Everybody Loves Andy

Seniors Ali Rudel and Andy Tonken
Seniors Ali Rudel and Andy Tonken have been close friends since they were in eighth grade at George Mason Middle School. (Marvin Joseph - The Washington Post)
By Claudia Deane
Sunday, October 23, 2005

Every high school Grace wants to have her Will.

And this most definitely bugs Ali Rudel.

"Even if you aren't interested in profiling me, I would like to ask that at the very least you don't choose a girl who loves gay guys for being gay and [for] having a guy friend who doesn't expect a relationship. That's not what friendships should be about. . ." she e-mails a reporter. "I'm so sick of the way gay people are portrayed in the media, especially as having girl friends that seem to only be there for the shopping."

Now it's a Tuesday evening, the week before the start of her senior year at George C. Marshall High School in Fairfax County, and Ali sits in a wooden booth at the Lost Dog Cafe in Arlington, picking at her chicken and mozzarella pita.

Across from her is her longtime friend and fellow senior Andy Tonken, his expression a mixture of shared indignation and fond amusement.

"It bothers me. It means, like, Andy or any gay guy is not being treated like a human being. He's being treated like a 'gay guy.'" Ali says. "It's really obnoxious that there are these people who think it's, like, trendy" to have a gay friend.

Trendy is one way to describe it. Another way: just plain common. Nearly nine in 10 local 11th- or 12th-grade girls polled in the Post-Kaiser-Harvard survey reported having a friend who is openly gay or lesbian, the highest percentage of any group in the survey. This is a big, big difference from their parents. Only two in 10 mothers or fathers knew someone who was out when they were in high school.

In fact, most of Andy's friends are straight girls: 68 of the 90 people (yes, 90) whose numbers are programmed into Andy's cell phone, to be exact. It's just that sometimes their preconceptions rub him the wrong way.

"I was doing a community theater show," Andy recalls, "and at one of the early rehearsals a girl approached me and asked whether I was gay. I told her that, indeed, I was, and her response was something to the effect of, 'That's so cool. We should go shopping sometime.'

"Well, yeah, I enjoy shopping. I wear clothes. But yet I've never met you and you want to go shopping with me? Gay and, like, personal shopper are not synonymous."

Okay, but didn't he and Ali just spend an afternoon dragging a reporter around Tysons Corner Center? (Total stores entered: four -- Nordstrom, the Body Shop, Bath & Body Works, the Gap. Total purchases: one, by Ali -- True Blue Spa's "Tahiti, Sweetie" body lotion. Total food consumed: one foot-long chili cheese dog from DQ, by Ali; one small Oreo Blizzard, by Andy.)

Confronted with the question, they laugh and talk over each other.

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