high and proud

Still

I had almost forgotten about the pot caramel I ate when it finally kicked in, with a bit of a whoosh, and suddenly the world slowed down around me.

I had just purchased a hand-rolled corn dog, with thick crunchy batter on it and a little cup of ketchup to dip the hot dog in. I’m not usually a hot dog kind of guy, but something about that particular dish at this particular time sounded perfect. I had had a few bites, but when the pot started working, I sat down promptly in the grass and ate the corn dog, slowly, and it felt different on my tongue. It was delicious, and there was nothing in the world besides me and the corn dog.

Then I remembered I was at the Pride Festival in Seattle, Washington. I looked up from the empty corn dog stick in my hand and realized there were thousands of people around me, and I got a huge smile on my face. I closed my eyes and let it wash over me for a while. Deep bass from the speakers on the stage nearby, sounds of laughter and chatter, an entire sea of people making sounds, and I could feel those sounds in my ear canals, in my veins, in my toes, the echoes of them all vibrating within me. It was wonderful.
My fingers felt the blades of cool grass between them. There was a small patch of sun on my right forearm that resonated there. The air felt cool against my skin. I forgot the sounds as I focused on my skin and how it felt there, then, now.
I’ve only used pot a dozen times or so, and it’s always been at home, generally on a night after I haven’t been sleeping well for a few days. I’ve grown to enjoy the way it just relaxes the mind, makes the world still, and makes me sleepy and cuddly and smiley and relaxed. Usually I’m on my couch with some sort of show playing off in the background, and I just lay there smiling until I fall asleep.
But this time I’m in public. I ate the caramel on my walk over to the festival, where I had planned to be with friends. But I couldn’t find my friends, and they weren’t answering texts, and it took the caramel a full 90 minutes to kick in, and now here I was, on a Sunday at 3 pm, high in a park full of people. People were drunk and high all around me, but this was just me in my own relaxed little world.
After a half hour or so, I stood up, and just watched things for a while. Then I felt myself following one instinct at a time, focused on nothing but that instinct, with only a gentle awareness of the rest of the world around me. I wanted to be closer to the music, so I meandered my way through the crowd until I could be close to the stage. I didn’t want to dance, I just wanted to feel the bass up closer. So I did. Then I watched a group of men dancing, and I stood there smiling, enjoying their movements and the joy they were finding in being there. Then I wanted to be closer to the large fountain in the center of the park, so I worked my way there. I let the cool mist of the fountain blow against my skin and I watched the people playing in the water, many of them naked there in public. I remember thinking that took Pride to an entire new level. Then I wanted to be closer to the Space Needle itself, so I worked my way through the crowds and dogs and bikes and people to that direction, and I found a nice concrete step to sit on, and I looked up at the grey-blue sky and admired the massive structure, which had the Pride flag, six colors in a patterned rainbow, flying on the top of it. The whole city was celebrating Pride.
I let my brain travel back in time for a moment, losing itself in history, and I remembered all those LGBT people who came before me. Kicked out of the military, boarded up in mental institutions and given shock therapy and chemical castration tablets, being sent to reparative therapy, being kicked out of homes and churches and businesses and apartments, being told they weren’t normal and natural and that they needed to be cured, being put in prison and put to death. I thought of all those who grew up in shame, who grew up in pain, who learned to hide themselves in plain sight. Then I opened my eyes and saw the flag waving, and I scanned the crowd, seeing each person there individually in that vast swarm of people. Living, loving, celebrating, dancing, eating, laughing, smiling, proud to be alive.
And my smile grew even bigger somehow as I lay back on the steps, grateful to be alive.

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my friend, my conscience

Conscience

“I heard about your friend dying. I’m sorry.”

My dear friend Maryam gave me a consoling glance as she sipped her coffee. I ate a piece of candied bacon and sighed, breathing through my nostrils. We stayed silent like that for a moment.

“It’s been a couple of months now. That was a tremendous blow. It’s kind of like he was my entire support system and he was just gone.”

“I know exactly how that is.”

Friends were off talking in corners of the patio, sitting in chairs and laughing while sipping on coffee and munching on French toast and mixing mimosas. I looked up where the tall sides of each building met the glorious Seattle sky above. It was a perfect temperature outside. Seattle felt like home.

I looked over at Maryam, a little embarrassed, then bit my lip. “Can I tell you something that might sound a little crazy?”

She gave me a look that said ‘of course, don’t be silly’ without speaking a word, and I laughed.

“So… he’s kind of become the voice of my conscience. It’s kind of like he’s haunting me a bit, but in a really nice way. Kurt had this ability of seeing all of me, one hundred per cent. He knew every part of my life. So if I had doubts about something, he had this way of looking me right in the eye, cutting through all of the nonsense, and just telling me like it was. Like if I was wondering if I was capable of something, he would assure me I was; if I was dating some guy I had doubts about, he’d just cut through it and help me see it clearly. He was amazing at it. So now, my conscience, my inner monologue, takes on the sound of his voice whenever I need that clarity. It’s more than his voice though, it feels like him.” I looked up finally. “Does that sound crazy?”

Maryam had a sadness about her for just a second, and I realized she maybe had someone haunting her as well. She and I were unlikely friends. When I first moved to Seattle a few years ago, I had attended a house party with a few acquaintances, and met dozens of new people. Maryam was tiny, short and petite, with gorgeous olive skin and an incredible smile. We had hit it off quickly, discovering we were in the same field, and we talked all about Seattle, and Mormons, and being gay, and my children, and her family, and social justice, and every other topic that came up. We went out for coffee and out dancing and to productions after that, and she became one of my most trusted friends.

Maryam had grown up in Tehran, Iran, and as a young adult met an American pastry chef, a Seattle-based Mormon man named Aaron. The two had fallen in love and married, and now had formed a life together in Seattle, where Aaron had worked as a chef while Maryam was in school. Since my move back to Utah, their lives had turned again, with Maryam now working as a social worker and Aaron back in school. Seeing them both this morning had been wonderful, with powerful hugs exchanged.

Maryam gave me a sad smile. “It doesn’t sound crazy at all.” Then she told me about her friend Sheila, who she had met in Tehran. They had been very close friends, bonded on a level like Kurt and I had been. She told me about Sheila’s move to the United States and how she had conquered one kind of cancer only to succumb to another kind.

“I can still hear her in my head, too. I talk to her sometimes, and she answers, especially when I need her most. I completely understand what you mean.”

A full minute of silence passed as we sat and sipped coffee and just absorbed being there. And then we talked about life changes, how we were growing older and changing with the world. Maryam told me about she and Aaron going to the Transgender Pride event the day before, in the rain, because even though she and her husband are straight, they love LGBT people and support them on every level because that is the kind of people they are. We talked about her work and clients, and about what she wants to do in her fiend. I talked about my writing projects and my children growing up.

And when it was time to go, I gave my friend Maryam one more enormous hug and told her she was one of my very favorite people. And I said goodbye to my friends there, and walked down the streets of Seattle, my heart and spirit full, and I heard Kurt’s voice in my head.

“This feeling you have right now, listen to it, and carry it with you.”

And I whispered back to him. “I will, my brother. I will.”

“What a Sticky Mess.”

gumwall.jpg

“I don’t know what to do, okay!”
The voice shrieked over the noise and bustle of Pike Place Market, a woman’s voice and it sounded like she was in distress. I navigated my way through the busy crowd and down a flight of stairs, past a couple of strollers. A woman dropped her freshly purchased flowers and the bag of water they were in broke, cascading all over the floor as she swore.
A man shouted back. “Well, that’s just perfect! That’s just fucking perfect! Isn’t that just perfect!”
I looked over a ledge and down into the section of the market the breaks into the alleyway with the famous gum wall, a wall of brick that is covered in chewed pieces of gum, varying colors floor to ceiling in a polka dot design that is both beautiful and makes you want to retch all at once. I still couldn’t see them, but I heard her yell back.
“I did my best, okay! What do you want me to do! What, you gonna hurt me now!” Her questions didn’t sound like questions, but like yells.
I couldn’t hear them as I worked my way around a group of people and down a flight of stairs. When I made my way into gum alley, I finally found them in a corner near the base of the stairwell. The girl was sitting down in a heap on the ground, knees up, the skirt she was wearing bunched up around her thighs, leaving little to the imagination if you were at just the right angle. She had a frayed sweater on top, light makeup (when she uncovered her face with her hands long enough for me to see), and her hair was in dreadlocks and a red bandana. A very muscular man stood over her with strong calves, red shorts and a tanktop, and a ball cap; his arms were massive. He was bending down, elbows on knees, and shouting at her, his face level with hers. He appeared to be establishing dominance somehow, making me even more worried about her.
“I told you to watch for it! I told you I wanted it! But you wouldn’t listen and you were a total bitch and now it’s too late!”
“I said I’m sorry!” She uncovered her face again and screamed up at him, and he stood and walked around, pacing angrily in front of her, clenching and unclenching his fists.
I looked around the crowd, the usual bustling group at Pike Market, and wondered why no one seemed to be stopping to notice what was happening here. There was no concern or regard for the situation, which was clearly escalating. A mother walked by with three kids on a leash, three young girls were staring at the wall of gum and making fascinated grossed-out faces at it, a man held his wife’s hand as she held her pregnant stomach, another couple spoke French as they looked at a map in their hands. Just around the corner, an older Willie Nelson type, frayed denim shirt and jeans and a long white beard and ponytail, played the guitar and strutted around, singing in an amateur voice while hoping people would toss money into his open guitar case. His voice carried over the alleyway though I couldn’t see him, a bunch of unintelligible melodies, and the only word I could make out was ‘bastard.’
The man yelled while strutting. “It was the perfect present! What else am I gonna get for her!”
And she screamed back, tears streaming down her face. “I already told you! I was looking at the other shelf for ideas when someone else grabbed it! Back off!”
Wait, they were fighting over someone buying something that he wanted her to buy? I looked confused. There were a hundred different shops with a thousand different shelves and ten thousand different items for purchase all around them, and this is what they were fighting over? I watched closely, ready to move on but just wanted to make sure she wasn’t in any danger.
The man pulled his cell phone out of his pocket to check something, and things were silent while he texted something and the girl sat there crying. Then he put his phone away, looked coldly at the girl, and said, a bit more softly, “I should have never shared my Ecstacy with you. What a waste.”
Then the man walked away, up the stairs, and out of sight.
The woman sat stunned for a minute, then leaned back against the wall, hands dropped onto the dirty ground, and she screamed at the top of her lungs, “Great, but what about me!”
This time people took notice. A couple of the college girls walked over to comfort her, make sure she was okay.
Me, I looked over at the gum and, with the events that just happened playing in my mind, said out loud, “What a sticky mess.”

Snoqualmie, Ferocious

Snoqualmie

There is a certain majesty in waterfalls. Rushing expanses of water falling from great heights, landing and continuing on its journey, reforming along its journey without thought. Waterfalls take many forms, from small isolated rivulets over jagged cliffs to wide blankets of rushing, gushing power toppling through valleys and into rivers.

Waterfalls inspire me. They fill my soul.

This morning, with a friend, I drove out to one of my favorite places near Seattle, Snoqualmie Falls. Snoqualmie, a Native American word denoting a ‘ferocious people’, is the name of the local city and river, and the name of the powerful falls. Powering through brown cliffs and rich green trees, the falls rushes somehow gently, almost silently, into the river, a deep percussion of the rush of its force underlying it all, felt in the ground beneath the feet and in the depths of the soul. The air smells of woods and water. The browns and greens startle the eye in every shade and hue, from deep pine to almost yellow leaves, from tan wood to deep mahogany rocks. I could stand there for days, pen and paper in hand, in one spot and just absorb it.

Men seek to harness the power of the water fall, as the do the wind and the sun and the earth in every level and in every capacity. Pipes and machines gather and divert parts of the natural fall of water, collecting it to be used for convenience. Yet the water powers on, unknowing and uncaring, following the laws of gravity and nature and pushing forward.

I stood at the waterfall this morning simply listening for a time. I listened to the conversations of lovers, of parents and children, of best friends. I heard the snaps of photographs on selfie sticks, trying to capture the right angle of faces and waterfall. I watched the footfalls of shoes on dirt and people walked up steep trails and stairs nearby. I heard wind in trees, water on rocks, echos against rocks.

After climbing an incline, I stopped to catch my breath. I felt the sheen of sweat on my skin, and air cooling me, and I felt refreshed. Similar climbs in the deserts of Utah leave me dehydrated, achy, but here it renews me somehow.

Minutes later, I ordered a pulled pork sandwich, marinated in a plum sauce and served on a roll with apple slaw, and I watched the falls and the river and the elevation and the rolling hills into the distance, all through a window of the local lodge. People inside and outside were still in a hurry, but the falls moved at a steady pace. I chewed and I watched and I breathed and I savored.

Snoqualmie. Ferocious people. I wondered if I was ferocious. That’s not a word that often exits my lips or works its way into my writing. Ferocious. I tried it out loud. I thought of wolves and eagles, teeth and talons, savagery and blood. And then I softened the word a bit. I pictured it inside me, applied it to drive and ambition, associated it with words like fury and power and ambition. Ferocious. Suddenly it felt right, there in this place, with the water thundering over the cliffs.

Snoqualmie sat within me as I drove away from the falls, determined to be more ferocious, like the waterfall.

Sweet, Sweet Seattle

Seattle

The second, I step off the plane, I feel at home. I’m not sure why that surprises me. I love this city. It represents a lot to me: diversity and temperance, culture and fulfillment. But the change is suddenly present, not dramatic just there and all-encompassing. Home.

As I walk through the airport, I wonder what it was. I have a home in Salt Lake City. It’s furnished, it contains my things, it has space and I spend a lot of time there. My friends come to visit. My children’s toys fill their room and we play together. But my home doesn’t feel like home, and this, this stretch of airport, does.

I take a moment to stop and sit and think and breathe. The air is different, the very atmosphere. It smells of ocean and green and freshness. A few minutes later, when I step outside, I can feel the breeze. I left Salt Lake this morning, already dry and heating up, my hands and lips uncomfortable. The air here makes me hungry.

I walk and the ground beneath my feet feels different. In time, I’m on the train and looking at the rolling green hills, the air filled with a light drizzle. People of every size and color sit around me, and I feel alive with wonder.

I watch the scenery flying by the window and I think of Utah, and all the effort I have put in there to make it feel like Seattle feels to me. I tried living downtown and walking the streets like I do here. I tried losing myself in coffee shops and writing about my experiences like I do here. I found some favorite places, divey pastry shops and indie movie theaters with sticky floors like I do here. But nothing sticks there for me.

Soon, I’m back on the sidewalks and I’m navigating an impossible hill as I tug my suitcase behind me, and I’m smiling. And it’s not just an inside smile, it’s one that I feel in my insides. I’m breathing deep and I’m smiling and my feet fall firmly with each step.

It isn’t as if my every memory in Seattle is a happy one. I struggled professionally here in a job that had impossible requirements. I missed my sons every day. I struggled to find friends. But that sense of wonder as I wandered the streets and the lakeshores and the rainforests never left me. I find it in small doses in other places, but it fills my being here.

My thoughts wander back to my sons again, their hugs and their antics, their daily routines. Being an active part of their lives is my highest priority, raising them to know they are loved, strongly and securely, by both of their parents, raising them into men who have full potential to lead happy and healthy lives. Providing for them with ample love and attention keeps me going every day. They fulfill me in a very different way. They make me happy.

As I walk, my eyes dart to familiar places. Conversations with friends in that book store, seeing a play in that theater, writing a poem in that coffee shop. This city is full of memories for me.

I stop again, breathing, and wonder how to find this sense of wonder in Utah, if that is even possible for me. And if not, how I can shape my career and financial future so that I can be there for them, and still keep this feeling for me.

I arrive at my destination, the place where I lived while I was here. I find my familiar park bench, looking out over Lake Washington. The water is choppy in the breeze. It’s 60 degrees and my skin feels cool and my heart feels warm and my hair is blowing back and I inhale until my lungs are full, and I whisper.

“Hey, Seattle. I’m home. Just for the weekend, but I’m home.”

And I, no less

Who am I to think I deserve good things
to think I am worthy of praise
that I ought to be discussed, thought about, regarded?
Who am I to think my words carry power
that they paint a picture
that they do anymore than capture a moment of my being
one that passes like any other?
Why would I want to be noticed or smiled upon
with patience and measured balanced time
with more than a casual mention?
What am I to do but
rise and toil
work and sow
plan and dream?
I, no more than anyone else, deserve such things.
And I, no less. expanse

Father’s Day

When I was a Mormon missionary, I didn’t trust others easily, I was too afraid of letting them see my real self. But from time to time, I would open my heart up, just a little bit, in small pieces, and see how it reflected off of others.

A random woman in one of my wards in Pennsylvania, an older and unconventional woman named Del, was a kindred spirit. We would find ways to laugh and share all at once. There seemed to be an  unspoken understanding between us, an ability to say very little and yet see each other’s subtext somehow, to realize that with a few words we were conveying much more than that.

Del once told me I looked like Donnie Osmond, and we had a good laugh over that. My companion was talking to her spouse, and Del and I started talking about fathers for a bit. It was a natural normal conversation with a lot of underlying pain in it.

“My father was a difficult man,” she had told me. “He was stubborn. Unbending. He loved us, but he never said it. He showed it. Not with hugs, not with words, but with consistency. He went to work, he came home. He’d flash a look, a silly smile, then be gone for days. What about yours?”

I avoided speaking of my father at the time, having a difficult time taking the conversation in that direction. I remember trying to change the subject, but Del redirected me, not letting me get away with it.

“My dad was a quiet man.” I paused, and she encouraged me to go on. “He was always in a lot of pain, but he never spoke up about it.”

“Well, what kind of pain?”

I had grimaced, looking over to my companion to make sure he wasn’t listening. “The heart kind. But he was silent. He was a strong presence of emotion all the time, but his face never showed it. Well, not very much anyway. He would lay on the floor after work and just be there until he fell asleep for a while. He’d find reasons to be by himself almost constantly. He never laughed, never smiled. He’d lose his temper sometimes, but–”

“But mostly he was just quiet.” She stopped me, not even looking over. “When I joined the Church, years ago, someone explained to me that the way we see God’s presence in our lives is in direct reflection to how we have experienced our own father. I think there is a lot of truth to that.”

“So you see God as difficult?”

“Absolutely. God is stubborn and unbending, just like my dad. But he’s consistent. And he loves with force.”

There was several seconds of silence while she let me think things through. I thought of all the endless prayers I’d made both for myself, to help me be righteous and good and to let me be healed from my attractions to men, and for my family and friends, to ease their sufferings and improve their circumstances, prayers that had always come from the right place but which always seemed to be met with a stony silence.

I looked back to Del and just nodded. She knew what I meant. To me, God was quiet.

“Well, we learn from our fathers, too. We learn how to be different kinds of parents. I made my share of mistakes, but I made sure my children knew they were loved. I spoke it loudly and often. But I was also rigid and stubborn. And when it comes your turn to have children, you’ll be the same. You’ll do things differently and make your own mistakes.”

I didn’t mean to speak the next part out loud. “I don’t think I’ll ever have children.”

Del whooped and slapped my shoulder, this time drawing the attention of my companion and her husband. “Of course you’ll have children! You’re handsome, spiritual, you can sing, and you have a great heart. You’ll make an excellent father and a great husband.”

The conversation turned after that, but I remember thinking, loudly, to myself that I wanted to be a father, but that I couldn’t do that unless I stopped being gay. And at that point, I was 20, and the cures hadn’t worked yet.

I type this story now at age 37. This morning, I made my sons pancakes and cuddled them. I played with them and helped them clean their room. I set up my expectations for them when they got into an argument. I sang songs to them, and I reminded them, with an enormous kiss and hug, that they are loved.

And if my sons grow up believing in a God, I hope they see one that is consistent, and present, and loud, and affectionate, and playful, and funny, and strong, and clear.

Though she couldn’t possibly have seen this far into the future, and I doubt she would have predicted this set of circumstances, it turns out Del was exactly right.

Numb

numb

 

It’s been a painful and very strange week. One of those weeks where I spent a lot of time glued to social media, unbidden, because that is how we experience the news lately. The events in Orlando impacted me on a profound and painful level. I was outraged and the selfish and bigoted Tweets sent out by calloused politicians, I was horrified by the stories of the victims whose lives were cut short right in the middle of living, I was saddened and exhausted by the long painful rants and speeches by friends who were in pain.
My kids weren’t with me this week. I think that would have helped. They approach the world with sheer joy and wonder. But they were camping with their mom, out of reach even by phone, leaving me to my own devices.
And the stories of the survivors coming out now, their wounds beginning to heal but their hearts far from it. Working as a counselor and spending time absorbing the pain of others as they process through their own struggles and feelings, many of them related to Orlando as well.
And now it is Friday morning and I sat down to write, something that always helps me sort out how I’m feeling. I searched my brain for topics to write about, stories I want to tell. I have a long list in my brain. But after several minutes of staring at a blinking cursor on the keyboard, I realized this was the story, typing about the general realization that I’m numb. And tired. But mostly numb.
There has been a tremendous amount of joy this week. I attended a local vigil in tribute to Orlando and hugged dozens of friends who were grieving with me. I had meaningful conversations over coffee with a few friends. I made major progress on a book project that I’m working on. I exercised and felt confident. I saw outpourings of kindness from strangers over social media who were loving and supportive.
Numbness is a natural state for me after days of feeling too much. My body just reacts with numb after a while. It’s that feeling where you can’t quite sleep and you can’t quite sit still and you can’t quite find the motivation to do anything, where you roll with the punches of your day: gym, coffee, do the dishes, fold the laundry, one foot in front of the other. I’ve been eating nutritious foods and soaking in sunlight and drinking water and doing all of the right things but it is still taking its time, and taking its toll.
Tomorrow the sun comes up. I’ll be with my kids again and we wiill play in the park and sing songs and draw pictures. We will go on treasure hunts and tell stories and count bugs on the sidewalk. They are my greatest salve and balm and remedy.
I see the good and wonderful and bright in my life more clearly than ever. I embrace slow and steady positive change over time. I measure myself where I am against where I was and I just keep climbing. It is a beautiful world. It is. Despite terrible and painful things at times, it is a world of incredible beauty and love.
I’m better at taking care of myself these days, letting myself be numb for a bit and letting myself find joy, setting boundaries where I need to, prioritizing my insides before I can do that for others.
At this point, it is impossible to tell what the long-term impacts of Orlando will be, but I believe that they will be positive ones politically, that gun control laws will change, that politicians will stop conceding to the NRA, that LGBT people will be better understood and more widely embraced. For me, I’m not sure what I’ll learn yet, but I’ll come out of all of this changed, altered a bit, more aware of both the darkness and the love that exist in the world.
But first, I write.

Friends of Dorothy

Friends of Dorothy YT

FRIENDS OF DOROTHY

In 1909, L. Frank Baum released the fifth of the Oz books, called the Road to Oz. In the book, Dorothy has returned to Oz, continuing her usual misadventures with a motley crew of companions, including her dog Toto, a homeless bearded man in curled clothing called the Shaggy Man, and a cherubic little boy in a sailor suit named Button Bright. In chapter five, they meet Polychrome, a colorful sky princess who is the daughter of the rainbow. Polychrome, who is dancing about to keep herself warm, looks at the group and says “You have some queer friends, Dorothy.” Dorothy innocently replies, “The queerness doesn’t matter so long as they are friends.”

Before and after this, the Oz books were filled with stories about accepting and loving all, even misfits like a lion who is afraid or a tiger who is constantly hungry, but the books also frequently challenged gender stereotypes, with women nearly always in positions of power, like Princess Ozma and Glinda the Good, and telling stories like one with an entire army of women.

Groups of queer people began to refer to themselves as Friends of Dorothy, and the phrase caught on. On many cruise ships, even now, special events for gay people are planned using this phrase; rather than advertising a “gay brunch” it will advertise “brunch for the Friends of Dorothy”, for example. Meeting groups in big cities would be set up using this name as well. The phrase became even more popular and relevant when Judy Garland became a gay icon, given that she had played Dorothy in the blockbuster film of the Wizard of Oz.

In one humorous anecdote, Naval officers sought to ferret out gay military men. Hearing the term Friends of Dorothy, the investigating officers concluded that a woman named Dorothy was organizing rings of gay service men and they went on a hunt for the woman. Another potential origin to the term Friends of Dorothy is a reference to the parties held at Dorothy Parker’s home in the early days of Hollywood. Parker was a poet, critic, and writer who was well-connected in the industry.

Wizard of Oz

Wizard1

In 1900, author L. Frank Baum wrote and released the popular children’s novel, the Wonderful Wizard of Oz. In the book, Dorothy Gale of Kansas is taken to a magical fairyland in a cyclone along with her dog Toto. She meets a living scarecrow, a man made of tin, and a talking lion; kills an ugly and evil witch with a pail of water; follows a road of yellow brick into a city of emerald; and exposes a purported wizard as a fraud. In the end, she uses a pair of magical slippers to wish herself home. The book, considered the ultimate American fairy tale, inspired Baum to release over a dozen other books featured in Oz, many of the books featuring Dorothy as well as introducing other popular characters to readers, including Tik-Tok, the Patchwork Girl, the Hungry Tiger, the Wogglebug, and Princess Ozma herself.

Various books from the Oz series were turned into plays in the early 1900s, and dozens of books have been written by other authors, exploring the lands of Oz with both beloved characters and new additions.

Then in 1939, MGM spent millions creating the Wizard of Oz movie, based on the book with different formatting and character portrayals, starring box office hit Judy Garland. Filmed in Technicolor and with a new musical score, the film just broke even upon its release, and it lost its Best Picture nomination to Gone With the Wind; however, it was re-released in theaters 10 years later to huge critical acclaim, and in the mid-1950s it was broadcast on television annually, and has remained a family classic ever since. The film has inspired multiple sequels and adaptations on the screen and stage, notably including the films Return to Oz and Oz the Great and Powerful, and the Broadway show the Wiz, written for an all-black cast. In addition, Gregory Maguire wrote the Wicked series, exploring the lives of the Witch, the Cowardly Lion, and others in adult fiction, and Wicked was turned into a wildly popular Broadway musical that is still touring. In 1970, a small theme park dedicated to Oz even opened.

Partially due to the gay community’s love of Judy Garland along with a combination of powerful music, colorful imagery, a magical fairy land where anything is possible, and the idea of leaving gray dusty Kansas for a magical life of acceptance and love in another world, the Wizard of Oz has been deified by the gay community as an archetypal film, and the Rainbow adopted as the primary symbol of the gay movement.