We Have The Same Wants
An Essay on Torch Song Trilogy: Widows and Children First
For decades, gays and lesbians have fought for the same rights and respect for their relationships as their heterosexual counterparts. In a world of non acceptance and disdain for homosexual couplings, gays are left in constant search for comfort and security in the alternative family. In the play “Torch Song Trilogy, Widow’s and Children First!,” we see the frustration and struggle of this search through the eyes of Arnold, a drag queen living in New York City. The trials and tribulations of Arnold’s search for this acceptance and security of family is just as relevant today, as it was during the plays run in the late seventies.
At the play’s opening, we meet Arnold as he is in the process of mourning the loss of a lover, Alan. In the absence of Alan, he has filled his life with such events as taking in Ed, his former lover and adopting David, a teenage runaway. Arnold is dreading an upcoming visit from his mother, as he knows that her arrival will bring into question the family unit he is creating. He so dreads the conversation, that he hasn’t fully explained David’s existence or that Ed is living on his sofa.
As his mother arrives, she expresses all of the questions and concerns that society has for the homosexual population. Her various questions come in the form of comments like “Three men, two bedrooms, I’ll have my tea first. (Fierstien 3.1.123)” and puns like “You must admit it sounds a little queer: a man leaves his wife to move in with his old…friend.” (Fierstein 3.1.125). By making these comments, she is passive aggressively attacking the lifestyle she feels Arnold has “chosen.” We see this even more as she continues raising questions and making comment until she arrives on the subject of David.
MA. He see’s you living like this…Don’t you think it’s going to effect him?
ARNOLD. Ma, David is gay.
MA. But he’s only been here six months.
ARNOLD. He came that way.
MA. No one comes that way. (Fierstein 3.2.149) The gay and lesbian lifestyle was only beginning to become more visible in the decades preceding the play. Many movements for many civil rights groups were already taking place in the 1960s, including the women’s movement, the black civil rights movement, and so on. The gay civil rights movement began, but didn’t really come into the public eye until the early morning of June 28th, 1969. On that Saturday morning, the police raided the “Stonewall Inn” igniting a riot that would change the passive nature of the gay rights movement. Images of gays fighting back filtered across America pushing more and more to stand up for the cause. The movement grew. In 1972, Democratic presidential candidates spoke in favor of supporting the protection of gay people from discrimination. Students challenged colleges to give their gay organizations recognition and status. In 1973, the American Psychiatric Association voted to remove homosexuality as a mental disorder. While many of the steps forward still fell short of a true victory, progress was being made on the quest for equal visibility and recognition in society. The movement was suddenly stalled when faced with the anti-gay backlash, beginning in 1977. During this time. Anita Bryant led her anti gay campaign, working her best to take away any gay rights state by state, throughout the country. Led by her religion she used the her campaign to paint a picture that homosexuals were “sick, sinful, or criminal- hardly deserving of legal protection. (Marcus, 122-123, 188)” It was at this time that “Torch Song Trilogy” performed its run. With this anti-gay fever crossing the country, many homosexuals were faced with the same obstacles and opposition from the people about whom they cared. They were not given the acknowledgment, the respect, or the love that they needed. Many were faced with banishment from their families and friends of