Reflections of a Rock Lobsterby Aaron Fricke Aaron Fricke grew up in Cumberland, Rhode Island. In 1980, he made national headlines when a federal district court allowed him to bring a male date to his high school prom. In this passage from Reflections of a Rock Lobster: A Story about Growing Up Gay, Aaron explains why he decided to fight for the right to attend the prom with the date of his choice. In April, Mr. Lynch held the traditional pep talk to jolt the graduating class out of senioritis. Just as he had done the previous autumn, he referred to the “problem” that had existed at the 1979 prom. Naturally, the students exploded in enthusiasm. I wanted to stand up and scream, “I am gay and proud and will not be oppressed!” I was determined that Mr. Lynch would not go on forever stirring up this prejudice in the hearts of my fellow students. But for the time, discretion prevailed. Besides, I valued the use of my two legs. Everyone buzzed about the prom after M. Lynch’s speech. The girls planned to make or buy their gowns. Some guys reminisced about last year’s prom. But like always, I was left out of these discussions. Through all of my high school years I had been left out and I was tired of it. I wanted to be part of the group like all the other students. The simple, obvious thing would have been to go to the senior prom with a girl. But that would have been a lie—a lie to myself, to the girl, and to all the other students. What I wanted to do was take a male date. But as Paul had shown the year before, such honesty is not always easy. There was an important difference between Paul’s case and mine, though. Paul had not been able to fight for his rights because he was seventeen at the time. I was not eighteen and legally able to make my own decisions. If I wanted to go to the prom with a male escort and the school tried to stop me, I could take the case to court. But should I do that? This would require much thought if I was to make a decision without being selfish, uncaring or irrational. If I went to the prom with another guy, what would be the benefits? For myself, it would mean participating in an important social event and doing so with a clear conscience and a sense of wholeness. But how would it affect the rest of the people involved? I believe that those who had themselves faced discrimination or prejudice would immediately understand what I was doing and its implications for human rights. There would be others who may never have had direct experiences with prejudice but who would recognize my right to the date of my choice. These people may have been misled to believe that homosexuality is wrong, but they could still understand that my rights were being denied. At the opposite end of the spectrum were the homophobies who might react violently. But the example I set would be perfect for everyone. We would be just one more happy couple. Our happiness together would be something kids could relate to. I would be showing that my dignity and value as a human being were not affected by my sexual preference. I concluded that taking a guy to the prom would be a strong positive statement about the existence of gay people. Any opposition to my case (and I anticipated a good bit) would show that negative side of society—not just homosexuality. To attend the prom with a girl would not be unenjoyable but it would be dishonest to my true feelings. Besides, most kids now knew I was gay. If I went with a female, I would probably have received more taunts that from going with a male. By going with a male I would win some respect from the more mature students, and I would keep my self-esteem. I tried not to worry about the possibility of violence. Certainly I would face opposition. It was inevitable given the rampant prejudice against homosexuals today. But the threat of violence was not enough to chance my mind, since I encountered that every day to some degree. Perhaps such threats would diminish in the future as people saw more homosexuals participating openly in everyday life. My biggest concern was for my parents. Although the entire student body and the administration of Cumberland High School knew or assumed I was gay, my family had remained blissfully blind to this reality. The news could be heartbreaking to them. Plus, it might get them ostracized by the neighbors, banned from town social gatherings… from church… from Tupperware parties! Was I willing to take this risk? No! As much as I believed in my rights, I valued my relationship with my parents too much to have it abruptly severed. After all, for years I had hidden my sexuality for fear of losing my parents’ love. As a child it had been the most important thing to me. Now, as a man, it was just as important as before. I wanted to o to my prom, but it was not as important as eighteen years of love. I decided to tell my parents of my homosexuality first, then ask them how they would feel about my going to the prom. If it seemed like too much for them to accept, I would forget the prom and just be happy that I no longer had to be secretive with my parents. But if they rejected me merely because I was gay, then I would still pursue my rights, even at the prom, realizing that my parents were good people but were horribly misled. Until now, I had never spoken to them about my homosexuality. Like many adolescents I had drifted away from my parents lately. Now I had an impetus to improve my communication with them. I decided to approach my parents separately; a thousand times I rehearsed what I would say. It began, “Ever since I was a kid…” and ended, “I hope you love me enough not to reject me.” But when the moment of truth came I felt more self-confident and said, “I don’t know if you’ve had any suspicions, but I’m gay.” Long pause. My mother replied, “I’m so glad you were finally able to be honest with me.” She had long suspected. My father had not; when I told him he broke down and cried. Yet the both loved me unconditionally. When I explained why I wanted to go to the prom they were supportive. I was my own man, they each said, and I would have to make my own decisions. It felt great to be able to talk to my parents about this. Their reaction was encouraging and I decided to go ahead. I would invite Paul Guilbert to the prom. Anne Guillet wrote me a not in environmental science class when I asked for her advice about the prom. She wrote: Dear Aaron, Last year, Paul’s attempt to bring a guy to the prom was seen by most people, in fact I think by all, as a grab at publicity. That was because no one knew Paul, he just showed up out of a clear blue sky (and raised a ruckus). Since you’ve been in Cumberland much longer and have more close friends, people won’t suspect you of such ill motives so easily, but this is what they will think. 1. Paul made you do it. 2. You’re crazy. 3. You believe in gay rights. In that order. Now I know you did it for reason 3 but you should think about how other people are going to react and I think you should make an effort to explain what you believe. I respect any decision you make, as long as you really think about it carefully. Love, Anne I took her advice and painstakingly wrote a letter to the school newspaper, explaining why I decided to go to the prom with a male date. The letter said that I hoped no one would be hurt by what I was doing, that a victory in court would be a victory for every Cumberland High student because it would be a blot against prejudice. The next issue of the school paper had space for all sorts of trivia, but my letter never appeared. Later in April, the school theater group took its annual bus trip to New York City. Our teacher, Miss Frappier, was n exceptionally warm and friendly person and we were a tight-knit bunch—one of those rare groups of thespians whose members had no pentup distrust or jealousy toward each other. On the bus Miss Frappier gave out the spring awards; I received one of them, for an outstanding performance in A Thurber Carnival. In New York We went to the Guggenheim Museum and to a Broadway production of They’re Playing Our Song; then when the groups returned to Rhode Island, I stayed in New York to spend time with Paul. Paul seemed to be getting happier in the city. Our friendship had not faded although Paul and I had not seen each other for months. We took a long walk through the Village, bringing each other up to date on what we’d been doing, and enjoying the feeling of the trees in bloom and spring in the air. By evening I had settled any doubts I still had about who I wanted to invite to the prom. And so, with sweaty palms and butterflies in my stomach, I finally asked Paul: “I was wondering, um, do you have a date for the Cumberland High prom this year?” Paul began laughing. “I’d love to attend the senior prom with you,” he finally said. My feelings of happiness lasted all the way back to Rhode Island. […] When we arrived at the prom site, we were greeted with a glare of television lights. Flash bulbs were popping and everybody was talking and trying to ask questions as we walked toward the building. The reporters broke down the velvet ropes that were supposed to hold them back. I was too full of anticipation and excitement to think of anything to say. So a second before walking in the door, in a grand gesture of looniness, camp and high drama, I turned to the reporters, waved, and stuck out my tongue. Once inside, Mr. Lynch quickly ushered Paul and me away from the door, so the reporters would be unable to see us. We were shown to an empty table, which neither of us enjoyed because there were no kids to talk to. My ninth-grade Spanish teachers, Mrs. Noelte, eventually sat with us. Dinner was soon served. It was chicken cordon something or other, and consisted of mushed chick encased in oil. My piece looked like a monster from the film Alien. The salad looked better, but when I bit into the cherry tomato, it splattered right onto my pants. I did my best to ignore the stain but it kept showing up in the pictures people took. After dinner was cleared away, many students began coming by to offer us a few good words. There was more good feeling that I would ever have anticipated. One after another, students came by and expressed their happiness that we could share the prom with each other. Billy Marlen came up and said he was glad to see us both. Even Dave Beamer approached and softly said, “I’m glad you’re here.” Across the room, I noticed my old friend Bob Cote, accompanied by Bea Duvwalge. When Bob saw me he started to walk over, but Bea grabbed his arm and he went back to her. I wandered over to a big picture window and stared out. Several reporters were talking outside on the lawn. For a moment I thought of all the people who would have enjoyed going to their proms with the date of their choice, but were denied that right; of all the people in the past who wanted to live respectably with the person they loved but could not; of all the men and women who had been hurt or killed because they were gay; and of the rich history of lesbians and homosexual men that had so long been ignored. Gradually we were triumphing over ignorance. One day we would be free. The dance music came on. Kelleen Driskell came over and asked me to dance the first song with her. I was happy to accept. I’d known Kelleen in elementary school but I had drifted away from her, as from so many other people, during my fat years. We fast(?) danced for that song and just through our physical movements together, without exchanging words, it felt as if we were re-establishing a communication. After that dance I had to use the bathroom. Throughout the evening, Paul and I would see all kinds of defense mechanisms from the other guys whenever we went to the bathroom. Some of them made a beeline for the door as soon as we walked in. Others stayed, their desire to escape temporarily overcome by their curiosity about how gay people go to the bathroom. When I got back to the dance floor, Paul asked me if I wanted to slow dance. I did. The next song was Bob Seger’s “We’ve Got the Night,” and we stepped out onto the dance floor. The crown receded. As I laid my head on Paul’s shoulder, I saw a few students start to stare at us. I closed my eyes and listened to the music, my thoughts wandering over the events of that evening. When the song ended, I opened my eyes. A large crowd of students had formed a ring around us. Probably most of them had never before seen two happy men embracing in a slow dance. For a moment I was uncomfortable. Then I heard the sound that I knew so well as a B-52’s fan. One of my favorite songs was coming up: “Rock Lobster.” Paul and I began dancing freestyle. Everyone else was still staring at us, but by the end of the first stanza, several couples had also begun dancing. The song had a contagious enthusiasm to it, and with each bar, more dancers came onto the floor. I clanked over at the tables. Bob Cote was sitting with Bea Duvwalge, who was finishing off her chicken cordon-whatever. Bob was eyeing the dancing students and bouncing his leg with an obvious urge to join. He stood up and tugged at Bea’s arm to come with him; she pulled him back and he sat down again with a look of disappointment. More students were coming onto the floor to dance. I doubt that any two people were dancing with the same movements: the dancing was an expression of our individuality, and no one felt bad about being different. Everyone was free to be themselves. A quarter of the way into the song, thirty people were on the dance floor. I looked at Bob and Bea again. Bea seemed to be wondering what the rock lobster was. “Down, Down, Down,” commanded the lyrics. Everyone on the dance floor sank to their knees and crouched on the ground. I lifted my head slightly to look around. Dozens of intertwining bodies crouched on their knees as if praying. We were all one; we shared a unity of pure love. And those who did not want to share it, such as Bea Duvwalge, sat no the sidelines. Bea was now arguing with Bob. Red snappers snappin’ Clamsbells clappin’ Everyone jumped to the feet again and resumed dancing. Many more kids had joined us and there must have been sixty or eighty people on the dance floor now. As Paul and I danced, we had gradually drifted from our original space on the floor. We were now near the table where Bob and Bea sat. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Bea suddenly stand up and grab a napkin. It looked like a glass of water had spilled on her. She dabbed at her gown. “Down, Down, Down,” cried the B-52’s again, and we all went down. The feeling of unity among us permeated the air again. When we came up I heard Bea yelling at Bob, then she stormed off toward the bathroom. Now there were at least a hundred people on the dance floor. The tempo became more frenetic and everyone danced faster. “Let’s Rock!!!” bellowed from the speakers, and to my surprise, when I looked up I saw that Paul had disappeared. In his place was Bob Cote. I looked around; several other guys were dancing with each other, and girls were dancing with girls. Everybody was rockin’, everybody was fruggin’. Who cared why? Maybe they were doing it to mock me and Paul, maybe they were doing it because they wanted to, maybe one was an excuse for the other… I didn’t know and I didn’t care. It was fun. Everyone was together. Eventually Bob and I drifted away. I danced with girls, I danced with guys, I danced with the entire group. Then the music stopped. “Rock Lobster” had an abrupt ending, and no one was quite ready for it to stop. I had been having so much fun that I lost track of time; I had also lost track of Paul, and had to look around the room for him. I could see that everyone felt a sense of disorientation. For six minutes and forty-nine seconds, the students on the dance floor had forgotten about their defenses, forgotten about their shells. We just had fun. (c) This exerpt had been reprinted by the University of Cincinnati with permission and is again copied here.