The Kids Are All Right – A Family Matters short
“Why aren’t you getting ready?” I asked Joey. It was already four, and the prom would be starting soon.
He shook his head. “I was told I couldn’t come. Kay and Micah are pissed… I’m sorry, they’re peeved.”
This was news to me. “Explain,” I insisted.
Joey sat up and his eyes were puffy. He sniffled until I handed him a tissue and he blew his nose. “My student counselor said if I was coming, I had to wear what she calls ‘appropriate attire’, otherwise I wasn’t allowed in.”
“Were you planning on going in your birthday suit?”
He tried for a smile, but then dissolved into a puddle of tears. “Kay made me an outfit, Papa. She worked reallyhard on it. I was going to wear it to prom, but when Mrs. Smithson saw it, she nearly blew the blood vessel in her brain.”
Anger surged in me. This was my kid, and she was discriminating against him. “Show me the outfit.”
He stood and trudged to the closet. He opened it and pulled out a garment bag that he laid reverently on the bed. He unzipped it, then took the outfit inside out and held it up. Joey hadn’t lied. It was stunning. Mostly black, it had the top of a tuxedo, but the lower half was like a dress.
“She was so proud, Papa. When Mrs. Smithson said I couldn’t come unless I wore clothes more oriented to a young man, I said I wouldn’t go if that bigoted old hag was going to be so rude.”
Normally I’d correct him about calling anyone names like he’d just done, but from the sound of it, Mrs. Smithson was exactly what Joey had said. Besides, I didn’t think I’d be able to make him apologize if I started laughing in the middle of it.
“And where are Micah and Kayla?”
“I told them they should go without me. No one should have to miss their prom if they’ve got someone to go with.”
“And what about your sister?”
He sighed and lowered his gaze. “She went with them.”
This was utterly ridiculous. Joey was an amazing kid, and I’m not even talking about him as our son. He was courteous to everyone—usually—loved to help around the house. Still had problems picking up the dog plops in they yard, though. He and Jenna were delights, and if this teacher refused to see it, then she was going to have to deal with me.
“Get your outfit on.”
“Micah bought your ticket, right? He already paid good money. Kayla made you that beautiful…what is it? It’s not a tux and it isn’t a gown.”
“She just said it was a suit.”
“Fine. We’ll go with that. I’m so fucking sick of people thinking that they can take marginalized folks—kids especially—and run roughshod over them. Get dressed.”
He did it quickly, and when he was done my breath was taken away by how amazing he looked. You could tell Kayla wasn’t a professional, but you couldn’t deny the love that went into making the suit. It mostly fit Joey like a glove, though there were a few places it wasn’t as tight as it should be. I knew that if she kept up, she would be an incredible designer.
“You look stunning. She did a wonderful job,” I told Joey.
“I know. I wanted to show it off for her, but—”
This teacher was pissing me off. She was crushing the dreams of two kids for her disgusting and antiquated thoughts on how things should be run. When I discovered about Joey and the clothes he liked to wear—normally dresses—I’d been less than willing to entertain the idea that a boy liked to look pretty. But that was Joey in a nutshell. He was a guy who liked to look and feel good. I learned a lot about how to treat people from that kid. Maybe it was time Mrs. Smithson learned a lesson too.
Joey fidgeted as we headed for the school.
“If this isn’t a fight you want to take part in, then we can go home,” I told him. Just because I was pissed didn’t mean he wanted to do this publicly.
He straightened his spine. “What? No. Absolutely not. Kayla did something for me, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to let her work go to waste.”
That’s my kid. Joey didn’t normally care about himself. He was more concerned with everyone else. Like when people made fun of Micah for being in a relationship with two white kids. Micah stood there and said he was proud of his boyfriend and girlfriend. Both Joey and Kayla stood with him. Together they were unstoppable.
When we arrived at the school, there was a throng of people standing outside. At first, I thought the doors hadn’t opened yet, but upon further inspection I was surprised to see Kayla, Micah, and Jenna shouting at the assembled crowd. We got out of the car, and made our way forward.
“Why are we allowing the school to tell us who we can be?” Micah yelled. “Joey wanted to come to the dance. He wanted to show off what Kayla made for him. He wanted to be with people he called his friends. But the school said he needed to dress like a young man. Well, Joey isn’t a young man. Joey uses he they pronouns, because while most times he feels like a guy, sometimes there’s a feminine side to him that needs to be expressed. That was why Kayla designed an outfit that took that into consideration.”
“How many of you has Joey helped?” Jenna cried out. “Joey has always been there for you. Will you stand up for him?”
Kayla was oddly quiet. She was usually a firebrand wrapped in a beautiful package. “Kay?”
It was then I saw her tears, and I had the urge to scoop her into my arms, because she was the glue that bound the three of them together, and seeing her in pain was pissing me off.
“Joey is special,” she said, her voice breaking. “All he’s ever wanted was to look pretty. To be himself. Most of you supported him when he came to the dance in a dress. Yes, there were some—” She glared at Eric McNab, who’d taunted and teased Joey mercilessly until a wall of football players convinced him that it would be best to back off. “—who didn’t, but by and large you recognized Joey for the lovely person he is, and you protected that specialness. And now the school is saying we have to turn our back on Joey. Make him feel like an outcast. Well, I for one won’t do it.”
“Me either,” Micah stated.
“Nor me,” Jen added.
Beside me, Joey sniffled. “They aren’t going without me.”
I nudged him with my elbow. “Seriously? Did you really think they would?”
Around the three, some people entered the building, but others stood there, uncertain what to do.
“Go up there,” I told Joey. “Stand with your people.”
He did, and when he got to where they were, there was a ripple of conversation that flowed. I caught snippets about how Joey looked, and most of them were complimentary.
“Joseph, you cannot enter dressed like that,” barked a woman who I knew had to be Mrs. Smithson. The pinched features of a Karen gave it away.
“Don’t worry, I’m not,” Joey said, his voice surprisingly clear. “I wouldn’t want to be a distraction or anything.”
She folded her arms over her chest. “You shouldn’t even be here.”
That was where I got involved. I stepped up. “I take it you’re Mrs. Smithson?”
That earned me a glare. “I am.”
“I’m Seth Clarke, Joey and Jenna’s father. First off, what right do you have talking to my kid about how they’re dressed? If you had a concern, it should have been addressed to me and his father.”
She sputtered. “It clearly states in our handbook that student dress should not be disruptive.”
I turned to the kids looking on. “Are any of you distracted by how Joey is dressed?”
It was quiet for a moment, then one young man raised his hand. Mrs. Smithson gloated. “Kramer? Is this distracting to you?”
He nodded. “I didn’t know Joey could look so beautiful.” Then he smiled. “Joey, if I wasn’t afraid Kayla would beat me up, I’d ask you out. You look amazing.”
Now it was Mrs. Smithson’s turn to be on the receiving end of stares. “The kids seem to have no problems with how Joey is dressed.”
Her gaze snapped to me. “He looks like a fr—” She stepped back, but the words were out there.
“Like a what?” I demanded. “What were you going to say? Because from where I stand, it sounded like you were going to call my kid a freak.”
“Boys don’t dress like that!” she insisted.
“Joey does. He likes to look pretty. There are days he’ll wear nothing but a dress, because it makes him feel special. Why does that bother you so much?”
“It’s wrong and disgusting,” she snapped.
“And you’re old and nasty,” Joey barked back. “Kayla made this for me, and I think it’s one of the prettiest dresses I’ve ever seen, and I’m proud to be wearing it. I’m sorry you’re too damn hateful to see beauty where you can.”
Jenna grabbed Joey’s hand. “C’mon, let’s go get something to eat. I want pancakes.”
Micah shouted to the kids. “We’re going for pancakes. Who wants to come?”
About thirty people stepped out of line and joined Joey, Kayla, Micah, and Jenna as they headed for their cars.
“I’m buying,” I called out.
Another twenty or so joined us.
Mrs. Smithson kept trying to get them to come back, but they ignored her. Until one guy turned around and smiled at her.
“You know, this generation? We’re a lot more tolerant. We see our friends and we’ll stand with them. People like you are dinosaurs, and pretty soon you’ll be just as extinct. I’m not saying the people of Gen Z are perfect, but we’re way better than a lot of others. We know the value of friendship.” He winked at me. “And free food.”
With that we continued on our way, with everyone laughing and having a good time. I was so proud of my family, and those who they’d brought in to create something of their own. What I’d always heard was now coming true in the most spectacular way.
The kids are all right.