A daughter’s prom objection becomes a family’s lesson in acceptance with a gorgeous photoshoot to document it.
Every year countless numbers of youth who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender commit suicide. Many are bullied, abandoned by their family and peers, and some are put under immense pressure to conform to traditional and accepted gender roles and sexual identities. LGBT youth who come from highly rejecting families are 8.4 times more likely to have attempted suicide as LGBT peers who reported no or low levels of family rejection.
Mrs. Tawana Brown of Austin, TX, a photographer and mother of four, has always seen beauty through the eyes of a traditional lens. One of her specialties is women’s glamour photography, and after raising two older daughters, traditional femininity has been a staple in her life. It came as no surprise that when her youngest daughter, Tristin, would go to prom that she would also capture sending her off as beautifully and glamorously as she had her other daughters.
However, Tristin at an early age displayed that she was different from her sisters. When she became old enough to voice and express that opinion, her first act of self-expression was to chop off all of her hair. This was in stark contrast to her sisters and mother who prided their long healthy locks, which seemed to her mother like an act of teen rebellion. Later Tristin came out as Lesbian.
Being gay or lesbian was never an issue for Tawana. Her eldest brother is gay and was married to his life partner on the 2014 Grammy awards; however, she still could not seem to wrap her head around - not her daughter’s sexuality - but her daughter’s gender fluidity and expression. Tristin is an artist and Tawana wasn’t sure if this was authentic, artistic, or political in nature. Sometimes she dresses as a tomboy and other times atypically feminine. Maybe it was just a phase?
“I felt like she was trying to be different and to purposefully go against the grain.”
When prom finally approached, and Tawana prepared herself for what would be the last of a rites of passage for her daughters, it became very clear that Tristin was not going to conform to that dream and keep tradition.
“I was sad because with having two older daughters, prom shopping has always been a big deal, a memorable moment of bonding with me and my daughters. I always assumed my baby girl would do the same. I assumed she would wear a dress… until she told me she didn’t want to wear one.”
Tristin sensed her mother’s disapproval and resistance and went shopping alone with money given to her by older brother to buy a suit. When she came home with an oversized and unflattering suit her mother was aghast, but she now knew how committed Tristin was.
Tawana knew that no matter what Tristin was absolutely not going to wear a dress. Her expectations had to be put aside to honor her daughter’s wishes. She couldn’t make herself force her daughter into a skin that she simply didn’t feel comfortable in; however, she was also not going to allow her to go to the prom in a suit that didn’t make her at least look her very best.
So, she swallowed her pride and put her differences and disappointment aside to make sure that her daughter was going to look the best she could.
When Tristin’s suit came home from the tailor and she saw herself in the mirror, she smiled and said to her mother, “This is exactly how I wanted to look.” Tawana couldn’t contain how happy she was to share that moment with her.
The following days, Tristin and her mom joined to shop for the accessories for her prom suit. It looked like the dream Tawana had of spending her final rites of passage with her last daughter had come true anyway - even if it wasn’t wrapped in satin and sequence, but instead nicely tailored slacks and a blazer.
“Today, I feel I understand Tristin now more than ever before. I understand why her friends mean so much to her because they have been the only one’s who have fully accepted her. It was a sad realization for me, but I feel like that day bridged a gap between she and I.”
When asked what she learned about her daughter, Tawana replied, “I learned how brave she is. I learned that she taught herself to smile through sadness, embarrassment, loneliness, and fear. I learned what courage really is.”
When asked what she learned about herself and what she learned as a parent, she said, “Support and acceptance.”
“I want for my children to be happy, whatever they define as happiness. That day wasn’t easy for me, but I would do it all over again because I’ve never seen her so happy. This meant more to her than just a prom. This was about her being.” Tristin, her prom date, and friend didn’t go on to have a sad or tragic prom day, but one that was filled with the fun and memories of every other teen, and that is because the people in their lives, their homes, their community, and their schools accepted them for who they are.
I want for my children to be happy, whatever they define as happiness.
What Tawana went on to capture in the photoshoot of Tristin’s prom day was unlike anything she’s captured before and that was the beauty and pure happiness that shines only from within when one is allowed to live in their full truth and to align with their true selves.
Now, that’s a beauty that can’t be dressed up, posed, or Photoshopped.
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