What a drag, North Brookfield!

By Rosalie Tirella

Former Worcester School Committee member John Monfredo, his wife Annemarie, educator and professor Dottie Hargrove, former Worcester City Councilor Gary Rosen … in costume, ready to perform, to read their favorite stories to WPS students at the ol’ Webster House restaurant! Photo submitted

This being Spencer, we’d have thrown a parade, bookended by East Brookfield and Spencer firetrucks, their lights flashing, horns honking. That being North Brookfield, they (the Town Selectmen) have thrown a wet blanket. Over the DISNEY CHARACTER Drag Show slated to be part of the Rural Gay Pride event scheduled for North Brookfield in June. North Brookfield, the town down the road from us here in Spencer. Smaller … and even more rural than Spencer, if that’s possible. So after voting YES, the NB selectman rescinded their vote – and revoted: Yes, to the gay pride event, NO to the Disney drag show which some townsfolk believe will corrupt the little kids of North Brookfield. You can never tell what will happen if a group of children get a story read to them by a man in a Cinderella costume!! Some townsfolk call it “vulgar” … and What would Florida Governor Ron DeSantis do? (Why not ask: What would Jesus do??) They (stupidly) fear that gayness or drag queen-ness is contagious, like catching COVID. They think if you’re exposed to this “virus” you’ll become a drag queen, too! Worse yet, you may turn gay all of a sudden! Want to have sex with a person of your sex!!!

How ridiculous! You watch an ice skater perform at the DCU Center (many of the male performers are gay): does that make you want to don a pair of sparkly leotards and start figure skating at your local pond? You watch MAD MEN on TV: does that make every husband want to go out and cheat on his wife, deceive his Betty?

What North Brookfield is doing is blatantly anti-gay, pro-discrimination. Un-American. Pro-hatred. Anti-God. Anti-love. So, rightly, the Massachusetts chapter of the ACLU has jumped into the fray. If no one is hurting anyone then anyone has his or her First Amendment right to express their views on the public square. Look at all the KKK marches in America thru the years. Look at Charlottesville just several years ago, with Donald Trump calling the “Jews will not replace us” chanters “fine people”! Look at the Trump/MAGA rallies! The putridness is outrageous! More offensive than any rhinestone tiara some guy may be sparkling in at the North Brookfield drag queen Disney show!

The people spewing hatred can’t be arrested unless they’re destroying property or clobbering someone or killing someone – like what happened at our Capitol in D.C. when Trump lost the election. Just marching and yelling gross, racist, antisemitic shit is protected free speech in America. This is why we’re not China or Russia or any other country on earth whose people aren’t FREE.

The North Brookfield drag queen show stars are Americans. They will be singing All-American Disney classics like “When You Wish Upon A Star … your dreams come true!” – not “Jews will not replace us!” The North Brookfield gay pride event organizers say, rightly, they’ll cancel the celebration before dumping their brothers and sisters in their fabulous Snow White and Cinderella gowns. Drag shows have always been a part of gay culture, they point out…gay men having fun getting all glammed up and singing and dancing. As in Liza Minnelli. Or Judy Garland. Another side to themselves. Really fun and kinda cool, if you’ve seen a drag queen show. Why would North Brookfield be afraid of some guy in a pretty dress hitting the high notes of “New York, New York”? Why not just grab a lawn chair, plant it on the town common and enjoy the show? It’s FREE!

The more serious, flip side to the town’s NO is that every closeted or just-coming-out gay/bi/trans/nonbinary adult or kid in North Brookfield gets to feel a bit more … alone … afraid … ashamed … confused… shunned … rejected … despairing. It’s tough to be different, to be gay, in rural America where viewpoints can be a bit narrower…where there’s less diversity so anything different can feel threatening.

When I was a little girl growing up in Green Island we had a young woman who looked and dressed like a young man. I often wondered WHO was “Ann,” but my mother treated her no differently from anyone else in the neighborhood. Ma was always polite to Ann when we were walking down Bigelow or Sigel and saw Ann walking home or to Crompton Park. “Hi, Ann!!” my kid sisters and I would chirp to her as Ma smiled. Ann gave us a polite little nod, never a smile, and went her way, blue jeans, black belt, men’s type oxford shirt tucked into her jeans. She always wore this kind of outfit, always said hello in this serious way. Yet she was a part of our neighborhood, like Ma working at the dry cleaners or the old Russian lady who owned the three decker next door and kept our kick balls if we accidentally kicked them over the fence into her garden. Or there was the family who owned Ringo, the neighborhood dog I loved best. Or the girl with the long fine yellow hair who lived on Grosvenor Street and played the flute. Ann was a part of our neighborhood. Or so I thought. One day Ma told me Ann had killed herself. Hanged herself. I was shocked. Ann seemed so quiet and unobtrusive. I had never seen Ann happy or joking, but I had never seen her angry or fighting or heard her swearing a la some of our neighborhood toughs.

That was 1968/69 in ol’ Green Island, where to be gay was to be … alone, unsupported – a freak. Back then in America being gay meant being a “fag.” Breaking the law in some states, being denied equal rights in marriage, jobs, parenthood … everything. Ann was all alone in our neighborhood, in our country. Our home wasn’t her home.

Fast forward to 1990s Green Island where the sweetest, cutest little boy is growing up. My mother thinks he – a neighbor – is the best little boy. So sensitive! He adores his mother, too – cries for her when she’s late coming home, makes her little art projects at school. He’s called “clingy” by some adults who observe him. Still, he is a great kid – not a thug like some of the boys in Green Island. He goes to school every day, does his homework, respects his teachers, has career goals…is very artistic. At 15 he “comes out” to his mother and step dad. His mother throws out her perfect son … out of the family home! The boy moves in with his grandmother who loves him dearly and gives him his own bedroom and buys him his first car. The mother never visits her son or gets him birthday presents or celebrates Christmas or Easter with him. The relationship is dead. He is no longer in her family.

A few years ago, my friend’s mom was telling me her son – gay – was not gay. “He’s half Greek!” she screamed at me. “He’s AC-DC!!” This from an 80-year-old woman who was intelligent, well read, wealthy, self-made, traveled the world … one of Worcester’s first female building contractors. But “Lois” hated her son’s gayness. She hated her son’s long-time, live-in boyfriend. She rued the day when her son divorced his wife, a beautiful woman with a great professional job. She saw his life unraveling after his divorce. He saw his life as just beginning. Personal happiness was now a distinct possibility.

Because, in the end, that’s what it all comes down to: Happiness. And in America, in North Brookfield, in 2023, don’t we ALL deserve to be accepted for who we are, especially in our hometowns – the places where we long most to be happy?