by Mark “Mom” Finley
June 15, 2015
I love the theatre.
The 69th Annual Tony Awards were broadcast just a week ago, and the big winner of the evening was the musical Fun Home. The musical was written by Lisa Kron and Jeanine Tesori. It was adapted from Alison Bechdel’s 2006 graphic memoir of the same name, a story about growing up with a closeted gay father and realizing, at an early age, that she was lesbian.
Young Allison is played by the amazing, 11 year old Sydney Lucas, a portrayal for which she was also nominated. Her song Ring Of Keys gave me chills the first time I heard it. I had never heard the odd sense of wonder, excitement, shame, and pride that one has upon realizing they’re different put so simply and succinctly.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about when I realized I was different from most other kids. Alison’s moment of realization comes when she sees a rather masculine woman at a diner. I think mine came during the first grade at Fords Prairie Elementary school in Centralia, WA.
My first grade teacher, Mrs. Carlson, clearly knew something was different about me. She wrote on my report card:
“Mark is a very sensitive child, wants attention, and needs reassurance. He expresses himself very well through his artwork, is quite creative, and has quite a flair for play-acting. He really puts himself into it and does quite a good job.”
Great insight on her part, considering I’ve grown up to become an entertainer. Sensitive was a 1960’s American code word for homosexual. Mrs. Carlson could see that I was gay.
She also knew that I had no friends in a neighborhood full of children. It was hard to miss the other kids chanting ”Finley Faggot” during recess, or from over her fence on an occasional weekend afternoon visit.
Mrs. Carlson opened my world to the fine arts by way of the local library. The works she put in front of me all had much the same theme: those who are misunderstood overcoming their adversity to shine greater than ever before.
Since I didn’t have any friends, I lost myself in reading, listening to records, and stamp collecting. When my maternal grandfather gave me two amazing gifts, a spinet piano and a 12-inch black & white television, I poured myself into practicing my piano and recreating scenes from the movies I watched late at night with the television pulled up to my bed, the sound turned on just enough to hear it but not wake the rest of the household.
I couldn’t catch a ball of any kind (well, maybe one kind), but I could do a great Mae West and W.C. Fields routine complete with a chorus of Willie Of The Valley.
It was soon quite clear to my parents that my ”creative flair” was not simply a phase.
I’d love to say that it was all sunshine and lollipops after that, but the rest of my childhood was nothing short of a living hell. But at age 11, I had finally found the one place I was happy and content, not to mention safe from the constant torment that was the rest of my adolescence: the theatre.
Some would say that I used the theatre to escape from the world. But I would say it gave me the chance to escape and join the world!
As an adult, I’ve been lucky enough that my “flair for play-acting” has taken me around the world on many wonderful adventures. It was not easy growing up different in a small town in rural Washington. But I am forever thankful that Mrs. Carlson gave me hope that happiness was possible!
As we all celebrate Pride this month, I suggest taking some time to think about just when it was that you knew you were different. Was it something you did by yourself, or like me was there someone who helped point the way? Maybe even take the time to let that person know what a great difference they made in your life!
Be good. Behave. Treat others better than yourself. Always wear a clean pair of underwear. And remember: you’re not alone – you’ve got me!
M’wah – M.
PS: I’ll be performing this Wednesday, June 17, at The Rendevous Seattle (2322 Second Avenue) at 7pm for Jeffrey Roberts’ Gay Uncle Time – Pride edition. Hope to see you there!