So who am I, and why have I written a play about growing up gay? On a scale from 1 to 10, where 1 is totally straight and 10 is totally gay, I peg the meter on the high end. I’m not effeminate, and most people wouldn’t suspect that I’m gay, unless they took the time to get to know me. I’ve never been with a woman and have never had the slightest desire to do so. I have never been confused about the issue. I am sexually attracted only to masculine men, with nothing in between. I was never brave enough to come out in high school, but nonetheless I still suffered some small amount of bullying and ridicule from a select few of the most intolerant students.
I grew up in the 60s and 70s in a small town called Sitka, Alaska. I knew that I was gay from a very young age – 8 or 10 at least. I endured ‘faggot’ jokes from my father who had no inkling that his oldest son was one of those guys he was ridiculing, and I wasn’t about to enlighten him. But hiding it from him was easy as he, from as far back as I can remember, rarely had time to spend with his children, or his wife for that matter.
It was bad enough when my father called me as “useless as tits on a boar hog” for not knowing what a Skil Saw was (how much skill does it take to operate a circular saw?), or what the difference was between a 6- and a 12-point socket set – not that he could ever be bothered to teach me these things that he thought I should automatically know as a member of the male persuasion. Heaven forbid that I would even consider telling him I was queer.
Growing up, I didn’t know a single other person who was gay. There was a definite dearth of role models — someone, anyone I could look up to. I was desperate for a connection of any kind. I searched dictionaries, encyclopedias, and every book at the library for the merest mention of the word ‘homosexual’ to prove that there were others like me out there somewhere. I fixated on Paul Lynde on The Hollywood Squares and Charles Nelson Riley on The Match Game, even though, to my knowledge, they never actually acknowledged being homosexual at the time.
I came out to my family and friends when I was 21. I served in the US Navy from the time I was 18 until I retired at 38. This was before Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, so while I remained firmly ensconced in the closet at work for purely practical reasons, in all other aspects of my life I was openly gay.
In my early 50s, I decided to start writing. I joined a Writer’s Group in Buffalo, NY and began to write science fiction novels, self-publishing the first when I was 55. I also began writing musical theater around the same time, encouraged by my longtime musician friend, Faith Page. After finishing the draft of Wisteria – the first musical I ever wrote, one that I co-authored with Faith – and having enjoyed very much writing lyrics, I looked around for another musical theater project that would let me spread my wings.
Thinking back on my childhood and the difficulties I had growing up gay, and seeing that apparently it hasn’t gotten all that much easier, I wanted to write a musical that would provide, to a gay audience, the romance, self-affirmation, and thrill that Hairspray, Grease, and Wicked on Broadway provide to straight audiences. I wanted something that included positive gay role models, something that gay kids could identify and empathize with, something that simply says, “You are normal. You’re not a freak. There are millions of others just like you. What you are feeling is not perverted, or even unique. Relax.” And as Queen Angel sings in LUBE during a climatic moment, “Just love yourself; the rest will fall in place.”
I started out to write a pure parody with influences from the stage play. The project quickly veered from parody into an entirely new direction. My play, LUBE, was inspired by Grease, but it is far from derivative. It shares a similar overall story arc, but the characters, storyline, and plot points are uniquely mine. The lyrics were written to be reminiscent of the original music, but the words were carefully chosen to eliminate copyright infringement. I registered for and received my first copyright for the work in 2012. I just re-registered the copyright in 2016 to include all the music compoased by Brandon Bowerman.
Ultimately, I wanted to create a play that would provide those gay role models that I never had as a child. I wanted something that showed gay kids in a positive light, surrounded (for the most part) by supportive students in a contemporary setting. I wanted to create something inspiring, uplifting, exhilerating even. I wanted something that a young gay person could walk of saying, “I’m gay. That was gay. They fell in love and got together at the end. That could me be. There is hope, there is love, there is someone out there for me.”
The topics that I chose to explore are the very issues I faced growing up, and ones that I know are still faced today by many of those growing up queer:
Whether to come out or stay in the closet
The consequences of hiding your sexuality from friends and family
The consequences of coming out
The negative impact that radical right religion has on a gay kid’s self-image
Depression and suicidal thoughts while growing up gay, particularly for those afraid to come out
Bullying and harassment of those perceived as gay, whether or not they are actually gay
The many variations in sexuality and gender expression, and the fact that there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’
That simply being gay is perfectly acceptable, and not the worst thing in the world; being gay is actually something to be celebrated
The musical includes a couple of drag queens, and since this is a gay play, it even has the obligatory make-over scene. The story of Manny and Andy falling in love, breaking up, and hopefully getting back together is accomplished with a cast of characters that includes gays, straights, and bisexuals. It includes those accepting of gays and a few who are not. There are frank discussions of and songs about sex, but there is nothing overtly sexual portrayed in the play itself. Still, LUBE is a bit more than PG-13, which I understand limits the target audience somewhat. However, I feel that it perfectly fits the demographic of kids high school age and up. You don’t have to be gay to see LUBE, but if you’re not, you may wish you were!
This is the first in a new genre of musical theater — a play about gay people, written by a gay playwright (although a gay person writing musical theater is nothing new), but intended for gay and gay-supportive audiences.
LUBE will make you laugh, it’ll make you cry, it’ll make you want to sing along with the music.