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The Dearth of Queer Female Characters in Musical Theater and What It Does for the

Soul
My first musical was when I was 12 years old and I wanted to watch RENT with some
friends (because a Gay Musical Theater Essay would not be complete without
multiple references to RENT) we ended up with about fifteen people over at my
house, a lot of friends-of-friends and people I didnt know well. And the ones who
had seen the show, who had been previously indicted
to its cult, acted out
numbers like La Vie Boheme in front of my TV in the basement. The community
created in that moment was instant and palpable. Theres something about slightlytaboo themes paired with musical numbers that sucked in a whole generation of
kids and made them musical theater people. High school shows were a stomping
group for the trope of the off-beat, open-minded, little-bit-weird kid who didnt quite
find a home anywhere else. Talent mixed with emotional immaturity mixed with
hormones mixed with sadness mixed with growing up mixed with art is a sloppy,
adolescent mess, but we made a home out of it, and a family.
And so my little home I made expanded to fit bigger parts of my life. I bawled my
eyes out in New York City during the opening number of Next to Normal, my first
Broadway show I saw myself onstage and it was dizzying and heartbreaking. I felt
Eponines heartbreak and Elphaba and Cathy and Kate Monster and Wendla. I was
thirteen and then I was fourteen and then I was falling in and out of love with boys
who said sweet things and boys who said not-sweet things, and when youre
thirteen and fourteen its easier to fall out of love to a pre-scripted arc of heartbreak
as presented to you via song.
Ive spent a lot of time apologizing for the weird world Ive fallen in love with. Its
cheesy, its dramatic, its a greenhouse for blooming egos, and it gets a lot of crap
in the world of Theater Art but being (a little bit) older and wiser, I appreciate it
most consistently for the community it created. Theres something to be said for a
thirty-person show with another fifteen-people production staff and crew and
designers and musicians, and the odd little dissolvable family it creates. Its
inclusive and its exciting and it builds up self-esteem and self-image and it creates
little homes for people.
I will appreciate and praise this little home I made until the day I die. But zooming
outwards, the human demand for art is a less warm-and-fuzzy need. Its a very
Nietzschean demand we use art to help mediate the distance between the
darkness inside us and the constructs we create in the real world to distance
ourselves from said darkness. Art helps us process those dark and scary places that
we can go while not letting ourselves be totally immersed. Draws us in, yet
distances us. We use art to help us handle what we wouldnt be able to otherwise.
So why is it that one of the hardest parts of my life is barely referenced in this world
Ive poured my heart into?
Since coming out as queer a few years ago, Ive met a plethora of amazing gay
women and its interesting, because when youre first getting to know someone,
the coming out conversation always seems to happen before any other deeper
topics are broached you know the one, where you touch on how out you are, if

your family knows, how okay your friends are with it essentially, how much weight
youre carrying on your shoulders from this one bizarre ritual we all partake in in
some form as young adults. We have this one specific common narrative our
coming out tale. It acts as a minefield, and we lightly reach out and determine
how much damage has the world dealt you for who you are?
Musicals dont shy away from tough subject matter. Mental illness, heartbreak,
depression, familial upheaval, feeling ostracized, rape, suicide all tackled in
mainstream, award-winning, highly-acclaimed musicals. So why is my story so hard
to tell?
This upcoming fall will actually be very monumental for queer musical theater.
Slated to open on Broadway this upcoming year, a show called Fun Home is being
labeled as the first mainstream musical about a young lesbian.
Fun House is really exciting. Based on the comics of Alison Bechdel (of the Bechdel
test fame), its a non-linear, all-over-the-place, autobiographical show about Alison,
featuring her character in three different stages of life a child, a first-year in
college, and a 43 year old. The story leaps all over her life, featuring her bumpy
relationship with her father as a kid, her self-discovery and coming-out as a lesbian,
the suicide of her father, and her grappling with life/death/family/love/classic
theater themes. Its messy and its sad and its heartbreaking, but it also so vividly
captures the feeling of that first love, first lust, first plunge into the deep.
So I, as the audience, am caught in the crossfires of gratitude and requirement. I
have one show, on Broadway, no less, the biggest, most public stage for theater
arguably in the world, but are we allowed to let that dissatisfaction creep in? Are we
allowed to celebrate at this small triumph but go back to fighting the war? Is it
ungrateful to want more to need more than this one show? The longing for
representation is a visceral, unyielding monster increasingly amplified the more
you notice its absence. You want to pick up the industry and shake it by the
shoulders and cry out do you not understand what you mean to me?
Representation matters. We seek out art and media to find something with which
we identify. And when we meet others that identify with the same things, a
community starts to form. But its easy to look at a lack of queer representation and
whether this is true or not associate that with a lack of demand from a queer
audience. And then its easy to look around at the community you call your own,
and feel very, very alone.
Representation is validation. Representation is confirmation. Representation is
reaching out to scared, lonely, confused people and taking them and saying I share
common wounds with you I know what youve been through. Representation
takes someone who feels alone and makes them feel like they are less of a minority,
and that they dont have to compromise themselves to feel included in the world.
I suppose the solution here (or, at the very least, the next step) is to mediate your
thankfulness and your need for more celebrate the progress we have made, and
look to where we can create more of a space for queer art and media and literature.
We quell the loneliness, remind ourselves of the vibrant, powerful community to

which we belong, and we continue to create and produce art because everything
we put forth into the world has the potential to become part of a community, or to
act as a little home for someone seeking shelter.