High school G.S.A. faces identity crisis
BY MARK LUNDY
TRUDOVILLE, VA—When does funny go too far? King Richard High School, nestled between a cow pasture and a water treatment plant in this sleepy Rockingham County town, has received dozens of complaints from concerned parents and students following Tuesday’s stand-up performance by comedian Adrian Kilroy, popularly known as Facky Wag. The comic, hired with funds from the school’s Gay-Straight Alliance, opened his set bantering with the audience in Pennslavor Auditorium.
“Thank you, Gay-Straight Alliance!” he began, to a flurry of cheers. “Or should I say, Gay-Closeted Alliance? Let’s get real here. No one in this club is straight.”
Few in the audience of about 150 laughed at the remark.
“Let me apologize in advance,” he continued, “to the ‘straight’ members of the G.S.A. here with their parents tonight. This is going to be an awkward drive home.”
From there, Wag jumped into a 40-minute routine lampooning Defense of Marriage advocates, the sports industry, and fundamentalist parenting. He followed with original material in the vein of his popular YouTube predictions, “In the Queer Future...” and finished up with a remarkable Winston Churchill impression in which Nazi storm troopers were likened to gay go-go dancers, a bit many attendees cited as the highlight of the show.
But despite the applause, concerns linger over the opening remarks.
“That whole ‘Gay-Closeted Alliance’ comment is exactly the kind of rhetoric hampering the G.S.A.,” insisted Joey Darling, a tenth-grader. “I’m straight and I’m proud to be a member of the club. [Wag’s] portrayal of us only does more to separate the gay and straight communities, which is exactly the opposite of the G.S.A. mission.”
The King Richard High School Gay-Straight Alliance, whose mission statement describes a desire to “foster and promote harmonious relations among all high schoolers, regardless of gender, sex, sexual identity, gender expression, sexual orientation, asexuality, perceived gender, or erotic preference,” was founded in 1996 by three seniors and a freshman, two of whom, Ross Lloyd and Nikola Spenser, were recently married in Washington, D.C., where they both practice corporate law at the firm Lloyd, Barguss & Spenser. The current G.S.A. president, a senior who gave her name as VampiressX but whom fellow students have referred to as Lily Rodriguez, defended her decision to hire the comic.
“Facky Wag is a gay icon. Besides, comedy is comedy.” She took a moment to tie back her purple hair, continuing as soon as the scrunchie was out of her mouth. “It was good stand-up, and like all good stand-up, it had to be a little edgy. He called our straight members closeted. Deal with it.”
Facky Wag, who declined an interview citing “artistic integrity,” has sold over 100,000 copies of his stand-up album Are You There Yet? Facky Wag in the Backseat, and, according to his website (www.fackyou.com), has “performed in all fifty states and twelve of the world’s gayest countries, including Spain, Mauritania, and Luxembourg.” His comedic style, described by the Chicago Sun-Times as “sharp, garish, bitterly crude,” has won him legions of fans on YouTube and Twitter, many of whom post photos of their hand-embroidered “F.W.” neck scarves, a hit on the homemade-fashion site Etsy.
“I didn’t find his approach funny at all,” confessed junior Katie Mulligan, secretary of the G.S.A. “Calling people out and defining them, it’s the typical white male strategy. Divide and conquer. As a comedian, he could have used his popularity to deconstruct patriarchy. Instead, he supports it.”
“Look at my little feminist,” chimed junior Catie Dulac, throwing her arms around Mulligan.
“Don’t call it feminism. That’s just another label.”
Dulac, unfazed, kissed Mulligan on the cheek. “Whatever you want.”
“No,” Mulligan insisted. “Stand up for yourself.” She paused. “But don’t impose.”
Damian North, a senior female-to-male transgender who joined the G.S.A. last year, opposes the use of club funds to hire Wag. “His logic is flawed,” North said, crossing his arms against a prominent bosom. “I have a girlfriend, so most people who see us assume I’m a lesbian. But post-op, when I pass better, I’ll prove I’m a straight guy. Therefore I’m closeted? It makes no sense.”
North said he filed a complaint with VampiressX, but has not heard back.
Thursday night, a rift in the P.T.A. over whether to support Facky Wag’s show (which marked the first stand-up routine by an openly gay comic in the history of Trudoville) or condemn it on moral grounds, led to the formation of a pro-gay splinter group. Dave Richols, a founding member of the new organization, Queer Parents and Educators, or QPE (pronounced queepy), described it as “an adult companion to the G.S.A. Wait,” he corrected himself. “I don’t like the connotations of that. We’re a mature partner for the G.S.A. No.” He held up a hand. “Just write that we’re a grown-up G.S.A. That should work.”
Fred Barzenby, Richols’s husband, agreed that QPE would provide much-needed parental support for the high school club, but still burned over Wag’s opening comment. “Now that there’s a rumor about heterosexual G.S.A. kids being in the closet, we’ll never get our son to join. It’s hard enough to get him involved with [out of school] gay rights groups.”
Their son, freshman Daniel Richols-Barzenby, said “I’m straight. Quit asking,” when approached for an interview.
G.S.A. opinion remains divided.
Sophomore Maria Metrodorus, who describes herself as pansexual, played Wag’s stand-up album on a laptop while she and Joey Darling worked alone in the art room on Friday. Darling tailored flapper dresses on a sewing machine while Metrodorus affixed sequins to a suit jacket.
“We’re co-costumers for the musical,” Darling explained.
“Facky’s great,” Metrodorus said. “I’m just amazed [King] Rich[ard] let him come, considering––”
“His AIDS joke went too far,” Darling cut in. (The joke, as quoted by VampiressX in an e-mail: “We gays need to merchandise. Camel used to market cigarettes as a weight-loss supplement, so how about we sell ‘the gay diet’: AIDS! Eat whatever the hell you want and you’re still wasting away.”)
“True,” Metrodorus agreed. “But at least it’s opening up the conversation about gay issues in Trudoville. I’m glad Roy signed off.”
Roy Chatham, who approved the funds for Wag’s performance, is interim treasurer of the G.S.A. after last semester’s Kris Gogol stepped down amid embezzlement allegations. (He was accused of using G.S.A. money to pay for frosted-blond highlights.)
“He made a splash worth the cash,” Chatham quipped about Wag’s show and its fallout. “One-two-three publicity.”
None of the 42 members of the P.T.A. had heard of Facky Wag before Tuesday night’s performance, an event which 14 of them chaperoned, including all two members of the future QPE splinter group.
“I’ve never heard such smut,” said Gordon Ferguson, 68, according to stenograph records of Thursday’s meeting. “I don’t know what a ‘bear’ is, or what ‘topped by twinks’ is supposed to mean, but I can recognize the language of Sodom. I didn’t put my five sons through high school to poison their ears with the homosexual agenda.”
Ferguson’s youngest son, Gordon Jr., has been a senior at King Richard since 2010. He is not a member of the G.S.A.
“Mr. Ferguson,” History teacher Deborah Hastings is recorded as saying, “while I don’t agree with your fears of a ‘homosexual agenda,’ I do believe that acts which are politically volatile or frankly sexual should be kept from the Pennslavor stage. There is a place for them in the realm of art, but not that of public education. It’s not worth the hubbub.”
But the hubbub is exactly the silver lining secretary Mulligan sees in the Wag affair. Despite reasserting her “pervasive and complete disagreement with the manner and worldview of the comedian Facky Wag,” she admits that “the incident has brought new members to the G.S.A. In the days since the performance, four students have come out of the closet and joined the club.” Mulligan attributes their joining to a reduced stigma now that gay issues are being openly discussed at King Richard, and their coming out beforehand to the fact that “joining as a so-called ‘straight’ member is kind of moot now.” Mulligan plans to honor the new recruits at a G.S.A. meeting next week.
“Three of them are female,” she added.
Not everyone was as enamored of the publicity.
“I might quit the Alliance over this,” Damian North confided. “All of the attention and debate is only making us stand out more. The G.S.A. used to be a place where we could all blend in and just be normal, and not have people staring at us like they do everywhere else we go. Sure, issues of gender and sexuality are finally being discussed, but they’re turning us into a laughingstock in the process. I don’t want to be a curiosity.”
Joey Darling didn’t let Wag’s comment bother him for long. “You know, he’s gay, I’m straight. Whatever, okay? I am glad I went, though. It’s part of G.S.A. history now. Besides,” he added. “Facky’s outfit was gorgeous. I might have to steal it for my look book.”
Mark Lundy studies ancient languages at the University of Virginia.