L. Frank Baum’s The Road to Oz, the book thought to have inspired the phrase ‘Friend of Dorothy’, was published July 10, 1909. The expression became popular as coded self-identification. Queer people would use it to ascertain if new acquantainces were ‘family’.
So ubiquitous was the phrase by the 1970s, it inspired an extensive search by naval investigators in Chicago for the elusive Dorothy they thought at the centre of an enormous homosexual network.
Dorothy, the main character in Baum’s Land of Oz series of books, is a brave orphan who travels to an enchanted land and along the way creates her own family. Her acceptance of outcasts as friends mirrors how queer people often fashion their own families. So, what’s not to like?
In The Road to Oz, Dorothy and her friends meet Polychrome, a cloud fairy and daughter of the Rainbow.
“You have some queer friends, Dorothy,” exclaims the Rainbow child.
“The queerness doesn’t matter, so long as they’re friends,” Dorothy replies.
Dorothy introduces her queer friends. Hungry Tiger, she says, claims an appetite for fat babies but actually wouldn’t hurt anyone.
“Hush, Dorothy,” whispered the Tiger; “You’ll ruin my reputation if you are not more discreet. It isn’t what we are, but what folks think we are, that counts in this world.”
The Road to Oz also features Princess Ozma, often referred to as one of the first transgender characters in literature.
Nothing in L. Frank Baum’s life story suggests he was gay, bisexual or in any other way, queer. Yet, his works sparkle with queer innuendo. Coded expression of furtive yearnings or pure coincidence? We will probably never know.
The Wizard of Oz
The 1939 movie, The Wizard of Oz, based on Baum’s books, began Judy Garland’s ascendency to the status of gay icon. Many people saw their own lives reflected in Dorothy’s journey from small-town dullsville to the outrageous fabulousness of the big-city bright lights.
Garland’s singing of Somewhere Over the Rainbow resonated with queer people who yearned for a place where ‘the dreams that you dare to dream, really do come true’.
Judy Garland went on to become the OG queer icon and her signature song provided inspiration for Gilbert Baker’s rainbow flag.
Alternatively, some credit celebrated party-giver Dorothy Parker as inspiration for the phrase ‘Friend of Dorothy’. During Prohibition, gay friends of the humorist would announce themselves as ‘friends of Dorothy’ to gain entrance to speakeasies where she was holding court.
It is possible that a combination of both contributed to the popularity of the phrase during the 1940s.
English queers already used a similar method of coded self-identification, introducing themselves as Mrs King. The wife of a King is, of course, a Queen.
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