FIELDS: Royalty ain’t what it used to be

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The rock group Hinder sings that “our homecoming queen was a lot like you and me… just somebody’s daughter.”

But that was before George Mason University elected a drag queen to reign over homecoming. Ryan Allen, known professionally as Reann Ballslee, wearing a gold sequined top, black skirt, and pumps (size 12), beat out two authentic women. Some students called it a drag (pun intended), others called it a triumph of diversity. You’ve come a long way, Mr. Baby.

But choosing homecoming queens has never been an exercise in equity. Life is not always fair on campus, either. Many a queen was chosen because she was the girlfriend of the quarterback. Beauty counted more than grades. The Chi Omega girls had a lock on the crown when I was a student at George Washington University simply because they were blonde and beautiful. But even then diversity was calling, and the administration was forced to give the student body the vote. I was “the sweetheart of Phi Alpha,” a Jewish fraternity, and my boyfriend persuaded his fraternity brothers to nominate me for homecoming queen. I was the diversity token of my day.

I was also a very long shot. I was an exile from the University of Wisconsin, a radical campus that even boasted a chapter of the Communist Party. I wore my hair long and uncoiffed, no make-up, and affected black turtleneck sweaters in class, adopting the pose of a beatnik who could cite the poetry of Allen Ginsberg. When I wasn’t hanging out at the library I was in the Student Union drinking coffee with the foreign exchange students, often with Indians from Bombay before it was Mumbai, arguing about the status of Kashmir and deploring the evil V.K. Krishna Menon, the fiercely anti-American ambassador of India to the United Nations.

Phi Alpha and I hardly suggested a winning combination. I was never a cheerleader and Phi Alpha had more men on the dean’s list than on the football squad. But mine was the first year of elected queens (an interesting oxymoron) and nobody knew what to expect. After each girl’s required interview with three professors, the students would choose from among five candidates, all female.

As an English major, I impressed the professors with my campaign plank of freedom of speech, quoting both John Milton and John Stuart Mill. Then it was enough of the egghead stuff. My brother took over. He was not only a law student at GWU, but president of the campus Young Democrats who later would become a strategist for Sen. Hubert Humphrey, the vice president and then the Democratic presidential nominee in 1968. Stanley ran my campaign as if I were a candidate for Congress, putting together a bizarre coalition of Jews, foreign students, beatniks, Phi Beta Kappa scholars, members of the dean’s list and political liberals. I never knew what anybody besides me expected to get from a victory, except a little psychic payback. Chi O never knew what hit them.

Queen Suzanne was revealed as winner at half time of the homecoming game. I circled the field, sitting regally at the back of an open convertible, waving to the cheers of the crowd. My mother, sitting with my father on the 40-yard line, kept crying out, “That’s my daughter! That’s my daughter!” Finally a man a few seats away silenced her with a shout, “Bully for you!” I don’t remember who we played or whether we won or lost, but the famous sportswriter Grantland Rice said it best: “It matters not whether you won or lost, but how you played the game.”

Those were more innocent times and if my mother were still with us she wouldn’t understand how a man could become homecoming queen at George Mason or anywhere else, in drag or otherwise. But diversity dominates campus royalty now. At Hood College, a lesbian was elected homecoming king, beating three men. Some universities have abandoned homecoming queens altogether because noticing that girls are beautiful in evening gowns is considered “sexist.” A pregnant girl was elected queen at a high school in Minnesota and she was disqualified; some students said the principal’s office cooked the vote. A girl with Down Syndrome was elected homecoming queen at a high school in Texas, recognized as “beautiful in a nontraditional way.”

Now that royalty can be elected, we can all lighten up, go with the flow and salute the winner. As my mother might say to the newly crowned royal: “Bully for you.”

Suzanne Fields is a syndicated columnist.

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