Recently, Bitty and I saw the touring production of La Cage Aux Folles at the Pantages theatre in Hollywood. I had seen the original Broadway production in 1985 during my first trip to New York City.
In the show, the first act closes with drag queen Zsa Zsa singing “I Am What I Am,” an anthem to acceptance. We were fortunate enough to see Christopher Sieber in the role, a Broadway veteran whose comic timing is spot-on and singing is powerful.
“Life’s not worth a damn,
‘Til you can say, ‘Hey world, I am what I am.'”
As Mr. Sieber continued singing, I viewed the song much differently than I had as a 23-year-old farm girl during her first trip to the Big Apple. Slowly, it dawned on me: I am now almost 50 years old and fortunate enough to be sitting beside my partner of 10 years.
“I don’t want praise, I don’t want pity.
I bang my own drum,
Some think it’s noise, I think it’s pretty.”
The last 27 years flashed through the synapses of my brain, my history replaying on an internal movie screen scored by Sieber’s moving rendition. It had been only a few years after that initial Broadway experience when I stared down my own demons. I don’t make light of this, my demons — sowed from the insecurities of others about that alien “other” — were embedded as deep as the roots of the cotton crops I had spent my young life working.
“And so what, if I love each feather and each spangle,
Why not try to see things from a diff’rent angle?”
I didn’t want to be an alien “other,” but I did want to be, well, me. I wanted the opportunity to love and be loved. So, ultimately, I came out, first to myself then, slowly, to others.
“Your life is a sham ’til you can shout out loud
I am what I am!”
I may have lost a few friends, and even a friendly alter ego, along the way. But I found a supportive ally — myself. I learned to love and be loved.
“And what I am needs no excuses.
I deal my own deck
Sometimes the ace, sometimes the deuces.”
Ups and downs? You bet. That’s life. But at least it’s my life and not the alter ego’s. I am what I am.
“There’s one life, and there’s no return and no deposit;
One life, so it’s time to open up your closet.
Life’s not worth a damn ’til you can say,
‘Hey world, I am what I am!'”
Video of Tony winner Douglas Hodge
Lyrics to “I Am What I Am” by Jerry Herman