FRANKLIN, Tenn. — A Tennessee teenager who wore a dress to prom to crush stigmas surrounding gendered clothing said his mission was accomplished, despite a viral run-in with a detractor.
Dalton Stevens, an 18-year-old senior at Franklin High School, said he chose a stunning, floor-length red gown and 6-inch heels to wear to his prom with his boyfriend to show that men can wear dresses — and look incredible in them.
The reaction was stellar. When at dinner before the dance and while taking photos with his boyfriend, Stevens said he was approached by strangers who applauded his attire and hyped him up. Out-of-towners were amazed at the dress — and in Franklin, Tennessee, of all places, they said.
“I wanted to show everybody it was a piece of cloth,” he said. “Nothing more, nothing less.”
Things took a turn when photos were wrapping up and a man — Sam Johnson, the former CEO of a telehealth company who was removed from his leadership role after a video of him went viral — questioned Stevens for wearing the dress and told him he looked like an idiot. Stevens said he initially thought it was someone’s dad playing a prank on him before he realized that the stranger was serious.
The video, captured by Stevens’ boyfriend, shows Johnson standing inches away from the teen, maskless and leering. Johnson followed Stevens around and took a swipe at the boyfriend’s phone. He missed and smacked Stevens instead.
Police responded to the incident, but Stevens told The Tennessean he was unsure if he wanted to escalate the matter with law enforcement. A police spokesman said the department received the video and found it concerning.
“I couldn’t fathom that somebody in this day and age would come up to a stranger, much less a teenager, with so many people and try to scrutinize them for what they chose to wear,” Stevens said.
But despite the encounter rattling him, Stevens didn’t let it ruin his prom night. He held his head high and marched into his school, where he had a memorable night with his friends and boyfriend.
“I didn’t let it ruin my night,” he said. “I still walked into that school knowing I was wearing a dress with 6-inch heels and was serving all the looks. And anybody who wants to look can look. A guy can look just as hot in a dress as a girl can.”
While Stevens said his boyfriend posted the video with the expectation of getting some reaction, they weren’t expecting it to go viral. But with the million views came a flood of support on social media.
Dozens of people commented on his Instagram post of his outfit telling him how gorgeous he looked and about the hope he inspired. One person sent him a direct message and confided that they didn’t have the courage to embrace any form of gender fluidity, even in clothing, and applauded Stevens for his courage in being true to himself.
Actor Billy Porter posted a TikTok of Stevens’ dress on his Instagram. Porter himself has worn extraordinary ballgowns at award shows in recent years.
“I want people to take away that you truly can be whoever you want and you shouldn’t let anybody tear you down,” Stevens said. “That every person is beautiful, and especially with clothing, it is cloth and it has no gender. It truly is genderless. … Just wear what makes you happy and what makes you feel beautiful.”
Follow Brinley Hineman on Twitter: @brinleyhineman.