Arts

What does it mean to be queer at the prom? This new film explores seven decades of answers

Take Me To Prom was a hit at Hot Docs, and now it's available for everyone to enjoy.

Take Me To Prom was a hit at Hot Docs, and now it's available for everyone to enjoy

The cast of Take Me To Prom. (CBC Docs)

In Andrew Moir's documentary Take Me To Prom, seven queer Canadians ranging in age from 17 to 88 take themselves — and us — back to their versions of a tradition once solely reserved for straight folks: the prom.

Among them, there's Marc, whose quest to attend the prom with his boyfriend became a national news story. There's Carmen, whose trauma from her prom inspired the beginning of her transition. There's Marcy, who ended up blowing off her prom to have a wild night of her own. And there's Caroline, who represents the complexities of being a queer teenager today.

Their intimate recollections essentially give us a timeline of an evolution in LGBTQ rights, as audiences at the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival learned when the film had its world premiere earlier this week. But lucky for anyone not able to attend the festival, Take Me To Prom is now online for everyone to enjoy thanks to the folks at CBC Docs. And to celebrate, we talked to four of its subjects — the aforementioned Marc, Carmen, Marcy and Caroline — about their experience making the film to supplement its online debut.

What made you want to participate in this project, and what was the experience like for you?

Marcy: I actually had no interest in the project because of the subject matter, but one of the other participants, Alphonso, gave Andrew my name and convinced me to at least meet him. In fact, the first words out of my mouth were, "To be honest, I think this is a waste of your time. I blew off my prom because the whole idea of it completely sucked to me." Strangely, this did not deter Andrew at all; in fact, it had the opposite effect. 45 minutes later, I had not only told him how I celebrated graduating high school, but also how I was being a hippie rebel, how Bowie freed my generation of sexual hangups, transsexuality, socialism, my work as a writer and how much I want to burn down everything that led us to where we are now, politically. What made me change my mind and want to participate in this project was Andrew. I could tell after our initial meeting that this was not going to be shallow fluff and that he was looking for individuals, not stereotypes.

Marc: I participated in this project because these stories are incredibly important to tell. Each story is unique and each person had to deal with their own significant challenges. It's important for a broader audience to understand these different lenses and challenges so that collectively we can move forward together. I really enjoyed being able to delve deep into the recollection of my prom story. Even though I've told my story many many times, I found myself getting emotional when I reflected on the pain I felt from being rejected and discriminated by my school board. I also got emotional remembering how the community came together to stand beside me.

Carmen: To be honest, when I first received the offer to participate in this project, I was a little hesitant. At that point in time, I wasn't in a place where I wanted to put myself on display, considering all the present day political and social issues affecting people like me. However, I came to an epiphany one day. While researching for a personal project on social media, I realized that there were hardly any trans women of colour self-representing. Here's a little context on what I mean by self-representing: too often, we see community influencers morphing themselves into what they think the public wants to see. In doing so, they lose the essence of who they are, and as a consequence they lose the ability to represent themselves under an authentic light. Upon this realization, I knew that I had to do something about it, as I recognized the negative consequences it can have on LGBTQ+ youths' self-esteem. And so, I agreed to participate in this project, wanting to showcase an authentic image of myself as a striving Black trans woman, despite the troubles and hardships that I face.

Caroline: Representation is so difficult for the LGBTQ+ community to get. It is especially difficult to get representation which shows us in a healthy, diverse, strong way. Too often in the media today, we aren't portrayed in the right way. This opportunity is so needed — I didn't have to think twice about taking it. We must all continue to work for equality, and I believe by doing this project, it will contribute to that goal. I also think it will reach out to a lot of people and youth who need this. When I was first coming out, if I saw something like this, it would really help. I know what it's like to be an LGBTQ+ youth today and I hope it will help anyone who is struggling to find acceptance from society and to accept themselves. This experience was everything I could have hoped for and more. It's given me such a drive to do more work in the community and to continue to represent the LGBTQ+ community and show we are good people just like anyone else.

Marc Hall. (CBC Docs)

What do you want people to take from your prom story?

Marc: I think the biggest thing to take away from my story is that whatever struggle you are going through, people will be there for you. I wouldn't have been able to deal with the media, the court case, the pressure and the bigotry I faced without family, friends and the incredible community support I received. I hope that listening to my story helps people understand that they should stand up for themselves in the face of discrimination, that people will love them for who they are and that they are never alone.

Caroline: There are definitely difficult parts to my coming out story and prom experience that I didn't talk about, but mine was so much more positive than others. I'm very lucky. What I want people to see through my experience is how full life can be when we respect others. I also want you to see society is becoming more accepting towards LGBTQ+ people and I want it to give hope. I want other LGBTQ+ youth to see this and find some strength from it. I hope it resonates with them. I also want to thank those in the LGBTQ+ community who came before me and fought for our rights — I hope the film shows them what they made possible.

Carmen: I want people to really understand that life truly is short. We don't have much time to worry about the things that cause us pain. Change the things that you have the power to change and keep going — and for those things you cannot change, learn to accept them and living with them will become easier day by day. In life, things rarely work out according to your plan, so you need to live in the moment and not in your plan. In the documentary, I essentially revisited the figure of my birth. It was a lot to deal with, especially now that I am further at peace with myself. I revisited the prom in my memory, where I was the belle of the ball — except my reality wasn't what other people saw. It wasn't their reality. People merely saw what their eyes allowed them to see: my previous figure. This created an interesting dichotomy within me. At the time, my male form represented a protector and safe haven for my inner true self, which eventually created a path for "Candy" to come forward. I am much happier now, as I am able to live my true self while also embracing my past at the same time. The takeaway is for you to draw strength from your past, as I have done. Your past will help and strengthen you if you allow it to.

Marcy Rogers. (Hot Docs)

What do you think is something LGBTQ youth are still facing today that we need to be paying more attention to and trying to help?

Marc: Although we have definitely moved forward and have seen a lot of progress, homophobia and bullying is still quite prevalent. We need to continue to advocate for programs such as gay-straight alliances at schools, which provide a safe space for youth to be themselves.

Marcy: There seems to be no laws in place that make it impossible to roll back on human rights. LGBTQ+ youth should be able to have the security of knowing that they are accepted, protected and valued with all the same rights and privilege as white men. In fact, we all should — but youth are particularly vulnerable, especially now, with the changes to the sex ed curriculum that have been forced on us, the constant turmoil involving trans rights and gay marriage that comes up every time we have an election and the insistence by the right that white supremacist groups and alt-right groups are not a threat and should have equal time on college campuses to spread their message.

Caroline: There are still so many prevalent issues for LGBTQ+ youth today that we must work on. However, the first one that comes to my mind is the lack of education. The education surrounding LGBTQ+ people and topics is not anywhere close to enough. A part of human rights is having the right to education. The education system excludes relevant topics about LGBTQ+ people. School curriculum like sexual education is curated towards heterosexuals. If we aren't educated to the same degree as heterosexual people in topics like this that are also relevant to us, I believe that right is taken from us. Lack of education prevents us from moving forward as a society and learning about LGBTQ+ people and learning to accept them. If you never acknowledge something, then it cannot be dealt with.

Carmen: The biggest issue that LGBTQ+ youths are facing today is the internalization of issues. A lot of issues that occur in our lives stem from our inability to manage and deal with problems. In many cases, we fail to process these problems properly, which leads to them becoming ongoing issues that dictate our lives. Of course, I also recognize that there are systemic issues, intergenerational traumas and intersectional plights that LGBTQ+ folks face, along with the lack of support from our families, our communities and our government — all pressing issues that must change. However, I believe that changes have to start within ourselves first. And I know that change is possible, as humans have an innate ability to self-heal and self-process in order to ensure our survival.

These interviews have been edited and condensed. 

Watch Take Me To Prom on CBC Gem.

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