Greensboro, NC – On a chilly Saturday evening, Carrie and I drove up to Northern Guilford High School to support Morgan Hakala and her bid to win the 4th Annual Mr. Northern competition where “contestants come together in dance, talent and fashion”, to be crowned the next Mr. Northern. We arrived a little late, and entered a main school lobby that vaguely resembles an indoor mall – complete with an atrium and ficus trees throughout. The main event took place in the auditorium – each of the ten contestants showcasing their talent. We heard a rousing country ballad, some awkward love poetry, critical spoken word and synchronized dance alongside the Billboards top chart-busting anthems.
For the first time ever, Morgan Hakala, a girl entered the Mr. Northern Competition. No small fete considering the prevailing southern culture of North Carolina, which has a long and sordid history of struggle associated with gender and sexual identity. Wearing a black tuxedo and metallic blue tie, Morgan stood on the stage alongside nine other boys vying for the same title. There was little pomp or circumstance at the event that I noticed – no snickering or catcalling, no visible protests or controversy. Instead, Morgan’s act was subtly subversive. She recited a poem during the talent portion of the contest – a kind of feminist ode to exclusion and performativity. She brought up another girl as her “chaperone” during the fashion segment, and danced alongside the 9 other boys in skits and comedic interludes. Her entry into the competition was almost seamless, and almost under-recognized as a courageous and historic act itself.
For most American teens, competitions like Mr. Northern and Homecoming is a chance to show some school spirit, root on a sports team, and dance awkwardly in the gym with water-down punch and bad DJ sets. Yet for some, these events can conjure up a great deal of fear and anxiety, creating a school culture premised on the idea of popularity, competition and heteronormative identity. Only one man and one woman can be crowned the Prom King and Queen– and their entry into the court relies in many ways on their performance of gender and the social acceptance this requires. Morgan unfortunately did not win the Mr. Northern crown, but her inclusion in the competition was a victory for youth that feel excluded by similar events that often asks us to perform and be a certain way. Morgan’s story shows that events like Mr. Northern can be disrupted, and re-imagined as a platform for anyone and everyone to participate within and around.
A-Live Field Report
Carrie Hart and Chris Kennedy (3-8-2013)
Spoken Word by Morgan Hakala