A Phemale Pholkie Named Phranc, Who Hopes to Laugh All the Way to the Bank

updated 08/14/1989 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/14/1989 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Onstage she sports a pair of men's pajamas and combat boots, munches cookies and sips wholesomely from a glass of milk. Her coif, a buzz-cut flattop, would pass muster at Parris Island. Her bearing is masculine, her voice a feminine alto. Confused? Don't be. Suzy Gottlieb is just being Phranc, self-styled "all-American Jewish Lesbian Folk Singer."

It's tough being a genre unto herself, but Phranc—whose first major-label LP, I Enjoy Being a Girl, includes an ode to her late lamented parakeet, Wee Gee, as well as "Bloodbath," a scathing antiapartheid song—likes to startle as she entertains. "I enjoy playing for an audience that would never hear the word lesbian in a positive context," says Phranc, 31.

It wasn't a particularly popular part of the Gottlieb family vocabulary either. Phranc's dad, Stan, an L.A. insurance salesman, and mom, Jackie, a dental hygienist, were doting parents who, says Phranc, documented her "whole childhood on 8-mm film. At the beginning of each school year, my parents would film me and my brother marching off to school. It was ideal."

But adolescence ruined all that. "I struggled a lot, especially with being a lesbian. I'd always had those feelings," she says. In 1974 Phranc—who chose the nickname at summer camp—began bicycling to "lesbian-feminist discussion groups." She dropped out of Venice High School in her senior year, cut her pigtails and moved into a "lesbian-separatist" community. "My parents weren't thrilled," she says. "I came waltzing into the kitchen one day with no hair, a tie and my combat boots. I lasted in the house about 30 seconds."

Drifting into the local punk scene, Phranc, who traces her lyrical roots to Allan Sherman, performed with a group called Catholic Discipline before going acoustic in order to make herself heard. She also opted for a folkie sound, although the lyrics of her songs—including "Take off your swastika...I'm a Jewish lesbian," a put-down of pro-Aryan punks—are a far cry from "Michael (Row the Boat Ashore)."

Cult success has enabled Phranc to quit her day job as a swimming teacher, but she still lives in a small Santa Monica apartment that she shares with Herschel, her cockatiel, and 35 GI Joe dolls. Phranc says she's not worried that her gender-bending might cause fits for record-company image makers. "You just have to let me be me," she says, phrancly. "I think honesty wins out."

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