In a staggering generational shift, at least 20 percent of millennials identify as LGBTQ+, according to a 2017 survey published by GLAAD. With this demographic shift, inclusion has grown increasingly imperative in all areas—perhaps most visibly on college campuses.
To this end, Geneseo Pride Alliance and Geneseo Late Knight collaborate on an annual “Second Chance Prom” event which boasts acceptance and celebration of all identities. The 2018 event took place in the MacVittie College Union ballroom on Saturday Oct. 13.
Although a laudable aim, the marketing of this event as a “second chance” at an adolescent milestone raises issues for students who may otherwise love to participate in an inclusive celebration. Through this framing, Pride and GLK obscure the greatness and beauty of a deliberately inclusive dance.
From the perspective of a gay student, it can be particularly frustrating to see something so well intentioned not live up to its full potential.
Branding itself as another prom, the event promises attendees not just a night of fun, but—more consequently—an opportunity to relitigate a quintessential high school experience. In granting a “do-over,” this prom encourages queer and trans Geneseo students to engage in a revisionist history rather than celebrating their true lived narratives.
At a self-described “Second Chance Prom,” participants cannot have the option to make peace with disappointing past experiences. Instead, the event perpetuates a perfectionist mindset that feeds regret and discontent.
Furthermore, by co-opting the language of high school, this event boosts the idea that gender and sexual minorities should not see adolescence as a closed chapter—on the contrary, it says that we must continually fixate on the past.
This event’s branding, moreover, promotes a state of arrested development among the non-straight, non-cisgender campus population. As our peers advance into formals and date parties, we persist in prom purgatory; we theoretically cannot progress until we achieve some objective, ideal experience.
Second Chance Prom’s branding issues extend far beyond its association with an inexperienced approach to people within the LGBTQ+ community. By the very nature of offering a “second chance,” this event assumes a failed first chance—a “failed” prom experience.
The event promises an opportunity to “dress how you want, bring who you want and BE who you want,” according to the GLK website.
Especially when combined with the notion of a failed first chance, such language can intensely shame and stigmatize queer and trans folks who have yet to come out. Indeed, the foundational premise of Second Chance Prom conflates closetedness and inauthenticity.
In its branding, Second Chance Prom implicitly invites anyone who could not visibly live out their ideal LGBTQ+ prom experience. The idea of needing a so-called Second Chance Prom can invalidate the identity of closeted folks, suggesting that they had not actualized their true selves at their first proms.
For many reasons, queer and trans students might maintain the privacy of their identities, even after arriving at college.
To boast the need for “second chance”—or, more accurately,“out”—proms thereby shames closeted folks by perpetuating the inauthenticity of all their experiences before they came out. Associating failed “first chances” with closetedness hampers inclusivity within the LGBTQ+ community.
Surely, some might contend that while they don’t necessarily need a second chance at prom, they appreciate the opportunity to course-correct a potentially bad experience.
To that point, such students might benefit from realizing the expansion of possibilities for self-expression and entertainment that come with college. It is still possible to validate the negative emotions associated with bygone events and simultaneously free yourself from the self-loathing that accompanies these foregone experiences.
Of course, the very existence of a Second Chance Prom provides progress toward acceptance that no one should take for granted. In its branding, however, the event reveals its blind spots and opportunities to improve its inclusivity. While the substance of the event bears no fault, perhaps it could reappear next fall under a name like “Inclusivity Ball.”