How To Grow Up Gay and Outdo Your Competition: The Magic Flute

Growing up, I was an absolute amalgam of every gay stereotype possible. If you’re a gay man, think of all the flamboyant hints that perjured you as a fairy princess before you knew better. If you are not a gay man, recall the distant memory of Rainbow Brite, and then light that on fire. That’s about as flaming as I was. Reviewing my younger self, it’s hard to believe that I didn’t have a literal Gay Agenda that told me, in graphic detail, exactly how to spite Catholicism. Mostly this meant I wore an increasing amount of scarfs, the more gossamer the better, but it also meant that I played the flute.

Not a surprise, right? Lots of gay men play the flute. My roommate Eric is a gay man and an utterly fantastic flutist. So what’s so special about my flute playing? A few things:

In elementary school, I was one of the children who couldn’t quite figure out how to read, and therefore I was forced to take special reading classes with other such degenerates. To the credit of Bugbee Elementary (yes, this is the real name of my real elementary school), I had no idea this was what was happening, and I simply thought I was part of a special book club. Aside from the actual reading lessons, one of our activities was a sort of ‘show and tell’ where we brought in things from our house and shared them. Things like books, or toys, or articles of clothing, or–if you’re me in kindergarten–your own personal 5-part cassette set of Die Zauberflote, a Mozart opera commonly known as The Magic Flute.

Without going into much detail, the opera focuses on Tamino, a prince caught in a feud between a divorced King and Queen who both want custody of their daughter, Princess Pamina. Pamina’s mother, The Queen of the Night (the original), bequeaths a magical flute to Tamino so that he might rescue her daughter. This doesn’t go well, and eventually the Queen’s frustration results in her stunning aria, “Der Holler Rache kocht in meinem Herzen,” which translates to: “Hell’s vengeance boils in my heart!” Here, take a look:

Needless to say, the Queen of the Night was my unequivocal idol, and I could think of no better way to share myself with my classmate besides putting this opera on blast and singing along, aggressively, in German.

Many artists talk about being fundamentally inspired by works from their youth. I wasn’t so much inspired by The Magic Flute as I was informed by it. Is your kingdom being overrun by dragons? Here, try this flute. Need to destroy your enemies? Play some scales! Do you want to manipulate your peers into murdering and kidnapping for your own enrichment? This aria will do.

It was in direct conjunction with my obsession over The Magic Flute opera that I decided, as a budding Queen of the Night, that my weapon of choice would be, firstly, my beauty, but also the flute. And so when we were instructed to pick instruments for band in 4th grade, I knew what I wanted. (And what I wanted was actually a piccolo, but I suspect this was too powerful a choice, and so I was relegated to the flute instead.)

As if my reasons for picking the flute weren’t gay enough, my flute itself was a further affront to my waning masculinity. Was it gold? No, that’d be too simple. Did it trail ribbons? No, or at least not often. Was it engraved with Roxanne Gay quotes? No, because I was illiterate, don’t you remember?

Whereas most flutes are long, straight rods of metal, mine was bent at the neck like a candy cane, so that the entire instrument hair-pinned. The reasoning behind this type of flute is purely physical; certain players might be too small to hold the instrument up straight. This is what I told people, but it was a lie. The real reason I went with the bent flute was twofold:

Firstly, I was simply too lazy to hold my arms up AND play the goddamn thing at the same time. That seemed drastic and a little cruel. That’s the sort of exertion that made Evan throw up during brand practice on cozy slipper day in 4th grade, and I was no fool. I LEARNED from the mistakes of others.

And secondly, I suspect that my choice of a structurally straight instrument defied some sort of carnal gayness within me, and so I automatically looked for a way to make my flute even gayer. Which I did by playing it with as weak wrists as possible.

My father braved my fluting with incredible grace. He schlepped me to my flute lessons at The Hartford Conservatory on Wednesday afternoons for years. He leveraged candy from the vending machine in the the Conservatory’s basement in order to get me to practice. Which, I must admit, I hardly ever did. He even got me to use the proper neck-piece once I was too old to feign weakness.

And, against all odds, I eventually did make it into my middle school’s Wind Ensemble. I would have made it into Jazz Band, but I think there was a certain languidness about the way I played the flute that told the band instructor that I couldn’t be trusted with anything up-tempo. Plus I was scared of any and all trumpet players (and still am).

And then, after many years, I stopped playing the flute. I’m not sure why, aside from having never really enjoyed it in the first place, but it also might have been because they closed the vending machines in the Conservatory’s basement. And then last year as I was cleaning out my closet at home, I discovered the old instrument tucked into a top shelf among (I’m not even kidding) my collection of decorative wizard hats.

I stopped cleaning and extracted the instrument, assembling it as I thought, with bemused irony, that this was perhaps the only gay thing about me that has ever been hidden in a closet for any extended period of time. This, and the wizard hats, probably. And I thought: how much longer must I wait to be-gift this to a prince who I am manipulating against my ex-husband as a political maneuver to reclaim my stolen child, who hates me?

A conservative estimation would be 7 years, especially because I now know how to read. And so I took apart the flute, put it away, re-clasped the case, and hid it back among the wizard hats.

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