For many of us LGBT seniors, the movie “The Wizard of Oz” seemed to resonant with our life experiences as we traveled our own hazardous yellow brick life paths toward discovering who we were and how to survive in a hostile culture. Our LGBT sub-culture adopted many of the images from this timeless tale, the rainbow became our symbol of LGBT diversity, San Francisco became our Emerald City, Anita Bryant became our Wicked Witch, and of course Judy Garland’s life struggles seemed to symbolize our own and she became an icon for many gay men.
Some have said that L. Frank Baum’s timeless book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, on which the movie is based, is a coming-of-age story. The Yellow Brick Road is a journey of self-discovery. Glenda the Good Witch, a provider of guidance, encouragement and support, might symbolize our mentors, intuition, or higher self. Dorothy’s yearning to return to Kansas could represent our impulse to feel “at home” in ourselves, to discover that place over the rainbow where our dared dreams come true.
The Lion, Tin Man and Scarecrow are said to represent the seeking of personal empowerment through the development of courage, compassion, and creativity and that empowerment only comes through meeting a series of life challenges. In the story those challenges are provided by the power-hungry Wicked Witch of the West and the deceptive Wizard of Oz. (Hmmmm. Power-hungry and deceptive. Sound familiar?)
Here’s where I apply the metaphor to our collective journey. We LGBT elders developed a sense of self by learning how to respond to a largely hostile and hypocritical culture. It put many obstacles in our path that made us stronger. Not that we didn’t encounter our own “field of poppies” to escape the pain of rejection – some of us were tempted to numb ourselves with alcohol, drugs, and anonymous sex – but in a matter of decades, we turned the corner and achieved new levels of acceptance and won many freedoms and rights. It wasn’t as simple as clicking our ruby slippers, but we did it!
Now here we are, like deer in headlights, faced with another controlling and deceptive witch/wizard who has fooled a large segment of our population into thinking he is all-powerful and all-wise. It is an opportunity for us in the LGBT community to take our journey to the next level. This time our symbolic Dorothy has millions more companions on her march toward greater empowerment. So let’s join hands with our brothers and sisters and do this!
The colors of the rainbow so pretty in the sky
Are also on the faces of people passing by
I see friends shaking hands
Singing, “How do you do?”
They’re really singing, “I, I love you.”
(from “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” by Israel “Iz” Kaʻanoʻi Kamakawiwoʻole)
Buz Hermes is co-facilitator of the Sonoma Valley LGBT Seniors Group and a former staff member of Spectrum’s Senior Outreach Program. He is currently a consultant on LGBT aging and can be reached at GaryDHermes@comcast.net or (707) 227-6935.