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R.K. Russell’s life, sport & bisexual awakening 

This Black queer former NFL player says he’s fighting “for us all to be seen, whether it be in the pages or on the screen”

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Courtesy R. K. Russell

WEST HARTFORD, Conn. – He’s tackled opponents on the gridiron, paved a path for out LGBTQ+ athletes and shared his unique voice in words and prose. Now R.K. Russell is celebrating the release of his long-awaited memoir, The Yards Between Us, as well as a Hollywood deal to bring his story to television viewers. 

It’s something Russell told the Los Angeles Blade he never dreamed would be possible, even as a child. 

“Grown me could barely imagine the book, let alone, little me,” Russell said. “It is something I have not seen before, and something that doesn’t really exist. Something that is so shocking even to me, this being my life. I think the reason that I continue to take these opportunities that come to use my platform and my voice and my talents, my gift, to not just tell these stories, but to hopefully champion other people in their story. To just fight for us all to be seen, whether it be in the pages or on the screen, everywhere people exist. We exist.”

As the Blade reported in August 2019, Russell came out as bisexual in a feature for ESPN. The NFL defensive end was drafted by the Dallas Cowboys in 2015 and played a few seasons for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Buffalo Bills. After coming out as a free agent, Russell wasn’t able to fulfill one of his dreams — to play professional football as an out and proud bisexual man. But at that time, he said all he was focused on was living his truth. 

“It was a powerful time in my life,” Russell told the Blade. “It was the first time I really felt that I was taking all this control and I wasn’t just at the mercy of the NFL or waiting for that phone call, or at the mercy of friends, family, lovers. It was my decision and my moment and my truth. And I got to express it in a form that felt very genuine to me.” 

The Buffalo native called the experience “freeing.”  

“I didn’t think I’d realize how much I had been proverbially holding my breath until that moment. And then it just felt like such an exhale. It’s such a freeing thing, and the weight of the burden of that secret, of that shroud, or that shame,” he said. “I just realized how heavy what I had been carrying for so long. So, definitely a powerful and freeing moment.” 

Having already told part of his story to ESPN, The New York Times and other news outlets over the years, there was a reason Russell felt it was important to write the rest of his story. 

“That was just a very specific part of my life, and it showed me that maybe by sharing my whole story, my life and my journey and my truth and other parts could be just as impactful, if not more impactful,” he said. As he set out to write the memoir, he said he first experienced imposter syndrome, until he came to a realization. 

“The point that got me through was, ‘What would little R.K. read that would have helped him? What was a book that didn’t exist when he was young, and that he could have picked up and seen himself, or that people like him can pick up and see themselves? Or even people unlike him, to get a human connection to someone that does not look like them or doesn’t play sports?’ So, I think the huge, final push was, ‘What would I have liked to have read as a child?’ And hopefully that will help other people.”

The Yards Between Us traces not only Russell’s football career and his love for the game, for both men and for women, but also what it was like for him to keep his bisexuality secret and the tension between his private and public lives. As his weighs upon him, he’s dealt a devastating loss, an event that leads to an all-enveloping darkness, until finally he recognizes, it’s time to make a change. 

Since coming out, he’s found love with his boyfriend, Corey, grown closer to his mother and this September he’ll mark four years sober. 

Russell’s memoir has won him accolades from LGBTQ+ readers, but not just them. 

“I’ve also gotten a lot of support from people who aren’t LGBTQ+ who see the value in the story, but also see the value in the intersections of it all. Because I don’t just talk about being a bisexual, I talk about being a Black man. I talk about being a football player, defining masculinity and redefining masculinity. There’s a lot of intersections that my story crosses. And I think for people to see all of these layers also coexisting in one person, that’s important to see the bridges between these communities that at times can be put against each other, or it can be divided, to see them all exist within one person.”

While all that sounds very serious, Sony Pictures Television sees comedy gold in exploring Russell’s intersectionality of sports, race, sexuality and masculinity. His memoir is being adapted into a half-hour comedy series, as Deadline reported. Russell is co-writing and executive producing a half hour comedy series with Saeed Crumpler of “Flatbush Misdemeanors,” alongside Gabrielle Union, who is a producer in her own right as well as wife to Dwyane Wade and stepmother to their 15-year-old trans daughter, Zaya Wade. As the Blade reported last month, the Wades left Florida because of its anti-trans policies and laws. 

“She’s fantastic. Amazing,” said Russell. “If anyone wants to know what allyship looks like, Gabrielle Union and Dwyane Wade and their whole family, they’re so amazing. “ 

Union, he said, recognizes the importance of representation. “It’s important to have genuine representation, whether it be during Pride Month with companies and campaigns or in shows and books that our stories are coming from, that there are Black queer writers writing Black queer stories hopefully also in part started or acted by Black queer artists.” 

Long before he wrote a word of his memoir, Russell has been publishing his own poems, which he told the Blade was his “way to express life with words.” He said he started writing poetry following the death of his stepfather. 

“It was a way for me to kind of name grief, without naming it. I didn’t have that vocabulary, that word at that time, but I was feeling it so intensely,” he said.

One of Russell’s poems, Tributes, was an effort at explaining bisexuality and his experiences. “’Bisexuality,’ the word, means something slightly different to you, to me, or to someone else. I can talk about the experience in a way that is so varied and so broad and to me, so true and genuine.” Below, an excerpt from that poem: 

Love is freedom 

and the freedom to love is a birthright, 

or at least it should be. 

These years fill my canvas 

and I know too much of life to expect 

only one color to leave its strokes across my heart. 

Paint is intended to mix no matter the artist. Tributes, by R.K. Russell

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Books

Season’s best new books offer something for every taste

History, YA, horror and more on tap

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(Book covers courtesy of the publishers)

Shorter days, cooler temps, and longer nights can send you skittering inside, right? Don’t forget to bring one of these great books with you when you settle in for the fall.

Releasing in September, look for “Between the Head and the Hands” by James Chaarani, a novel about a young Muslim man whose family turns him away for being gay, and the teacher who takes him in (ECW Press, Sept. 10). Also reach for “Cleat Cute: A Novel,” by Meryl Wilsner (St. Martin’s Griffin, Sept. 19), a fun YA novel of soccer, competition, and playing hard (to get).

You may want something light and fun for now, so find “The Out Side: Trans and Nonbinary Comics,” compiled by The Kao, Min Christiansen, and Daniel Daneman (Andrews McMeel Publishing). It’s a collection of comics by nonbinary and trans artists, and you can find it Sept. 26.

The serious romantic will want to find “Daddies of a Different Kind: Sex and Romance Between Older and Younger Gay Men” by Tony Silva (NYU Press), a book about new possibilities in love; it’s available Sept. 12. Historians will want “Glitter and Concrete: A Cultural History of Drag in New York City” by Elyssa Maxx Goodman (Hanover Square Press, Sept. 12); and “Queer Blues: The Hidden Figures of Early Blues Music” by Darryl W. Bullock (Omnibus Press, Sept. 14).

In October, you’ll want to find “Blackouts: A Novel” by Justin Torres (Farrar, Straus & Giroux), a somewhat-fantasy novel about a dying man who passes a powerful book on to his caretaker. Look for it Oct. 10. Also on Oct. 10, grab “Love at 350º” by Lisa Peers (Dial Press Trade Paperback), a novel about love at a chance meeting at a baking-show contest and “The Christmas Swap: A Novel” by Talia Samuels (Alcove Press), a holiday rom-com.

You’re just warming up for the fall. Look for “Iris Kelly Doesn’t Date” by Ashley Herring Blake (Berkley, Oct. 24) and “Let Me Out,” a queer horror novel by Emmett Nahil and George Williams (Oni Press, Oct. 3).

Nonfiction lovers will want to find “Dis… Miss Gender?” by Anne Bray (MIT Press, Oct. 24), a wide, long look at gender and fluidity; “Friends of Dorothy: A Celebration of LGBTQ+ Icons” by Anthony Uzarowski and Alejandro Mogollo Diez (Imagine, Oct. 10); and “300,000 Kisses: Tales of Queer Love from the Ancient World” by Sean Hewitt and Luke Edward Hall (Clarkson Potter, Oct. 10).

For November, look for “Underburn: A Novel” by Bill Gaythwaite (Delphinium), a layered novel about Hollywood, family, and second chances. It comes out Nov. 14. For something you can really sink your teeth into, find “The Bars are Ours: Histories and Cultures of Gay Bars in America, 1960 and After” by Lucas Hilderbrand (Duke University Press, Nov 21). It’s a huge look at the spaces that played strong roles in LGBTQ history.

And if you’re looking for yourself or for a special gift in December, check out “Trans Hirstory in 99 Objects” by David Evans Frantz, Christina Linden, and Chris E. Vargas. It’s an arty coffee table book from Hirmer Publishers of Munich. You can find it Dec. 20. Also look for “Second Chances in New Port Stephen: A Novel” by T.J. Alexander (Atria / Emily Bestler, Dec. 5) and if all else fails, ask for or give a gift certificate.

Season’s readings!

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Intriguing historical novel based on the true story of 1800s lesbian couple

‘Learned by Heart’ by Emma Donoghue a moving read

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(Book cover image courtesy of Little Brown)

‘Learned by Heart’
By Emma Donoghue
C. 2023, Little Brown
$28/324 pages

English landowner, diarist and businesswoman Anne Lister (1791-1840) married her last partner Ann Walker in a marriage ceremony at Holy Trinity Church in Goodramgate, York. This is considered by many to be the first lesbian marriage in England, and likely, the world.

Lister, born in a landowning family at Shibden in Calderdale, West Riding of Yorkshire, who’s been called “the first modern lesbian,” is having a moment. In two seasons in 2019 and 2022, “Gentleman Jack,” a riveting series, based on Lister’s diaries, co-produced by the BBC and HBO (streaming on Max), dramatized Lister’s relationship with Walker.

“Learned by Heart,” an intriguing historical novel by Emma Donoghue is based on the true story of the queer relationship of Lister and Eliza Raine. Raine is believed to have been Lister’s first lover.

Much of the novel takes place in 1805-1806, when, at age 14 and 15, Lister and Raine were students at Miss Hargrave’s Manor School, a boarding school for girls in York.

Raine was born in Madras (now Chennai) in India. Her father, who was English, was a surgeon with the East India Company. He and an Indian woman, whom he did not legally marry, had Raine.

In an author’s note, Donoghue writes of a letter of Raine’s that refers to her as having “sprung from an illicit connection.” Another letter calls Raine a “lady of colour.”

Raine is sent to England at age 6. After her father and mother die, she’s left an orphan with a small inheritance.

Through “Gentleman Jack” and her diaries (which are being digitalized), Lister, with her brilliance and charismatic personality, has become a queer culture icon.

Raine is comparatively unknown. Perhaps, for this reason, “Learned by Hand” focuses on Raine’s point of view.

Raine arrives at the Manor School before Lister. Prior to Lister’s arrival, Raine is mousy, rule abiding.

Because Raine’s from India, she sleeps alone in a small room. Aware of unspoken racial bias (against people who are part Indian and part English), she wants to blend in – to stay out of trouble in this school with its many rules. “She’s trained herself to wake at seven,” Donoghue writes, “just before the bell.”

When Lister arrives at the school, Raine’s world and personality are transformed. Lister, known even at this young age for being too smart for her own good, is assigned to room with Raine — isolated from the other girls — in the tiny room they call “the Slope.” Donoghue skillfully illuminates how the girls’ friendship becomes sexual, passionate first love.

One day, Lister and Raine, who call each other by their last names, alone in a church, conduct a marriage ceremony for themselves.

“Learned by Heart” is heartbreaking because its chapters are intertwined with letters that Raine writes to Lister in 1815.

It’s clear from this correspondence that Lister has (and will have) other lovers than Raine. And, that, sadly, Raine is writing from what is then called an “insane asylum.”

As is evident from “The Pull of The Stars,” and her other historical novels, Donoghue has an unerring talent for creating fascinating tales out of true stories.

Unfortunately, as so often happens, Lister, the bad, outrageous girl, is far more interesting than Raine. Raine frequently comes across as loyal, passionate, but too needy and clingy. As Lister’s Barbara Stanwyck to Raine’s June Cleaver.

“There’s nothing noble about Anne Lister…,” Donoghue wrote of Lister in “The Guardian.”
Lister had the sexual ethics of a bonobo, Donoghue continued, “lying to every lover as a matter of policy.”

Yet, Lister is Donoghue’s hero. “Because she looked into her heart and wrote about what she found there with unflinching precision,” Donoghue wrote in her “Guardian” essay.

“I love and only love the fairer sex and thus beloved by them in turn, my heart revolts from any love but theirs,” Lister wrote in a coded entry in her diary on Oct. 29, 1820. (Lister wrote one-sixth of her diaries in code to hide from homophobic eyes.)

“Learned by Heart” is a moving, entertaining read. Raine’s story along with Lister’s should be told. Even the clingy can be unsung heroes.

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More than a coming-of-age, coming out story

‘Through the Groves’ a sharp, hilarious new book

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(Book cover image courtesy Henry Holt)

‘Through the Groves: A Memoir’
By Anne Hull
c.2023, Henry Holt
$26.99/224 pages

You can’t see the forest for the trees.

Fluffy pines, and oaks that started growing before your parents were born. Tall willows, towering cottonwoods that create a canopy far above you. The forest soothes your mind; if you have an out-of-control imagination, it offers a good scare. Nature’s there, and in the new book “Through the Groves” by Anne Hull, you’ll find memories, too.

She still recalls the smell and the heat and the pesticides.

Anne Hull was her daddy’s sidekick the summer she was six years old, riding along with him on his job as a fruit buyer in the middle of Florida where rows of orange trees stretched for miles. Together, they visited the dusty, scarred older Black men who worked the groves on her father’s route, and her father taught her all about “withholding confidential information” and not telling her mother about using a chalky field as a bathroom or about the gun in his car.

Hull’s mother already knew about the roadside stops he made, and the bars along his way home: the ride-alongs Hull so enjoyed were meant to deter her father from “Friday afternoon fever” and bright neon beer signs.

Back then, Hull was only starting to notice that her family moved often, from one ramshackle house to another, and she saw the weekly checks her great-grandmother gave her father. She already knew that adults kept secrets that weren’t so secret to a growing girl who was obsessed with being a spy someday. These were adventures just like the adventures she had with cousins and her little brother, who was an accident-prone “calamity.”

When Hull’s mother left Hull’s father and moved in with Hull’s grandmother, that was an adventure, too – until it wasn’t. Hull had become old enough to understand genteel poverty and that hand-me-downs weren’t cool. She bonded with her grandmother over music; sneered at her mother, as teenagers do; and she thought about her dad, but only in the abstract.

He never forgot about her, though.

He never stopped trying to be her father.

Do you really want some treacly life story now? Nah, you want something solid and sincere, right? Something different. Part coming-of-age, but more, maybe.

You want “Through the Groves.”

Rather than opening this tale where most childhood memoirs start, with eye-rolling, attitudinal teen years, author Anne Hull’s story begins the summer she was six years old and they move forward from there. This gives readers the gift of an observant kid’s-eye view of life – one that’s older than its years and doesn’t miss a thing, but that’s not insufferably precious or precocious. Viewed through the lens of a grown-up, then, those early memories give readers the “more” they crave, becoming a triple-whammy of coming-of-age, coming out, and coming to terms with the frailty of family. That’s sharp as flint but also hilarious.

Hull says her father was a storyteller and this orange apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Start “Through the Groves” and you’ll find that you just can’t leaf it.

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Mark S. King on new book and surviving HIV and meth

‘My Fabulous Disease’ writer chronicles experiences with humor, honesty

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By TIM MURPHY

HIV/AIDS writer Mark S. King, a GLAAD- and National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association award-winning author of the popular blog My Fabulous Disease  has published a new book out Sept. 1 that’s a compendium of the blog’s best pieces, as well as pieces he wrote well before the blog, back in the 1990s. Pre-order “My Fabulous Disease: Chronicles of a Gay Survivor” at marksking.com/marks-new-book. He’s appearing at the U.S. Conference on HIV/AIDS on Sept. 7 in D.C. 

Diagnosed with HIV in 1985, Mark has taken a lifetime of ups and downs and turned them into a, well, fabulous collection of pithy, witty, often brutally honest and self-critical short essays on everything from how we gay men are so good at shaming and judging one another for all sorts of things to his gay brother’s tale of helping his lover, who was dying of AIDS, end his own life with a Seconal cocktail to what it was like starting his own gay erotic phone line in the 1980s to how he’s morphed into a total top who wants sex only a fraction as often as when he was young. The essays range from quite raw and painful to utterly hilarious. King has that perfect Oscar Wilde/Paul Lynde way with a quip: “I got The Clap so many times that I started calling it The Applause.” Or, marveling at how little sexual energy he has currently, at 62, compared to his youth, that these days, “10 minutes is a triumph of passion and stamina.”

I like Mark’s writing because he doesn’t shy away from examining aspects of himself that many of us gay men would rather look away from: His vanity, narcissism and need for attention. Things he’s done in the past that have hurt people, including family members and lovers. Even what he sees as his own manipulativeness in seducing a 30-year-old man when he was 15 — this in an age when we would almost unanimously agree that all the responsibility for a statutory-rape situation lies with the legal adult, not the child.

TIM MURPHY: Mark, thanks for talking to me. So, you and your husband Michael, a federal healthcare worker, live in Atlanta, yes?

MARK S. KING: As we speak, I’m surrounded by boxes because we’re moving in a few days from an apartment in Midtown to a home in North Decatur. Michael’s currently holed up in his home office and he doesn’t come out until after five.

MURPHY: What’s a typical day like for you?

KING: My cat Henry wakes me up around 6:30 a.m., but fortunately Michael feeds him breakfast and starts the coffee, so I can sleep longer. I stumble out around 7 a.m., have my coffee and look at my emails. Or sometimes, if I’m writing something, if the solution I’ve been looking for occurs to me around 6:30 a.m., I’m at the keyboard making it work even before I have coffee. If I’m in the zone like that, I can forget to have breakfast. But then I have my go-to daily conversations with usually two out of three people: my brother, Dick, who’s gay and lives in Shreveport, La., with [TheBody.com writer] Charles Sanchez, and with my friend Lynn.

Then I go to the gym to work on any part of my body that is visible in a tank top. As long as my chest is bigger than my stomach, I’m fine. I play racquetball, so that takes care of the legs. Things like calves, you either have them or you don’t. I know I should be doing yoga and stretching and working on what they call your core, whatever that is. At some point as I age it’s going to be more important to be able to bend over and pick things up, not lift a large weight above my head.

MURPHY: Do you do steroids?

KING: I have—I don’t any more. Testosterone is not steroids.

MURPHY: Oh, I know. Why no more steroids?

KING: Age, and the fact that they can damage your liver and kidneys. It’s also true that taking testosterone has made my prostate the size of a grapefruit, but I haven’t stopped that.

MURPHY: When you first went on testosterone, did you notice changes in your mood, libido and strength?

KING: Yes, all those things. I take it because it works. I’ve been on it for 20 years … when I’m not working out, I deflate like a balloon. I feel like the Grindr hookup that doesn’t look like his pictures. 

MURPHY: What do you do the rest of the day and night?

KING: Play with my cats and write a little bit. I sound like a man of leisure, and I kind of am. After Michael finishes work, we cook dinner. I’m a much better cook than I was when I met him.

MURPHY: Mark, you grew up Louisiana?

KING: My dad was an Air Force officer so we lived all over the place, but when he retired when I was in fifth grade—I’m the youngest of six—we moved to Louisiana.

MURPHY: When did you start writing?

KING: I wrote silly little stories when I was a kid, and then when I went to work for an AIDS agency in 1986, [the now defunct] L.A. Shanti, it was growing so fast that I became the media guy, the one writing the newsletter and press releases. But it’s only been in the last 20 years that I’ve really been able to identify as a writer. The turning point was when I started writing My Fabulous Disease consistently. Prior to that, I’d write columns for Frontiers and then send them to different gay papers around the country who would print them.

Of all the editors I ever worked with, Bonnie Goldman, who founded [the HIV/AIDS site] TheBody, challenged me the most. “Why are you saying it this way?” she’d ask. She told me that the more warts, faults and doubts I revealed, the more I’d draw people in. She really worked for me and asked me to write a blog for TheBody. 

It was after Bonnie left TheBody that I started My Fabulous Disease. I’d actually started it as a website to promote my first book, “A Place Like This,” and my web designer told me to blog on that page to keep it fresh and bring people to it. For a long time, I had to keep telling myself, “If you continue to build it, they will come.” Now, in a good month, I’ll get 100,000 hits. I’ll also share my content with HIV Plus, Poz—it doesn’t matter. 

MURPHY: One thing I like about your writing is that you are ruthlessly honest. What’s been one good and one bad outcome of that?

KING: Certainly I felt good about writing about addiction. I wrote a piece about a relapse I had when I was still dealing with its fallout. That felt good because I suffer, as many of us do, with imposter syndrome. I’d think, “If they only saw behind the curtain, that I struggle with drug addiction and have ruined relationships and have all sorts of wreckage in my wake, then they wouldn’t like me anymore.” So to have been able to write that piece only days after coming to—some might say it’s dangerous to write about such a thing so soon, but my writing is my therapy, my way of sorting out my own feelings. So I wrote it and then pressed the button.

 MURPHY: In your book, you have several pieces written about a decade ago or more about how we gay men tend to shame one another—how HIV-negative men shame positive men by using phrases like “drug- and disease-free” or “clean” and “you be, too,” or how older HIV survivors shame younger gay men for having tons of sex without condoms now that PrEP is available. Do you think in the years since you published those pieces, we’ve become a less shaming community overall?

KING: You’re right, I wrote a lot of that when social media and hook-up apps were inflaming various stigmas. Gay men are remarkably good at shaming our own—we’ve been shamed so much that we’ve developed claws of our own. I haven’t been on hook-up apps the last ten years, so I can only go by conversations I have, which make me think that stigma is alleviating a little bit. But these things are generational. We were raised for decades in mortal fear of sex, which is a really powerful emotion that doesn’t just go away with a scientific breakthrough like U=U [undetectable = untransmittable, the now-proven fact that people with HIV on meds with undetectable viral load cannot transmit HIV sexually] or PrEP.

(Continues at thecaftanchronicles.substack.com)

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The play’s the thing in new book ‘Gays on Broadway

An engaging LGBTQ history of the Great White Way

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(Book cover image courtesy of Oxford University Press)

‘Gays on Broadway’
By Ethan Mordden
c.2023, Oxford University Press
$29.95/233 pages

You had to look around you and check your seat.

Yep, you were still in a theater in a large building, fanny planted in a dusty red seat. You weren’t in a Brooklyn tenement or a castle, or at a society party but the performance you caught made you think you were, at least for a couple hours. As they say, and as in the new book, “Gays on Broadway” by Ethan Mordden, the play’s the thing.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the LGBTQ history of the Great White Way “starts with drag queens.” In the earliest parts of the 20th century, many comedies were written “specifically calling for a male character forced … to disguise himself as a woman,” often to the delight of audiences. Still, any overt mention of such things was forbidden then.

By the 1930s, Mordden says, “our tour mostly starts now.” Not only were audiences treated to titillating hints of gayness that were barely concealed, but the “odd gay character” often showed up in plays on purpose. And yet, behind the scenes, few gay or lesbian actors dared to come out; many of them, instead, entered “lavender marriages.”

In 1942, New York’s “Wales Law,” a sort of Hays Code for Broadway, shut down a “salute to vaudeville,” putting all of Broadway on notice. Even so, “gay characters did turn up in a few postwar titles.” This was, after all, a time when Tennessee Williams’ hand was all over theater – especially with what Mordden calls his “Beautiful Male” character: shirtless, buff, and highly memorable for gay audiences.

In the 1950s, Williams’ influence was joined by some “honestly gay characters” onstage, and by the talents of Tallulah Bankhead, who “maintained a strong association with camp humor.” By the 1960s, “gay characters were everywhere on Broadway,” the word “gay” was acceptable, and the adventurous theatergoer could find nudity off-Broadway.

A decade later, though Broadway was “still partly stuck in stereotype mode,” says Mordden, “now it was the turn of gay people.”

You’ve seen your favorite play how many times? You’ve followed a handful of actors from off-Broadway to on, and you’ve discovered some intriguing talent. And now you need “Gays on Broadway” to fill in the gaps of your knowledge and to see how it all began.

Starting more than a century ago – before movies were a thing and TV was invented – author Ethan Mordden acts as a sort of usher as he takes readers on a trip that goes both back- and on-stage. Mordden casually but constantly name-drops, and it’s good to see often-forgotten actors mentioned in a way that may spur you to learn more about actors and their long-ago plays. He also delightfully highlights the cleverness of actors and writers who winked at audiences when “gay” was a bad word.

Almost as much fun as collecting playbills, almost as good as a seat behind the orchestra, this is one of those books that theater-goers will want to take to the show to read during intermission. Get “Gays on Broadway” and take a seat.

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How a talented punk rocking hellion became a “Bottom for God”

The book is the stream-of-consciousness telling the tale of going from abuse to music industry top 5 Billboard Dance chart songwriter

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Barb Morrison (Photo by Strekoza New York)

HOLLYWOOD – Barb Morrison is listening.

“and i inhale, and listen. i listen to the song of the pond, and the wind and the trees and i exhale, and listen. i listen to the song of the birds and the frogs and the insects. i listen. i listen.  to every sound. of the cities i have lived in, the friends i have cried with and the families i have laughed with. i listen. to the sound of all the times i have tried to control my narrative. to force my will.  i listen. to all the times i have laid on my back and let the universe love me and teach me, through the act of allowing. i listen so i can embrace every gift, every lesson the universe has for me. So i can come back home again by bottoming for god,” they say in their new memoir Bottoming for God

The book is the stream-of-consciousness telling the tale of going from abuse to music industry top 5 Billboard Dance chart songwriter, platinum record producer, punk rocking genius. Morrison has put an imprint into artists including Blondie, Rufus Wainright, Fanz Ferdinance, LP, Asia Kate Dillon and Tripping Jupiter

If you infer from the above quote that the book is a zen-filled treatise of ee cummings-like poetry, think again. In a spoiler alert, the above quote is the end of the book, not the beginning. The road to get there is rocky, painful and poignant, and Morrison does not hold back on the details.

They tell their story their way, and in the way they want to tell it. Morrison, like poet cummings, has not met a capitalization or traditional punctuation that they have liked, and so none appear in the book. Morrison may be “bottoming for god”, but , as they shared with me in our conversation on the Rated LGBT Radio podcast, they are not bottoming for traditional publishers, of whom were denied the pleasure of getting their hands on the manuscript. Morrison was advised that such entities would tell them how to write, and they would have none of it, so Bottoming for God is self-published. So for Morrison, “allowing” is fine for the universe, for corporate media types, not so much.

Morrison’s writing is much like the artistic spirit of their music: very rhythmic, sometimes chaotic, folding in on itself, exhilarating, big, pushing boundaries, peaceful and then bombastically back in your face again. “I did that on purpose” they tell me, “Not completely consciously but because I wanted it to feel like it was different songs on an album, like you said, that it took you up, punched you in the face, then took you to some peace, and I think that all good art does that. It either gives you a traumatic feeling or emotion, or just taps into human nature which makes you remember who you are.”

The childhood memories shared in the book are not for the faint of heart. Morrison suffered grave abuse at the hands of their father. Still Morrison tells me, “He was a kind of a cool guy… before 7 PM at night.”

Morrison also was a deep disappointment to their mother who after having given birth to three boys, was elated to have a “little girl” to dote over and dress. The nonbinary identity within Morrison ran counter to their mother’s vision and Morrison had to live with the emotional abandonment, including their mother’s blind eye to their father’s abuse, that resulted. “One of my earliest memories was that I wasn’t cisgender. It made me grow up feeling like *I* was the crazy one. But little kids shouldn’t feel like they are crazy, right? As I grew up I realized ‘oh, they are telling me a thing that is actually not right’ . I had David Bowie and Boy George, but other than that, nonbinary was just the butt of a joke.”

Still Morrison rationalizes of their parents, “They did the best they could.”

Music was the savior, it entertained, allowed Morrison to please those around them, and to gain temporary peace. “I know I wanted to be a musician at 10 years old. I joined a punk rock band at 14.”

For Morrison, dealing with the consciousness that the status quo that was wrong, inspired creativity. “That kind of typifies the concept of ‘bottoming for god’ – it starts there. You accept having to think for yourself and go on from there.”

There is an observation from those familiar with Jewish Mysticism that the “bottoming for god”concept is not new. In fact, it is suggested that some biblical heroes, such as Jacob and David, had to learn to “bottom for God” in order to fulfill their divine missions. They had to surrender their ego, their will and their power to the higher authority of God, and become receptive, humble and “feminine” in their relationship with the divine.

“I never heard that before,” Morrison told me, puncturing the idea that Jewish Mysticism somehow inspired them. “But it IS the concept of the book—taking something you think is bad, or a challenge, and turning it into acceptance, and the best way you can.”

Something that was bad, was Morrison’s drug addiction and foray into long term sobriety. “If you do the work in sobriety, you absolutely will grow,” they testify. In the eighties, when Morrison reports “crack had just hit New York City”, they were living in a crack house. “The music had an edge. The punk scene was booming. It was the AIDS crisis. Everything reflects everything. It was a very intense time.”

“We made a life of it. It was raw, it was tough. I am grateful for it,” they say. They realized they had a soul sickness. “I did not feel like I fit my body correctly, being trans and nonbinary. I had society telling me a bunch of stuff that perpetuated self-hate.”

Originally, they thought sobriety was “a load of crap.” They went to recovery meetings, but still played with drugs on the side until they had an epiphany. They realized that the cosmic “it” was between them, and the Universe, and no one else. It was no one else’s business whether they used or drank, just their own, and the Universe. So, they decided to do it RIGHT, to give it a fair shot, to accept it.

The bottoming began. “I have been clean and sober since, “ they tell me. Their art and music broke into a deeper authenticity. They no longer listened to outside voices on what they needed to do, to be. “With them, I DID have to ask myself – do I top or do I bottom?” Bottoming for the universe, for God, means listening to an inner instinct and one’s ‘authentically me’.

I had to ask, given that Morrison works with major “heavy hitters”—who is the “top” and who is the “bottom” when they are in the creative process. “You forgot the third person in the equation,” they tell me. “The studio itself. You sometimes have to let the studio do its thing. The studio is an instrument. You can let it guide you. What is free will? How do I know when I am right? I have learned it is about not being self-centered. I want to be open to other possibilities. “

Morrison sees themselves as a “possibillion” –all is possible, but they are also still cynical about it. Thus going back to the aforementioned question on who would publish it.  “I was nervous about putting the book out myself. I called my friend Elizabeth Gibert, and told her, ‘am I crazy? I think I want to put this out myself. She told me ‘that’s the best thing you could do because they will just want to ‘change it for you’.  I said ‘really? I really feel nervous about putting this out myself.’ She said, ‘Barb, you have lived your life with no rules. Why would you start NOW?’

So the nice white Eat, Pray, Love lady from Connecticut had to remind me to be Punk Rock.”

Barb Morrison sees themselves as being “right sized” as they submit in the journey of “bottoming for god.”

At they same time, they are fully empowered, embracing their authentic self and talents and doing “it” their way.

With all due respect, but from all appearances, I can only make one final observation:

 God is finding out what a true power bottom is…

LISTEN:

*****************************************************************************************

Rob Watson is the host of the popular Hollywood-based radio/podcast show RATED LGBT RADIO.

He is an established LGBTQ columnist and blogger having written for many top online publications including The Los Angeles Blade, The Washington Blade, Parents Magazine, the Huffington Post, LGBTQ Nation, Gay Star News, the New Civil Rights Movement, and more.

He served as Executive Editor for The Good Man Project, has appeared on MSNBC and been quoted in Business Week and Forbes Magazine.

He is CEO of Watson Writes, a marketing communications agency, and can be reached at [email protected] .

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Books

‘Moby Dyke’ a funny memoir-in-a-bar

A writer’s quest to visit the 20 remaining lesbian bars in U.S.

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(Book cover image courtesy of Simon & Schuster)

‘Moby Dyke: An Obsessive Quest to Track Down the Last Remaining Lesbian Bars in America’
By Krista Burton
c.2023, Simon & Schuster
$28.99/320 pages

The last stool on the left, over by the neon beer sign, is yours.

That’s your spot, the place where you can see almost the entire place. You hold court there, have a few drinks there, and you meet new friends. On that stool, you’re among your people but enjoy it while you can: In “Moby Dyke” by Krista Burton, your seat is in a dwindling place.

A few years ago, toward the end of the pandemic, masking, and lock-downs, Krista Burton was asked what she missed most. Her answer was a surprise: she longed to be in a crowded “dyke bar,” shoulder-to-shoulder with people like her.

Dyke bars. Wouldn’t that make a great subject for a book?

Burton found an agent but then she found bad news: supposedly, there were just 20 lesbian bars left in the entire country.

Not wanting to miss an opportunity, and with book contract in hand, Burton began planning roadtrips. It was, she said, “the gayest possible dream project.”

She began in San Francisco at “the oldest … lesbian-founded, owned, and continuously operated bar” there. From her home in Minnesota, she flew to New York City to visit two lesbian bars. A visit to a San Diego bar was wrapped up with a friend’s wedding.

Burton’s husband, a trans man, loved the football atmosphere in a Milwaukee lesbian bar. She caught a drag show in Indiana. Columbus, Ohio was “extremely queer-friendly.” She endured karaoke in Nashville, and she visited a cannabis dispensary while in Denver. Seattle was a place of nostalgia. She was mistaken for straight in Houston, was impressed by a real Dallas club, almost missed visiting a Mobile bar, wanted to quit when she was in Atlanta (but didn’t), then went to Phoenix and Richmond, imagined herself as a “senator’s gay wife” in Washington D.C., and she wrapped her tour up in Tulsa and Oklahoma City.

Once, Burton says, LGBTQ people were persecuted and arrested for dancing, drinking, and for being themselves in a public place.

“We could all go anywhere now.”

Just 20 lesbian bars? You’re giving that “Whaaaat?” squint, aren’t you?

It’s OK, author-blogger Krista Burton addresses that number at the end of “Moby Dyke” by writing with delight that since lock-downs ended, lesbian bars have rebounded.

She doesn’t address the bars she missed in the first place.

And yet, you’ll get the picture with the 20 she includes – in part, because, as she admits and as many bartenders and owners told her, lesbian bars aren’t just for lesbians anymore. To call a drinking establishment a “lesbian bar” ignores the diverse crowds, drag shows, quiet activism, and the inclusion that’s now offered alongside the fun Burton craved.

Don’t think this book is all about bar-hopping, either. It’s funny, with observations that are so sharp, they’ll cut you, and it’s part memoir that’ll hurt your heart.

Yes, there are omissions in this book but what’s here overshadows what’s missing. If you want a funny memoir-in-a-bar, grab “Moby Dyke” and pull up a stool.

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Books

New sonnet collection inspired by queer love and chemistry

‘Periodic Boyfriends’ offers intriguing poetry from Drew Pisarra

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(Book cover image courtesy of Capturing Fire Press)

‘Periodic Boyfriends’
By Drew Pisarra
c.2023, Capturing Fire Press
$20/152 pages

If you’d told me that I’d get as much of a kick out of sonnets inspired by the Periodic Table of Elements as Cole Porter got from Champagne, I would have thought you’d had too much bubbly. Until I read “Periodic Boyfriends,” queer poet and writer Drew Pisarra’s intriguing new poetry collection.

With his sleight of hand, Pisarra puts all of us, chemistry lovers and naysayers, under his spell.

“Periodic Boyfriends” is a  collection of sonnets inspired by queer love and the periodic table of elements.

Pisarra writes sonnets that Shakespeare, who some scholars think was queer, would, I’d wager, have enjoyed reading with his BFFs. 

Each of the witty, sometimes poignant, nearly always captivating, sonnets in “Periodic Boyfriends” is titled with the name for an element in the periodic table (such as the poems titled “Hydrogen,” “Boron,” “Lithium” and “Palladium”). 

The sonnets riff off Pisarra’s one-night stands, cybersex encounters and memories of queer men who’ve died.

Through his poetic alchemy, Pisarra makes you see why combining queer eros with periodic elements isn’t an obscure mystery.

Chemistry as defined by the “Oxford English Dictionary,” is “the complex emotional or psychological interaction between two people,” Angie Morrill notes in the introduction to “Periodic Boyfriends.”

Chemistry contains the elements – from silver to tin to gold – that make up the world.

Pisarra’s sonnets illuminate how his one-night stands are immersed in chemistry (in all senses of the word). He uses the periodic table of elements to track his erotic encounters with more than 118 men.

If anyone else tried this, it would likely be a snooze. After the sonnet about the 50th boyfriend, the reader might well wonder: are we there yet?

But, there are no worries with Pisarra. In the tight form of the sonnet – in just 14 lines – Pisarra presents a narrative with as many twists and turns (infused with irony, snark and tearing-up moments) as a compelling novel or must-binge-watch TV show. You can’t wait to turn the page or watch the next episode.

Pisarra, 58, decimates the image of the poet as an ethereal bard nesting in the clouds — sipping the nectar of the angelic gods.

You can tell from just a line of his poetry that he isn’t based on Mount Olympus. Pisarra, who grew up in Silver Spring, Md., now lives in New York.

“Periodic Boyfriends” is steeped in the images, music, and beat of New York City streets and queer culture (with some literary, but not pompous, allusions tossed in the mix).

“You occupy a space inside my skull/though who gave you access I’ve not a clue,” Pisarra writes in “Polonium,” a sonnet addressed to one of his boyfriends from the past. “The ache’s persistent, illogical, dull./Your thermal imprint’s one I can’t undo./”

Pisarra’s sonnets often joyfully combine the everyday language of love and insults. “Calling the ugliest lay from my past./,” he writes in “Dubnium,” “Guess what, babe. You rocked. That night was a blast.”

The poems in “Periodic Boyfriends” will pop for readers, queer and hetero. But there’s no way of missing (who would want to?) that these sonnets are immersed in a queer sensibility.

“You lived next door! I heard” Pisarra writes in “Rutherfordium,” “you were a hairdresser from Ecuador/(the last queen to top me in Baltimore).”

Pisarra uses the tight form of the sonnet and his playfulness and wit to speak not only of dancing, and “the hate fuck” but of more somber parts of life (and death) from becoming sober to suicide.

In the “Lanthanides,” a series of sonnet-like poems (that tamper a bit with the structure of a sonnet), Pisarra turns elegiac. In these poems, he writes sometimes playfully, sometimes wistfully, by turns, poignantly about LGBTQ men who have died. “Uncle Jimmy had a lover. Sadly/” he writes in “Lanthanum, “for Uncle Jimmy and my dad)”, “no one knew his name.”

Another sequence of poems, “The Actinides,” is about Pisarra’s online sexual encounters. Accounts of cyber trysts are rarely such fun.

Check out “Periodic Boyfriends.” It’s like hanging out on a summer’s night with the acclaimed queer poet Frank O’Hara and Dorothy Parker.

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Books

Oft banned gay author’s new kids’ book a fun treat

‘Monster Mac and Cheese Party’ brimming with humor, color

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(Book cover courtesy Little, Brown Books)

It’s the hottest party ever! A green, one-eyed, three-toothed fuzzy monster has invited a sea monster, a bat, a witch, and other guests to bring and eat mac and cheese. The witch favors “glow-in-the-dark mac with snakes and furballs.” The bat enjoys “mac ‘n’ bugs.” 

Whether you’re eight or 80, wouldn’t you like to crash this gathering?

Thanks to bestselling, award-winning, gay children’s book author and artist Todd Parr, we can all join in the fun.

“The Monster Mac and Cheese Party” (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers), Todd’s newest book, replete with his signature, eye-catching art, is a celebration of hanging out and scarfing down your fave food with your friends (monsters and human). The picture book written for 4-8 year-olds, is a fun-read for mac-and-cheese-and-monster-aficionados of any age. Except, perhaps, for those who’ve called for Parr’s books to be banned.

Parr, author of “It’s Okay to Be Different,” “The Family Book” and other much-loved as well as often-banned children’s books, is known for fostering values of kindness and inclusivity in his work. Not through preaching or boring messaging. But through bold images — art brimming with humor and bright colors. There are few words. But the words Parr uses are just what kids would say.

Take “The Family Book” which features Parr’s bright-hued illustrations. “Some families are big, some families are small,” Parr, who was born in 1962, writes in “The Family Book,” published in 2003, “… some families have two moms and two dads.”

You might think this message of inclusivity wouldn’t have caused a ruckus. But you’d be wrong. “The Family Book” was one of the most banned picture books of the 2021-2022 school year, according to Pen America.

“Every time a book is banned, we’re denied our right to learn freely,” the American Civil Liberties Union said in a statement accompanying a video of actor Randall Park reading “The Family Book” on Father’s Day on You Tube.

“My goal in the book was to make every kid feel that no matter what kind of family they have, that their family is special,” Parr, who lives in Southern California with his adopted pit bulls, said in an interview with the Blade.

Parr knew some people might not like “The Family Book” and that it might be banned. “It didn’t matter to me,” he said, “One page [that mentions two moms or two dads being parents] generates a lot of hate.”

“Like drag queens reading stories to kids,” Parr added, “it’s a free-for-all on social media.”

Parr wrote the mac-and-cheese book because after the pandemic, kids “needed a break,” he said.    

After COVID, “we didn’t want to think about the feelings we’ve experienced,” Parr said, “we just wanted to feel good again.”

His publisher had asked him to do a Halloween book, and mac and cheese is one of Parr’s favorite things. The book contains kid-friendly recipes for “Todd Mac” and “Vegan Mac”.

“Thick black lines and neon colors make for a zany tale,” “Kirkus” said of “The Monster Mac and Cheese Party, ” “perfect for group read-alouds. Parr keeps the laughs coming fast and furious.”

Parr has written and illustrated more than 60 children’s books. His work has been translated into 20 languages. More than 6.3 million copies of his books have been sold.

Parr is the co-creator with Gerry Renert of SupperTime Entertainment of the Daytime Emmy-nominated animated TV series “ToddWorld.” Several short films for “Sesame Street” were based on Parr’s work.

Parr gets what it’s like to feel different, hurt or sad, Juanita Giles wrote in “When In Doubt Pretend To Be Todd Parr,” an essay for NPR. “Todd Parr knows my son’s long hair makes him different,” Giles wrote, “Todd Parr knows our best friends moved away and our dog died.”

Growing up gay in  a small town in Wyoming, Parr had no inkling that he’d be so successful,  acclaimed and loved.

“I never had a moment where I told everybody ‘I’m gay,’” Parr said, “It was a matter of fact and no one really questioned it.”

But things weren’t easy. Parr wasn’t sure himself. “I had girlfriends,” he said, “I felt guilty that I had feelings [of liking boys] but I did.”

In school, people called Parr a “faggot” before he knew what it meant. “I felt very different like I was on another planet,” he said.

Growing up, being gay wasn’t Parr’s only challenge. “I had to repeat second grade,” he said, “because I couldn’t read.”

“They thought I was lazy,” Parr added.

Years later, Parr learned that he had dyslexia and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). People didn’t know what these disabilities were when he was in school.

“My grandpa on my Dad’s side was talented,” Parr said, “and my grandma on my Mom’s side was talented and creative.”

In the second grade, Parr focused on drawing. He won an art contest but his parents didn’t believe that he’d drawn the picture. “They thought I traced it,” Parr said.

Parr felt that he had to get out of his home town. “There was energy calling me,” he said, “there was a bigger world out there. I knew, one day, I would leave Wyoming.”

Parr became a flight attendant for United for 15 years. “That job – traveling around the world – gave me confidence,” Parr said.

Parr traveled to new cities. He went back to art with a new sense of confidence. With role models like Keith Haring, the renowned American gay artist. “Haring showed you that art can be whimsical,” Parr said, “that you could use bright colors.” 

Parr lived in San Francisco. He began to have some success with his art. His work was displayed in one of Wolf Gang Puck’s restaurants.

But Parr was still borrowing money and flying for United. “I was spinning my wheels,” he said.

He decided to perform a magic show (that he did for kids) in Las Vegas. There, he met his agent – a married couple who understood his work. They got him a literary agent. “It freed me up to do creative things,” Parr said.

One day, Parr was showing his work at a show in New York. “I don’t like to read,” Parr said when he was asked if he’d thought about writing children’s books.

Parr signed with Little Brown for Young Readers when he realized he was on to something. He could write books for kids with his arts with messages (but without characters).

For a time, Parr felt apologetic about his dyslexia. “I’m not qualified to be up there [because of his struggles in school],” he said when he was asked to give a keynote speech.

But after talking with his editor about his fears, Parr wondered: why shouldn’t he own his dyslexia? Why not be honest and talk about it?

“It opened a path for me,” Parr said.

Parr’s website is toddparr.com.

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Queer literary lion Edmund White not slowing down at age 83

New novel ‘Humble Lover’ features sex, unrequited passion, and ballet

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Edmund White’s new book is ‘The Humble Lover.’ (Book cover image courtesy of Bloomsbury)

“It’s remarkable,” Edmund White, the acclaimed queer novelist memoirist, playwright, biographer and essayist, told the Blade this summer in a telephone interview, “I’m 83 years old! A lot of people my age would give up.”

“Not me,” he added, “I still feel sharp.”

White, born in 1940, is more than as good as his word. At a time of life when many rest on their laurels, he has not only published his latest novel, “The Humble Lover,” (Bloomsbury), but is working on new literary projects.

Don’t be fooled by White’s age. “The Humble Lover” is no sleepy, “octogenarian” novel. Yes, its protagonist, Aldwych West, who’s desperately in love with 20-year-old August Dupond, a principal dancer in the New York City Ballet, sleeps. But that’s all “The Humble Lover” has in common with staid novels for “the elderly.” The novel features lots of sex, unrequited passion, ballet, Champagne, and Ernestine, a dominatrix, who makes Joan Crawford or Bette Davis at their bitchiest seem tame. August doesn’t return Aldwych’s affections. In an effort to spike August’s interest, Aldwych, who’s incredibly wealthy, creates a ballet company so August can have his own ballet troupe to star in. Poor Aldwych! August still doesn’t lust for him. Instead, he hooks up with Padro, a sex worker, and Ernestine, who’s married to his investment banker nephew Bryce. It’s deliciously wicked.

“Why don’t they have more gay villains,” White said, “I liked writing Ernestine. She’s a real bitch!”

“The Humble Lover” is one of the more than 30 novels that White has written. To say that White, who grew up in Evanston, Ill., has had a creative and productive life is an understatement. White, who lives in New York, was a co-founder of the Gay Men’s Health Crisis and of the 1980s queer writers group The Violet Quill. In addition to his many novels, he has written memoirs, essay collections, book reviews as well as biographies of Rimbaud, Genet, and Proust. White wrote a novel (unpublished) when he was a teen at Cranbrook School, a boarding school in Broomfield Hills, Mich.

White has received more honors than you could imagine. His many awards include the PEN/Saul Bellow Award for Career Achievement in American Fiction and Lambda Literary’s Visionary Award.

The National Book Foundation presented White with the 2019 Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. “A master of narrative and craft across fiction, journalism, memoir and more,” David Steinberger, chair of the board of directors of the Foundation said of White. “Whether it’s evocative depiction of gay life during the tumultuous 1980s, painstakingly researched biography or elegant memoir, White’s work stands out across decades as its resonance … for a multitude of devoted readers.”

Along with being a legendary queer literary lion, White is professor emeritus of creative writing at Princeton. (He taught at Princeton for 19 years.) White has been called the “godfather of gay American literature,” Princeton Alumni Weekly has reported.

In 2013, White and the writer Michael Carroll, who is 25 years younger than White, were married. White has lived much of his life in New York and Paris.

From early on, White was imaginative. As a child, White, like many writers thought up stories and had imaginary friends. “One of my imaginary friends was named Cottage Cheese,” White said.

Today, White is one of the most out, unabashedly, joyfully queer people you’d ever want to meet. “I’m working now on a sex memoir about the loves of my life,” White, who in 1977 co-wrote with Charles Silverstein, “The Joy of Gay Sex,” said.

“It’s so much more sex positive now,” he added.

But when White grew up in the Midwest in the 1940s and 1950s, there was nothing sex positive about being queer. Being gay was sinful and illegal. At best, it was believed to be a sickness. In that era, “the three most heinous things in America were heroin, communism and homosexuality,” White wrote in an essay.

White knew he was queer early on (even though he secretly perused the dictionary to find words for his feelings).

In his 2018 memoir “Unpunished Vice: A Life of Reading,“ White recounts that, when he was 12, his mother gave him a biography of Nijinsky, the queer Russian ballet dancer. “Was it just that he was an iconic artist…and she wanted to stoke my artistic fires,” he writes, “Or was it innocent compliance with a sissy streak I’d already manifested?”

When he was a teen and underage, men would come by, cruising, in their cars. He’d have sex with them. But, “I was jailbait,” White said, “they’d never meet me a second time.”

White always wanted to be a writer. “But, I knew writers can’t support themselves,” White said, “so I thought, maybe I’ll be a professor.”

At boarding school, White’s favorite teacher had studied Chinese. White decided to follow in his footsteps. In 1962, he graduated from the University of Michigan, where he studied Chinese. White was accepted into Harvard University’s doctoral program in Chinese. But he decided against entering the program. He opted to follow a lover and move to New York.

For several years, he pursued journalism. Working for Time-Life Books, freelancing for Newsweek, editing the Saturday Review and Horizon as well as freelancing for publications such as The New Republic.

White is best known for his trio of autobiographical novels: “A Boy’s Own Story,” “The Beautiful Room Is Empty” and “The Farewell Symphony.”

But not all of his fiction, especially, his most recent novels (such as “A Previous Life” and “A Saint from Texas”) are about his life.

“I got tired of writing autobiographical fiction,” White said, “I enjoy making people up.”

White talked enthusiastically about creating “The Humble Lover.” “When I was in my 20s, I had an affair with a well-known ballet dancer,” White said, “and I’ve always been fascinated by the ballet.”

His fascination with ballet and his acquaintanceship with wealthy, WASPy people helped him to imagine the characters in “The Humble Lover.”

“I had an office mate who was the ultimate WASP from a good family in New York City,” White said. “They had their own brownstone. He’d gone to Harvard. He had a way of pronouncing words that was different from anybody else.”

White, like an anthropologist, studied him. “He became the basis for Aldwych,” White said.
Part of writing for White is finding characters equivalent to people in your life. “When I worked for Vogue magazine, I met a lot of society people,” he said. “They interest me in an anthropological way.”

“I had a boyfriend who was on the best-dressed list,” White added, “these jet set people talk all the time about their schedules.”

At the same time, White thinks people spend too much time thinking about celebrities. “They’re not that interesting,” he said.

In addition to working on a memoir about sex, White is writing a new novel. The novel, White said, is based on his nephew who killed himself at age 50. “It was 10 years ago. He was hetero and lived with me for a little bit,” White said. “He was a little bit crazy. He wouldn’t stay on lithium. I was very close to him.”

“I’ve always wondered if I could find a way to do it,” White added.

Before Stonewall, queer writers would try to explain LGBTQ people to readers. “Or they would try to get compassion for gays and present us as sick in sad stories,” White said. “Or, as in Gore Vidal’s case, they’d show us as campy.”

It’s very different, today. “It’s sex positive.” White said.

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