The Tootsie Identity Crisis

The Tootsie Identity Crisis

I remember reading a Time Magazine article on modern sex education many years ago. There was one anecdote that is emblazoned on my mind forever.  A six-year old was on his way home from school, where he had experienced his first or second day of Sex Ed. As his mother drove, she noticed that he was very quiet and apparently troubled by something. She asked him, Tommy is something wrong? He replied: Mom, I think I am a lesbian.  

Around the same time as that article, the St. Louis Cardinals’ baseball announcer, Jack Buck, doubled as a regular host in the Winter on the team flagship KMOX radio. His duties often involved doing commercials. One such ad was written on the winds of time and still resides in my memory. He did a series of completely improvised commercials with local appliance dealer, Steve Mizerany, who had an unforgettable personality.  

Without any apparent script, Mizerany bloviated on the great deals he had and followed one non sequitur with a mixed metaphor and a rendition of the English language that could be compared to Stengelese, the special dialect, spoken by the New York Yankees most successful manager, Casey Stengel.

With Buck magnificent as his straight man, Mizerany hawked his wares with an infectious stream of verbal mania that easily maintained one’s attention. When he finally exhausted both his speech and himself, he fell back on his mantra that still rings in my ears today. He said: Don’t be confused… ad infinitum.  

While their scripts faded into the vast Netherland of the mysterious cloud, those words remain prescient to me because nothing better describes the world my grandchildren have inherited…especially about their sexual identity.

A case in point occurred to me during a recent ballgame at Busch Stadium III. Baseball has surrounded the Game with the carnival atmosphere that is more side show than a sport. Perhaps the games should be played under a big circus tent, instead of their current stadia. Innovations, such as trivia contests, endurance contests, piped rock music, give-away tee shirts propelled into the audience with a toy bazooka, and of course the irrepressible kiss cam were designed to fill in all the boring moments during commercial breaks, which can add an additional 35-45 minutes to each game.

The team introduced a new one some weeks ago over the closed circuit TV’s panning of the crowd, beseeching everyone to make a muscle…. Men, women and young children, rolled up their sleeves, like automatons and flexed, often sagging mounds of flesh for the camera, projecting a scene that was more comic than body enhancing.

This led me to think of Tootsie, an old movie about gender confusion. Directed by Sydney Pollack in 1982, it starred Dustin Hoffman, with a marvelous supporting cast that includes Bill Murray, Jessica Lange, Teri Garr, Dabney Coleman, Charles Durning, and others. As social commentary Tootsie was light years ahead of its time. It broached the subject of gender identification and confusion, reminding me of little Tommy from Sex Ed. Hoffman played Michael Dorsey, a brilliant veteran actor who could not land a part because of his perfectionist attitude. Nobody in New York would hire him because he was also difficult to work with. After many months of unemployment, Michael learns of an opening on the popular daytime soap opera Southwest General  from his friend and acting student Sandy Lester, (Garr), who failed to get the plum role of hospital administrator Emily Kimberly. 

Out of desperation, he dresses as a woman, auditions as Dorothy Michaels and surprisingly gets the part. Michael proceeds to play his role character as a feisty feminist, who surprises the other actors and crew who expected Emily to be (as written) another swooning female in the plot. 

His character quickly becomes a television hit. There is a very important subtext at work on the set. Subtle and even overt sexual harassment reigned over the mostly female cast. Dorothy takes the bulls literally by the horns with all of her female-attired manhood. As Dorothy, he changes lines at will and establishes a very strong force in opposition to the predator males in the cast, especially one doctor who considers it his right to kiss all the actresses on the show. Dorothy puts him in his place from the very beginning, making her an icon with thousands of the soap’s female viewers, who see him/her doing what they have wanted to do for a long time.

Exacerbating matters further, Michael is attracted to one of his co-stars, Julie Nichols, (Lange) a single mother in an unhealthy relationship with the show’s amoral, sexist director, Ron Carlisle. (Coleman) The pair become good friends and even have to share a bed at Julie’s father’s farm. During the visit, Julie’s widowed father Les, (Durning) becomes smitten with Dorothy and asks her to marry him. He says as part of his declaration of love that he was surprised that she was very feminine and not one of those liberators.  

In a heartfelt rendition, Les explained his traditional view on men and women. After qualifying his thoughts that he was all for equality, he honestly confessed that there were some thoughts about real women who were like Dorothy’s character that deeply troubled him.

sometimes I think what they really want is to be men. Like men are all equal in the first place. We’re not. I remember years ago…there wasn’t talk about what a woman was, what a man was. You just were what you were.

Now they have all this stuff about being like the other sex….so you can all be the same. Well, I’m sorry, but we’re just not the same. Not on a farm, anyway. Bulls are bulls, and roosters don’t try to lay eggs. Never!

After they all return to New York, the plot ventures into Mizeranyland. Not only does Dorothy have Les’ proposal on the table but Sandy catches him in his female attire, and accuses him of being gay, while in a weak moment, while still dressed as Dorothy, Michael makes a romantic move on Julie, who immediately thinks that she is a lesbian. 

The tipping point comes when, due to Dorothy’s popularity, the show’s producers want to extend her contract for another year. By this time, his life is so confused that he wants out of the contract. Michael finds a clever way to extricate himself from the Soap. When the cast is forced to perform the show live, he improvises a grand speech on camera, pulls off his wig and reveals that he is actually Emily’s twin brother who took her place to avenge her death. Sandy and Les, who are all watching at home, react with the same level of shock as the cast and crew, not to mention the rest of their sizable audience.

When they are off the air, Julie, who Dorothy had taught to be more assertive, walks up to him and punches him in the stomach, and stalks off the set. Months later, in the final scene, they talk outside the studio. Michael confesses, I was a better man with you as a woman than I ever was with a woman as a man. (Huh?). At that, she forgives him and they walk off, with Julie asking him to lend her his/her yellow dress. 

The confusion embedded in this wonderful line underscores what our opinion shapers in government, media and even business have exasperated in promoting the myth that men and women are fungible, interchangeable, and that there are essentially no differences in sex or gender.  

Today, all the socialization energy is exercised on women of all ages. Little girls are taught to do the things boys do but honestly I do not know how many boys are encouraged to wear dresses and play with dolls. But wherever is going on, it is a form of child cruelty. 

And in a more subtle way, it might be the same with women. I seriously doubt that real women will ever be attracted to weak and effeminate men, especially not as husbands, or even as providers. Conversely, I seriously doubt that many men are attracted to women who can flex their muscles better than they can at a baseball game.

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Written by
William Borst
1 comment
  • “I was a better man with you as a woman than I ever was with a woman as a man” was one of the great lines of this movie. Does your parenthetical “Huh?” mean you really didn’t understand it?