that this mess boils down to a handful of students and parents whose knee-jerk reaction to McMillen’s initial desire to attend the prom turned into a fit of pique, followed by a descent into hateful defensiveness.

Now the go-along-to-get-along students and parents will continue to be pulled into the narrative of Fulton, Miss., as the meanest town in America. And, frankly, they deserve it. The town desperately needed a grown-up to step in and say, ”Stop, now. This is ridiculous.”

Fulton seems to be running short on grown-ups at the moment.

As for McMillen and her fellow ostracized prom-goers at the country club, things seem to be turning out all right. Looking at her fellow students, McMillen told The Advocate, ”That’s the one good thing that come out of this, [these kids] didn’t have to worry about people making fun of them.”

Finding moments of happiness in the middle of a fraud created to humiliate and shame those who are different is the best way to prove that high school doesn’t always have to be hell.

Sean Bugg is Editor Emeritus for Metro Weekly.

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