By an anonymous student
Artwork by Ella Benitone
My dad brought in the mail last week and said, as he always does when I receive correspondence, “Hey kiddo, this one’s for you.”
It was a nondescript envelope, and I wasn’t expecting any mail. Nevertheless, I always get excited to find a piece of snail mail addressed to me. Intrigued, I opened the envelope and found an invitation to participate in Junior Cotillion. I knew enough about this Memphis institution to know that this would not be a simple RSVP decision.
Putting it off, I simply tacked the invitation to our family magnetic message board and moved on. However, I was confronted again with the decision facing me when I arrived at school the next Monday.
“Well, are you going to do Cotillion?” my classmates asked.
The next question: “Wait, would you ask [my girlfriend’s name] to be your escort?”
The tradition goes that each young woman is introduced to society and escorted by a young man. The sarcastic voice in my head: Why women aren’t capable of walking down an aisle without the help of men, I do not know.
And indeed, what does that expectation mean for me, a young woman who is in a relationship with another young woman? My friends would naturally be escorted by their boyfriends, and that’s great. But I could see no natural plan of action for me, something that had never previously dawned on my straight peers.
“That’s so unfair,” they realized. “I can take my boyfriend, but you can’t take your girlfriend.”
That’s true to an extent, but if that’s the worst injustice I face as a woman dating a woman, then I’m lucky.
This is new territory. For one thing, people like me may not have been invited to Cotillion in years past. With the invitation now being open to all juniors at St. Mary’s and Hutchison, do I ignore the reputation of exclusion surrounding this tradition to have a fun night in a wedding dress downtown with my friends? Or do I take up the banner of LGBT activism at a Memphis debutante ball (ironically also called a “coming out” party in yesteryear) and insist that my girlfriend escort me?
I would frankly rather not fight that battle. I’m sure there are others for whom opening that door would mean more, but the tradition itself does not mean enough to me to fight it. It’s not the tradition of Junior Cotillion that I’m particularly interested in; it’s the opportunity to make memories with my friends, spending time getting dolled up, putting on our white dresses and doing our hair in a room at the Peabody, attempting to swing dance with one of my guy friends and supporting my friends who are interested in the tradition itself. Mostly, I don’t want to miss an opportunity to have fun with the people I care about or a classic Memphis high school experience I will regret if I don’t have.
I’m not betraying myself by entering society with a man — a friend with whom I feel comfortable and have fun — on my arm. Everyone who knows me knows about my relationship by now, and I wouldn’t be denying it by simply following social expectations and enjoying the company of my friends — male and female — for one night, letting down my hair in the name of fun and friendship. My girlfriend will be at the party surrounding the event, and she knows she’ll be the one I’m looking at when I’m being displayed to high society on that runway.
But I’m choosing to lay aside the fight for now to spend one night at the Peabody getting dressed up with friends, participating in a junior year rite of passage, not because the tradition and expectations mean a lot to me but because my friends and making high school memories mean a lot — including spending time with the guy friend who will be escorting me, helping me feel comfortable in a setting somewhat foreign to me.
In the end I’m grateful. Grateful that Cotillion is now open to all, grateful for my friends (male and female alike) who will be right beside me and grateful for the memories we will make together. Grateful for understanding parents who left the decision up to me. (And very grateful I could borrow a dress so I didn’t have to go shopping.)
Now that Cotillion is open to everyone, I want everyone to show up, if for no other reason than to prove that everyone has a place in society, we’re here, and we’re “coming out.”
For & By Students
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