Elpha-bi: Why Wicked’s Green Skinned Heroine is a Queer Icon

Elpha-bi: Why Wicked’s Green Skinned Heroine is a Queer Icon

When I was a child and Wicked was just starting to become a sensation, I listened to the cast album pretty much nonstop until I could finally see the show live for the first time. The first cast I ever saw was one of the first tours, with Julia Murney as Elphaba, Kendra Kassebaum as Glinda, and Mr. Stephanie J. Block himself Sebastian Arcelus as Fiyero. It was thrillifying, to say the least, to finally see the show live at such a young age. I wanted to be Elphaba so badly growing up – I loved her slow-blossoming friendship with Glinda and slow-burn “doomed” romance with Fiyero. I loved how she stood up for the rights of the oppressed Animals in Oz, and how she embraced her otherness to become a powerful force. And of course, all that ridiculous belting. I’d sing along with Idina on the cast album until my voice grew hoarse.

As I grew up, saw Wicked a few more times on tour, and realized I was queer, I also came to realize that maybe, just maybe, Elphaba was queer too – if not just an emerald-skinned metaphor for queerness.

Elphaba is a queer icon not just because of her amazing vocal pyrotechnics and her killer looks and witty comebacks. Elphaba’s activism for the Animal community is very strongly reminiscent of the fight for LGBTQ+ rights in the United States, and her journey towards self-acceptance and control of her powers feels very much like a metaphor for coming out. Elphaba is only labeled “Wicked” by Madame Morrible and the gaslit Ozians because her agenda of rights for all goes against what the status quo reactionary government wants.

Elphaba’s message of equality and pride is so strong, in recent years on Wicked’s various social media they’ve highlighted that message every June by creating promotional images that elevate that message of pride – most memorably for me, an image of Jackie Burns’ Elphaba and Amanda Jane Cooper’s Glinda wearing pride flag face paint and standing in a crowd at the NYC Pride Parade. Seeing an official image of Elphaba and Glinda going to Pride together made me feel seen as a sapphic Pride-goer. Which leads me to my next point…

The love between two women, whether as friends or as lovers, is a powerful thing, and I adore Elphaba and Glinda’s relationship in the show. Their mutual dislike of each other melts away into a delightfully sweet friendship, even as they squabble over who Shiz’s resident hot boy Fiyero actually has the hots for. But by the end of the show, as their relationship has been tested, the two women still care about each other. Glinda may be the Good Witch and Elphaba may be the Wicked Witch, but their love for each other in their final scene together is truly heartbreakingly lovely. Yes, we know Elphaba loves Fiyero – in the show “As Long As You’re Mine” serves as their sensual and haunting love duet – but she also loves Glinda. Elphie is totes bisexual. It might be my pride-colored glasses tinting my opinions, but the last time I saw Wicked (on tour with the stellar and gorgeous Jessica Vosk as Elphie) I interpreted “For Good” as not just a gorgeous duet between friends but as two women revealing their love for each other.

Speaking of “As Long As You’re Mine,” have you heard the Out of Oz cover of the song by Annaleigh Ashford and Jennifer Nettles? It was released on Youtube on Valentine’s Day, and the video features lots of longing looks between the two women - I remember well how Twitter and Tumblr reacted to this video being released. “Gelphie confirmed” was a common comment I saw across social media.

At the end of the day, I’ll always enjoy Wicked as a celebration of pride and activism, and women loving women. I have never actually seen it on Broadway, only on tour, so I hope I end up in Oz again sometime soon. I’m sure I’ll have a wonderful, uplifting experience.

(And then I’ll probably get mad at the last twenty minutes of the show because it’s not canon-compliant to the L. Frank Baum books – but that’s for another time.)

(Photo credit, Wicked’s instragram.)