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“What’s your favorite movie?”

The question was asked at a post-meeting luncheon, while my table was playing “get to know you” games.  I couldn’t come up with anything right away.  The truth is, I have trouble naming a favorite anything.  Singling out just one book, film, piece of music or even color is hard for me, and I usually feel dishonest naming something.  (Maybe I’m just hopelessly indecisive – I’m not sure.)  While I took my time answering, the question morphed to: What film can you watch over and over again?  When you randomly come across it while surfing channels, what film will inevitably draw you in?

Sitting next to me, my friend Bill named a quirky horror movie he adores.  (He described it as being both a horror flick and a love story.  I don’t love horror flicks, but that combo does sound compelling.)  Someone else named an old classic, To Kill a Mockingbird.  I sat there thinking: what old film do I watch, at least for a couple of scenes, nearly every time I come across it on TV?  And then the answer popped into my head, and somewhat sheepishly, I shared it with my companions: The Sound of Music.

Yup, that ridiculously sentimental musical, so dripping with sweetness that at times it gets syrupy. Its reputation as one of the most saccharine films of the 60s makes watching my favorite scenes a guilty pleasure.  I don’t think I’ve watched the entire film straight through for years; but whenever I find it on TV, I hope to catch the Lonely Goatherd number, and the scene where Maria dances the Ländler with Capt. von Trapp.  The way the camera catches the light in Maria’s eyes, and the captain’s formal wear – complete with white gloves – reel me in every time.

I know The Sound of Music is oft-criticized for being impossibly corny.  But I think we could agree that, like an old war horse or a grand dame from another era, it deserves some respect simply for surviving.  And in a way, it’s woven into the fabric of my life.  It came out in 1965, and I remember getting all dressed up and going downtown to see it with my mother and grandmother.  I don’t remember the experience of the film, at all, just the excursion.  It was an event.  As proof, I offer the souvenir program, still on my bookcase. (It’s got all its pages, but the cover’s falling off.)   I don’t know when I last saw one of these for sale in the lobby of a movie theater.  I suspect souvenir movie programs went the way of the dinosaur a long time ago.

I have a rough idea of how old I was, the next time I saw the film – just entering adolescence.  I can’t confirm the year with absolute certainty, but a poster I found online for the re-release of The Sound of Music dates from 1973.  I would have been 12 or 13.  Before the days of home video and DVD, eight years was a long wait – so people happily queued up at the theater to see the film again on the big screen. For me, the second viewing was like I was seeing it for the first time.  I don’t remember actually watching the movie – I just remember my reaction to it.  For two or three days I walked around feeling dazed and filled with an unfathomable pain.  I thought at the time I just really, really wanted to live in Austria.

I realized later – much later – that I had a huge crush on Julie Andrews as Maria.  A lot of things made more sense after I came out, in my early 30s – this was one of them.  No wonder I was crying in the bathroom after I saw The Sound of Music! I thought.  Any healthy, young lesbian would fall in love with Maria: she’s a tomboy, running around the foothills of the Alps, climbing trees; she plays the guitar; she’s not afraid to make play-clothes out of curtains, or tell the captain to stop using a whistle to call his kids.  She’s equally beautiful in her nightgown, the homespun jumper she’s wearing when she leaves the abbey (carrying her guitar case), or the blue dress she wears to the ball, when the baroness remarks that the captain can’t take his eyes off her.  Plus she was raised in a community of women, and she sings like an angel.  What’s not to love?

So even after all these years, when The Sound of Music shows up on TV (which it does fairly often), I find myself pulled in.  And just recently, when I was facing what I expected to be a very trying and challenging day, I thought of the number Maria sings about confidence, as she makes her way to the von Trapp mansion for the first time.  I could hear Julie Andrews singing the intro in my head: “What will this day be like?  I wonder…  What will my future be?  I wonder…”

I got the CD out (yes – I own the soundtrack) and my partner and I sang along with Julie: “I have confidence in springtime; I have confidence in rain…”  Sally thought it was really funny, that the words of the song and Maria’s predicament, as she left the abbey for a new life, would come back to me as we approached a day that felt unusually daunting.  I thought it was funny, too – but it’s also proof of the power of film.  Corny as it is, The Sound of Music has imprinted itself so indelibly on my consciousness that it will probably be there until I die.  Good thing I love that Lonely Goatherd number.

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Part 2 – Behind the Curtain

I’m always amazed by how fast a concert goes by. Once I arrive at the school, time seems to move at hyper-speed. I know it must be my perception that makes it so – I love the excitement just before a concert, when all the months of preparation are about to bear fruit. It seems that from call time to the curtain rising is only a few minutes, when actually it’s over two hours.

First we gather onstage and sing some warm-ups. Then Todd takes us quickly through the beginning of each piece, cementing how the program’s going to flow, how everything fits together. Donald, the young dancer, runs through his number with us. With the spot following his sleek, graceful form around the stage while we sing I feel inspired, and I can tell from the comments afterward that we are all pumped for this show. There are some last-minute details ironed out as we wait on the risers, during which Marty starts playing a slow, wistful-sounding number, prompting Cori to turn to me and ask, “Isn’t that the theme from a soap opera?” I realize she’s right, and I grin: it’s “The Young and the Restless.” So appropriate. Well, the restless part fits me, anyway.

We head backstage. There are some touch-ups to hairstyles and makeup, done in front of the big, lit-up mirror; we all take a few last sips from our water bottles. It seems not long at all before our crew tells us it’s time to go on and we file onto the risers behind the closed curtain. Michael’s high-fiving everyone as we walk on, whispering encouragements to each other; on her way to the other side of the stage, Amy stops and bumps fists with me. Then we’re all assembled in our places, bathed in blue backlighting – we’re going to be mostly in shadow as the curtain opens, with the bright lights coming on as we hit our first note. Linda, our founder, reaches back from the first row and takes my hand. Without a word we both squeeze – a hand hug. The chatter we’ve been hearing from the audience on the other side of the curtain ceases, and there’s silence, for a moment. Then I hear the sound of the curtain moving on its track, above our heads – it’s opening. The concert has begun.

Part 3 – The Show

Boom – Marty hits octave E’s, way down low. “Keep your hand on the plow – hold on!,” the choir sings out with almost ferocious intensity, as simultaneously the white-hot lights flash on. And with the first line of an old spiritual, we’re off. If the hours just before the show went by fast, the show itself goes by at warp speed – it seems almost a blur. I miss the opening of the next piece – my brain is a little overcome, I think, with adrenalin – but otherwise we seem to be on a roll. Michael and Sandy have the first solos – and nail them; Amy has to pretty much carry the next tune – we’re basically singing backup for her – and she sounds great. Donald the dancer does spectacular leaps and twirls while Lara delivers a sensitive solo on “Fix You,” and Colette’s acoustic steel-string blended with our small ensemble never sounded better as “Say” opens.

Our emcee for this show is a young woman who goes by “T.,” a poetry slam champion who awed us some months ago when she performed at another event where we appeared. She recites one of her poems, and I’m disappointed when I can’t make out half of her words – for some reason the sound reaching me is too distorted. Still, I can hear the passion in her voice and see the intensity in her small figure as she stands at the edge of the stage and speaks, in rhythm, about the courage of young people who dare to be themselves. When she’s finished, I think the applause from the choir standing behind her is as loud as that from the audience. The title song, “It Gets Better,” ends the first half, and Tom leads off the piece, his voice sounding clear and confident even though it’s his first solo with us.

Intermission flies by in the blink of an eye. We’re backstage for a moment, and then we’re out on the risers again, waiting. There’s a delay on the other side of the curtain as our crew prepares to draw the winning ticket for the raffle; Marty helps out by playing the “Jeopardy” theme during the wait.

Then we’re underway again. Angie’s voice on “I Will Survive,” expertly showcased by the band, rivals Gloria Gaynor’s, and “I’m Beautiful” goes just as well as it did in rehearsal. Next is “Live Your Dream” – my personal favorite. It starts with the piano, Marty deftly tracing an arc of quiet melody that seems to leave a question hanging in the air – an expectancy, a signal that something’s coming. The sopranos and altos come in, holding our voices quietly on one note as we sing the words of the 13th c. mystic Rumi: “Let… let yourself be…” The line, gradually swelling, floats out into the dark room as the tenors and basses join in and the voices split into a chord. “Let yourself be… silently drawn… to what… you truly… love.” I don’t think it consciously, as we sing, but I feel in my heart how much I need this song, how much everyone needs this song. “Live the life you have imagined. Live your dream.”

Afterward, Todd speaks to the audience, sharing some background about our group and his 20 years of experience with LGBT choirs. There are more solos: Cori’s soulful voice mixed with Todd’s cello, Chris and Curtis in a feel-good duet that nevertheless seems bittersweet, knowing they’re leaving us. Then T. once again commands the stage with her poetry, and her riveting presence. “C’mon and give it up again for the choir y’all,” she says to the audience, before exiting the stage to let us wrap up with the final number – the rousing “Waka Waka,” which translates to “get the job done.”

I’m not sure when, exactly, the concert ends. I guess technically with the last notes of “Waka” – or is it when the applause dies down, and our audience turns to go? Is it when we troop offstage, hugging and high-fiving each other? When we greet our friends and family in the cafeteria a few minutes later? Or when the last of us to leave gets into their car, waiting in the twilight of the parking lot to carry them home?

Maybe it’s later that evening, when I’m lying in bed with “I’m Beautiful” ringing in my ears.

It seems like the concert continues even now, as I’m remembering. Choir is like a magnet – I come back to it, always, drawn to what… I truly… love.

 

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Part 1 – Setting the Stage

Tech rehearsals are like purgatory, or what I’ve heard it’s supposed to be: an agony of waiting. Standing around, I’m brim-full of anxiety about the facets of the program that haven’t quite come together yet, a few days before the concert. I’m itching to sing, and hopefully polish up some of those rough spots – but tech rehearsals are about technology, the microphones, the monitors, the sound levels. So the choir loiters while the engineer endlessly tinkers and adjusts.

Luckily, when you’re with your choir – especially this choir – you’re surrounded by entertainers. Our accompanist, Marty, provides a little background music, fiddling with the auditorium’s electric piano and checking out the different sounds. He’s switched back to the piano setting when we hear a light-hearted, bouncy little tune spilling out of the monitors and several of us start a comic dance, jumping and pirouetting. The tune is familiar, but I can’t place it right away. Suddenly I see Angela Lansbury pedaling a bike through a seaside New England town. “This is the theme from Murder She Wrote!” I announce, and we all giggle.

The scenery at either side of the stage, painted by a few of our members just last week, attracts our attention. Someone comments that it took two nights to finish. The paint job is really convincing – it really looks like brick walls, covered in neon graffiti spelling out the titles of our selections: “Live Your Dream.” “Beautiful.” “It Gets Better.” This last is the theme of the concert, taken from the “It Gets Better” video project – an effort to prevent suicide among gay and lesbian youth.

We’re still cooling our heels as the engineer and Todd, our director, try to figure out how to set up the floor mic’s for the piece we’re doing with a dancer. We haven’t met him yet, although someone thinks he’s supposed to attend tonight. So far, he hasn’t appeared. “Can we call him?” someone else pipes up. Tom joins in. “Yeah, let’s call him,” he says, then puts his thumb and pinky up to his face like a telephone receiver. “Hello, dancer?” he says into his hand, totally deadpan, and once again we’re all laughing.

Time passes as we slowly work our way through a number of pieces, our crew and the engineer checking sound levels and moving equipment as we go. It turns out that the sopranos, who are spread across the back row of the risers, can’t be heard on “I Will Survive” and two hours in, Todd does an emergency adjustment, switching the front with the back row. I’m now in back, directly under the lights. “Wow, it’s hot up here,” I say to Sharon standing next to me, who’s in sandals and holding a personal fan. Curtis, who’s standing in front of us, turns around and says in his most campy, seductive voice, “It’s steamy hot, baby…” I think for the thousandth time how much I will miss Curtis and his partner Chris. They’re moving out of state in a few days.

We keep going, and we get through this rehearsal, as well as the final one a few days later. I feel like we hit our stride during “I’m Beautiful,” when Naomi, channeling Bette Midler, rocks her long and tricky spoken-word solo. There’s palpable energy in the air as I glance down the back row and see Kim at the far end, looking right at me as we deliver our line: “Ooh don’t let me start lovin’ myself!” This is what it’s all about, I think. We’re in the groove.

To be continued…

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Speak Your Truth

This is a re-post of an old essay, in honor of Audre Lorde’s birthday. She would be 78 this week.

“Speak your truth, even if your voice shakes.”
                                                Audre Lorde

I heard this quote at a program I attended recently, and I’ve been thinking about it ever since.  The woman speaking invoked Audre Lorde’s words to talk about coming out as a queer (gay, lesbian or bisexual) person.

I had a strong reaction to the quote – mainly, that the words could have been directed at me personally.  Not so much in terms of coming out, which I first did 20 years ago. While I recognize it’s a lifelong process and I “come out” again and again as new situations arise, I wasn’t thinking about that.  I was thinking specifically about my voice.

My voice has always been kind of thin and tremulous – but it’s become downright croaky in middle age.  Ever since I passed 40, it’s become increasingly undependable.  It catches and shakes at the slightest provocation: nerves, excitement, strong emotion, or the simple fact that it’s early morning and I haven’t yet warmed up my vocal cords.  Especially when there’s something important riding on my words, it feels as though no matter how thoughtfully I choose them, that breathless, quavery voice of mine betrays me. It humiliates me.

Then I find myself sitting in a Sunday afternoon PFLAG meeting and a woman I’ve never met before gets up and quotes Audre Lorde: “Speak your truth, even if your voice shakes.”

I’ve thought about those words ever since.  I’ve contemplated the power of speaking, of opening: the mouth, the soul, and the psyche. It seems to me that breaking the silence and “speaking your truth” is like calling yourself into being. It is an act of manifestation, of  “real-izing.”

I’m reminded of stories I used to read (ok, I confess – sometimes still do) that deal with wizards.  In these stories the most awe-inspiring power of a great wizard is the power of Summoning. The act of Summoning is not about illusion – it’s not a trick, meant to entertain or deceive.  In times of great crisis, a Summoner can actually call up and harness the essential forces of the universe, the many forms of energy and spirit.  Not unlike what happens when we open our mouths and speak truth.

I can’t help but observe that the wizards in these stories are of a similar and very specific type.  They are almost always men, and mature men at that: they usually have long white beards, and carry heavy staffs (very Freudian…) Their craggy features are ordinarily set in stern expressions, and they speak with voices that boom like thunder.

Nothing like me, at all.

And nothing like Audre Lorde: a woman, a lesbian, a feminist and a person of color.  She looked even less like the wizards of medieval fantasy and folklore than I do.  Although she’s no longer with us in the flesh, her words reached me the other day through a stranger speaking at a meeting I might just as easily have not attended.  Her words flew to me like an arrow to a bulls-eye and said: “Speak – even if your voice shakes.”

And I realized that the power is not in the thunderous sound of a voice, or a white beard, or an oaken staff, or the title of wizard, or in any other title, for that matter.

The power is in truth, and in the act of speaking. Audre Lorde’s words reached me the other day to remind me that I have that power.

You have it too.  Even if your voice shakes.

 

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The L Word

Los-er (noun): a person or thing that loses, especially consistently. (Merriam Webster’s 11th Collegiate Dictionary.)

Awash in the anxiety brought by midlife changes, I’m thinking about the word “loser” today. I can’t seem to wrap my head around how we measure success, and determine failure. What makes someone a loser? General undesirability? Lack of attractiveness? Inadequate fashion sense? According to stereotype, this last is a common lesbian attribute because we’re all about comfort and utility: jeans and flannel shirts, khakis and polos. I have to admit the (sensible) shoe often fits – and that fact makes me feel inadequate at times. I haven’t yet broken out the lipstick – but sometimes I feel this incredible urgency, like I need to do something about my appearance. Get my eyebrows waxed, buy something purple, invest in a pair of boots that aren’t designed for hiking. But then again, my practical side asks: why?

In our culture, people who don’t make a lot of money seem to get labeled losers – I guess because they’ve lost the race to the top of the material heap. But what if a high-powered, high-earning career keeps you from your friends and family, music and art, seeing the sunset, walking in the woods? Aren’t you “losing” a lot if that happens – and therefore technically, a “loser”?

If we’re going to use it at all, I’d like to see the word “loser” applied more often to someone who’s simply mean. I’m thinking now of political figures and pundits (not to mention religious leaders) who regularly get up on their soapboxes and spew hate, or at least intolerance. People who have a constant need to put others down are definitely missing something – some piece of their humanity’s been lost. And true to Merriam Webster, they’re often pretty consistent about it.

I guess it all boils down to what, exactly, we recognize as being “lost.” So often we describe life as a contest, with the loser being the person who didn’t get “the prize” – whether it’s a fat paycheck, their choice in a mate, a write-up in Who’s Who, or the game trophy. We’re all about competition.

But like I said, I’m having a hard time lately wrapping my mind around this definition of success. The other day I was thinking how thoroughly unambitious I felt – and there was such great peace in it. There was a hole in my bucket list. I was actually thinking I didn’t care about achieving anything before I die. All I seemed to want out of life was this: to connect with people, and to experience beauty.

I’m such a loser.

 

 

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Holiday Concert

It’s cold and a fine snow is falling from the night sky when I arrive at the church. Inside, I find the hustle and bustle of last-minute preparations for the concert: the programs, the props, the refreshments for the afterglow. The choir is looking fine in concert dress, especially Todd, our director, who is decked out in white tie. I’m impressed with his elegance, and tell him so. I notice that Denise and Joe are wearing very similar neckties – hers covered in silver spangles, and his made of gold and silver beads. I compliment them both on their snazzy accessories.

I’ve been singing with this choir for four seasons now, and not only every year but every performance has been different – not just in terms of the material, but also in how the experience unfolds, and how it feels to be there. Tonight as we approach our first ever holiday concert, I have some of the usual jitters – but I’m not quite as wound up as usual. It’s hard to say why – perhaps it’s because my brain is working so hard on remembering all of those lyrics that it totally monopolizes my attention. (Damn there are a lot of verses to holiday songs!)

It’s time to warm up, so we take our places on the steps in front of the altar. The room – the church’s sanctuary – is good for singing. The high, vaulted ceiling and the wood floor give a nice resonance but it’s not too big, so our small choir of just over 20 singers won’t be lost in it. We do a little singing, and Todd goes over the logistics of the program one last time. A few stragglers come in, including Tom – a new addition to the choir this year. Seeing Tom coming up the aisle wearing his usual good-natured grin makes me smile, too – it’s as if he just happened to stumble upon a concert about to happen and is really pleased to discover he’s in it.

Showtime’s not far off now, so we recess to the balcony which is serving as our green room. There’s a definite electricity in the air, and I start to feel a little nervous. Seeing Laura sitting quietly in a meditative pose, I take a cue from her and try to do some deep breathing, hoping to keep my airways relaxed. It’s cold and sinus season, a tough time for singers – both Kim and Lara, two of our best singers, are suffering but are going to perform solos. Another singer, Corey, is down for the count. She sounded awfully congested at the last rehearsal, and I heard someone say she’s now lost her voice. Ah the challenges of winter concerts…

Kim and I work our way down to the front of the balcony to escape the folks in the back, who are still trying to memorize their lyrics – a last-minute effort that we’re finding too nerve-wracking to participate in. I’m making small talk with Chris, who’s distributing electric candles he brought for us to use, when he takes off a shoe mid-sentence and starts working it over with lip balm. “Wow, I’ve never seen that done before,” I tell him, and he reveals more secrets of shoe-shining – it turns out that cooking spray also works in a pinch.

Now it’s almost curtain time, and Todd gathers us together. There are a few last-minute instructions, and then he reminds us to relax and enjoy – to have a good time. He asks if anyone else would like to say something; and I feel like I want to acknowledge how important it feels to be here at this moment. The best I can come up with is: “I just want to say I love singing with you all.” Sitting next to me Joe reacts with an “Awwwww” and gives me a hug; I’ve never seen his eyes look quite so blue. One of our crew comes up the stairs, clad in a purple shirt with our logo on it, and tells us it’s time – the audience has settled in their seats, and is ready.

The sanctuary lights are down low as we walk up the center aisle, holding our candles. Even though this is not a religious service, our processional in the half-dark feels powerful to me: there is energy and expectancy in the air. It’s sublimely fitting that the number Todd chose for us to open with is “Fill the Night with Singing” – it’s exactly what we are going to do, for the next 90 minutes or so.

Next we perform two Hanukkah pieces – one goes rather well I think, the other seems a little shaky. Then we change our configuration and I’m standing down in front for “In Whatever Time We Have” – a beautiful piece that we all love singing. As the harmonies open up and the sound of our voices swells, I’m so overcome with emotion that I have to catch myself, and breathe. Not only is the music beautiful, but for the first time we are performing for an audience these lyrics that I suddenly realize speak to our situation, as gay and lesbian people. We may not live to see full equality here, in our home state of Michigan; then again, we may someday if we all live long enough, but at least “we know we’ll be together in whatever time we have.”

I think it is just after this that I hear a train whistle, during the quiet between numbers – the tracks are only a couple of blocks from here. Oddly, the sound doesn’t seem intrusive, but welcome. It centers me here, just a few miles from the house I grew up in. I used to hear that whistle from far-off as a train rolled through the night: a comforting sound.

At intermission Kim and I are in the restroom when a couple of concert-goers greet us and tell us how good we sound. Caught up in the moment, I fully believe them – for one thing, both Kim and Lara’s solos were fabulous, despite their colds. Back in the green room/balcony, we’re talking to Chris again as we pick up our handful of fake snow. We tease him about the props for the upcoming parody: hey Chris, we ask, do you have your negligee in your pocket? And he responds that he’s ready for the second half: he’s got his cue cards (for announcements), his snow and his negligee.

We begin the second half with Let It Snow – during the opening of which we each toss a handful of glittery snow up in the air. Then comes Winter Wonderland, complete with a women’s parody: “Walkin’ in My Winter Underwear,” and a men’s, “Walkin’ Round in Women’s Underwear.” This last has the audience laughing uproariously and clapping mid-piece, as Chris and some of the other guys unpocket sheer nighties and waves them around, and Michael’s beautiful tenor voice floats high to deliver lyrics like: “Later on, if you wanna… We’ll dress up like Madonna…”

A few pieces later we’re at a more serious number, the always-poignant “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” The arrangement is a cappella – without accompaniment – and I can hear the hush in the room as we finish the introduction, and our voices meet on the low note that starts the first verse. I can feel the vibration of that note not only within me, but all around, in the air – and for a moment I feel the whole choir coming together in what feels like the very essence of singing. This piece has some tricky harmonies, and it’s been hard for us to learn – so I’m happy that it sounds like we are hitting most of the chords, and we seem to be staying with Todd’s expressive gestures as he shapes the phrases. (Afterward my partner, Sally, tells me it was her favorite piece of the evening).

Near the end we have an audience sing-along, for which we all don Santa hats. The sight of Marty, our accompanist, in his makes me smile. He reminds me of a lovable professor, in on a good joke with the whole class. I’m psyched that during Jingle Bells, I get to play one of several sets of jingle bells Todd brought, and I realize that I enjoy singing all three verses (for which I now know all of the words, and probably will forevermore – although at my age retaining them is not a foregone conclusion). We finish up with our final number which is a little rocky, because we forget which harmony to sing at the first ending. But afterward I hear what sounds like thunderous applause, and as we walk out of the sanctuary I can see a smile on pretty much every face – so I’m convinced it’s been a good show.

The crush in the space behind the sanctuary is terrific – the crowd’s packed in so tight it’s impossible to make my way over to the refreshment table. I greet some friends, then I find Sally and we head up the stairs to the balcony to wait while the crowd thins out. It does, eventually; and venturing back downstairs we find not one but two vacuum cleaners going up at the front of the sanctuary, trying to get up that “snow” we tossed during the second half. It’s persistent stuff, and sticks to every surface like fragmented Saran wrap. I tease Lorenzo because I can see red and green sparkles twinkling from his short-cropped hair; but just then Sally points out I have some stuck to my cheek – it got trapped under my glasses. The next day when I see a few bits of it on the carpeting outside my closet, I feel nostalgic, and a little sad – our first holiday concert is over.

 

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Truth in Advertising

The other day I was digging around at the back of the closet for beach towels when I found a real antique: a towel printed with the recumbent figure of Morris the Cat, the 9-Lives spokesperson (or rather, spokes-cat).  Remembering his slightly aloof demeanor, and his voice – refined, sensitive, maybe a little bored; and then dramatically happy when the gourmet food arrives (in the form of 9-Lives), something I’d never thought of before flashed through my mind: I think Morris was gay.

Which led me to think about all the other characters I saw in TV advertising, growing up.  It sort of astounds me how gay they were, when I really look at it.  Josephine the Plumber comes to mind immediately.  She had a seriously butch look going, dressed in overalls and standing around with a wrench in her hand (even if she did wear lipstick).  And I think that Planters Peanut guy, decked out in spats and a monocle, is a dead-ringer for an upper-crust British nellie, circa 1910 or so.  Then there’s Mr. Clean – muscle boy in a tight white t-shirt, wearing one (very prominent) earring long before that fashion became acceptable in the general population.  He would fit right in at a lot of gay bars, especially if you put a leather vest on him.  And what about Mr. Whipple?  He wasn’t exactly a paragon of traditional manliness, hanging out with a bunch of women, compulsively squeezing the Charmin.

Personally, I also kind of wonder about Madge, the beautician on the Palmolive commercials.  While it was subtle, there was something about her as she said to her client “you’re soaking in it” in a low, husky voice; the other woman gasping as Madge gently pats her hand back into the dishwashing liquid and tells her to “relax – it’s Palmolive.”   

I don’t know why right-wingers get so riled up about gay characters on sitcoms today, because when you think about it, we’ve been surrounded by gayness in television for decades.  (Don’t even get me started on the old shows: Hollywood Squares, which I loved to watch as a kid, was one huge gay-fest; the Beverly Hillbillies had Miss Jane, and the Brady Bunch, Alice – her pairing with Sam the butcher was clearly a relationship of convenience.)  I suppose, though, there is one big difference between then and now.  Today, gay and lesbian characters are “out” – something that is decidedly uncomfortable for social conservatives, who can tolerate a certain level of gayness as long as they can pretend it’s not there.  As long as they can tell themselves that Josephine the Plumber goes home and cooks for her husband every night, that Madge is still single only because she hasn’t found the right man, and Mr. Clean just isn’t interested in raising a family – he’s married to his career – all’s right in their world.

I guess I’m glad that Morris was never outed; I mean, imagine the furor that would have ensued.  I wouldn’t wish that even on a cat.  On the other hand, I’m even happier that with every passing decade, it becomes harder for anyone to pretend we don’t exist.

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