Table of Contents
Foreword by Gregory Maguire Acknowledgments
PART ONE GAY FANS OF OZ
1 Gay Men and Oz
2 Surface Explanations
3 Gay Boys
PART TWO INDIVIDUAL REASONS AND RESPONSES 4 Escaping to Oz
5 Gender Roles in Oz
6 Difference in Oz
7 Messages and Uses of Oz
PART THREE SOCIAL AND CULTURAL CONTEXTS
8 The Subcultural Phenomenon
9 Oz and Judy in Gay Folklore
10 The Oz–Gay Connection Now and in the Future
A The Questionnaire
C Was Baum Gay?
D Cross-Dressing in Oz Performances
E Early Allusions to Oz in Gay Contexts
F The Origin of “Friend of Dorothy”
Foreword by “Wicked” Author Gregory Maguire
Anything that makes a mark in the air—a mark in time—is open to an evolution of meaning. The striking crucifix against the sky means one thing in the pages of the New Testament, another thing in the windows at Chartres, another to oppressed people hoping for transcendence, and still another to colonialists intending to use it to subdue and dominate.
What is less obvious, it seems to me, is that while irony is the clearest mode in which symbols are reinterpreted, it isn’t the only one. We can note a more subtle if imprecise capacity of symbols to reframe and encapsulate a new or revised meaning, just as genuine in nature as the original.
For the exercise of it, think of that very word “Stonewall.” For the sake of argument, I am prohibiting myself access to the web for confirmation of these apprehensions. I come up with the concept of “Stonewall” Jackson, first. A public figure with a life much open to interpretation, he always comes to my mind primarily as the first American president to arise from the common people rather than from the landed gentry of the original colonies.
The name itself, built of two strong words (“stone,” “wall”), suggests strength, immovability, foundation. The word has gone on to build meaning: truculence, impermeability, obstructionism. To stonewall something is to stop it in its tracks. Sometimes for ill, sometimes for good.
When it comes to the history of liberation, the Stonewall Inn and the riots that took place there in the week following the death of Judy Garland have begun to take on a greater historical meaning than simply identity politics and gay liberation. At the time, the Stonewall riots might have seemed silly, offensive. Disagreeable. An occasion for late-night comics to rip into the spectacle of effeminacy both under and on the attack. (I would love to spend a day in TV archives and see what Johnny Carson and that lot made of Stonewall that week.)
Fifty years later, when gay marriage has become legal in the United States and is slowly becoming recognized as a civil right globally, the street riots in Greenwich Village can be seen without apology as akin to race riots, to uprisings in revolutionary France, to fervor for political rights all across the globe. Selma, Seneca Falls, Stonewall, said President Obama. The word grows in meaning and significance, and not only in irony.
I start with the ability of words and concepts to grow in significance because it seems to me that Dee Michel’s thesis about the interpretation and the meaning of L. Frank Baum’s magic land, Oz, as a metaphor and a kind of simulacrum of gay identity, has undergone a similar transformation. As history unfolds, older ideas about cultural ikons are also revised, take on added significance.
As the person who set out to rehabilitate the Wicked Witch of the West—designed by L. Frank Baum both to resemble and to deviate from the standard tropes of European fairy-tale witches, and intensified in the public consciousness by Margaret Hamilton’s 1939 star turn in the role of the witch in MGM’s The Wizard of Oz I feel I ought to know more about how symbols work, especially symbolic iterations of the magic country of Oz. The first thing I did was give the witch a name, Elphaba Thropp—an intentionally ugly name, with the same number of syllables as Almira Gulch (though my intended pronunciation stresses the first syllable, El phaba, much as the first syllable is stressed in the word Dor othy, and also, for that matter, in the words Mar garet and Ham ilton).
But a name alone doesn’t recreate or resignify a character. Stonewall is only a name until there is an event it is attached to. And Elphaba doesn’t become a person of history until she learns to fly. What is this terrain over which she swerves?
I’m in the exact demographic to have gotten the annual TV broadcast of The Wizard of Oz at the most impressionable age. I was about five when it was first shown. As my parents were strict about TV watching, dubious about its value and concerned about its possible negative effects on the development of childhood character and intellect, I saw much less TV than others of my generation. The annual broadcast of The Wizard of Oz , a break in the rules of the household, therefore took on a nearly sacramental aspect, and had in my creative imagination an outsize influence.
However, as a gay kid (who like most of my generation had no idea of the concept, and filtered experience through the usual cloud of unknowing that attends all innocence), I can’t say I watched or read The Wizard of Oz for cues on how to be—how to be what? Gay? (Tra-la, tra-la.) No, not that, but I am sure I noted something about how to be strong, brave, loving, smart. And a good friend. And how those who don’t tell the truth are wicked, no matter what curtain they are standing behind.
A generation ago, when my novel Wicked first appeared, the gay press began, initially, to interview me about my attraction to Oz as a paradigm of a gay paradise. I was thought disingenuous when I said I had not recognized the story for its meaning to the young gay or lesbian kid, or to an older knowing homosexual audience. (Never, dear Munchkins, never underestimate the power of cluelessness.) Even well-read and articulate kids sometimes grow up in social and intellectual bubbles, away from the currents of knowing conversation on the coasts. The Internet had not yet flooded universal interpretation across every stone wall. For good as well as for ill, innocence was not yet annihilated.
It is for this reason that I admire the work in hand. Dee Michel has gathered up a lifetime’s worth of observations about the meaning of the legend of Dorothy in Oz and considered it with sober affection and keen insight. He provides the kind of analysis and regard that a myth, still growing in meaning, deserves.
Meanings don’t stand still. They evolve, they fly. Even Elphaba Thropp means something different to me twelve years after she landed on Broadway than she did when I named her as the first attempt to claim the rights to tell a new story about Oz. I now see Oz itself as a great metaphor, as broad as it is deep, not only for the world in which gay kids and teens and adults can imaginatively plant themselves, but also as a place in which other campaigns of liberation and tolerance and social evolution might occur. My version of Oz, published in 1995, was not as a gay paradise; it was as much about race, gender, and economic inequity as it was about sexual identification and expression. To stand up on a stone wall and posit a thesis for you, I will say that I think L. Frank Baum’s original concept of Oz is still rich and strong enough that it will continue to provide a template against which other populations, as yet unborn, will be able to unscroll their own maps of the future, plot their coordinates for change and challenge. I sure hope so.<
Quotes from the Book’s Flap:
“When I was a little kid my favourite outfit was this little apron that I used to dance around in, pretending to be Dorothy, with a little lamb called Toto. I was like, “Let’s go to Oz!” . . . On good days I was Dorothy, on bad days I was the Wicked Witch.”
— Rufus Wainwright, singer and composer quoted in The London Times / Time Out New York
“The seeds of what I do are in my childhood. I wouldn’t let Narnia or Never Land or Oz go. . . . Why would I lose these wonderlands? They were the ways I best understood myself.”
— Clive Barker, author and filmmaker (Hell Raiser) quoted in Cassell’s Encyclopedia of Queer Myth, Symbol, and Spirit
“The Words ‘Let’s Pretend’ are a key that opens the door to a world where fantasies throng. Children whisk in and out of the personalities that inhabit this well-known yet surprisingly unfamiliar country where anything may happen. Here, on the threshold of this magic land, the child may choose the fantasy that accompanied him or her on the journey and the choice of this companion may give us a clue to the child’s own innate nature, to the problem, inner or outer, that he or she is facing and to the deep-buried but centrally impelling attitude toward these problems—even to the problem of life itself….Surprising and revealing things happen in this magic land of ‘Let’s Pretend.’”
— Frances Wicks, psychologist and writer
“The Gay (‘coming out as your true self’) Journey is everybody’s journey. . . . It’s not a unique story.”
— David Mixner, gay political activist, Quoted in the film, The Trip (Extra Features) (parentheses, mine