Some South Carolina state senators just don't get satire, especially when it's about the LGBT experience.
When Leigh Hendrix was booked earlier this year by the University of South Carolina Upstate to perform her one-woman show on campus, she didn't know she would become the center of a controversy about gay "indoctrination."
But that was before a few conservative politicians got wind of it.
“That's not an explanation of 'I was born this way.’ It's recruiting,” state Sen. Mike Fair, a Republican representing Greenville, told local NBC affiliate WYFF.
Hendrix, a South Carolina native who now lives in New York, learned last Wednesday that the administration had decided to cancel her performance due to immense pressure from Fair and others, who seemed to take her tongue-in-cheek title literally.
— SaraMarieBrennerShow (@saramarietweets) April 1, 2014
The assistant vice chancellor for USC Upstate communications, Tammy E. Whaley, sent WYFF News 4 this statement:
“The title of ‘How to Become a Lesbian in 10 Days or Less,’ while deliberately provocative, is satirical in nature but has not been received as such. The controversy surrounding this performance has become a distraction to the educational mission of USC Upstate and the overall purpose of the Bodies of Knowledge symposium. As a result, we have canceled this segment of the symposium.”
The show, described as "a guide to gay for budding lesbians, no matter their sexual orientation," sees Hendrix perform as three different characters: a motivational speaker, a performance artist and "Leigh." Hendrix explained the concept in an email to The Huffington Post.
"The show is a comedy, and it's about coming out, but mostly it's about finding and using your voice. I didn't realize until last week what a radical idea that is," Hendrix wrote, continuing, "I made this piece to laugh at myself and my own ideas of what one has to do to be queer, to be an artist, to be a human in the world."
Dr. Lisa Johnson, the director of USC Upstate's Center for Women's & Gender Studies and the organizer of Bodies of Knowledge, told HuffPost why she booked Hendrix's performance for the symposium.
"It has always been my goal to make gay and lesbian students feel like a visible and valued part of the student population," Johnson said. "Leigh's performance would have been a funny and light-hearted way to combat the invisibility of LGBTQ people in the traditional college curriculum."
The signature character of "How To Be A Lesbian In 10 Days Or Less" is "expert lesbian" and motivational speaker Butchy McDyke, a name that should suggest to practically anyone that the piece traffics in hyperbole and metaphor. Of the character, Hendrix said, "Butchy McDyke lets me talk about these things because she's outrageous and outsized -- as are the other characters in the play ... Butchy in particular needs to be larger than life so people can laugh with her."
The search for self-awareness through laughter is not, however, the message state senators are taking away from the symposium's initial inclusion of "How To Be A Lesbian." Several of them have suggested it's yet another example of USC Upstate's continuing campaign of gay propaganda.
“College should be about a wide variety of opinion, not just the agenda of the left. USC Upstate has become a place of indoctrination, not free inquiry," said Republican Sen. Lee Bright, who currently represents Spartanburg and is running for U.S. Senate.
But free inquiry is exactly what the symposium offers, Johnson argued. "The symposium is designed to demonstrate the complex relationship between individuals (gay or straight) and sexual orientation labels. Taking a more nuanced look at a topic -- examining its full complexity, placing it in specific cultural and historical contexts, resisting simplistic conclusions -- is the defining characteristic of a college education."
According to The State magazine, the South Carolina state House of Representatives cut $17,142 from USC Upstate's budget a month ago as a direct result of a freshmen reading program that assigned texts on coming out as gay, and that may not be the end of the school's financial woes. Both Fair and Bright, along with Sen. Kevin Bryant (R-Anderson), have vowed to slash more next year.
“If they’ve got extra money sitting around to promote perversion, obviously they’ve got more money than they really need,” Bryant told The State.
In opposition to the senators' actions, supporters of USC Upstate have taken to social media with the hashtag #standwithupstate:
— Erin Seabolt Bond (@erinseaboltbond) April 8, 2014
It remains to be seen if USC Upstate's administration can appease senators by canceling this one performance, but Hendrix certainly won't be making any apologies.
In response to the cancellation, she released a video from her alter-ego entitled, "Butchy McDyke Responds to Censorship."
“Personal change and transformation [... is] hard," she says in the video. "And it’s nice to have a tall, attractive, confident woman in a well-cut blazer help you navigate that.”
Editor's Note: We sincerely hope that watching that short video didn't recruit any of our readers to the lesbian lifestyle. If it did, we're super sorry.