Playlist: Middle School Dance While Unknowingly Gay


It’s the late 90s and we descend on a school dance in a room adjacent to a church full of PRE-TEENS. ADULT CHAPERONES line the walls, though they appear painfully unaware of the very SEXUALLY EXPLICIT MUSIC that pumps through the room. We zig-zag through the crowd of literal children grinding on each other, slowing and GOING WIDE as we approach and train on our protagonist, ERIN, 12, a white girl who is clearly gay but doesn’t know it. There is a backwards hat involved? The audience will feel a strong sense that she’s obsessed with the Spice Girls, Geri in particular. She’s avoiding the bodies around her by pulling the “edge of the circle” move, when suddenly the 69 BOYZ SONG playing cuts short. We see her tense up and brace herself. She knows what that extended pause means – the DJ is switching to his slow dance collection.

A SLOW BUT STILL SEXUALLY EXPLICIT SONG begins to play. Erin attempts to make a beeline for her bag against the wall, really any bag will do, when she’s stopped by A BOY with a butt-part of all things. He motions back to the dance floor as if to say, “Want to slow dance?” and Erin is emotionally and physically unmoved. Nothing about her demeanor exhibits excitement. She agrees, but we feel with her a sense of loss, knowing she’ll eventually come to realize just what she missed out on.




ERIN holds the room hostage playing on the jukebox every song she endured.

1. Nobody – Keith Sweat
2. They Don’t Know – Jon B.
3. Show Me the Meaning of Being Lonely – Backstreet Boys
4. 2 Become 1 – Spice Girls
5. Angel of Mine – Monica
6. Anytime – Brian McKnight
7. God Must Have Spent a Little More Time on You– *NSYNC
8. From This Moment – Shania Twain
9. I Can Love You Like That – All-4-One
10. I Turn to You – Christina Aguilera
11. I Wanna Know – Joe
12. So Into You – Tamia Ft. Fabolous
13. Have You Ever – Brandy
14. Crazy – K-Ci & Jojo –
15. Red Light Special – TLC
16. Never Had a Dream Come True – S Club 7

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Los Angeles based writer. Let's keep it clean out there!

Erin has written 208 articles for us.


  1. This is perfect! I didn’t get asked to dance very much (I think the boys picked up on my ‘fuck off’ vibe even then) but I would get so upset when my friends went off to dance with boys. End of the Road by Boyz II Men always takes me back.

    • Ditto! And hello, person who is most-likely in my age group. I think “End of the Road” was our 8th grade class song, like our entire class wasn’t all going to be attending the same high school 3 months after promotion…

  2. Being approx 10 years younger than most of you, its interesting that our middle school dance experiences are p much the same. Except the music. I’ve never heard of any of those songs and now im v thankful for one direction

  3. Oh my gooosh. I didn’t start middle school until 2000, but still. I was very much unknowingly gay before that too, including joining a witch coven in 4th grade and having a crush on a student teacher in 5th. And this is some 90s greatness. Thanks, Erin!

        • I am having my own life explained to me right now, and it’s a full-blown holiday revelation, perfect for that weird week between Christmas and New Year’s Eve. I read the article and thought that “butt-cut” was a reference to the person’s booty, which didn’t quite make sense so I just moved on.

          I never had the butt-cut, my mom gave me a buzz cut with the same razors she used on dogs. I was that kid who got buzz cuts from their mom and spent afternoons in a hay loft with their sister, up until the day we found dead kittens up there and were told not to climb the ladders anymore. That horse farm was owned by Gary, a gay man was the first queer person I ever interacted with on a regular basis. Certainly the only queer adult person I knew personally before high school. Is that why I’ve gotten into denim jackets and workwear and volunteered at horse therapy programs in my adult life? Thanks Gary, took me 20 years to think of the connection! I’m not crying at my parents’ kitchen table, you’re crying! =)

          • His name was Guy, not Gary. My mom asked why I was double-checking his name, and I gave a non-answer.

  4. Oh god. The moment I remember from my sixth grade dance in 2000: standing alone on the dance floor at the end of the night while the DJ played “Iris” by the Goo Goo Dolls, angsting to the line: “I don’t want the world to see me, cuz I don’t think that they’d understand. When everything’s made to be broken, I just want you to know who I am.”

    FOUR YEARS LATER: Comes out as queer

    TEN YEARS AFTER THAT: Comes out as trans


    *makes playlist for school dances while unknowingly trans*

    I also remember “Crazy” by KCi and JoJo. Good times.

      • Hahaha amen to that, I think the only reason I stopped getting in so many fights is because I knew I was getting the hell out of my school and I was scared my acceptance to private school would be revoked if I got in trouble. Also and thankfully The Internet happened to me in middle school…it was my salvation.

  5. Erin I can’t help but notice that while you have a Brandy song, and you have a Monica song, that epic Brandy/Monica collaboration “The Boy Is Mine” is conspicuously absent from your playlist.

    I remember most of these, but I think my tastes were already turning rock-y by middle school. Much Matchbox Twenty, Goo Goo Dolls, and Third Eye Blind going on as well as wearing Tragic Kingdom out and having to buy a new tape (yes, I said tape). Thank gawd I was still a bit too young to be terribly aware of grunge or it’s probably all I would have listened to (I love it now in my 30s).

    Oh yeah, and let’s not forget that classic earworm of 1997, “Walkin’ on the Sun”.

      • You are correct. I guess those are all slow dance songs. I think I’ve blocked slow dance songs from my working memory, mostly, regardless of their era, and hence didn’t really think about that. I also think I have never slow danced with anyone in my life. Seriously.

        The last slow song I listened to, about two hours ago, was “Out of Hell” by In This Moment, if that gives you any idea of the kind of slow songs I typically listen to. Any slow song I’m listening to voluntarily is likely to be a “but muh PAIN!” kind of song :p Middle school was no different.

  6. sometimes i think about how my friends and i would sing have you ever during Girl’s Gym at the Boys and Girls Club. who were we???

  7. my go-to move once the song switched to a slow dance was to grab one of my female friends and go “ugh, slow dances!” and we’d slow dance with each other while “making fun of” the concept of slow dances by staring lovingly into each other’s eyes while cracking up and pretending to be in love.

    It’s kind of sad realizing I had better game with the ladies when I was closeted than I do now lol

  8. I went to exactly one Homecoming Dance in High School.
    And at this one Homecoming Dance my big brother’s friend who was a senior, suddenly pushed this tall,gangly sophomore at me right as the slow dance section started, and I think, that I,as a Freshman was supposed to be kind of grateful?
    Anyway, the guy is kind of awkwardly putting his hand on my back and I put my hands on his shoulders as though I’m laying them into mildew, when it occurs to me, that maybe, things would be less weird if I talk to him?
    So I ask,”Hey, what’s your name?”
    And he mutters,”Abraham.But everyone calls me Abe.”
    And in that very moment, as I’m saying “Ok….Abe.” my fifteen year old self is struck with a view of the future.
    “Ok,” I think to myself, as Boys2Men are crooning in the background, “so this is what my dating life is going to be like.”
    Unspeakably awkward.

  9. I feel so old now. (okay, to be honest, that happened earlier this year when I attended my 20th reunion) Many of these songs were from the years in the latter stages of high-school and shortly thereafter.

  10. When I was in like 4th grade and still thought I was a boy, the girl I had a crush on had a dance party at her house for her birthday. And I was so excited/nervous because she slow danced with me at some point, but when she put her arms around my neck, I put my arms around her neck. And then her older brother came over and told me boys were supposed to put their arms around girls’ waists and I was humiliated!

    But many years later, it turns out I actually am a girl so WHO’S LAUGHING NOW???

  11. So, weird I spent Saturday night(around midnight) listening to 90s R&B including Jonny Gil, BabyFace, and Dru-Hill.

    • With the best will in the world, I don’t think these things are ever likely to change as long as folks are folks.

  12. I may or may not still slow dance with myself along to NOBODY by Keith Sweat.
    I never made it to school dances. The thought of dressing up in skirts in heels back then shouldve been a hint to my love of adidas track pants, converse, and boobs..

  13. I’m so glad that in my adult life I can just do the twist a la’ Chubby Checkers and it’s a cross-generational hit.

  14. I kissed a girl came out when I was in 8th grade and unbeknownst to me, that added 4 more years in the closet to my unknowing gay self :/

  15. In seventh grade, this kid Teague asked me to the Spring Fling, and I said yes, because they didn’t teach us how to say “no” in “Family Life Education”. (“how to decline an offer to dance” was also not covered in the inexplicable sixth grade swing dance curriculum.)

    But I’d only moved to Virginia a year earlier, and I didn’t really know Teague, so I decided to actually interact with him, to see if he was as cool as my best guy friend from back in Maryland, whose name was Gabe, and whose brothers built a tree house 17ft up a pine tree in their backyard.

    Teague was not as cool as Gabe, and he didn’t like the Matrix, and he had never dug a trench connecting to a literal underground tunnel in his backyard (Gabe had), and he wasn’t a killer banjo player (Gabe was), and we definitely wouldn’t be mistaken for twins on twin day (like me and Gabe were), so I rescinded my “yes” and attended the Spring Fling solo.

    Two different teachers scolded me for being unkind, but Teague turned out to be kind of a handsy dick, so I have no regrets.

    (Gabe, meanwhile, threw really great parties in high school, and powered his car using fuel he made from left over restaurant grease he got from local fast food joints, and now I think he does environmental justice work / takes really great nature pics while canoeing.)

    • My Virginia replacement Guy Best Friend was really into Wicca, dyed my bangs pink in his mom’s bathroom, & taught me how to give myself a stick n poke tattoo using a sewing needle and India ink (not something I’d recommend now that I know more about hepatitis / the nature of regret)

  16. So yeah, seventh grade Spring Fling, freshmen homecoming, junior prom, and senior homecoming = the only four school dances I ever attended.

    I’d wear whatever dress happened to be in my sister’s closet at the time, go with a group of friends, and spend more time eating than dancing

  17. Okay, I finally have a chance to tell my awkward middle school dance story! I was very much closeted and oblivious to my gay-ness in those days. My mom got me a dress and made me wear my hair down, much to my shame, but I was looking forward to spending some time with my friends. I had a good, non-embarrassing time until the obligatory slow song came on. I thought I would dance with one of my friends, as a joke, but I couldn’t find her. So, I somehow ended up waltzing with my chief academic rival. You know how some people say “leave room for Jesus”? Well, there was room enough for Him and a few disciples to fit between us. Fast forward to our senior year in high school and we’re both gay, and he’s trying to set me up with girls for prom.

  18. 2 facts about me:
    1. Once in elementary school, I wrote a letter in the actual mail to S Club 7 and I’m still devastated they never responded.
    2. there is a wonderful photo of me out there from a 7th grade dance slow dancing with my first boyfriend (who tucked his sweaters into his pants). In this photo I am literally rolling my eyes at whoever is taking the photo because I was so annoyed at the whole experience. And for some reason, I have a very clear memory of that moment and the song playing was Usher’s “u got it bad.”

  19. Ugh, do we really want to relive this?

    Being bisexual, my middle school dance experience doesn’t come with an “oh, it’s because I only liked girls” revelation, but it was nevertheless awkward and all around terrible. Around age 11-12, my desire to be a boy was in full swing, so I definitely didn’t want to push my body up against one or kiss one, and I was also horribly frustrated with all my friends’ obsession with boy bands and their belief that they were in love with some boy they had never spent time alone with (I was the love-Grinch, preaching to all my friends that only adults can actually be in love). I only went to obligatory dances, won the dance contest, and then whenever there was a slow song I hurried off to the snacks kiosk because while I thought dancing with handsy boys was stupid I was also embarrassed by the fact that no one would ever as me to dance. I was only ever asked to dance when some of the boys challenged each other to dance with all the girls in one night, and I really resented it. Knowing that I was the least desirable girl in my year was one thing when no one said it and I was picked first for all sports and anything technical, but another thing entirely when my boyish undesirability was put on display for everyone, strangers included, for a whole night.

    Ages 14-15 was when I realised that teenage boys are really awful and I definitely didn’t want to be one of them, and then I had my first crush, on a gorgeous, soft and curvy, feminine goth girl, and instead all my angst circled around being terrified I might be gay. We only had one dance, but it was obligatory and it was absolutely horrible for all the reasons already mentioned, but also because it had a dress code, was all waltz and foxtrot, and the girls had to ask the boys to dance every other time and I didn’t dance a single time, neither by asking or being asked. The only upside was that I realised there was one boy I kind of wanted to ask me, but then again that kind of kicked off more than a decade of “I liked a boy, so I’m totally straight!”-denial.

  20. “The audience will feel a strong sense that she’s obsessed with the Spice Girls, Geri in particular.”

    I was but a second grader when the Spice Girls were at their height, but I always insisted on playing Geri at recess. A Ginger Spice in a sea of Baby Spices. Thanks for the giggle!

  21. I was one of those that LOVED the school dances. It got me away from my terrible mother and out of the house. I was always a good, solid dancer so no one ever wanted to dance with me. Sadly, I rocked out while my friends just did the step-sway next to me. The slow songs always made me uncomfortable and I would usually hide in the corner. I always wanted to be asked to dance to a slow song which felt ODD when it happened and would have been upset if a girl asked me. I would have loved to ask one of them but was way too afraid. Why did I not come out until I was in my late twenties?

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