For high schoolers who don’t fit into the traditional gender binary, prom can be a painful and sometimes traumatizing experience. Some students are told they can’t wear the clothes they want or bring the date they’re attracted to. Others are just told they should stay home because they don’t belong.
But if prom is supposed to be a celebration of personal achievement and new beginnings, why should any student be made to feel like they can’t attend?
Embracing who you are and knowing your truth is an act of bravery - especially for kids who don’t fit in with the often narrow gender norms of high school. We firmly believe prom is for everyone, which is why MTV News asked 12 young adults with diverse gender identities to help us create a series of looks that celebrates the fashion and true joy that’s possible when no one is excluded.
Our hope is to spread a message about compassion and inclusion that can be heard from the streets of Lebanon, Ohio, to the gymnasiums of Charlotte, North Carolina: No one deserves to be told what to wear to the party.
"Participating in this prom is a way of reclaiming my prom night, and showing the world who I really am."
"As someone who is very much in between, prom was difficult for me." Jacob told MTV News. "I didn’t know how I could express myself in a way that could make me feel both safe and happy, so I just ended up wearing a tux.
But today I'm wearing my grandmother’s vintage clip-on earrings, because I always try to bring a little bit of my heritage and my family with me. She was a fabulous woman and had a lot of really sparkly, chunky earrings — I like to think that she's smiling down on me every time that I wear them."
— Jacob Tobia, Writer and Activist
"I want 17-year-old me to be proud of 25 year-old me. I want them to know I didn't let them down."
"I never really thought much about my prom experience until I was asked to come in and do this," Alex told MTV News. "It brought back a lot of feelings about how I was coming to terms with my gender identity.
I felt so happy in my suit at prom, but I didn't have all of the pieces. Today, I do. I look in the mirror and see the reflection I needed eight years ago, and have worked so hard to obtain. Having a bad high school experience shouldn't be a rite of passage for queer youth."
— Alex Yates, Teacher
"Schools can make prom easier and more inclusive by allowing students to come as they are, and not what they think they should be."
"I wanted to participate in this prom to re-inspire the many young people out in the world who feel disempowered. This prom is for the girl in Brooklyn no one turns an eye for every time she is faced with violence. It is for girls like me that do not see themselves reflected in the world, facing the struggle of living in a world where you are hunted. I'm participating to finally have the chance to take my own prom pictures, with my husband! How cool is that?"
— Olympia Perez, Educator and Content Director of Black Trans Media
"I never attended my own High School prom and felt this was a powerful way to celebrate my journey as an LGBT youth into adulthood, as well as celebrate that now I've found the love of my life, and we're both black trans everything."
— Sasha Alexander Perez, Founder of Black Trans Media
"Your needs and desires are valid, and you have the right to be exactly who you are."
"Visibility and representation is incredibly important to me, as I didn’t see myself represented anywhere growing up," Tyler told MTV News. "I had no role models who looked like me, and therefore, I didn’t really know that it was possible to become the person I am today, nor did I realize that anyone else even remotely felt like I did.
I want to be out and to be visible so that queer and trans youth can see a reflection of themselves in the media. I’m also incredibly cute and love having my picture taken!"
— Tyler Ford, Writer
"The prom of my dreams would have to be just a really big party with great music, great people, and great outfits."
"Schools should allow the students to wear what they want to prom and allow the student to be themselves on a night that they are supposed to enjoy."
— Jay Lampkin, Student
"I don't think I've ever really felt like a girl, but that's not to say I've ever felt like a boy either. Why choose a side, when I can have the whole beautiful, rainbow mess?!"
"High school wasn't defined by prom. Rather, it was defined by those rare gems of friendship who were able to truly see who I was and gently encourage me to embrace that person in my own time and space. Most of those people are still my friends, and some of the first people I shared my sexual orientation and gender identity with. The people defined high school, not prom."
— Renee Reopell, Social Worker
"I wanted to participate in this project to imagine a different possibility for myself."
"I get most of my stuff from thrift stores in random places across the country," Alok told MTV News. "A lot of it comes from old grandmas and grandpas and I have a lot of fun fusing styles, genders, aesthetics, prints, and patterns. Dressing like this – not having to adhere to any norms – gives me peace and confidence. I like not being pinned down."
— Alok Vaid-Menon, Artist
"It's important for young people to see examples of LGBT and gender non-conforming folks having fun and showing love to one another."
"I would love for schools all across the country to allow students to come to prom in whatever makes them feel good and with the date of their choosing. Prom should be for all high schoolers.
— Tiq Milan, Writer
"You are in good company with lots of wildly diverse and creative people who couldn't find their place at prom either. There is nothing wrong with waiting until you meet the person you feel amazing with and turn a special evening into the prom you never had."
— Kim Milan, Writer
"I wanted to participate in this prom to offer a glorious and fabulous version of what prom could be and look like for gender non-conforming folks."
"I want to tell kids that you are the life of the party! Always remember that. There is no party without you!
If your school decides to fashion prom in ways that exclude you or any of your friends, start your own prom where you’ll have the freedom to build a space that is centered around your needs and desires."
— Jamal Lewis, Student
"Popular culture loves to romanticize prom, but despite what you're led to believe it is not the defining moment or culmination of your teenage experience."
"The prom of my dreams would be held in an enormous pink barn. Rihanna is DJing, and Khia performs live. Grace Jones, Amanda Lepore, Divine, and every single drag artist I know are all there.
'Titanic'-era Leonardo DiCaprio is my date and we wear custom, coordinated ensembles. There's a buffet of the finest gourmet grilled cheeses, and a fleet of white cherry Icee machines. Everyone dances until well past midnight, and the evening concludes with a bonfire on the beach at dawn."
— Harry Hanson, Artist
Producers: Caitlin Abber, Gabrielle Wilson
Words: Caitlin Abber
Photography: Colin Gray
Design: Gavin Alaoen
Development & Design: Rich Sancho
Video Producer: Adam Murphy
Video Editing: Nate Ford