Q&A with Jeffrey Solomon (Santa Claus Is Coming Out): on GLSEN and Gay Santa
This morning's Times rounds up some of the further-out holiday-themed entertainments playing in New York now ("Come On, Santa, Put Your Clothes Back On"). Among these is Jeffrey Solomon's Santa Claus is Coming Out at The Kirk on Theater Row, in which Santa is gay, a little questioning kid wants a doll, and Rudolph is organizing the elves for a more diverse workshop.
As it happens, Solomon has done gay-themed shows before, such as his one-man Mother/Son, which has travelled to schools to promote diversity; that show has been promoted by GLSEN, the gay education and outreach people whose Kevin Jennings is Obama's new "safe schools czar," making everything GLSEN-related a cause of rightwing outrage -- Solomon's show included, since he made one performance of Santa a GLSEN benefit. "Clearly homosexual activists like Solomon have no qualms about using shock tactics to expose children to homosexuality," raves Focus on the Family." (Solomon reminds us the play is off-Broadway, not at schools, and for adults.)
We interviewed Solomon and asked him about Santa, GLSEN, Christmas, and Rudolph the Facially Challenged Reindeer.
Why did you do this show?
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Out in Orange, California there was a young man who was trying to start a Gay-Straight Student Alliance in his school, and the community just sort of went ballistic, and tried to outlaw student clubs rather than let that one club meet. I went to interview the chief opponent of the gay club. She was saying, "The gays were trying to instruct our children in sex."
She was the one who got me onto Santa Claus. When she wasn't fighting gay people, she was a producer of children's television, and she was working on a Christmas special about Santa Claus. And I got to thinking, Why does she get to claim Santa Claus?... Why couldn't a gay child have a Santa Claus?
I've also been a teacher in classroom, and especially with young children, there's this deal where if you're gay, your life is unmentionable... because of the way it will be perceived, because it's automatically sexual. And I thought, Santa Claus is the ultimate figure of trust, the ultimate teacher, and I got to thinking: How would the world react if Santa Claus were gay, if Mrs. Claus were a beard?
We're beginning to see a little bit of that in the way these groups are responding to the play. It's as if I had written their responses!
How did you get involved with GLSEN?
A lot of their chapters have sponsored Mother/Son. Santa Claus is Coming Out, by the way, is for adults. At its center is a young boy who's probably going to grow up to be gay, and is looking for some kind of role model to make sense of what he's feeling, but the play is for adults and the benefit was for adults.
I think it's funny the way they turned this around, that somehow this play was trying to expose children to homosexuality -- which is the charge that's made against Santa himself in my play, when it turns out that he's a gay man: that Santa has joined the gay agenda, and has some motive to convert children to the lifestyle...
Do you know Kevin Jennings?
No. I think he might have seen my work.
Obviously you've heard all the controversy about him and GLSEN. What's your reaction?
You wouldn't think in 2009 that trying to send the message that it's okay to be gay would be so controversial. Because we don't send that message, kids are suffering out there. When a bully says "faggot," he doesn't think he's talking about a real person, because there are no adults around -- maybe a handful -- he can relate it to.
The opponents on the right would like this never be discussed. Kevin's built his whole career on sending a very simple message, which is it's okay to be gay. This makes it safe for those kids who are out there, or their family members who are gay....
The kid in the play thinks he's naughty [for wanting a doll for Christmas]. That's what gay kids think when they have no reflection of themselves, when the discussion is taboo and off-limits. They're invisible.
You've said something in the past about the old song I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus being one piece of evidence that Santa "has always had a sexuality."
The argument made against this play, or anyone talks about gay issues and kids, is that you're have a sexual conversation. We don't think about what happens in the Claus bedroom. It romanticizes Santa, and implies a sexual orientation. What sets off the panic is "gay." Then suddenly you're talking about sex.
We're very used to I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus or to photo spreads of a lady curled up on Santa's lap. Apparently what makes Santa's lap sexual is when it's a gay lap.
So how do you feel about Christmas?
I'm Jewish. Reformed! But I was always head over heels in love with the Santa myth, totally enamored with the idea of this magical being that gave you anything you asked for. I loved all the Claymation specials, Santa Claus is Coming to Town, Year Without a Santa Claus...
What's your favorite?
With the island of misfit toys?
Yeah. Growing up as a Jewish kid -- there were no kids in my town -- and being a gay kid and never having it talked about, I related to Rudolph.
Rudolph's a pretty amazing special when you think about it -- it really reached out beyond the mainstream to kids who felt left out.
Yeah.I think all the specials produced in the 70s have a little bit of a non-conformist message. Rudolph especially.
Rudolph's in the play. He's the first person, or creature, that Santa comes out to, by dint of his sensitivity to difference. And Rudolph has gone on, in his adult life, to create the Misfit Task Force, which later became the Christmas Town Diversity Committee, whose mission is to make the workshop more inclusive by opening the workshop to elves of color, They've put in access ramps throughout Santa's workshop...
What do you want for Christmas?
For Hanukkah? I would like full houses. It really is a fun show and people come out laughing. It's a gift for me to be able to play it every night, and I think audiences see it that way too.
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