Prom Queen: Gay Teen to Dazzle in Drag

Orland teen Jacob Szymanski wants to blaze a path for other gay students. Mom says she wishes she had "his kind of guts."

ORLAND PARK, IL — Jodette Szymanski doesn't mind getting makeup tips from her son Jacob. 

Jacob's flair for the arts of cosmetics and fashion started when he was 12, watching as Jodette applied makeup and shopped for clothes. What began as the couple's pre-teen son traipsing around the neighborhood playfully, dressed in women's clothes on Halloween, has transformed into an open expression of his creativity and individuality.

Read about Jacob's mom: The Mom Every Gay Kid Needs

The gay Sandburg High School senior will strut another side of himself April 25 when he attends prom dressed as drag queen alter-ego "Harlet Wench." He'll be joined by friend Andy Zhang, who will dress as "Eva Young."

"We're going to be pioneers of the gay kids," Jacob said. "We're going to set new standards—so the next years to come, no one will be nervous, they can do it if they want to. 

"Gay kids won't be as embarrassed to go to these things. They don't have to be drag queens—but they will feel better about going with another boy, another girl.  

"I think it's incredible that we live in a time where things like this can happen. Let's make Herstory," he wrote on his Facebook page.

'In His Element'

Jodette is afraid for Jacob. Though proud of his willingness to step out in such a big way, she worries some classmates might not be as supportive as those who already know. 
"But for every one person that doesn't accept it, there seem to be three or four more who do," she said. 

She had an inkling of his homosexuality as early as the age of 12, saying he expressed little interest in sports but more in cosmetics. She once asked if he liked girls or boys, and he stated sweetly that he likes everyone "as long as they're a good person." As he grew, his interests turned into a method of self-expression. In the years before he attained a driver's license, she drove drag-clad Jacob into Chicago for the Gay Pride Parade. She watched as he was invited onto a float and embraced by those around him.

"He's in his element," she said. "I've always been so proud of him, that he's never been afraid to express himself. He's never cared what other people think."

Still, the former flight attendant fears intolerance. 

"We've come a long way, but there's so much more room to grow," she said. "I would love to see him make a pathway for young adults to come out and be who they are, be open—not live in fear."

'If We Can Do It, So Can They'

Jacob wasn't sure how school administrators would feel about his desire to attend in drag.

"I was ready to fight for it," he said, laughing. 

But the school was surprisingly permissive. The dress must meet the school's dress code and must not disrupt the dance in any way, said Carla Erdey, communications director for Consolidated High School District 230.

He understands their concerns and is eager for the chance to openly show this side of himself to his classmates. He maintains two separate Facebook pages, selectively sharing photos among his separate circles. Many know he dresses in drag, often for Chicago events and shows, but most have yet to see it in person.

And they're in for a show. Jacob and Jodette spend hours online searching for the perfect dress and shoes. 

"I've had a few in mind, but they're all $650," Jacob said. "But I've got one in mind."

Jodette looks forward to the shopping. 

"It's just me being involved in his life," she said. "My whole life revolves around him, and I think it always will."

Jacob's decision might be individual, but she hopes it will have a ripple effect. The Suicide Prevention Resource Center has estimated that between 30 and 40 percent of lesbian, gay, bisexual or transsexual youth, depending on age and sex groups, have attempted suicide. On the national level, about 25 percent of lesbian, gay and bisexual students have been harassed due to their sexual orientation, as well as a third of those who identify as transgender, according to a study by the Chronicle of Higher Education.

"If this can change one child to come out, be who he wants to be, live a life the way he wants to—this is so important," she said. 

After graduation, straight-A student Jacob will continue to pursue his love of makeup by attending Paul Mitchell Cosmetology School. He aspires to a career as a makeup artist. 

Szymanski admires his passion and commitment, as does his father. 

"I'm 47 years old, and I'm still learning who I am," she said. "My son is 17, and he knows exactly who he is. He's always been willing to put himself out there, to be who he wants to be.

"I wish I had that kind of guts."

Read more about Jacob's mom: The Mom Every Gay Kid Needs

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JayBee February 05, 2014 at 08:57 PM
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction. Proverbs 1:7
novastien February 05, 2014 at 09:15 PM
Gee mom I wonder why these kids are so screwed up! Why don't you try being a parent instead of sticking your head in the sand?
PLM February 05, 2014 at 10:47 PM
Who says that he is screwed up ? If this is who he truly is let the kid be himself. I am glad that he has the support of the school, his friends and his family. What is he doing that hurts anybody ? I just wish society had been this accepting when I was his age. Also, I am not even close to being a liberal politically.
melanie February 06, 2014 at 12:49 AM
A kid did this when I was in high school 20 yrs. ago (man, I'm old) and I live in Kentucky, where most people would consider us pretty intolerant, so it's not like it's a new idea, only thing different is the internet.
Kari Ann Callin February 06, 2014 at 01:38 AM
Good for him! But at that age, you're still a "princess". It will take a little bit more age and life experience before you're a "queen". ;)
Arnold J. Farquar February 06, 2014 at 03:00 AM
Poor Joe Blow. She seems a little unstable.
Wallst February 06, 2014 at 03:16 AM
True, Arnold. She shouldn't be allowed anywhere near a computer. I wonder if her mother knows what she's doing in that basement?
Bridget Garrison February 06, 2014 at 07:58 AM
The mom is letting her child and minor go about calling himself a prostitute. There is no defense of that. If an adult drag queen wants to do that, it is his choice, but it is so inappropriate for a child. Parents should be supportive, but at what point does this mom say "no"? Kids need boundaries. Be a parent, not a friend.
Bridget Garrison February 06, 2014 at 09:09 AM
Oh my, just listened to the recording above and heard him say he is doing this to show younger children they can be sexy. Is this the message to send to young children??!! Wow,. Just wow.
Thomas Sims February 06, 2014 at 09:41 AM
Would not let him near the prom.....He's looking for his 15 mins of fame....The prom is not about HIM or a place for a life style statement....All he's doing is disrupting an event in these students life to have everyone notice HIM.....After he graduate. he can stand on the corner in his hooker outfit all he wants, but this is not the time or place
comic relief February 06, 2014 at 09:58 AM
Notice how he says in his video he wants younger children to feel "SEXY"... yes he said "YOUNGER CHILDREN", not "young adults". And the school is promoting this?. Now I'm pissed!
Tom Hollman February 06, 2014 at 10:54 AM
If they want normal kids to use condoms then this type should have a Aids warning label
Wallst February 06, 2014 at 10:58 AM
I love Tom Hollman's opinions. He proves why we had GW Bush as President for 8 long years. Dumb = Dumber.
Jon Spangler February 11, 2014 at 01:07 PM
What Jacob and his partner--and his mom--are doing is not new, but it is clear from the closed-minded and hateful comments here that we have a long, long way to go until all people are accepted for who they are. (And acceptance is Biblical, by the way…those who think the schools have gone "down hill" may be right, but it is not because of intelligent policies that support people of different races, creeds, colors, or orientations.
Wallst February 11, 2014 at 01:24 PM
Jon, things are getting better actually. Old, white, racist, homophobes are dying off. The new generation is accepting of diversity and are more educated. The future looks bright.
Israel Shuvee February 11, 2014 at 07:39 PM
gay lifestyle is destructive and always will be no matter how much you want to justifiy it. If gay is right so is pedopihiles and Zoophiles and Westboro baptist church!
Wallst February 12, 2014 at 02:37 AM
Israel, you're showing stupid again.
JusticeLeague February 13, 2014 at 05:16 PM
Israel - go stick your head in a bucket of ice water. You're getting hot under the collar over something that has nothing to do with you.
MDP March 02, 2014 at 04:19 PM
How about -just not flaunt it?!
Johnny Damon March 03, 2014 at 08:25 AM
Gay/straight/ transgender doesn't matter. I am acceptable of people of who they are. What I don't understand is why certain groups have the need to push what they are and do on the rest of us and take the focus off the issue. This is a prom, the young adults need to go and have fun. It appears to me that Jacob wants this to be about him and look at me. That's the youth today, its all about "look at me" Jacob dress within the rules and go enjoy, just don't take away from others enjoyment of the night by trying to make it about you.
Deerfield Resident March 03, 2014 at 10:02 AM
It's not just the lesbo/gay community any longer....now its the lesbo/gay/bi-sexual/transgender/intersex community! LGBTI..... (What is intersex?) Wait a minute...where's my dog?
Deerfield Resident March 03, 2014 at 10:06 AM
Laddie.... Laddie......come here good boy - thank God, I was worried about you!
Thomas Mc March 03, 2014 at 10:52 AM
I'm just curious why he speaks the way he does. Generally, we use the accent and vernacular of our surroundings...family, friends, city. But he is making an effort to sound different, which is confusing. A pretend voice and a pretend exterior. And his grammar, "I'm doing this for all the childrens out there..." If your kid one day changed his voice, his grammar, and his mannerisms, would any of you be concerned?
Thomas Mc March 03, 2014 at 10:55 AM
And he wants to show younger children they can be sexy and fierce. Really!?!
SouthSide March 03, 2014 at 12:16 PM
Live and let live. Practice tolerance and acceptance. Embrace diversity. It is the matrix of our existence. Best wishes to this young human. Peace and blessings and positive energy always.
Deerfield Resident March 03, 2014 at 01:39 PM
Southside - that all sounds good and you'll get the pat on the back for being Joe tolerant...but where exactly do YOU draw the line??? He admits he wants to show younger kids how to be sexy....when do you say enough is enough? You couldn't even identify him as a man or a woman!
Deerfield Resident March 03, 2014 at 02:04 PM
So it's your daughters big night.....(for those of you that are confused ...I mean a real daughter... you remember - the gender that doesn't stand up at the urinal) .... she's top of her class, she has RESPECT for herself and she's pretty! (Not a butterface). She's up for prom queen as are some of her friends. But wait, just as a joke....her class votes for this oddball as prom queen and then comes the pigs blood and the whole place goes up in smoke. See how it all starts......
concerned March 03, 2014 at 06:59 PM
The next article you read about this kid will be how he got the crap beat out of him at the prom.
Mikke R. Rakow March 03, 2014 at 10:17 PM
Mikke R. Rakow March 03, 2014 at 10:19 PM
It's about time somebody finally stands out and somebody does something to encourage our younger generation to totally accept who they are and not live a life in denial because of these crazy homophobic people that can't get out of their little box that there Stuck In


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