I am what I am

3 Jul

I can’t hear this song without thinking about my kid. To me, this song represents the future I hope to make. A world where my kid can be accepted.

If you don’t know the song, it’s from the show La Cage aux Folles. It’s based on a non-musical French film by the same name. You may be more familiar with the more recent American adaptation, The Birdcage.

“I am what I am” is sung by the character Albin. In the story, La Cage aux Folles is a drag club and Albin is the star performer. After a very emotional event challenging the value of his identity, Albin sings this song as a statement that he accepts himself for who he is.

There tends to be a lot of confusion about pride movements. Quite often those who oppose specific pride movements claim that those proclaiming their pride are claiming superiority. That’s not the case at all most of the time and certainly isn’t in this song or in how I see it applying to my child. To me this song is about equality. One can have extraordinary needs and be an equal. One can accept support and be an equal.

I’ve hesitated posting this for a long time. I usually stay away from personal topics. Also, for the literal minded this song may not seem to apply to people who are nonverbal or minimally verbal. The lyrics reference being able to speak, to “say out loud” and the like. I’ll put it simply: if you feel that this song doesn’t apply if one can not physically speak you’ve missed the point. I say that not to tell people they are wrong, but to, well, ask them to see things from a different angle.

It doesn’t get better than George Hearn:

Here are the lyrics.

I am what I am
I am my own special creation
So come take a look
Give me the hook or the ovation

It’s my world that I want to have a little pride in
My world and it’s not a place I have to hide in
Life’s not worth a damn
Till you can say, hey world, I am what I am

I am what I am
I don’t want praise, I don’t want pity
I bang my own drum
Some think it’s noise, I think it’s pretty

And so what if I love each feather and each bangle
Why not try to see things from a different angle
Your life is a sham
Till you can shout out loud, I am what I am

I am what I am
And what I am needs no excuses
I deal my own deck
Sometimes the ace, sometimes the deuces

There’s one life and there’s no return and no deposit
One life so it’s time to open up your closet
Life’s not worth a damn
Till you can say, hey world, I am what I am


By Matt Carey

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11 Responses to “I am what I am”

  1. mike stanton (@convivir) July 3, 2014 at 20:20 #

    Well said, Matt. And anyone who has ever witnessed or taken part in a signing choir knows that you do not have to speak to “say it loud” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iEN4YhcrYYA

    • Sullivan (Matt Carey) July 6, 2014 at 15:21 #

      thanks for the good words, Mike.

      I’d say that the person with the haircut shown in your picture is telling the world he is what he is, wordlessly.

  2. lilady July 4, 2014 at 04:01 #

    I’d say that your son is very fortunate to have you as his father, Matt.

  3. Paula M Green July 4, 2014 at 07:28 #

    Beautiful words, beautiful emotional honesty Matt. This is exactly the way I feel about our son. Different yet equal. Thank you so much for sharing this personal experience. You have made my day.

    • Sullivan (Matt Carey) July 6, 2014 at 15:29 #

      Paula, lilady

      thank you both for the good words.

  4. Roia July 4, 2014 at 11:37 #

    How wonderful! Thank you for sharing this song. I work as a music therapist, and I’m sad to say I’m not familiar with this song (although I’m aware of the musical and have seen the film “The Birdcage”). What a fantastic and affirmative piece of music. I plan to learn it and use it at the right moment in my work. Singing can happen in one’s mind just as well (I certainly keep myself occupied that way), and what a wonderful song to offer to someone to have in their mind. Thank you again, Matt!

    • Sullivan (Matt Carey) July 6, 2014 at 15:29 #

      Just in case–there are alternate lyrics for one or two verses. In the story, Albin is resonding to a de-affirming act by his son, who is not accepting that one of his fathers is a gay drag queen. The alternate lyrics don’t mention “closet” “spangles” and “feathers”.

  5. Su July 8, 2014 at 08:28 #

    Thank you for making me smile. I remember standing tall and singing this song in the most enthusiastic way years ago. As I read the lyrics they are so ‘on the button’ for a student I am teaching/learning with. Using his own voice is new and tentative but grows stronger every day – the more he is respected for who he is, and the more he explores the world around him – the more I ‘hear’ him singing that song. Still smiling.

  6. Patricia August 22, 2014 at 17:49 #

    May I include a link to this in a website I’m creating? It’s for parents/anyone who want to know more about autism and is a doorway to AUTISTIC voices/bloggers and neurodiversity friendly parents/professionals. The website is under construction but the facebook page (Autistikids) is up and running – full of links to the sa ofme type posts. I can be reached at autistikids@gmail.com if you have any questions. Thank you!

    • Sullivan (Matt Carey) August 23, 2014 at 00:03 #

      no problem. Thanks for asking. Good luck with that.

  7. Thanks April 22, 2016 at 02:51 #

    I scrolled down and noticed this. After being on the swim team at special Olympics for much of his life he finally came in first place. He always came in last but he that never bothered him. He doesn’t care about competition. He just likes to swim

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