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    Photo By Christopher Turner

    By Dr. Tim Seelig–

    Unbreakable. It’s a fascinating word. A powerful word.

    The etymology of the root word, break, is equally intriguing as it relates to this article in particular.

    1. 1300, “forcible disruption or separation.”
    2. 1580, “first appearance of morning light as in daybreak.”
    3. 1725, “transition from one course or state to another.”
    4. 1920, “ironic theatrical good luck as in break a leg.”

    We’ll stop with that last one for obvious reasons!

    It is a sad commentary that when you look up “unbreakable,” the example most often given is a plastic bottle. Not news to our oceans.

    There is also a completely different line of discussion. These are found in self-help books. They use that word to suggest how to be strong and to have resolve in difficult situations you may face. Their advice? Just be unbreakable! Easier said than done.

    Most of you know my coming out story. I won’t repeat it. There have been several times along my journey when I was certain I would, indeed, break. Perhaps you, like I, were told, “God will never give you more than you can handle.” Those are hollow words when you have hit rock bottom and are questioning the existence of god at all.

    There have been several times along the 40-year journey of the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus when the fear was that the chorus would cease to exist. There were times of dire financial crisis, as well as moments when we all thought there would be no gay choruses. We would all be dead.

    The LGBTQ community at large has struggled, fought and sometimes found itself on the verge of losing hope, taking two steps forward and one back. Sometimes, it was one step forward and two back—you know, like our country today.

    Can we truly use the word “unbreakable” to describe ourselves, the chorus or our community? There’s a good chance that if you are reading this, you can. Each of us has a story. For most of us, it includes surviving some pretty difficult times.

    Those were some of my thoughts when Broadway lyricist/composer Andrew Lippa first suggested “Unbreakable” as the title for his brand-new musical. Over a year ago, we commissioned him to create a large work to commemorate the end of our 40th season. We had already settled on the theme of the work—hidden stories of LGBTQ history from 1900 until now. It was a daunting task, to say the least. There could be few people better at this task than the openly gay, activist, and current President of the Dramatists Guild Foundation.

    As Andrew did his research, the one word that continued to rise to the top was unbreakable. It was set. But before he came up with his, I had imagined several catchy titles that “could have been.”

    Gay and 40 (That just screams desperate!)

    LGBTQQIAAP (100 years of ‘gay” alphabet)

    Twelve Delicious Decades of Decadence (Latest series on the Cooking Channel)

    A Chronicle of LGBTQ History Told Through Very Fascinating Stories of Some People We Have Never Heard Of (Better than Ambien. Poor Ambien.)

    “Unbreakable” started sounding much better.

    But are we unbreakable? To answer that question, we need only to look at our past, our present and future.

    This is exactly what Andrew has done. He has skipped the obvious milestones, such as Stonewall and Harvey Milk. He has dug deep into our DNA and into the archives and uncovered the most amazing stories of courage and of pain, of triumph and tragedy. Most of all, strength and resiliency. Knock us down, we get back up. In Andrew’s own words, in the opening song, he reminds us: “You choose unbreakable.”

    Each person or event that Andrew brings to the stage breathes new depth into our own experience as we learn about theirs. There are characters you will be meeting for the first time and some you may already know. They are lesbian, gay, trans and so much more. Here are just a few—spanning 160 years!

    Jane Addams, 1860–1935.

    Cyril B. Wilcox, 1899–1920

    Bayard Rustin, 1912–1987

    Sylvia Rivera, 1951–2002

    Dr. Charles Socarides, 1922–2005

    Put yourself in one of these stories:

    A young man is drafted to go to World War 1 against his will and his nature. 1910s.

    The U.S. government goes on a massive purge of suspected homosexual employees. 1950s.

    A psychiatrist proclaims that there is no such thing as a “happy homosexual.” 1970s.

    The New York Times publishes an article describing a homosexual cancer in New York and California. 1980s.

    I must pause for a moment. I did not know of Dr. Charles Socarides before this. He founded the National Association for Research & Therapy of Homosexuality—NARTH (speaking of ugly words). He became the nation’s leading spokesperson for conversion therapy. He basically figured us out by a simple combination of circumstances. He lectured all over the world and appeared on every television show from 60 Minutes to Larry King Live. His conclusion also inspired a friend to create the tongue in cheek meme: “Domineering Mother. Distant Father. Duh!” This man did more than any other to try to convince the world that we were not, indeed, born this way. Some special hell awaited him. And Andrew sets his story in the most delicious way!

    After an emotional and inspiring roller coaster of emotions, this sweeping, epic work brings us to one conclusion: “Good Things Take Time.” It exhorts us not to be lazy, not to take anything for granted, to always put one foot in front of the other, to push open doors and to never settle. Simultaneously it reminds us that good things do take time. We can’t have it all at once, but must keep working, striving, hoping. Resisting.

    In Andrew’s words in the finale:

                  “Healing the planet … takes time

                  Loving yourself … takes time

                  Working for justice … takes time

                  Voting for progress … takes time

                  Loving your neighbor … takes time

                  Sharing our stories … takes time

                  So, we work, we wait, we celebrate, we stand and start the climb.

                  Good things take time.”

    Experiencing these poignant stories causes each of us to reflect on our own. They are as varied and brilliant as the galaxy of stars above us as we exit the theater. May our light shine brighter and our resolve be firmer for sharing this musical journey. We are unbreakable.

    P.S. The lyrics are fabulous. The stories are amazing. The music is out of this world. And, of course, there are four amazing professional actors, an orchestra and spectacular multi-media to help us tell the stories! Oh, and 250 handsome men singing just to you! Join us.


    Friday, June 22, 8 pm

    Saturday, June 23, Performances at 2:30 pm and 8 pm

    At the Nourse Theater in San Francisco

    For tickets and information:

    Dr. Tim Seelig is the Artistic Director of the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus.