Frankie Fey

by Rigby Taylor

Chapter 19


Frankie had thought long and hard about how best to present himself to the "Forum-To-discuss-Student-Concerns-Regarding-Gender-Equality". He needed to grab his audience's interest and generate controversy if he wanted to stimulate debate, so he talked it over with Lydia.

'I love this place,' he said seriously, 'but there's a fascist element.'

'Fascist?' Lydia sounded surprised, but clearly wasn't. 'Go on.'

'The school's democratic processes have been hijacked by vested interests that make laws to suit themselves.'

'What vested interests?'

'Fanatic feminism.'

'I'd gathered that was to be on the agenda after hearing about some of the male students' activities over the last few days. So, what did you want to talk to me about?

'Are you sure I have the approval of the powers that be?'

'There's been talk for a while about problems regarding gender equality, but those rules were put in place by student demand. Therefore they should only be changed by student demand. If the University Council were to impose change, they would be accused of dictatorial behaviour. Revolutions arise from the bottom, they are not imposed from the top.'

'Excellent. That leaves me with only one question, would Security come and prevent me from continuing if I gave my talk naked?'

'By naked I presume you mean physically, not mentally exposed?'

'Yes. Not a stitch from toe to topknot. I see it as a symbolic gesture to show I have no hidden agenda and I'm not trying to impress or distract with bells and whistles. It will also be a test of their tolerance and acceptance of difference. If they can listen and think about my ideas and not be distracted and upset by seeing my dangly bits, then they've passed.'

'And I imagine you will get quite a kick out of the experience?'

Frankie grinned. 'Of course.'

'But you're not an exhibitionist.'

Frankie's eyes opened wide in horror. 'Heaven forbid! Exhibitionists want to shock! I'm seeking approval! I want to discover if people can like me for my essential self, not for my conformity to externally imposed norms. If they do accept me it'll be a real confidence builder.'

'You never seem to lack confidence.'

'That's because I keep testing it—challenging others to disagree with me, to dislike me, to reject me.'

'Have you ever been rejected?'

'Not by anyone I care about.' Frankie shook his head as if confused. 'Don't you find it odd that no matter how eccentric my behaviour, people still seem to like me.'

Lydia laughed. 'Disingenuous boy! You know perfectly well it's because you take great pains to be likeable. You're friendly, never morose, always helpful and polite, clean, neat and sweet smelling, generous, modest, good looking and don't seem to take yourself too seriously. There's nothing about you to dislike, so something minor like challenging the social structures of a prestigious University while completely naked on the stage of the Great Hall in front of the entire student body, would be irrelevant to any sane person.'

Frankie giggled, then gazed at his mentor in mute appeal. 'It's not my fault, Lydia.' The sigh was tragic. 'I can't help being like that—it's my character.' He shook his head and shrugged sad acceptance of his fate.

Lydia laughed. 'Cheeky monkey; such a cross to bear. But you'll cope. I guarantee they will love you even more after the meeting. In fact I'll put money on it.'

'How much?'

'I'll take you to dinner in the city if I'm wrong.'

'You're on!' Frankie laughed, then kneeling before her he pleaded, 'Lydia, will you do me the honour of introducing me to the students at the meeting? I need you to add the essential touch of gravitas, in contrast to my levity.'

'Yes, on condition you get someone in the special effects department to make sure I look impressive and queenly.'

'You already do. But he'll make sure you're even more regal than usual.'

Laurent had concealed his doubts about Frankie's plan, while helping to ensure its success with a little stage magic. The midnight blue, velvet front curtains were drawn halfway across the unlit stage, leaving an opening into a black, impenetrable, empty space. When the Great Hall was filled with chattering students, a soft golden glow appeared deep inside the darkness, which slowly increased in intensity to reveal a beautiful Peacock Chair in which Lydia, draped in something vaguely classical, was comfortably ensconced while reading a very large book.

Laurent had placed the chair about a metre above the stage floor on a matt-black, wheeled platform, so from the auditorium the golden apparition appeared to float in an amber haze as she drifted silently towards the front of the stage. She looked up as if surprised to find herself there, and removed her spectacles. An expectant hush descended. Calmly placing her book to one side, she leaned slightly forward and spoke in a soft, conversational tone. With the assistance of a tiny microphone pinned to her blouse and a state of the art sound system, everyone felt as if she was speaking only to them.

'As many of you know, your fellow student Frankie Fey has been concerned by three recent suicides, and set himself the task of preventing them in future. He presented his ideas to the University Council for their opinion, and they decided they were worth considering, but as you know, changes to social protocol must be made by a student majority. That means the final decision on Frankie's proposals is in your hands. To ensure you all get the same message, Frankie has been asked to explain his ideas and thoughts to you all today. Then, over the next two days I suggest you discuss the ideas with your fellow students before voting on them.' She paused to let her words sink in, then, in a respectful tone as if announcing the Governor General, 'Ladies and gentlemen! Please welcome Frankie Fey!'

Polite clapping morphed almost immediately into cheers, good-natured laughter, then even more spirited applause as Lydia's peacock chair drifted into the gloom at the side and Frankie slowly emerged from the darkness, gradually becoming solid flesh as he fake jogged towards them like a naked young Apollo into the soft amber glow. About a metre from the edge of the stage and grinning widely, he suddenly tripped. Eyes wide in fear, arms outstretched, he catapulted forward, landing in an ungainly forward roll that looked as if it would take him over the edge into the orchestra pit. At the last second he stopped, buttocks perched right on the edge of the stage, legs dangling. Taking a huge breath he shook his head in amazement at his escape, heaved himself to his feet, then fastidiously flicked imaginary dust from an imaginary suit.

By now aware it had been a stage trip, his audience howled with laughter and stamped their feet. Instead of a boringly serious rant, here was someone who could make them laugh—no mean feat.

Wiping imaginary sweat from his brow, Frankie bowed deeply. 'Thanks for coming,' he said with genuine gratitude and nervous modesty; his voice, like Lydia's, seeming to speak to every individual due to the tiny microphone concealed in his hair. 'First, I want to make it clear that I like and admire this university, the staff, and the students, and I am not a misogynist; my best friend in this place is Lydia.' He blew her a kiss. 'And I love the gardens! They make me feel I'm living in Elysium… at least they did until three young men suicided. I was so shocked that anyone would choose to do that while studying and working in such a wonderful environment, that I determined to discover why.'

His audience were completely silent, absorbed. Already his nakedness was irrelevant. What's not to admire in a man who takes his subject seriously, but not himself? From that minute it was the content of his talk, not the man that held their attention.

'Obviously, the students had problems that to them seemed insoluble. But this is a caring environment with friendly staff, people everywhere, counsellors available, few stresses… so it couldn't have been caused, or even prevented by the university—could it? Students and staff are equal in all possible ways.' He paused slightly. 'But what do we mean by equal? Are we equally tolerant of all human behaviours that do no harm? Do all rules benefit everyone equally? Are we all equally rational? Do you consider all religious and political views to be equal?

'The university's gender-neutral policy is based on the notion that treating people equally means you are treating them the best possible way. But that's irrational because we're not all the same either physically,' he looked down at himself with a laugh that was echoed by his audience, 'or mentally. Of equal value, yes. But not the same! Mental differences are not so obvious, so please try to remain calm while I offer a few generalisations.' He looked away as if to think, then cast his eye around the auditorium before speaking with authority.

'In general, males like to protect; females like to be protected. Males like to provide; females like to be provided for. Females have their eyes on everything; males tend to concentrate on the job in hand. Females like to gossip and talk about themselves; males talk about general topics and don't like to gossip. Men become depressed if they are unable to provide, protect and be useful to others; females get depressed when they don't get what they want. Men write poems and love songs to women, women love to receive them. Both males and females like to express their sexuality through dress, but there equality ends. Females may wear what they please, but due to social and peer pressure, males may not. He stared thoughtfully out at his audience. 'I suppose many of you are thinking I'm a disgusting exhibitionist because along with other men I've been swimming naked in the Recreation Pool, and am now standing on the stage of the Great Hall with my man-bits hanging loose. I wonder what the reaction would be were I a female? Possibly admired—albeit grudgingly. So much for gender equality. Males should not be denied equality in choosing how to dress because females don't like to see their hairy chests or legs, or be reminded that they have external genitals. Why should males have to wear dangerous and uncomfortable board shorts to swim in? Equality has nothing to do with liking or approving of something. It is outside one's personal opinions.

'Too often in this university, males are denied equality of expression. Females have the right to criticise men, while denying males the same right. Men can be labelled misogynistic-woman-haters, but no such criticism may be levelled at females. All men admit they have no idea what goes on in women's heads, whereas most women are convinced they understand men perfectly, certain that males are just like them; that we are being deliberately perverse by not acting like them. But we are not females with penises! We are complete opposites! And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the sole reason humans have survived for about three hundred thousand years!

'We do not have a gender neutral society in this university, we have a female-oriented society in which females feel comfortable and many males feel neutered—out of place, constrained by unnatural rules about their behaviour, dress and language. It's good that both genders are treated equally regarding lodgings, food, equipment, facilities and support, but I repeat… equal does not mean the same.

'What can we do about it?

'We can provide male-only spaces to which men can retreat and be thoroughly male without females judging, criticising, interrupting and taking over the conversation, then gossiping about it later with their friends and his enemies. Men cannot be natural in the company of women, because their evolutionary survival has required they impress, appear capable, on top of things, are brave, calm, strong, inventive, able to protect and provide for a female in order to breed. It's that simple. A few thousand years of living in towns and cities protected from the natural world has changed nothing in our essential behaviour. If a man admits to problems in front of a woman, he knows she will think he's weak and unmanly and will tell her friends and then he will not get a wife. Animal behaviour is basic, not complicated. Only when there is no fear of females seeing or overhearing, can males share experiences, fears, hopes and failures without shame. Because other men understand and have similar problems and are usually non-judgemental in whatever advice or commiseration they offer. And will not gossip about it.'

Frankie stopped and gazed down thoughtfully. His audience remained completely still.

'This is the important bit!' he said sharply. 'I learned that all three men who suicided were not offered counselling by a man, but by woman who has since resigned. The myth of gender equality allowed that to happen, so instead of being able to honestly confide their problems to a man trained to advise, support and understand them, they were forced to see a female counsellor to whom they could not confide because that would be against their basic survival nature!'

The shuffling of feet filled a short silence.

'According to two psychology texts I read recently, female humans become sad when they are displeased or dissatisfied, while male humans become sad when they are unable to please or satisfy others.' He held up a hand to forestall an outcry. 'Yes, I am aware that is a generalisation, but it's based on the empirical evidence of several psychologists' investigations of the suicides of farmers on drought-stricken farms, and failed businesses. Without generalisations, discussion is impossible. Surely rational generalisations are preferable to opinions based merely on one's personal likes and dislikes?

'When an unhappy young woman seeks counselling, among other things she will be offered sympathy and advice to be proud of herself simply because she is a woman and therefore deserving of respect. I discovered that similar advice is offered to male students here, because female counsellors appear to believe in the feminist myth that men and women are mentally interchangeable. But sympathy and platitudes about being worthwhile simply because you are a man, are no help. A man needs to know that he's not a crybaby; that he is brave for seeking help and trying to improve his circumstances, and for his determination to be useful and to please. It's the opposites thing again. Females want to be helped, males want to help; it's how we survived.

'Six out of ten successful suicides are by men, because they genuinely want to escape their despair at being unable to extricate themselves from their problems. Few suicide attempts by females succeed, because their intention is to get attention and sympathy and help from others.

'It's not only in mixed lounges that men are not able to relax and be natural, it's also in the halls of residence. There is always a female somewhere, watching, commenting and gossiping, so men don't like to visit each other. And if they do, a female 'friend' is sure to arrive to see what's going on and report back. If she's asked to leave the man is branded anti female! Queer. Not a real man. What it boils down to is that there is no place on this campus for male students to be certain they can relax with other males, undisturbed by females.'

During the uproar following that comment, Frankie ran off stage and returned wheeling a large whiteboard.

'I have four proposals,' he said when the commotion ceased, writing clearly as he spoke. 'First, two of the three residence blocks should be changed to single sex, while the third remains mixed for those who prefer it. Second, unless they ask for a female counsellor, males should be counselled by males. Third, as well as a mixed lounge there should be both a male-only lounge, and a female-only lounge and recreation space, and single-gender clubs should be allowed. Fourth, it should be University policy that it is an unfriendly act to make remarks about others in public—no exceptions.'

He put down the marking pen and turned to his audience. 'Ok, that's it. A copy of this talk, together with explanatory notes is available on the Internet at I realise this is called a forum, and earlier I said we'd have a debate, but I now think an open discussion would be counter productive, because your responses to these proposals must be yours alone, not influenced by people around you with loud voices and opinions. If you feel like it, discuss them with friends, then in two days time we can all vote by secret ballot for whatever solution we think best.'

He bowed to enthusiastic applause from the men; muted acclaim from the women, then gallantly took Lydia's hand and escorted her off stage.

The changes were approved in full by ninety-eight percent of the university student population. During the next two weeks rooms were re-allocated, belongings moved and friendships strengthened. Males and females now had their own common rooms as well as a mixed gender one. All clubs were permitted to be exclusive to one gender if the members desired it. The rules regarding harassment also underwent an overhaul. An aggrieved claimant had to prove psychological or physical harm before a charge could be laid. Counsellors had to be the same gender as the counselled. In short, commonsense was restored, and male students discovered that females made good friends and were often witty, smart, intelligent and fun to be with, once you weren't terrified of being accused of disrespect.

Frankie became engrossed in his literature studies, devoured numerous supposedly great books, studied art history and discovered that artists were more truthful recorders of history than official sources. He loved art but wasn't prepared to put in the time to learn the skills required to actually make it, excusing himself by saying that artists need an audience, so that's what he'd be. He couldn't learn to read music, but taught himself to pick out tunes on a piano by ear, and loved to sing.

Acting was his favourite occupation and he performed in a dozen plays both ancient and modern, removing his clothes as often as he could persuade the director that the script demanded it. He enjoyed philosophy immensely, also tramping, sprinting, gymnastics, dancing, and swimming, but he took part in no competitions or team sports and refused to watch them. 'If something is worth doing, it's worth doing,' he would explain. 'Turning it into a mini war with winners and losers removes all the pleasure for me.'

He turned nineteen.

Frankie and Laurent's shared interest in the theatre, music, art and healthy living increased their pleasure in each other's company, and was in no way inhibited by their secrecy. Neither wanted to attend University socials and dances, going instead to gay dance venues in the city. They also spent occasional weekends with each other's family, and made several overnight trips further afield.

And then Laurent was offered a position as director of theatrical studies at Dunedin University in New Zealand. He was reluctant to leave Frankie, but both knew their relationship wasn't permanent—yet. Perhaps when Frankie had made his way in the world and experienced everything he was capable of, including those things that are best tackled alone, they might get back together. But even if they didn't, the experience had been exactly what both needed and would never be forgotten.

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