Laura Cunningham: In a tux and a group

May 06, 2007|By Stephanie Shapiro | Stephanie Shapiro,Sun Reporter

For Laura Cunningham of Northeast Baltimore, the prom is no big deal, except that it is. It doesn't mean anything, except that it does.

"You look forward to it and it's the culmination of all the fun you had [in high school], but, to be honest, I could not pay for the ticket and still have fun before and afterward," says the Baltimore School for the Arts senior, who nevertheless has retained a makeup artist for the event. "It's much ado about nothing. You stand around awkwardly in a big room and examine everybody else's outfit."

Last year, as a junior, Laura had hoped to attend the prom with her girlfriend of two years.

"Her parents were definitely not into that," Laura, nearly 18, says. "I went with one of my good guy friends."

Although Laura saw her girlfriend at the prom, they could not share the experience as completely as she had hoped.

"It was definitely a downer," says the classical guitarist who will enter the recorded music program at the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University this fall.

As she lays out the landscape of her personal life, Laura plays down the pathos. The main quandary of being gay and going to the prom is: "Do I wear a dress or do I wear a tux?" she says. (She'll wear a tux.)

This year, Laura will make her prom rounds in a group - the same way that teens tend to socialize year 'round. Within that group, she'll be with a date. To avoid jealous feelings, Laura has alerted ex-partners about her plans.

There may be a pre-party dinner at Chipotle, where vegan friends can dine, and because it would be amusing to arrive at the casual spot in formal dress.

Laura's prom dilemmas are not life threatening.

"As far as being gay goes, when you reach a level of comfort that it's really who you are, all of a sudden, it doesn't matter who you are. It's in your heart and it's all you can do."

Her mother, Amanda Cunningham, attended the Northern High School senior prom at Martin's West in 1976. "My date wore a white tux with a ruffled front," she remembers.

Cunningham, a proposal manager for projects at a Baltimore engineering firm, found her dress at a downtown department store with her friend, Cindy. "I think it was a big deal for us, to get all dressed up and go out to a place like Martin's with the huge chandeliers and a grand entrance with high ceilings," says Cunningham, 48.

Thirty-one years later, the prom conjures a bundle of mixed emotions for Cunningham's daughter. By arranging to attend with her buddies and their dates, as well as with her own date, Laura has avoided a repeat of last year. But that experience still tugs at her heart.

As Laura, an only child, finds her way in an often-intolerant world, her mother is there.

"The most important role I can play is as a good listener and not tell her what to do, but to help her work it through," Cunningham says. "That's how you get through those things."

Her advice to Laura for the prom itself: "Immerse yourself in the moment. Party with everyone. Dance, dance, dance! From my perspective, it's just a high school dance and there's a lot to look forward to beyond it."

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