I Am What I Am: a Pride Post

To be clear, I’m not a pride post, I’m just making one. I’ve been (mostly) on a digital break, though I did stipulate on social media that I’d still need to be online a bit for work and poetry. So we can include the blog loosely in the “poetry” category, since that’s our main topic here. Besides, the downside to downsizing my digital universe in June would mean no Pride post. I’ve broken the code (“more like guidelines, actually”) of my digital dark month already in order to interact with people about some important issues, so why not make a Pride Post here we’ve still got one day of June left? I’ve still learned a lot in the process of spending almost four weeks being silent online.

On my way to work yesterday morning I had certain disco diva songs in my head and decided to shake them out of my system by inflicting them on my staff at the library. It’s not often that the director dances past the circulation desk, singing “Please, don’t talk about love tonight . .  . ” but it was day 14 in a row, and I finally had a weekend on the way.

Then the second song that came to my mind had me burrowing down a bit of a “research” rabbit hole. Call it the reference question of the day, but I remember dancing to Gloria Gaynor’s 1980s version of this song at the rural gay bars of Pennsylvania in the late 90s. We were always about a decade behind before the digital age—now we only lag by a year at most. It’s hard to beat Shirley Bassey’s version, though, and I found this wonderful performance from 1996, the year I was actually coming out first to myself and then to others. My life was a whirlwind in ’97.

But for Pride Month, the version I need to share with you is from the Broadway musical that inspired the movie with Robin Williams and Nathan Lane, the Birdcage. The musical itself was based on a French play from 1973, and opened on Broadway on August 21st, 1983, when I was just a sophomore in high school, secretly in love with my best friend, Tony. It was a secret (with Jim and Dave too) that I worked very hard to keep, even from myself.  I came from a very religious background, and I wanted to be a good person, so I might sneak a look at Playgirl or secretly play truth or dare with the neighbor boy in someone else’s shed, but I mostly went to church a lot and acted as the youth group president, sang in the choir and sometimes filled in teaching Sunday school classes for the kids.

I was not aware of La Cage Aux Folles back then, but songs and scenes like this with Walter Charles and Jamie Ross came to mean a great deal to me by the mid and late 90s. I am grateful for all that my life has brought me, especially the three amazing  human beings I had the privilege to help raise along with their wonderful mother.  But one wonders sometimes if the newer generations can fully appreciate how much progress, how much freedom they know now was due to brave people like this, and like those at the Stonewall Inn 50 years ago, who put their high-heeled feet down and spoke out with pride. We still have a fair amount of work to do (despite what that article in the Atlantic said!), but there’s a lot to be proud of.

It’s one life
and there’s no return and no deposit
One life
so it’s time to open up your closet

(Image Credit: Martha Swope / The New York Public Library)

4 Comments Add yours

  1. GreenCaret says:

    Hurray! I’ve always adored this performance of the song — it’s by far my favorite. I’m also fond of John Barrowman’s version here (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TxUC_UcKFJk), though that’s probably only because I’m fond of John Barrowman.

    And I’ve always enjoyed the lyric “no return and no deposit” — which probably baffles anyone younger than you and me. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I had heard of Barrowman’s version, but this was the first I’d heard it. Thanks for that link! And yes, “no return and no deposit,” must be confusing for the kids these days. Hopefully, they put Google to use.

      Like

  2. Despite the constant attacks on our freedom to love, we really have come a long way since that night at Stonewall 50 years ago.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I love this video of Blanco’s poem. Thank you.

    Like

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