Umar Hanif planned his succession to the prom throne. Upon asking whether he planned to be king, I am met with a confident “yes” and sheepish laughter. He explains to me further, “The way I see it, this isn’t something people care about, and it’s not something people are going to think about, so all I had to do was associate my name with prom court. I made sure that everyone had heard of me, and since no one cared about this, they just put my name down.” Umar describes reactionary voting, in which people vote for who they recognize. I learned that in my political science class”, he tells me, laughing, realizing the humor in having applied real-world psychological concepts to a high school dance.
This year’s prom was also very special because it’s the first year that students have been allowed to elect a gender-neutral court. When prompted about his hopes for gender-neutral prom royalty, Umar tells me that he hopes it could set a precedent for non-straight couples to take home the titles.
Umar thinks for a second on how to best speak for the reasons gender neutrality is necessary. “Having a boy and a girl all the time, it sets a precedent that the only people who can win are heterosexual couples. Making this change… it’s just a really sensible thing to do”.
Even changing something as minor as prom court could lead to great results. he explains this to me as he tells me, “This will become more normalized, and the idea of having two guys, two girls, two non-binary folk will just become normalized [to people] over time, even if they don’t like it [at first]… I think it can be beneficial”.
Umar tells me about Uni’s other outdated traditions, like gendered sports and lack thereof. “Why doesn’t Uni have a girl’s tennis team? We have two girls that have been able to [beat] any boy who plays tennis… they consistently make it to state, but we don’t have a girl’s tennis team? And the boy’s tennis team… people join boy’s tennis just to get out of P.E.” He smiles, as though letting me in on a secret. “but that’s pretty tangential”.
In general at Uni, teens’ opinions on gender roles are rapidly changing. Umar points out that students brought issues about Vice Versa to StudCo around the same time. He tells me how he feels about heteronormativity in high school. “We have a lot of outdated stuff, like vice versa,” he begins to tell me. “In terms of dance themes, [gender roles] is a weird theme to have for a dance. In Winter Formal, the theme is winter, in Howdy Hop, the theme is country… your theme can’t be that the girls ask the guys, it’s boring and heteronormative.”
If I took away one thing from this interview, it’s that no matter how you feel about it, gender neutrality is a concept that will continue to evolve and become more normalized beyond any of our time here.