The Queer Issue
In 1977, an interest in musical theater wasn't the scarlet "gay" that it is today. Show tunes were considered popular music late into the 1960s, and my parents—creatures of the early '60s, not the late '60s counterculture—owned the original cast recordings of Man of La Mancha; Hello, Dolly!; Camelot; South Pacific; and other musicals. So my early affinity for show tunes didn't raise any eyebrows.
And when my parents asked me what I wanted for my 13th birthday and I said, "Tickets to the national tour of A Chorus Line," they thought nothing of it.
I was the only child in the Shubert Theatre on that night in October 1977, and my parents remember getting some sideways glances from other audience members. A Chorus Line wasn't like other Broadway shows that came through the Shubert—it dealt with adult themes like unhappy childhoods, adultery, divorce, and boob jobs. And homosexuality. Created by director and choreographer Michael Bennett, A Chorus Line grew out of a series of group-therapy-style workshops he conducted with veteran Broadway dancers about their lives.
Many of the male dancers were, of course, gay, as Bennett was, and he included their stories in the show. The character Paul delivers a famous monologue about being molested, doing drag, and his father discovering his homosexuality. But it was Greg's short monologue, tucked into the song "Montage 3," that really struck me:
And there was the time I was making out with Sally Ketchum in the backseat of the car. We were kissing and necking and I was feeling her boobs. And after about an hour or so, she said, "Ohhh, don't you wanna feel anything else?"
And I suddenly thought to myself, "No, I don't."
Well, I guess, yeah, because it was the first time I realized I was homosexual. And I got so depressed, because I thought being gay meant being a bum all the rest of my life.
But he wasn't a bum—god, he was a dancer, and a dancer dances!
The tour of A Chorus Line wasn't, as things go, all that significant. It's not on this list because sitting in the Shubert made my parents uncomfortable or planted a seed in my head—maybe I didn't have to be a bum, either—but because the success of A Chorus Line signaled that gay stories could be told alongside straight stories, that our lives mattered just as much, and that our loves were every bit as universal.
As late as 1977, it was still possible to grow up gay in America believing that you were the only boy in the world attracted to other boys, that you were utterly and forever alone. Since we started telling our stories—since we started insisting on telling our stories—no gay or lesbian person has experienced that kind of isolation.