Like hundreds of gay men, I learned to be a woman by watching musicals. Not just a woman. A femme. For better (Into the Woods sample lyric: “Though scary is exciting, nice is different than good,”) or worse (Seven Brides for Seven Brothers sample lyric: “Treat [your women] rough like them there Romans do”), musicals offered clues as to what the world might expect of me and who I might become.
Les Mis was never a favorite. I like my sex worker role models plucky and money-grubbing (Sweet Charity) not sickly and resigned (Les Mis). Still, with the epic production opening in theaters on The Hobbit’s hairy heels, I’ve been harkening back to my musical theater origins and compiling a list of what I’ve learned.
How to be a Femme (Musical Style)
1. Every time I end a call with a potential sex partner, I must sing about how much I value my femininity. (I do this anyway, actually.) Also, I’m going to need curly eyelashes, lace dresses and pearly teeth. (These will require money which leads me to….) (Flower Drum Song)
2. If I want nice jewelry, a gangster provides a more viable love match than a penniless dancer, even if the dancer does look like Gene Kelly. (Singing in the Rain)
3. Something called a “roué” (a word which sounds both harrowing and vaguely sexual) will offer me food and wine when I turn 17. I will require a Nazi to take care of me. (The Sound of Music)
4. Obsessively stalking someone is romantic not pathetic and will make me tragically compelling. Related: It will be safe for me to wander the city at night, but only if I’m dressed like a homeless person. (Les Miserables)
5. Femme Phone etiquette requires that I: 1. Recline 2. Speak French. (Side note: In revisiting this clip, I’ve realized my ongoing quest for a perfect olive green sweater is Ann Margaret’s fault.) (Bye Bye Birdie)
6. I am too awkward to become a hot blonde who knows the secret to a good reputation. (Side note: At eight this was my favorite song. At least my mom had fair warning.) (Oklahoma)
7. I can totally get a dictator to fall in love with me. (Evita)
8. Personal hygiene is important. My hair is my glory. If a love interest and I root for different sports teams, we are doomed. Wait, does this mean I have to care about sports? (South Pacific)
9. If I’m flat chested, only losers will want me but if I have the money I can buy new breasts. (See above re: reasons to date a rich gangster.) (A Chorus Line)
10. Becoming a stripper will make everyone finally notice how beautiful I am. Even if I’m not a blonde.(Gypsy)
11. Even princesses fall victim to anxiety, spiraling thoughts and indecisiveness, but since I don’t have Stephen Sondheim to articulate my anxious ideations, maybe I should see a therapist. Or not because….(Into the Woods)
12. To be intriguing, I must be discontent. And I’ll definitely need to disobey my father. Preferably for love. (The Little Mermaid)
13. If I read a lot everyone in my small town will think I’m weird. But maybe it’s actually OK not to be blonde. (Beauty and the Beast)