The concept of gay people was never really a thing in my house. I just knew that some boys liked boys and some girls liked girls. And sometimes boys liked to dress up like girls. As a big fan of playing dress up myself, the fact that some boys might also want to play with gold lamé was not strange to me. As long as they didn’t want to borrow my lamé. I was never very good at sharing during dress up time.
One summer, my mother took my Girl Scout troop to see the musical La Cage aux Folles, which is basically the movie The Bird Cage but with songs and boys sliding into splits. If you haven’t seen The Bird Cage, do it now. Right now! It’s brilliant in every way. I love it. Watch it now!
Before my mother took our troop to any show, be it Shakespeare or something with tap shoes, we would always learn about the show first. She’d leave off the ending, but that way we could keep up if things got a little deep.
The basic plot is that a boy falls in love with a conservative girl. His two fathers own a drag club where his mother/father is the star. He wants to hide the gayness from the girl’s parents. Hilarity and love of gays and accepting who you are ensue.
My whole Girl Scout troop knew that those chorus girls were, in fact, mostly boys. The summer camp sitting across from us at the theatre in the round, did not. I must admit, I missed some of the sequined dance numbers because watching the summer camp kids figure out that those girls were boys was far more interesting. They went from confused to shocked. Then they were mad about the fake boobies. Then intrigued. It was fantastic.
One of the big things at the end of La Cage is when all the chorus girls rip off their wigs. There are usually a few real girls peppered in there, and then you get to see who’s what gender. These kids were standing up, cheering for the ones they got right and suffering from severe shock about the ones they got wrong.
And I was able to watch the transformative power of theatre. Those kids learned amidst all the glitter and glamour that beauty goes above the panty line. That love is more important than gender. And that a good battement means more in three-inch heels.