I’m not big into musical theatre, but one of my followers on tumblr is, and so I heard all about the big performance at the Tony Awards. That was Your Keys, and it was sung by a twelve-year-old girl, standing by herself on the big stage. At the Tony Awards. When all the other performances were big dance-crazy ensemble numbers. She nails it. It’s pretty impressive.
That little girl is playing a young Alison Bechdel. She’s singing about the moment she realized that she wanted to dress in a butch way. She’s sitting in a diner with her father, and she sees a woman dressed the way she wants to look. It’s a big moment.
There’s a concept in Christianity called Providence. The Pilgrims and other Puritans were big believers in it. It’s the opposite of Free Will — you have no choice in everything that you do. God has already decided everything. He’s even already decided if you’re going to heaven or not. Some people on this Earth are the Elect. They have been chosen to go to Heaven. They will always act in the most perfectly correct Christian way because God made them Elect and so they can’t sin. God would have decided if you had sinned or not.
In order to prove that you are the Elect, you always act in the most perfectly Christian way, because the Elect would never want to act any other way. And so you follow the harsh set of rules laid down by the Puritan lifestyle. It’s a very stressful way of life: in Sarah Vowell’s The Wordy Shipmates, she mentions an anecdote about a woman drowning her children in a well, and coming out happier in the end. If she were the Elect, then she wouldn’t have killed her children, because that’s evil. But now she knew she wasn’t the Elect and so she knew she was going to Hell. It was a real load off her mind.
It’s a fascinating idea. It goes completely against everything that I believe — that we’re all stumbling through this life making it up as we go along. No one has any idea what they’re doing. If there is a God, then that God is too far away, taking care of an entire universe, to notice what we small individual people are doing.
Yet I find myself pondering Providence at random moments. What if everything is God’s plan? In that case, what were we put on this Earth to do?
This is the panel from Fun Home that inspired the Your Keys song. Look at that woman. Alison Bechdel clearly remembers, after all these years, what that butch woman looked like. Who was that woman? I’ve never seen nor read Fun Home so I have no idea if Alison Bechdel talks to her or finds out anything about her. But she made a big impact on her.
In this Providential way of thinking, if we have no free will, then what if the entire point of this woman’s life was to be seen dressed like that in that diner? That small moment, triggering an entire little girl’s life? That woman would have no way of knowing that. What if the entire point of entire people’s lives is to just be seen, briefly? What if you spend your entire life building up to one big moment — you finally win a big lawsuit or get your art put on display at some gallery or you take a big trip to see all seven continents — and in the end the entire point of your life was to hold the door open for someone when you were 23?
In case you’re wondering, yes, Alison Bechdel is a butch lesbian.