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  WINDY CITY TIMES

High school senior going to prom as drag alter ego
by Ross Forman, Windy City Times
2014-02-05

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Jacob Szymanski is already planning for his senior year at Carl Sandburg High School, which will be Friday, April 25, at the Field Museum in downtown Chicago.

His alter ego, drag diva Harlet Wench, will be in all her glory.

Szymanski, 17, who lives in suburban Orland Park and is openly gay, will be dressing in drag for the Eagles' extravaganza.

"I'm going to my senior prom in drag because I hope to help other kids in the future," he said. "I love doing drag and think this a perfect opportunity to gain some attention for the LGBT community and LGBT youth in specific. If I were to go as a boy, nobody would care, but if I put on the wig, the heels, the makeup, and the dress; suddenly people are interested.

"I want to use this attention in a positive way. People think just because it's 2014 that bullying and discrimination don't occur. Times are changing and it's a lot better, but homophobic behavior is still around in schools and it makes other kids afraid to come out of the closet, or just be who they are."

Szymanski said he does not want to talk about his relationships, but added, "I'm happy." He is an only child whose parents are divorced and he lives with his mother.

Szymanski said that a teacher of his asked school officials for him if it would be OK if he dressed in drag at prom. The Sandburg principal and school deans then, reportedly, had a meeting and agreed it was alright, as long as he met the school dress code.

"I'm not sure the staff is aware, besides the principal and deans, but I do know my fellow classmates have been showing a continually growing amount of support," he said. "It feels so good to know some of these people I grew up with have my back in what I'm going.

"Of course there always [are] a few who think it's 'strange' and think I'm a 'freak.' I honestly don't care because I know all the good I can do with this."

Szymanski said he wanted to end the year with a bang and accomplish something big before he left campus.

"I don't care what anybody thinks, [or] if somebody's parent is offended; that's just too bad because times are changing," he said.

Szymanski said Harlet Wench has attended past Chicago Pride Parades and the annual Halsted Halloween parade. In fact, Harlet Wench won a Best Drag contest in 2012, he said.

"I attend any shows that will allow me in," Szymanski said. "I've done little things here and there. It's hard to attend drag events because most places won't let me in until I'm 21."

Harlet Wench also has made appearances at Chicago Comic-con.

"I always show up in drag costumes channeling my favorite sci-fi characters," said Szymanski, who first went drag at age 12. "I always loved makeup and hair and one Halloween I thought it would be funny to dress up as a woman—and got quite the response. So, getting in drag became a normal thing for me."

Szymanski said his family "totally accepts" his drag persona, "and I'm very thankful for that." Plus, "all of my friends love it to; it just makes things so exciting," he added.

More about Jacob Szymanski, the real-life Harlet Wench:

—Favorite subjects in school: Fashion and art.

—Least favorite subject in school: Math

—College in the fall: Still undecided, but most likely Aveda Cosmetology School.

—Career goal: "I'd like to have a career in hair and makeup."

—The quote: "I'm just a teenage boy from the suburbs of Chicago. I love art and beauty, and I'm really just hoping this has a positive impact."


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