(That mostly focuses on sexuality.)
(The above is Ava Gaudet, because she was my first Maureen.)
So I think it’s high time to try and explain my Maureen Johnson feelings. Because you know what? They’ve always been there. The first time I saw Rent, it was the national tour when I was thirteen; my mom leaned over to me during “Over the Moon” and whispered “Yeah, this is you.” Because my casting-myself habit has been a habit since I was… well, really since I was in grade school and divvied out the Sailor Scouts between literally everyone I was friends with, actually. But that’s beside the point.
Anyway, I’m not sure if my mom regretted that proclamation; certainly, she turned pink when Maureen’s pants came down (this was back in the day when we still pretended I could be in stage productions, so in her defense, she may have been thinking about me actually doing that IRL and gotten embarrassed thusly). But it was too late. I’d latched onto Maureen, and there was no turning back.
Maureen is, without a doubt, the most straightforwardly extroverted character I’ve ever latched onto. I mean, she is a super extrovert. In a lot of ways, I’m not really like Maureen, but she’s the kind of woman I love to play or consider playing or dress up as. Which, as I’ve mentioned, is a thing I did. Because my friends and I were so cool we dressed up for the premiere of the Rent movie.
It is here that I feel compelled to disclaim that yes, I know that Maureen is not always a great person. She is a massive flirt (which, like I said, I’m not really like Maureen that much), really a bit histrionic, not always super-sensitive to the feelings of others, not always apologetic about her own behavior. But Maureen is also not always a terrible person. Maureen does love her friends, even if this is sometimes overshadowed by the way that she loves things that might put her in the spotlight – that being a more dominant desire. Maureen is, somewhere deep inside, a relatively caring person. She just sort of sucks at expressing it.
Maureen is not the best at relationships. She is someone who, in my estimation, is very flirty, to the point of causing problems; she isn’t super-comfortable with commitment and she doesn’t know how sometimes how to not be manipulative toward people. But while I wouldn’t call Maureen a role model really in any regard, she definitely did something important in my relatively young life that I appreciate her for.
I think it’s at this point that I should explain that I’ve never read Maureen as someone who was a closeted lesbian, then only ever ladies after Joanne. That’s a thing that can be true of some people. Yes, Willow Rosenberg is/was a lesbian. There is no question about it. Kinsey 5, maybe. And Wikipedia classes Dakota of Planet Terror as bisexual, though I’d say that I always got at least a pretty heavily lady-leaning vibe off of her also. But Maureen? Nope, Maureen as I read her has always been bisexual. Actually very possibly pansexual. The only people you hear about her flirting with after she’s with Joanne are women, but that’s because they’re instances that take place at lesbian clubs.
She was closeted when she was with Mark, yes, but I… don’t know. She seems like the kind of person who is, in theory, attracted to all sorts of people, female or male or anything in between. Not because she is a raging tramp – I used to read Rent fanfiction when I was younger, and that did seem to be the way Maureen was written sometimes, as someone who just LOL CANNOT HELP MYSELF MUST BOINK EVERYTHING (though, uhm… more on that in a second) – but because sometimes people are attracted to a wide, wide range of people.
I stopped watching Glee in the middle of last season, because I just could not do it anymore, but at least as far as I remember, Brittany is relevant to this discussion. Brittany is a bisexual (pansexual?) fictional character, but it wasn’t just fanfiction writers who treated her like someone who just LOL ALL THE SEX I’M SO SILLY, it was the writer writers. And this is the thing about Rent that I think spoiled me a little: yes, quite a deal is made of Maureen having left Mark for Joanne. But do you ever hear Mark calling Maureen a slut or a tramp or some gross synonym? Nope. And sure, there’s a little “oh, she left me for a woman, this is weird,” but he’d probably be going “oh, she left me for this other guy, this is weird” if he and the other guy happened to be in the room at the same time.
Even if Maureen was a lesbian, which would be totally cool (the only person who ever says she is is Mark’s mom on the voicemail, and that, well, I get the feeling Mark’s mom would be the kind of person who would go “whoops, she’s dating a girl, automatically lesbian” without considering the possibilities of bisexuality or anything) and I would be good with it and maybe I just read her as bisexual (possibly/probably lady-leaning bisexual, Kinsey 4 maybe) because there was a part of me that really wanted her to be for personal reasons, even if it took me a little while to come around to said reasons, the thing I love is that none of the characters really make a deal of “oh, lesbian.” The characters make somewhat of a deal of “oh, Maureen is a flirt,” but not because she is a lesbian. She has always been a flirt. She was a flirt when she dated Mark, she is a flirt when she is dating Joanne, she is just a flirt. People do not equate, or at least I’ve never read it as anyone equating, her sexuality with promiscuity. She is promiscuous because she is promiscuous, and that has nothing to do with who she is promiscuous with. (And the Wikipedia list of bisexual fictional characters says that yes, promiscuity and “driving her lovers insane” are negative bisexual stereotypes, but nobody attributes them thusly, instead seeing them as “personal flaws.” Because lots of people, regardless of orientation, have those flaws and that’s just how it is.)
Maureen was really the first time I saw someone in theater or film or whatever who was bisexual, not counting Rocky Horror, where everyone was doing everyone. And that was, whether or not I knew it when I was thirteen, kind of a big deal. There are bisexual characters in things. There are plenty, though I haven’t seen anything close to everything that may have a bisexual character in it. But when I try to make lists of them, in things that I am familiar with, it comes up pretty short. Sure, I can think of plenty of characters I read as bisexual; see the aforementioned Dany/Doreah discussion, for example, and nobody can convince me otherwise. But I always find myself coming up short when making lists based in explicit canon. And a lot of the time I make those lists, I just end up obsessing about how Glee didn’t really do it right with Brittany all the time, and I get cranky and have to stop.
Maybe this is why I still hold Maureen fairly dear: yes, she had a lot of the aforementioned personal flaws, some of which pertained to sex, but her orientation was never one of them. Which was, and still is, refreshing and welcome. So hey, thank you, Jonathan Larson. (Also, plus bonus points for the fact that Maureen and Joanne were an interracial couple and nobody mentioned it in the slightest, really.)
–your fangirl heroine.