“It was a ‘boy-gets-boy’ story,” Polito told me. “But really I wanted to tell a story about two friends going through discovering their sexuality together.”
“Band Fags” was adapted into a novel of the same name in 2004, and Polito fleshed out the friendship between Jack and Brad, teenage band geeks confronted with same-sex attraction in early 1980s suburban Detroit. The friendship element was retained when the novel was turned back into a two-man play — currently on a West Coast premiere run at the New Conservatory Theatre Center.
“Band Fags” has actors Blake Dorris and James Arthur M. capturing the eagerness of teenage obsessions. The endearing coming-of-age story takes place inside a rose-colored time capsule of pop life in the ’80s, complete with the Erasure soundtrack.
When so much queer folklore from the 1980s tends to focus solely on the devastation of the AIDS epidemic, it’s refreshing to see a different slice of gay life. “Band Fags” does have a mention of AIDS, but (true to the times) it’s cloaked in innuendo and euphemism.
“I wrote ‘Band Fags’ about the things that I was interested in when I was a teen,” Polito said. “Growing up, I knew about AIDS but I was more concerned with making it on the homecoming court.”
Today, LGBT youths are being crowned homecoming royalty, and queer prom queens and kings are emerging in high schools nationwide. About a week ago, Cassidy Lynn Campbell, a transgender 16-year-old, won the title of homecoming queen of her Huntington Beach high school.
And in August, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill granting California public school students the right to participate in sex-segregated activities consistent with their gender identities.
“My brother is a high school drama teacher and he just cast a lesbian and a transgender teen as the two male leads,” Polito said, echoing the strides we have made.
But despite “Glee” and the It Gets Better campaign, this form of acceptance is far from widespread.
Even the use of certain phrases still causes discomfort in some. The title, “Band Fags,” has given Polito plenty of chances throughout the years to defend his appropriation.
First Barnes & Noble booksellers were hesitant to carry the novel in 2004. Most recently, Facebook deleted the novel’s official page, citing “offensive and hateful language.”
“The term ‘band fag’ is a phrase of its time,” Polito said. “In high school, everyone in band was a ‘band fag.’ The popular jock was in band and he used to refer to himself as king of the band fags. For us, it was a badge of honor.”
“Band Fags” is playing at the New Conservatory Theatre Center at 25 Van Ness St. in San Francisco on Wednesdays through Sundays until Oct. 13.
Oscar Raymundo is the head of marketing at a leading LGBT media company. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.