'I went viral for wearing a dress to prom - this is what I've learnt about being my authentic self'

13 June 2024, 15:33 | Updated: 13 June 2024, 17:14

"I went viral for wearing this prom dress"

Alice Dear

By Alice Dear

Korben went viral for wearing this amazing suit-dress outfit to his prom, and now he's sat down with Heart to talk about the reaction, celebrating Pride and the importance of being his authentic self.

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Korben White made headlines in 2022 when, at the age of 16, he attended his prom dressed in a fabulous red sequin gown inspired by Billy Porter.

When his mum, Nina, shared the pictures on X (formerly Twitter), Korben was met with a wave of admiration and love - with Michelle Visage even replying and calling him a 'star'. At the time, we covered the inspirational story which gained so much love and support.

Now, to mark Pride 2024, Korben and his mum Nina sat down with Heart to talk about the amazing moment, the importance of Pride all year round and how important it is to be an ally.

You can watch the full interview with Korben and his mum here, and read their powerful words below.

Korben White said he felt like wearing this amazing prom dress 'was a celebration of finding' himself
Korben White said he felt like wearing this amazing prom dress 'was a celebration of finding' himself. Picture: Korben White

K: Hello, my name is Korben and two years ago I went to prom in this red ball gown and went viral over Twitter. I just always wanted to have a dress, feel like a bit of a Princess, and we were inspired by Billy Porter's kind of suit and gown. I feel I really wanted to show that I'm masculine in some ways, but I have a very feminine side. So of course, sequins and shiny things! And I just absolutely adore this outfit.

N: You weren't gonna go for red at first, were you? You were inspired because you'd played Sebastian in A Little Mermaid in a production, and you wore red for that, and everyone said how lovely you looked in red. So the decision was made to put you in a red ball gown.

K: Which is odd, because usually a redhead would clash with a redhead! But I think it works.

N: It did work and it looked stunning! I just remember feeling, just looking at you and thinking how beautiful you looked. It was just like, I'm just looking at Korben. I'm just looking at Korben, being Korben. Nothing about gender, nothing about sexuality, just being Korben.

K: I tried [the dress] on for the first time and it was a complete surprise to me. It was like, yes. Yes, this is not only who I am, but like who I want to be. I think Dolly Parton said; 'Find out who you are and then do it on purpose'. And I think that was the moment where I was like, yes, this is who I want to be, this is who I need to be and it was a celebration of finding myself.

It was a celebration of finding myself.

- Korben White

K: I think I've been very lucky that I've always known who I am, I've had that supportive network to thrive and grow up embracing my authentic self, but I kind of wanted to say – this is who I am. And I'm allowed to be myself and I'm allowed to be accepted.

N: I think from my point of view, it doesn't matter what anybody else thinks because I wanted you to go there being Korben, the full Korben. You said to me when you were 12: 'When I go to prom I want to wear a ball gown,' and so when it came to prom we were like 'let's make it happen!' and we made it happen. I think you found this moment to really show everybody who you are.

N: I think maybe within school, in your uniform, sometimes you're trapped within that and it's the first time you're able to actually go TA-DA this is me, and you did that and it was lovely, and the fact that you got such a lovely reaction from everybody.

K: Yeah, that's the thing, knowing that I walked out and everyone was accepting and everyone was so supportive of it really meant the world.

N: And that was really emotional for me as well, as your mum, to see people accept you for who you are and to know actually he's gonna be great, he's gonna go out into this world and it's gonna be fine, it's gonna be great, people accept him and that makes me really happy. I remember your Head Teacher said: 'We knew you were gonna do something spectacular, Korben, but not this spectacular!'

Michelle Visage praised both Korben and his mum Nina on Twitter after they shared the images of the prom dress
Michelle Visage praised both Korben and his mum Nina on Twitter after they shared the images of the prom dress. Picture: X

N: When I put the tweet out – obviously Michelle Visage is someone who you've always looked up to, you've watched Drag Race since she was really little – and I knew that if there was anybody out there that would celebrate you showing your authentic self with me as a mum would be her. And obviously I tweeted Billy Porter as well because he was the inspiration. Do you remember me saying: 'My phone's going mad, I don't know why, I'm getting all these notifications!' And I said, someone must have retweeted this. Then I looked and I said to you, Michelle Visage's retweeted this and sent a message! It just went crazy didn't it? Within an hour we'd had something like 17,000 likes.

K: Yeah we were getting so much love and support which was incredible, but in my eyes I was like 'I've just worn a dress? What have I actually done?' but then it was remembering, actually this is such an important message. I was grateful that we got an opportunity to speak about it and say: 'You can be your authentic self,' and for young people to find their supportive network – and for parents like you and family members – it's about just loving and supporting your children.

N: I think it gave us an opportunity not to talk about the dress, not to talk about necessarily even about you wearing the dress, but to talk about how people need to accept others for who they are, and about parents supporting their children living their best lives and being their authentic selves. I've said this all along and I repeat it now; if you allow your child to be their authentic self you will only get the best from them. I believe I've got the best from you and your brother because I've always allowed you to be your authentic selves, I've always allowed you to explore and find your way, find what you want, who you are and support that. I've never pushed you in any direction [and said] 'this is what you've got to do,' it's just that you've been like: 'Mum can I have that, can I see this can, I wear this?' Yeah! If that's what you want to do, you do it!

I feel so supported and so loved, everyone deserves to feel like that.

- Korben White

N: It's allowed us to send a really important message about acceptance that is so important because there's so many young people, like you, that don't get that support. We wanted to show them there is a network out there for them, didn't we? And show them that they can be loved and they will be loved and they are loved.

K: Absolutely. I do not take my support network for granted because I know how fortunate I am. I'm so thankful that not only do I have a loving mum but I've also got really supportive brother, father, stepfather, grandparents, aunts, cousins. So I'm ever so grateful for that. Also, it is about remembering that it's been much easier for me in this day and age. We've progressed a lot for queer people's rights – we're still not there, there's still a massive fight to go through – but we've progressed so much. It's remembering the older generations – I say the older generations of queer people – but even 20 years ago, [it was a] completely different kettle of fish. The fact that people had to really fight or hide to stay safe, and people not coming out until later in life...

N: It's shocking to think that 40, 50 years ago, certain things were still illegal in this country. You know, and 20 years, even 10 years ago, you would would have had so much more negativity if you'd have worn that dress for prom. So it does show how far we've come. I'm grateful as your mum that you are growing up in a generation that are a lot more accepting. But that doesn't take away from the fact that we do still need events like Pride to highlight that there is still prejudice out there, there is still stereotyping out there and that's why this is so important for us to spread this message.

N: I think all parents need to accept their children for who they are and nurture who they are from a young age. And I – you said doing my job as a mum – it doesn't even feel like a job. It's not a job, it's just being your mum and it's knowing who you are and understanding who you are and nurturing that and the rest of the family doing that.

K: I guess it's maybe trying to help people understand that your gender identity, your sexuality, and just how you want to express yourself, they can all be different. You have made sure [that you don't] stereotype with 'Oh, he's feminine, he must be gay!' Well, I am! But it's knowing that we're all human and we're expressing ourselves authentically.

N: I don't know about you, but I think people are too quick to want to put people in boxes, or want to put themselves in a box because they feel they've got to be in a box, and we've never made you do that. We've never said: 'What are you? What do you think you are? Who do you think you are?' We've just let you find your own way and been open minded to that, and just waited for you and I think that's really important. It's about not forcing the issue too much, as well, I think and it's about letting people do it in their own time, but being there and being ready for that. I just think there's some people that don't have that or are too scared and it's about them finding their network where they can and they can be who they are and find the right people for them.

K: There's always going to be negativity and hate in the world, that's always gonna happen. I think [most] negative comments my way have been more about the colour of my hair than my sexuality! No matter who you are, there's always going to be little negative things. Maybe there are some people who aren't your number one fan, and that's okay. It's accepting that and saying, okay, you can live your life, but I'm gonna surround myself with the people I love. That's the thing with the tweet, of course there were some negative comments, but they didn't matter because the love from other people just outshone that. It was, like you said, seeing other people celebrate their family, their children, and that is the point of it.

N: You know, you're not Korben because of your sexuality or your gender, you're Korben. I don't care who you love, I just want you to be Korben and the best Korben you are. That should go for every single person, regardless of their age, just be you. It doesn't matter about who you love, just love, just be kind, just do what makes you feel right and good and authentic. The rest will just fall into place. That's the way I feel about it.

K: You were such a good ally because you were just there just to listen. I was like: 'Oh, I feel like I don't know who I am. I feel like I don't feel like I'm a straight male. I feel like I'm just something different,' and I wasn't quite sure. You always said, it doesn't matter now. Just be who you want to be, be you, just be you. That's all that matters.

N: This this is really important. It's not just about coming out once a year and waving a rainbow flag, Pride is 365 days of the year, 24/7. It's about being an ally every single day and not just on a day to come out and party. I think that, for me, is really important. It's about allowing people to have a voice all the time, not just during the month of June or during Pride celebrations. It's about being there constantly and saying: 'I'm with you, I accept you, and you've got a safe place with me'.

K: Yeah. It is so amazing and I feel so safe that I can talk to you and I feel so supported and so loved, everyone deserves to feel like that and I don't take that for granted. Everyone deserves to feel like that.

N: I will always support you through everything. Everything. Whatever happens going forward of your life, you'll make me proud every single day, because you're an amazing person.

K: So are you.

N: And it's about you, not your gender, not your sexual, but it's about you.

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