Why cis-het events like school formals hurt Rainbow kids


Hiding in plain sight. 

Content warning: Discussion of queer erasure.

This Pride Month, in partnership with ConverseFashion Journal is welcoming a queer guest editor from the Converse All Star community to guide our storytelling in support of queer voices. Rimu Bhooi is a queer, non-binary, disabled Indian of Punjabi Sikh descent, working as a writer, board member, creative, and an activist for human rights and the most marginalised communities. This article was written and edited by Rimu in consultation with the Fashion Journal team.

My best friend and I made a pact to be each other’s date at the senior ball. We had been the best of friends for two years at that point. We hung out every morning before school, at morning tea and at lunchtime.

If we didn’t spend time together after school, we’d text and call till the following morning. Then I fell in love, or I thought I did. I officially had a boyfriend after a whirlwind week of my first proper date, first kiss, first makeout sesh, first time hooking up; my first everything. 

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It was clear to everyone who saw us together that I was head over heels. We’d orbited each other for years, but neither he nor I had ever thought about dating the other. He once said that I had been hiding in front of him all along. I thought he was the young love I’d been not-so-patiently waiting for.

He told me loved me and I had every reason to fall headfirst into that bullshit. He wanted to take me to the senior ball. I had the most spectacular dress planned, with a gold bust, a long black flowy skirt with gold detailing and dainty shoulder straps.

Of course, I would even wear the eight-inch black heels I found op shopping one day. He would wear a suit just as ‘out there – all white with gold details, to match me. This would be my night, and I would have someone by my side who saw me for who I was.

Then, the week before the big night, he dumped me. Then, he went back to his ex. I was heartbroken; another first. I went back to my best friend. My head hung in shame at having abandoned the ‘girl code’. She consoled me and stood beside me as I watched my ex saunter into the ball with his new (old?) girl on his arm.

As I escaped to the girls’ bathroom to cry my false lashes off, my best friend sat outside the stall, offering toilet paper to wipe the mascara streaks. She got me through that night, and many nights after.

The awkward thing is I didn’t want the pact. I wanted to have a boyfriend. I wanted a hot guy, one I liked, to ask me to the ball. I wanted what the girls around me had. I wanted to be one of them. 

My best friend wasn’t a closeted gay like me, but we were kindred spirits who shared the same lack of experience with guys and figured none would ask us to be their dates. The idea was to put ‘mates before dates’ from the very beginning, saving ourselves the heartache of desire and eventual disappointment. 

As much as I did adore this friendship, I desperately wanted the romance that swirled all around every day at school. Day in and day out, all the couples I saw were straight. There were a few (out of the closet) queer* girls in my year group, but they were in long-term relationships with straight guys.

I was so envious of them. They were open about who they were, without fear of ostracisation. Oh, and their ball pics were stellar. Don’t get it twisted, I hated nearly all the guys around me. Their locker room talk was arrogantly loud and vomit-inducing; it was clear they saw nothing wrong with slut shaming the girls they were into.

And yet, the peer pressure was pervasive. It whittled down the strong independent young woman I was to a damsel in need of a man. So when a guy finally made a move on me, I thought, ‘This is it! My time has come!’.

I was the epitome of going with the flow, doing everything my ex-boyfriend wanted. His friends had no clue we were together because I went out of my way to hide it from them. They were all just as cool and popular as him, and I was deathly afraid they would disapprove of me.

Sneaking out of school to see him became routine. My loved ones began to notice I wasn’t quite myself, and I got very good at lying through my teeth. I did everything he wanted because I was afraid of losing him and the privilege that came with being with a guy like him.

It took me a whole year after he left me to realise what was behind my intense desire to find and keep a boyfriend. It wasn’t just ball pics to post on Instagram or saucy stories I’d get to tell the girls – I wanted the safety that came with being a guy’s girlfriend.

Occasionally, I’ve wondered if teenage me have dated a girl (if I’d felt safe enough to do so). Maybe I would have matched outfits with her instead. I’ve wondered who I might’ve actually asked to be my date, had things been different. 

My high school’s policy required ‘same sex’ ball couples to be interviewed by the principal. Many of my friends went through similar interrogations at their schools, particularly boys-only high schools. 

Some of us didn’t take an actual ‘date’ to avoid this invasive and degrading situation. Instead, we went with our ‘friend group,’ escaping the interview where we’d be questioned. I remember staff saying they created this process to weed out people taking ‘same sex’ dates ‘as a joke’, but I never believed them.

Processes like this one stigmatise relationships that don’t fit the cisgender heterosexual norm. This practice of ‘boy girl’ events like school formals, balls and proms mean a whole group of people aren’t even being considered.

When the system is built with exclusion baked into it, it isn’t safe to dress as we please, bring our partners, or even let our hair down as the world expects us to at a teenage dance. 

These days, I know what real community looks like. I’ve been in queer-only spaces and even been invited to parties and balls just for us. Places where I feel safe to bring a partner of my choosing, where I can wear the clothes I want, and really be myself, are a part of my life now. 

Queer people carve out time and space to create an atmosphere of respect at events. We do this because we know the harm of spending your youth hiding or in constant danger just because you’re visibly and vocally yourself. Queer youth deserve to be affirmed and celebrated, and I can say for certain that my senior ball did neither of those. 

I wish I could’ve been the one sauntering into the ball, with my teenage dream on my arm. I wonder just how different this story would have been.

The Minus18 Queer Formal is returning to Melbourne on Saturday, July 2 for the first time since 2019. The sparkliest night of the year for LGBTQIA+ youth, Queer Formal is a life-affirming, identity-celebrating chance to make friends, connect to community and dance the night away. And this year, it’s all happening in the spectacular surroundings of the National Gallery of Victoria.

*This writer uses rainbow and queer interchangeably as umbrella terms that embrace any person whose sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or sex characteristics differs from the majority binary (female/male) norms. This includes lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, takatāpui, intersex, LGBTQIA+ and other culturally specific terms such as sistergirl, brotherboy and fa’afafine. They acknowledge that these terms might not work for everyone.

FJ readers can explore dozens of stories from the Converse queer community online at the Converse.Gallery and shop the brand’s Pride capsule collection here

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