Hit or Miss

Unlike David, I never had

Unlike David, I never had a gay aunt or uncle or cousin to clue me in to what life as a homosexual might be like, but like him I also bought the cast album of Falsettoland.

Growing up in Alabama, homosexuality was only a mythical afflication that I had furtively read about in clinical, outdated books at the public library. Then one day I read a glowing review of Falsettoland, a new off-Broadway musical, that had somehow snuck into the Arts & Entertainment section of the Birmingham Herald Times through the AP Wire (I used to pour over the A&E section each Sunday — it made me feel so cosmopolitan — until I discovered The New Yorker and Variety when I was old enough to drive myself to the downtown library). It’s one of the first positive mentions of homosexuality I can remember.

I stalked the local strip mall record store until one day it miraculously came into stock and I bought it, sweating bullets as the cashier rang up the purchase. I rushed home, locked my door, put on my headphones, and then, like Jerry Herman has Mame sing, “Opened a new window.” But it’s a window I still had to keep closed around my family and friends.

William Finn’s characters were so quirky, so alive, so Jewish, and so gay. Even though I labored under the impression for a few more years that being gay meant failing at relationships and getting AIDS, I now knew you could still sing a fabulous song about it. Forget “An Ordinary Couple” — I wanted to be part of a pair of “Unlikely Lovers.”

Several years later after I had left for college (but still before coming out of the closet), I heard about a community theatre production of Falsettos playing back in town over Thanksgiving Break, and I arranged through an internet mailing list to get a ticket. Truly a moving night of theatre. But even more moving was going backstage afterwards to thank the actor who had arranged my ticket — he introduced me to the entire cast and crew, a tight-knit group of local actors and gay men. I hadn’t thought there was anyone gay in the entire state of Alabama besides myself, and here was this thriving group who supported each other who had always lived in the same town, but I hadn’t known anything about.

Despite the increased visibility of gays and lesbians in the media, it still amazes me that I’m sometimes the first openly gay person that some of the students I work with have met. It’s an enormous responsibility to set a positive experience, especially for students who might be wrestling with their sexual orientations. I’m always worried about saying or doing the wrong thing, but it doesn’t really matter — I just have to be, because that’s a whole lot more than I had.

The one thing missing is that I’m not part of a community.