For my fifth birthday my grandmother bought me a VHS copy of The Wizard of Oz. Having wanted, and begged for, Sleeping Beauty, this was a disappointment. Who was that girl on the cover in that checkered, blue dress? She didn’t look like a princess. I was not happy. My grandmother urged me to watch it, and my mother tried to console me. “This was my favorite movie when I was a little girl, Joshua. I think you’re going to love it.” As it turns out, her prediction was the understatement of the century.
To say that I loved the Wizard of Oz, as it turns out many gay men have as boys, doesn’t nearly express the obsession it stirred in me. My viewing experience of the film was ritualistic. My grandmother would pick me up from school at 3:30, while my mom was still making business calls in her home office. I would get home by 4:00, and the movie would be rewound and ready for viewing by 4:05. While Dorothy was still in Sepia and singing about her dreams, the ones way up high and over the rainbow, I was preparing my outfit. That is until Ms. Gulch came on the screen. She was a lady who didn’t take any nonsense. She was a woman who stood up for herself. She reminded me of my mom and I loved her.
As Dorothy’s house flew through the air, I put on on my black dress, striped stocking and pointed hat. I would wait patiently through the lollipop guild, and the other lesser union association with the ballerinas that I don’t quite remember the name of. And then her—our—entrance. I quickly learned all of the Wicked Witch’s lines and blocking. I would act out her scenes along with her throughout the entire movie. My melting scene was so good that my mother made me perform it for the entire student body at the elementary school talent show when I was in Kindergarten.
My obsession also bled into recess. I was best friends with an adorable girl named LaVon, who always wanted to be Dorothy; it was a match made in heaven. I would chase her, and whomever else we had wrangled to play the Scarecrow, the Tinman, and the Cowardly Lion, while shrieking at the top of my lungs “I’ll get you my pretty and your little dog too.” Perhaps this is where my distaste for dogs came from.
I am not sure why gay men are drawn so intensely to the Wizard of Oz any more than I am sure why I was. There’s the obvious identification with Dorothy. Many men feel like they want to leave their repressive, or even oppressive, homes in the rural peripheries of the United States to go to Emerald Cities of their own. Sure, Dorothy’s friends are effeminate to a certain degree, and thus the label “friend of Dorothy’ exists as a signifier, albeit a dated one, of male homosexuality. But none of those feel true to me or to my experience with the film. Out of everyone, I looked up to and admired the Witch, who, I guess, is on many levels a drag queen
After seeing the Wizard of Oz on Ice!, buying two snow globes with scenes from the movie, dressing up as the Wicked Witch of the West for two Halloweens, and my 9th birthday, I eventually outgrew my obsession with the most American fairytale. But 13 years later, I still can’t change the channel if the movie is on TV, and I still feel compelled to see every interpretation of the story, be it The Wiz, Wicked, or that new movie with James Franco and Mila Kunis that is sure to be a disaster. Maybe there are some things you just don’t outgrow.