I spent that weekend getting to know my Wacom better than I had probably ever gotten to know any human being in my entire life. I finished off the rest of the pages in my sketchbook and scanned them all onto Krita using my Wacom. Then I tossed that aside and just drew on the tablet itself, practicing and eventually mastering my preciseness on a blank drawing pad in a matter of 36 hours. By the time I was done, I had about a dozen digitally-approved sketches saved and stored; about half of those I felt were of acceptable quality to post to the internet.
That Sunday night, I posted three of them to Newgrounds; I chose Newgrounds because it seemed like the most likely I was going to attract actual, concrete feedback. The three I chose were all pose sets I made of the same character: an athletic lesbian deer who wore a ton of bracelets. They weren’t anything to pop open a cold one over; they were simple monocolour sketches that weren’t even particularly polished. But they were something.
Within an hour of posting them, I got a comment from a total stranger who said, “eyyy these are really hot man, keep it up”.
And just like that, I was officially a hentai artist.
I woke up on Monday morning with a looming sense of serenity. I had no idea why, but I inexplicably felt almost entirely at peace. I couldn’t remember the last time I had felt anything like this. It was almost frightening. Which I suppose cancelled out the whole feeling itself.
This brand-new contradiction I found myself emerged in was more than I could be bothered to waste my time contemplating. I conducted all my morning rituals as everyone else was in the house was still struggling to wake, and I headed outside for the bus before saying good morning to anyone; just as I had been doing every day since the beginning of the school year.
The contradiction I felt inside me was immediately dashed – along with all other feelings of security or settled pondering – when I opened my locker and my eyes glazed directly at the pride prom pamphlet that I had been given early last month. And that’s when it hit me: the pride prom was just three days away. I had hardly given the whole thing a single thought for basically a month; I had barely even used my camera in that timespan.
I checked my camera; I had recorded so much since last year that I had less than five minutes of storage space left. I was able to take some solace in knowing I had a Dropbox account I could just throw most of my videos into, but it nonetheless startled me into realising how critically unprepared I was to produce this pseudo-documentary I had inadvertently promised. I figured the best place to start would be Mrs. Tia’s office, since that was the place all the posters were saying going to for ‘more information’ about the prom.
I tracked down her office in a far-end corner of the second floor, tucked away between two science rooms, as if it was supposed to be a closet connecting them both. I knocked rather timidly on the door, and within all but two seconds there she was; a six-foot-tall, skinny old woman with long, curly grey hair and a jarringly innocent face, standing in front of me like a boss in a video game. “Yes, can I help you?” she asked.
“Um... yeah,” I uttered pathetically. “So... I’m not sure if you know this but, I was talking to some of the people on the pride prom committee, and we agreed that I could go in and just, film some stuff at the event, as a sort of documentary to put out about it.”
“Sorry, could you say that again?”
This was going to take a while. “I am going to make a documentary about the pride prom here.”
Her eyebrows perked up, making her look like some kind of benevolent witch. “Oh yes! I think Cassandra told me about you. Please, come in!” She gestured me in just like any sweet old lady would, so I felt a moral obligation to follow suit.
Entering her small little office was like entering a pinkwashed Vatican City. There was a huge flag on the wall on the other side of the room, which I immediately saw upon walking in; it was the Philadelphia pride flag, with the black and brown lines, as well as the two-spirit symbol of a black-and-white pair of feathers slapped in the middle. Behind her desk and chair was a huge shelf; it was covered in books, animal sculptures presumably created by students, and an issue of the National Geographic. It was an issue that showed an image of a giant iceberg with the words PLANET OR PLASTIC? layered on top. In one of her mugs on the desk, she had a mini-Green Party flag sticking out. This Mrs. Tia instantly reminded me of my own grandmother, the way she was able to stand out amongst her generation by fully embracing the wokeness of my own.
I bit my tongue, though, and sat down on the chair she pushed out for me, which was I just able to fit into in this barely six-foot-wide room. She sat down at her own swivel chair behind her desk and went over to her computer as she said, “So what exactly did you have in mind for all of this?”
She went ahead typing away at something – something I had presumably interrupted her for – so I had to think quickly. “Just thought I would go around, filming things that happen, interviewing attendees... just capturing the significance of it all.”
She swiveled away from her computer and looked right at me, neatly folding her hands on the table as she did. She said, in a sort of matter-of-fact way, “You know... I just think it’s really amazing that someone like you is taking such an initiative like this!”
“Oh yeah? Well, thank you.”
“Seriously, I mean it. This is something that we’ve actually been wanting to do for well over a year now; there’s been some school districts in Toronto doing this for some time now and we’ve really been wanting to bring it out here, if you know what I mean.” She chuckled.
“I think I know what you mean. Like, you wouldn’t think of this place as being the kind of place to host a pride prom.”
“Yeah, yeah,” she said in a lower voice. “But I mean, we are truly surprised by how enthusiastic people have been to see this come to life! This is something we’re doing with all the other high schools that are part of Martha Lakes of course, and they were all immediately onboard with it when we were running it through with them! Every school now has their own little pride prom committee set up, working with each other to organise the whole thing. The unions support it too... it’s just really awesome that something like this is finally coming to life, and so easily too, right?”
“So yeah, like, it’s really great that you want to take this initiative to just, capture it all... capture the significance of it all, as you said. That’s just really thoughtful of you to do.”
“I’m glad you appreciate it so much. I’m looking forward to being there myself.”
“Awesome! So, like, is there anything you need from us to help you out? Do you have any sort of game plan or something?”
We decided together on what my game plan would be: the pride prom was going to be hosted primarily in the gym of our school, so around 7:30pm I would head inside just as the event would start to take off. Since I didn’t have an actual video camera, I would simply bring my smartphone in (a Samsung A20 so the camera was pretty good). I would be dressed in the same yellow sweatshirt and black pants I had worn at the Christmas talent show, so everyone could know who I was and what I was doing.
I had to tell Vicki about my new career as a documentarian later that day; not in drama class because I arrived too late to talk to her, but I managed to catch up with her and she was going off to lunch. I marched up to her on her right with an awkward utterance of “Hey,” But she replied “Hey!” back and we went off to the cafeteria together.
It was actually a little bizarre to actually be going to lunch with someone; even when I was with the Art Kids, I always tracked down the group myself instead of heading to lunch with them. But I was actually walking alongside someone this time, intentionally, as if they were my friend. Was Vicki really my friend at this point? I’ve called people I’m less acquainted with than this ‘friends’, but this just didn’t feel right. The person that Vicki was, compared to me, made it feel as if she wasn’t even a proper acquaintance. She was something else; almost like some kind of samaritan. I wasn’t sure yet if she was a good or bad one, though.
But I pressed on as if it was nothing, or at least I tried my best to. “So, I have something pretty cool to tell you.”
“Oh yeah? What is it?” she asked, in a tone that clearly showed she was giving me her full attention. So surreal.
“I’m making a documentary,” I answered, as we were getting line for food at the cafeteria. I instinctively padded my jean pockets for my wallet, and by the grace of God, I actually had it with me this time.
“Ooh really? What kind of documentary?”
“You know how they’re doing a pride prom here in like three days?”
“Yeah, I’ve heard.”
“So, I’m gonna go in there and just, record everything that happens in it basically. Make a little mini-documentary based on what I see.”
“Damn, really? That sounds awesome!” Vicki looked directly at me as she spoke with such excitement, and that’s when I realised how much taller I was there than her. It had always looked as if she was around my height, and her outspoken personality probably contributed to the notion of her ‘bigness’. But now I was seeing that this girl was at least three quarters of a head shorter than me. It was ironically rather intimidating.
“Yeah, it’s gonna be pretty cool, I think. Even if nothing comes of it, it’ll at least be an interesting experience I guess.”
“Yeah totally! It’s just really cool that you have a school doing something like this. Never did anything like this at my old school, anyway.”
“That doesn’t surprise me,” I said, looking at the selection of pizzas stacked on little mini-stories on top of each other in an enclosed container. “This honestly seems like a pretty extreme thing they’re doing.” Pepperoni at the top, cheese in the middle, mushroom at the bottom.
“What do you mean?” Vicki inquired somewhat interrogatively, scanning the rows of sandwiches behind me. “I think it’s a really good thing that they’re doing this.”
“I think it’s cool too, that’s why I’m doing it. But I also think it’s pretty out there too.” That was a lie. I didn’t really think it was that cool at all. The real reason I was doing this was that I was hoping that making a ‘documentary’ would put me on some kind of map or radar. What this map or radar would be, I had no clue. Maybe it could go on my resume, even though I made no mention on it of wanting to do film. Honestly, even if there wasn’t really a chance of anything of that happening, I would still probably do it anyway, just as an experience I could say I had. I was sixteen years old, and I was starting to realise that I needed to do things with my life.
I looked up and saw one of the cooks staring at me, waiting for me to make a decision. I gestured to the cheese pizza, two slices.
Vicki, meanwhile, had selected what looked like a ham and cheese at the behest of another cook. “What do you mean it’s ‘out there’?”
“I dunno, just seems a bit much to be doing a full-on prom just for gay and trans people. But it’ll be interesting to see if they can make it go well, though. That’s why I want to cover it.”
“’Cover it’. I love that.”
“You get what I mean.”
We moved up in line, and that’s when I saw some Mars Bars in a confectionary stand across from us, sandwiched between two large guys dressed up in lacrosse outfits. I didn’t know why they were sporting such a look because Saint Frederick didn’t even have a lacrosse team. I reached out and stuck my arm between the two of them grab the Mars Bars, and they didn’t even move to give me more space. They were just chatting away about one of their girlfriends, completely unaware of my very existence.
“Want a Mars Bar?” I asked to Vicki, holding them out.
“Sure,” she said, plucking one of them from me. “I’ll pay for it though, don’t worry about it.”
I was about to protest, but then I remembered that this girl was a bisexual feminist who probably felt too insulted to accept gifts from a man, so I let it slide.
It wasn’t until we both got and paid for our food and walked into the cafeteria that we started talking again.
“I do get what you mean,” she said, as we sat down against the wall next to the kitchen, not really having anywhere else to go. “But I do think that it really is important that stuff like this is happening. And, to be honest, we as a community have suffered so much discrimination over the years, that we kind of deserve a little special treatment this time around.”
“Do you not think that will just make people resent you more?”
“Yeah, fuck that. I’m tired of people saying we just need to ‘act normal’ and bow down to people who don’t give a shit about our struggles. That’s not how fighting against oppression has ever worked. And we are still oppressed, by both society and the law. It’s better in some places, but in most of places of the world we’re still not equal at all. So yeah, it’s nice to take that privilege they have and turn it on their heads a little bit from time to time.” She took a huge bite of about a third of her sandwich to accompany the smooth burn she must have thought she dropped.
“I guess I see what you’re saying,” I replied untruthfully, taking small, incremental bites of my pizza by contrast. “But here in Canada and stuff, I’d say we’re pretty much already there in terms of equality. Maybe that’s what this whole pride prom thing is supposed to signify, I guess. Maybe it’s different in Louisiana.”
“Ever heard of no homo promo laws?”
“Doesn’t sound too promising. What are they?”
“They’re laws saying that you can’t teach LGBT issues in school. Louisiana has them and a bunch of other states have them too. Never learned anything about LGBT rights in any school I went to.”
“Oh. Well, I’m sure most people would have still moved on from being homophobic or whatever. It’s 2019, right?”
“Not really. I got called a slut and a whore quite a lot in high school after I came out as bisexual. It was pretty tough.”
I had no idea what to say to that. At first, I thought she was just lying to get a rise out of me, but why would she do that? I had heard plenty of absurd stories from Americans online about how supposedly evil and bigoted their country was, and of course I could never verify that any of them weren’t just trolls or idiots being overly dramatic. But why would Vicki choose to stretch the truth to me now? She didn’t seem like the type of person who would purposefully distort reality just to make a point. I still didn’t agree with most of her politics, but this was now a personal issue for her. How do you even ‘come out’ to an entire school at once? Maybe that was just her finding it difficult to accurately recount a painful experience? I couldn’t know.
I still knew nothing about Central, Louisiana, other than it was indeed quite small; just around 26,000 residents according to Wikipedia.
I watched her continue to practically inhale her sandwich. I wasn’t sure if she ate that way out of nerves or what, but it made me really uncomfortable. I resorted to very slowly nibbling at my own pizza as a means of coping, but I couldn’t take the silence for much longer. “And... this was in Central?”
“Yes. It was in Central.”
“I’m sorry that happened to you.”
“It’s okay. But I didn’t say that to make you feel bad, I’m just saying what’s true.”
“Right. Is that part of why you moved here? To get away from that?”
She looked at me with that same ‘this sure does suck’ smile she gave me in drama class. “My parents don’t even know I’m bisexual, dude.”
“What about the way you dress? Do they approve of that?”
“Well, they’re not big on it, but they can’t control me that hard. I’m still my own person, and they gotta live with that.”
I nodded my head. “So, like, is this something you just adopted when you came here, or have you always been this punk rebel type?”
She laughed at the ‘punk rebel’ line. “Yeah, I’ve been this way for a while dude. I’ll admit, though, coming here has definitely took a lot of the edge out of it.”
I promptly snickered. “I’m sure it does. We’re in middle-of-the-road Ontario basically, and people like you are still a dime a dozen.”
“Guess that’s Canadians for you, isn’t it? You guys are just a lot better in general about things than most Americans are, at least in my opinion!”
This version of reality is one that every person living in Canada has undoubtedly been forced to listen to at some point in their lives. It goes like this: we’re better than America, because we’re more tolerant, safer, cleaner, richer, more diverse, and just more polite and nicer than the inhabitants of the big old bully down south. It would be no exaggeration to say that most of our national identity comes from being supposedly ‘better’ than the United States. Most Americans seemed to buy into it as well.
I never really believed it myself, simply because the observations I often made of my native society did not reflect it remotely. I always found that Canadians were just as racist towards aboriginal people as Americans were to black people, both socially and systemically; we had plenty of unsafe cities just as Americans did, especially out west in the Prairies and British Columbia; the opioid crisis had hit us just as hard; Americans had Kensington Avenue, while we had the Downtown Eastside. And it wasn’t like the United States wasn’t just as racially and socially diverse as we were. Americans were also, in fact, actually wealthier than us on average. Most of my favourite television shows growing up were American, simply because they were better and more abundant than Canadian shows. And I had met plenty of not nice, extremely rude Canadians who didn’t give a single shit about you or your feelings, just as I’m sure there were enough Americans who were the same.
All in all, I was never able to understand who exactly was being fooled by this nationalist conspiracy of ours. But I wasn’t about to spoil Vicki’s moment. “I guess you are kind of right. Canadians are just more chill, I would say.” That was the best word I could come up with that wasn’t either too conceding or too defiant. Chill.
“Yeah, exactly. You guys are just more chill about stuff over here. Like, I can just be myself and nobody gives a shit, it’s great.” She seemed to have no idea that California existed.
“Yep, that’s us,” I replied.
That made her giggle.
We fell into silence after that. It allowed me to get a good look of her hair again; there was barely any dye in it now, almost all-natural colour. And the lightness of her natural brown wasn’t so light anymore; it was a bright, pure brown. Not dark enough to be considered brunette, but it was certainly brown. I had never seen someone with such an unusual colouring before.
In that moment, I wanted to tell her that she had really pretty hair. But I didn’t dare actually do it. We still didn’t really know each other that well; she certainly knew next to nothing about me. Why she had even let me eat away at so much of her time these past few weeks, I could not answer. But I definitely would have dashed it all if I made a comment like that, to this girl I still, really, barely knew. Besides, what if she thought I was trying to be some kind of nice guy? What if she thought I was an incel? She already knew about my not-so-woke politics, so she certainly had a pre-emptive to jump to that conclusion. It was simply not worth the risk.
And so, we kept eating in silence. And I kept looking back at her bright brown hair. And it made me realise how little I deserved to be there, to be in any of this.
It was 7:30pm, 6 June. Saint Frederick’s gymnasium is located in the secondary building – reserved mainly for the tech rooms, as well as the lower grades – behind the main building. There’s a large hallway connecting it to the foyer, with the school office on one side and the entrance to a stairwell on the other. Once you reach the end of the hall, you have the grade seven and eight classes to the left side, and a long corridor of lockers and tech classes to the right. Way at the end of the hall, you took a right for about ten paces before approaching a large set of wooden doors that look like the entrance to an auditorium. But it’s only the gym. It is quite large, though, so the pretentious doors are at least mildly understandable.
With my phone camera ready, I pushed open the doors, and immediately it felt as if I was stepping into a vaporwave video. Everything around me was a thick shade of lavender, with little yellow dots circling the walls from a disco ball. It didn’t take me long to figure out what that was supposed to signify, but it took probably a full minute for my eyes to adjust to it. A whole minute of footage to cut out. Once I actually got used to being in this alternate dimension, I did a little establishing shot of this room that I found myself standing in.
Right in front of me was this long drink and snack stand, going from one side of the room where I was, all the way to the end of the other. I walked down it with my camera panning, and it was mostly your standard refreshment and potluck tidbits – punch, cheese, muffins, pizza slices, pringles, gummy fish – as well as a carton of popsicles and cupcakes coated in rainbow.
I took out one of the popsicles and bit into it; it was grape flavoured. There was what looked a gay male couple at the end of the stand, eating two pride-coloured popsicles themselves, with their free arms wrapped around each other. One of them was dressed in a traditional black tuxedo, the other one had a white suit with a bowtie. I went up to them with my camera and asked them what their flavours were. Tuxedo man had an orange, bowtie guy got a peach.
“So, are you just like, documenting this whole thing or somethin’?” tuxedo man asked, pulling his bowtie-sporting boyfriend closer into him.
“Yep, that’s exactly what I’m doing,” I replied.
“That’s pretty awesome, man. Hope it goes well!”
I turned up towards the wall right behind the refreshment stand, scanning the two bathrooms on either side of the room. The one on the far side would be for girls, the one closer to the doors being for boys. But this time, both gender labels were crossed out, with a little heading underneath them both reading, Gender-neutral bathroom!! Between the two bathrooms – quite a fair distance – hung up a huge pride flag that looked just like the one in Mrs. Tia’s office: it was the Philidelphia version, along with the two-spirit symbol in the middle.
There were also two large posters on either side of the side. On the left side was essentially an enlarged version of the posters I had seen around school for the prom: it was a series of seven human silhouettes, going from red to violent, from left to right, all jumping up and reaching for this big rainbow-coloured splatter of paint above them. The caption normally said PRIDE PROM IS COMING! But this time it said PRIDE PROM IS HERE! Below that was an even smaller caption reading: Tonight, we welcome all LGBTQ+ students from the MLDSB to Saint Frederick C.V.I., for our district’s first annual pride prom! Follow us for more information @mldsbpride.
The poster on the right side, meanwhile, was a large, plain white piece of paper listing out all the schools present for this little occasion:
We welcome our LGBTQ+ graduates from the following schools:
Saint Frederick C.V.I.
Madison High School
Allison Field Montessori School
Elliot High School
King Geroge Preparatory School
This was a bit flabbergasting, because I had no idea how they thought they could house so many students in a small little gym like this. I glanced around the room to get a look at it all; it was fairly crowded. But then I saw a couple openings down near the end of the gym that spilled out with people into the yard, and that’s how I figured out where the majority of students actually were.
I can’t remember much else about what I did inside the gym, but it probably wasn’t anything significant because the Saint Frederick gym isn’t exactly big so they wouldn’t have been able to fit much inside it. But I would in fact be lying if I said I remembered much of what any of it looked like at all, even outside. I must have gone over it at least a little bit when I was editing it all together the days after, but I have not taken a single look at any of it since. I simply cannot do it. It’s too much.
What I do remember is that eventually I did end up in the schoolyard outside, talking to this lesbian student from Allison Field. She was at the prom with her girlfriend, but her girlfriend was in the bathroom at the time. She saw me with my camera and asked what I was up to, and that I looked pretty young for being here. I explained to her that I was still in grade ten and that I was making a documentary about the pride prom. She seemed to really like that, leading to an impromptu interview with her.
I had never conducted an interview before, so I decided to simply be as straightforward with my questions as possible. “So, what’s your name?”
“I’m Rosiland!” she replied, waving at the camera.
Rosiland was a tall brunette – taller than me – with bangy hair that ran down to her shoulders, and sounded almost Jewish in her voice. She had quite the athletic build, and was wearing a blue dress with shoulders straps that looked pretty enough.
“Hey Rosiland. You’re here with your girlfriend tonight, right?”
“Yes, I am! She’s in the bathroom, though.”
“How do you feel about this whole pride prom thing?”
“I think it’s about damn time that something like this is happening.”
“Well,” I asked, “how do you feel about people who might say this is too much? That demanding your own exclusive LGBT prom is just being divisive?” I had prepared to ask people this question, but when I actually did, I still sounded way less confident that I had hoped.
“I don’t think they have any idea what we’ve had to deal with all our lives. I just want a safe place to be with my girlfriend, and to be able to hold her hand and kiss her without getting attacked for it!”
“Slightly personal question. Is your girlfriend trans, or cis, or what’s the deal?” It was at this point that I realised I had gone too far.
“No. She’s cisgender, just like me.”
But I kept pushing it. “Are trans people valid to you?”
“Of course, they are! And I’m really sick of how other gay and bisexual people try to push them away. I mean, okay, some transgender people are overzealous and trying to erase us, but I’m pretty sure the majority of them are not like that at all! I’m not really attracted to them, but they are absolutely valid in every way. The science shows it and all that.”
“Have you ever been attacked for holding hands with your girlfriend?”
“No. But it could always happen! You never know.”
Coincidentally, Rosiland’s girlfriend came back right as she wrapped her final words, and Rosiland told her all about what I was doing. Rosiland’s girlfriend was named Chloe, and she looked just like Rosiland except she was blonde and even taller, and had a black version of the same dress on. She walked up to me and played with my hair a bit, the way an older brother would.
“How long have you guys been together?” I asked, panning the camera on them as they wrapped their arms around each other.
“About two years now!” Rosiland said.
“Got any other friends out here tonight?”
“We do! Wanna see them?”
“Let’s do it. Let’s see our lavender people from Allison Field.”
We went out to the football field, which was situated on this large grassy plain elevated above the sidewalk to the right, with a steep hill and landing separating the two. There is an extensive row of trees planted right at the base of the hill, from the school all the way to the neighbourhood past the football field, creating something of an extra border between the field and the street below. You could look at it from up on the field and think you’re at the top of one of British Columbia’s Coastal Mountains.
The trees are right at the middle point of the hill, so there is still a good deal of room to sit at the edge of the field. We made it to about the halfway point, and that’s where we tracked down Rosiland’s group. There were about five or six of them, all huddled around each other.