I just saw a sweet, funny, Off-Broadway play entitled "Santa Claus Is Coming Out" that entertains exactly this question. Written by Jeffrey Solomon, the story revolves around a little boy, Gary, who, more than anything else, wants a doll for Christmas. Although he is too young to connect the dots, Gary intuitively knows he is different, that his desire for the doll will cause trouble and he is naturally afraid of the consequences. Still, he asks Santa Claus for the toy in the hope that Santa will love him despite the unconventional nature of his request.
Coincidentally, as the story progresses, we learn that Santa Claus, too, is afraid; he is actually a closeted gay man, in love with another man, and deeply fearful of being exposed.
The story that unfolds from there is touching and moving with messages - of tolerance, acceptance and unconditional love - that are values everyone should be behind. Those facts, however, haven't stopped some in the far right blogosphere from lashing out. Candi Cushman began the assault, which was quickly picked up by Michelle Malkin, Todd Starnes of Fox Radio, Rod Dreher of beliefnet.com and even Bill O'Reilly, who felt strongly enough to link to Starnes' blog from his own.
These bloggers claim their only focus is protecting children and the traditional view of Santa Claus (who, lest we forget, is a fictional character). Their real targets, however, are the organization, GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network), the Obama administration, and Kevin Jennings, who founded GLSEN in 1997, and is currently President Obama's Safe Schools "czar." Attacking the show and playwright to get at Obama is, by any measure, an enormous stretch. Coincidentally or not, the attacks began shortly before the GLSEN benefit performance of "Santa Claus Is Coming Out" on December 8, 2009.
Sad to say, but I doubt any of these people have seen the play. If they had and if they are truly concerned about protecting children, the question could legitimately be asked, "All children, or only children who are not like 7-year-old Gary?"
This story is about struggle and triumph. Several of the play's dramatic moments were very authentic, such as Gary's parents' struggle. Though his mother loves him unconditionally, she is very worried about him - not so much that he might be gay, but what that will mean in terms of confronting bigotry as he moves through life. Gary's father is in denial, which greatly complicates the family dynamics. The unorthodox wish by a young boy for a particular toy - especially a boy who wants a doll - generates fear not only of asking for it, but also of receiving it.
Solomon's Santa Claus (who we never see) is symbolic of many gay people who have been forced to hide who they are because of societal pressure and expectations and, of course, plain old prejudice.
A one-man show, Solomon plays 20 different roles. My favorite character is Gary's best friend, Cheyenne, a 7-year-old, street-smart, African American girl whose innocence and the accompanying unconditional acceptance of Gary, is a metaphor for all children. As Oscar Hammerstein so beautifully wrote, "You've Got To Be Carefully Taught."
The detractors are entitled to their viewpoints, just as Jeffrey Solomon and the producers of "Santa Claus Is Coming Out" are entitled to theirs. But I think criticism of art should be based on the artistic merits, not on some political agenda.
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