In 1980, Aaron Fricke lived the dream of countless generations of high school students when he sued his school principal in federal court. In winning, he secured the right to take his boyfriend to the school prom.
Later, Fricke wrote a landmark book, “Reflections of a Rock Lobster: A Story about Growing Up Gay” about his life in a small Rhode Island town, a book that was recently adapted as a stage play and, now, is being reissued after thirty years, with some new material.
429Magazine asked Fricke: what don’t readers probably already know about you?
1. He never really wanted to go to that prom in the first place.
“I didn’t want anything to do with any bourgeois heterosexual rites of passage. I would have preferred to stay isolated. But it was unfinished business: When Paul didn’t get to go the year before it left this big open wound, and I felt like I had to go to just as a way to resolve that.”
2. He didn’t want to republish the book at first, either.
“It went out of print in 2002 and I had no intention of republishing. I figured, okay, let’s move on. Then in 2010, Boston Theater did a stage adaptation and it got a great response. Entire classes of high school students saw it and most of them liked it and some of them wanted to read the book, so I took another look at it and decided that it’s not as dated as I thought it might be.”
3. American high schools haven’t changed much since then.
“When I work with teens today they ask the same question they did then: ‘How do you know you’re gay?’ You’d think they would know, but I guess there’s not a lot of talk about LGBT issues going on in school. And the bullying and the way kids treat each other are very similar. But I only get a glimpse of their lives for a very short period of time.”
4. That principal wasn’t as bad a guy as you probably think.
“In the book he’s made out to be such a villain, because I needed a villain and he made a really good one. But in ‘89 someone interviewed him and he said that if it happened now he would handle everything completely differently. In high school I thought he was a hypocrite who was trying to save face, because he’d shown very little concern for my personal safety before the media spotlight turned on him, but now I think maybe he didn’t really understand what I was going through. I have much more respect for him than I did then.”
5. Neither were some of the students.
“I love hearing other people’s memories of that night, particularly if they have not read the book. I remember when we did that first slow dance the class formed a ring around [us]and I was absolutely terrified, but I’ve had people tell me that when we finished they applauded. The thing is, I didn’t even hear the applause, I never knew about it until years later. One kid in class, Daniel Stewart, went on TV badmouthing us all over the place, but later it turned out he was in the closet. He came out in the 90s and was elected mayor of a town in New York, and he spent years trying to get a hold of me again.”
6. The powder-blue tux wasn’t his.
“I think it was a rental. It was pretty terrible even back then. You know I’d never printed that picture until recently; I’d been hiding it under a million things for all these years. It figures that now that I’ve brought it out it’s the first thing people bring up.”
7. What the heck is a rock lobster anyway?
“It’s a metaphor for growing up gay: being isolated and under pressure at the bottom of the abyss, and hiding under a hard shell. And rock lobsters have no claws, so they have no way to fight back. And of course, it’s also a song by the B-52s that they played that night. That’s just a timeless song, and it’s very much me.”