Crossposted to asexuality
Someplace Where There Isn’t Any Trouble:
The Wizard of Oz as an Asexual Journey
The Wizard of Oz is not a movie that springs to my mind when it comes to discussions of sexuality, queer or otherwise. As an asexual, I had always automatically read the film as nonsexual…until I read Alexander Doty’s article “My Beautiful Wickedness: The Wizard of Oz as Lesbian Fantasy.” Suddenly, it seems that Dorothy isn’t a gender-neutral tomboy in pigtails, but a dyke waiting to unleash her lesbian potential. Gulch and the Wicked Witch of the West are butch lesbians out to get a hold of Dorothy’s slippers, which apparently represent menses by virtue of being red, and Glinda is half drag queen, half femme lesbian. Granted, heterosexual readings are just as appropriative, if not more so (as Doty points out several times)—but what about the possibility that the entire film is about Dorothy’s lack of interest in “adult” sexuality?
While The Wizard of Oz does not contain any heterosexual romance, Doty’s assumption that all women who aren’t interested in men are automatically lesbians is, frankly, insulting. His statement that “viewers of all sexual identities persist in seeing heterosexuality where it ain’t” is particularly ironic from an asexual point of view, as it seems to me that sexual viewers in general see sexuality of some variety in everything, whether or not it’s really there. While I am generally able to follow sexual readings of films, I never cease to be baffled by the seemingly manic need of certain sexual critics to redefine the entire world according to the shape of their genitals. Even Freud once said that “sometimes a cigar is just a cigar,” but in this day and age anything that even vaguely resembles a penis automatically becomes a phallic symbol. Take Doty’s analysis of the cyclone as a representation of the butch dyke stereotype, for instance: “they possess and desire female genitalia (the vortex) while identifying with heterosexual (“phallic”) masculinity (how the cyclone externally takes the shape of a funnel).” Setting aside the question of whether butch lesbians really do identify with heterosexual masculinity, which is doubtful to say the least, Doty’s vision of the vortex as vaginal is questionable at best. One could argue his case in the light of the nature of actual tornados, but the vortex in the film looks more like a swirling, windy plane than a tube or orifice—hardly similar to what most girls probably have down below. That’s what I hope, anyway. You never know.
Taking Doty’s image and running with it, though, leads me not to conclude that the cyclone is representative of butch dykes, but that it is representative of sexuality in general. Doty refers to it as “a destructive force that sweeps through the conservative heartland of America, separating a young girl from her family,” which sounds a lot more like puberty than like specifically queer sexual tendencies. The central conflict Dorothy faces is, of course, the onset of puberty and her oncoming sexual maturity. As a child, Dorothy did not face societal pressures to be a sexual person, but now that she is a young woman, she has caught the attention of Almira Gulch, who will later become the Wicked Witch of the West in Dorothy’s fantasy. Gulch is either an asexual who has fallen prey to society’s assertion that all asexuals are “broken” people, or a sexual person who has simply failed at finding a partner. In either case, she has homoerotic tendencies and considers herself incomplete without sexuality, and her quest to “fix” herself centers on awakening Dorothy’s new sexual potential. Dorothy herself is curious about sexuality, as are all young people when they first learn of its existence, and engineers encounters with Gulch by insisting on walking past her house on the way home and letting Toto loose in her garden.
Dorothy’s raging teenage hormones, responsible for the destabilization of her childhood life, estrange her from her family after her antagonistic encounter with Gulch. When she runs away, it is with Toto, who may be seen as one of Dorothy’s non-sexual relationships. Gulch attempts to sever that relationship, and Dorothy’s aunt and uncle allow it to happen. This is the sexual world demanding that a male/female relationship either be sexual or not exist at all. The fact that Toto is a dog is simply indicative of the rationality of Dorothy’s asexual assumption that it was good, right, and salutary for her to be “just friends” with a male, as the friendly non-human creature is a good representation of the asexual attitude toward everyone: good for companionship, but not in that way. This is a theme that will return when Dorothy picks up her inhuman, damaged male companions in Oz.
Once in Oz, Dorothy soon meets Glinda, the Good Witch of the North. According to Doty, “there’s more than a touch of camp excess [in Glinda’s costume] that finally seems expressive of lesbian femmeness than of the straight feminine,” but between the enormous, puffy sleeves and skirt and the crown on her head, Glinda’s presentation of herself is more akin to an oversized fluffy pink five-year-old princess wannabe than to a sexual adult. She is glamorized in a feminine way, but also in a self-consciously silly, childish manner that displays her utter lack of concern for the so-called “adult” world of sexuality. While most asexuals do not have a Peter Pan complex, it is sometimes helpful to sexuals to think of asexuals as childish and naïve in order to reconcile themselves with the concept of a person with no interest in sex. Glinda perpetuates that stereotype, but with the end result that Dorothy is presented with a benevolent, asexual goddess figure who is concerned more with helping Dorothy to find her own way than with insisting that Dorothy choose some position along the commonly accepted spectrum of sexuality that runs from heterosexuality to homosexuality.
Dorothy also meets the Wicked Witch of the West, who continues Gulch’s attempts to hijack Dorothy’s sexuality, though far more aggressively than her Kansas counterpart. Dorothy learns that her house has fallen on the Wicked Witch of the East and crushed said woman, leaving only her ruby slipper-clad feet visible. The Wicked Witch of the East, like her sister, is easily interpreted as the sexuality Dorothy subconsciously wants to escape, regardless of her initial interest in the concept. However, by “burying” the issue of sexuality (under a house, no less), Dorothy achieves nothing as the other characters soon bring the topic up again when the ownership of the shoes comes into question. The slippers soon end up on Dorothy’s feet, despite her lack of desire to claim them. The slippers, as Doty says, represent “teenaged Dorothy’s physical entrance into adulthood (the start of menses).” While the comparison between the slippers and menses conjures up wildly inappropriate mental images, Doty is right in saying that they are a manifestation of Dorothy’s puberty and new sexual potential. They present a glamorous image, but subsequently bring her nearly nothing but trouble due to the Wicked Witch’s continuous attempts to pry them from Dorothy’s feet for herself. This can be interpreted quite easily as the Witch wishing to redo her own puberty and “get things right” by becoming a sexual person this time around, and setting out to do it by starting a homoerotic relationship with Dorothy. Dorothy, however, is having none of it.
Immediately after setting off along the Yellow Brick Road, Dorothy meets and befriends three male characters. Each one looks at least mostly human and behaves like a human, but none of them are in any way appropriate as a romantic interest for Dorothy. Whether or not one believes that Dorothy’s companions are gay (which is at least very likely), they, like Toto, are unsuitable for romance due to their lack of real humanity. When one considers the fact that, as Doty points out, the Oz sequences are all Dorothy’s fantasies, the fact that she chooses incompatible males as her companions goes far to express Dorothy’s asexual attitude toward other people. Indeed, the fact that Dorothy is “the friendly, caring straight girl/woman,” who behaves supportively toward gay men (or a “fag hag,” to be less polite), reinforces her asexuality. While it is not known for certain, it has been hypothesized that a disproportionate number of fag hags might be asexual women, or women with low sex drives. It’s much easier to find a gay man than an asexual one, and any man without sexual interest in women is sexually “safe” company for an asexual girl.
Dorothy does come close to accepting sexuality when she is being held prisoner in the Wicked Witch’s castle. When Toto’s life is threatened, Dorothy is quite ready to give her potentially sexual slippers up to the Witch. This corresponds with the tendency of asexuals to put up with sex they don’t want purely to maintain the emotional bonds they desire. Doty claims that Dorothy’s imprisonment is an excuse for Dorothy to finally accept the Wicked Witch as a lesbian lover, but admits that even when she accepts the Witch’s terms, “Dorothy still shrinks from any direct physical contact. For after offering to give up her ruby slippers, Dorothy has the shoes give the Wicked Witch a shock as she reaches out to grasp them.” Obviously, sexuality is simply against Dorothy’s nature and cannot be reconciled with her mode of life, regardless of the consequences of her sexual inaction.
It is of note that the actual Wizard of Oz in The Wizard of Oz, along with his fortuneteller counterpart in Kansas, is unable to give Dorothy effective aid in returning home either time she comes to him. His preferred incarnation as the great and powerful Oz suggests that he, too, is asexual due to the fact that it lacks a body. The difference between Oz and Glinda, however, is that while Glinda sends Dorothy off on a journey of self-discovery, Oz tries only to push his own asexual identity onto Dorothy without allowing her to explore her sexual potential for herself. Glinda, however, knew that it was necessary for Dorothy to recognize and accept her asexuality on her own. Before Glinda reveals that the slippers are the key to returning to Kansas and that Dorothy had the power to go home all along, Dorothy’s sexuality was a thing out of her control that swept her up and set sex-hungry Witches on her trail. Once she comes to a realization of her true identity, however, Dorothy is able to take command of her sexuality and rise above society’s desire to render her a hetero- or homosexual woman. Once she has done so, she is free to return to her happy asexual state, secure in herself as an asexual woman.