What’s In A Name?



As you’re right to assume, the story is based on my own life. In the book, Jack Paterno (the Frank Anthony Polito character) is a gay teenager growing up in the mid to late 1980s. He lives in a small town dubbed “Hazeltucky” and goes to school at “Hillbilly High.” Clearly, this is not a tolerant place to be living during this time period, as we learn when the other boys label him a “fag”... because he is one. And he knows it.

Jack also plays trumpet in the school band, comprised of a lot of other kids who are all called “band fags.” But (like Frank Anthony Polito) Jack hears only the word “fag” when someone says “band fag.” And because of this (again, like Frank Anthony Polito), Jack tries to hide from his true sexual identity, even at the expense of his relationship with his best friend since seventh grade, who is also gay (as was/is my best friend).

Thankfully, Jack is not beaten up, nor does he contemplate suicide as so many young gays who fall victim to such hate-speak unfortunately have. He holds his head up high, and after a series of missteps that involves dating girls, crushing on boys, and meeting the “Giver Goddess,” Judy Tenuta, Jack Paterno begins to accept who he is — a young gay man.

Like GLAAD, which demanded an apology from John Mayer after he used “fag” in an interview, I still cringe whenever I hear the word. (For those who missed it: In a drunken stupor at a club on New Year’s Eve, Mayer rammed his tongue down Perez Hilton’s throat. He described the moment as being “the dirtiest, tongue-iest kiss I have ever put on anybody — almost as if I hated fags.”)

But for me, it’s all about context.

If my partner, Craig, and I are walking down the street and a group of most likely heterosexual guys screams out “Faggots!” then it upsets me. If my 10-year-old nephew turns to his 7-year-old brother and says “You’re such a fag!” it bothers me too. But if my gay best friend says, “What’s up, fag?” I’m not offended. He’s a fag, I’m a fag. This is our word. We have the right to use it if we want — so long as it isn’t meant to harm someone else.

But again, this has nothing to do with the title of my book. Calling someone a “band fag” is not the same as calling someone a “fag.” “Band fag” is a compound phrase. Broken down, “fag” is a derogatory name for a homosexual. But a “band fag” is someone who plays in the school band. (It’s like “fruitcake.” “Fruit” is a derogatory term for a homosexual. But “fruitcake” is something you eat at Christmas.)

Sure, “band fag” might have a negative connotation. But only because some kids think that being in the school band isn’t cool. It has nothing to do with sexual orientation. It’s a name, pure and simple.

“Stick and stones may break my bones ... ” (Thanks, Mom!)

Tags: Books