Arts & Culture

Joshua Lyon is the out gay coauthor of late queer icon Edie Windsor’s inspiring book, “A Wild and Precious Life.” This memoir-biography hybrid is an intimate look at the life and times of Windsor, a Philadelphia native whose Supreme Court case helped establish the right for same-sex marriage. Windsor recounts working at IBM, her 44-year relationship with her partner Thea Spyer and LGBT activism. Additional passages at the end of each chapter feature anecdotes and observations from Windsor’s friends and relatives.

In a recent interview, the author spoke with PGN about Windsor and this new memoir.

 

PGN: Can you talk about how you worked with Windsor to create the memoir?

JL: We worked together for about six months, and two-thirds of it was done before she passed. Originally, it was going to be a memoir. When she passed away, it was awful for many reasons. I lost a new friend, and I was paralyzed about the book — would they rush it out? I really didn’t want to do that. The publisher gave us all the time we needed. After Edie passed, I went into deep research mode, and I processed my grief by walking around Philadelphia. I tried to see the world through her eyes. I was lucky she kept every piece of paper from 1951 onward.

 

PGN: What can you say about the various stages of Windsor’s remarkable life?

JL: One of the things that struck me was the message of how good parenting can go a long way. Her mother was a fantastic figure who filled her with self-confidence. Another thing was seeing how the gay rights movement progressed as she was growing. She watched it with one eye but wasn’t able to emotionally enter that until after Stonewall, and that was when Thea was getting ill. Her activism would have kicked in earlier if she wasn’t taking care of Thea.

 

PGN: What observations do you have about Windsor being a queer woman during an era when it wasn’t easy?

JL: It was incredibly difficult for her, but one thing we talked about was that she knew she had it better off than other closeted women. She was white, beautiful and educated, and she had privilege. She gave back. Even though things were difficult for her, there were people who had it much worse. She could help people in need before she was able to come out.

 

PGN: What did you find particularly exciting or unusual about the gay history she recounted?

JL: One of the things I was excited about when we started talking was learning about the women’s bars of the period. They were very different than men’s bars, and that was cool to learn about and dive into. I got that info from first-hand accounts from these amazing octogenarian lesbians. There are few or no photographs to describe what these places were like. And I read a lot of lesbian pulp fiction, which was written about these spaces.

 

PGN: The contributions from Windsor’s friends and relatives help create an impression of her and her life, fleshing out details. Who or what impressed — or surprised — you the most?

JL: I had this list from Edie, before she passed, of people to talk to, and I got so many stories. A lot of them did not end up in the book. I had to create a moral code to make the book a memoir/biography. When I heard a story, I had to think about whether Edie would want it in the book. I also talked with Judith, Edie’s surviving spouse, and Karen, her best friend. We made group decisions about what to put in the book. One of my favorite things was something she didn’t tell me, but many others did: that she was a card counter and used that to her advantage in casinos to win big. Her many trips to Las Vegas made total sense after that.

 

PGN: Windsor’s motto is, “Don’t postpone joy.” What valuable lesson(s) did Windsor teach you in the writing of “A Wild and Precious Life”?

JL: She taught me that I need to wake the fuck up, basically. I’m a Gen X-er, so there’s a part of me that goes to pride rallies, but I never threw myself into activism. There is so much more that I can do, should do and that must be done. That was a huge inspiration for me. I feel like the work she did is something that we should continue. It’s bizarre to think it is such recent history. 

 

Joshua Lyon will participate in a Q&A with state Representative Brian Sims in the Philadelphia Room at the William Way Community Center, 1315 Spruce Street, on October 29 at 6:00 p.m.

Tony Award-winning stage and screen actress, Bebe Neuwirth (“A Chorus Line,” “Chicago,” “Cheers” and “Frasier”) is coming to the stage in Philadelphia to star in Philadelphia Theatre Company’s season opener, “A Small Fire,” through Nov. 10.

Long before the #Metoo and #TimesUp movements, a groundbreaking film took on not just the difficult subject of rape, but dared to tackle intraracial rape in communities of color, and the use of rape against LGBTQ women of color as a way to “fix” queerness.

THE WONDER TWINS: Fresh off the publication of their memoir, “High School,” out rock duo, Tegan and Sara, are hitting the road for their latest album, “Hey, I’m Just Like You,” performing 8 p.m. Oct. 26 at Keswick Theater, 291 N. Keswick Ave. For more information or tickets, call 215-572-7650. (photo credit: Trevor Brady)

Back in March 2018, out gay actor-turned-filmmaker Gerald McCullouch premiered his documentary, “All Male, All Nude” — about the Atlanta strip club, Swinging Richards — at Philadelphia’s QFlix. Now McCullouch is back with the sequel, “All Male, All Nude: Johnsons,” about a Wilton Manors, Florida strip club that caters to gay men. The film is currently available on VOD and DVD.

Positioned at a strategic point close to the energy of South Street, and in the upwardly comfortable Old City, Bloomsday Cafe, 414 S. Second St., lets their menu and customers do the talking. 

Glam-pop performer talks creative freedom, LGBTQ music evolution and his full-circle Cher moment

“Neither Here Nor There” is the second novel by out local author Nikki Harmon. The story concerns Kim, a biophysics major at Temple University, who dreams of working for NASA. She lives with her mom and stepfather, who try to ignore the fact that she is a lesbian. When Kim experiences a kind of double vision, she learns to harness her powers, unaware that her “skills” — which include jumping through time — are part of her professor’s covert experiment. As Kim meets other students like her, they band together to stop nefarious forces from taking over the world.

Harmon, who published the book under her Mt. Airy Girl Press imprint, will have a book launch at the Colored Girls Museum, 4613 Newhall Street, on Saturday, Oct. 26 at 12:30 p.m. She will also read from her book at the Big Blue Marble Bookstore, 551 Carpenter Lane, in Mt. Airy Village, on Nov. 10, at 2 p.m.

In a recent phone interview, the author explained that she has always loved science-fiction books, TV series and films, and wanted to write something in the genre. “My previous life, I was a filmmaker, but there’s more overhead to make a film. So, I was influenced by Michelle Parkinson’s 1993 short film, ‘Odds and Ends,’ about two Black lesbians in space. Part of what I wanted was to have an everyday girl you would know on the street end up in this kind of really crazy circumstance — a position where she’s forced to be heroic, even though that’s really not who she wanted to be.”

Kim does come across as realistic, visiting her friend Jen or hanging out with Meer, a girl from her high school she becomes romantically involved with before her life takes a drastic turn. Harmon explained her need to establish a reality before the story gets metaphysical.

“I wanted to make sure you felt you knew where Kim was coming from. Her relationship with her mother was not dramatic, horrible or over the top. She wishes it was better, but it is what it is, and she has to deal with it because she doesn’t have money to move out. I also wanted to make sure she had friends, Jen and Kendra, who she could talk to and who were consistent throughout her life. She didn’t have to prove herself to them.”

She continued, “Kim is the quiet nerd in the corner, and she changes when she encounters different dimensions and timelines. In one episode, she gets involved with Meer in high school — which didn’t happen originally — and that shows how different people can change your life track.”

Kim is also seduced by Savvy, whom Kim follows to MIT in one episode. Savvy tries to manipulate the system to get ahead and hopes to convince Kim to do the same. What transpires, however, defines both of their characters.

Time jumping forces readers to recalibrate their thoughts and feelings about Kim. In one moment, Kim is very buttoned-up, but in another, she is rebellious. Her character shifts throughout “Neither Here Nor There,” which makes the book so engaging.

“You are always making choices,” Harmon acknowledged one of the themes of her novel. “Being gay is not a choice. Coming out is a choice. How you decide to express yourself as a choice. Kim and Savvy have a clandestine relationship whenever Savvy wanted it. They put aside their queerness for their career goals. Kim jumps to another timeline where she’s married to a guy named John and chose to make her mother happy. She’s a science teacher rather than trying to pursue a NASA career and is living the life her mother wanted her to live.”

The author’s prismatic approach to storytelling allows her to explore issues of identity and belonging. Harmon divulged, “The first half of the novel is about Kim being able to make her choices and how they affect her and who she is. But then I wanted her to be in an action-adventure story and do something bigger than herself — something expansive. I wanted her to be a hero in this story and part of this cohort who find her and know who she is and have met her in a couple of timelines. Kim is the lynchpin to turn things around and stop detrimental things from happening in the world.”

Harmon makes “Not Here Nor There” appeal to all queer readers, whether sci-fi fans or not. She observed, “I never felt that queer people were not in science fiction. Read ‘Dhalgren’ by Samuel R. Delany. It’s always been there, but it doesn’t get a lot of attention.”

Hopefully, Harmon and her novel will get the attention they deserve. 

 

The Philadelphia Asian American Film Festival unspools Nov. 7-17 at venues around the city. This year’s program spotlights two queer features, a shorts program that reflects Asian and Asian American LGBTQ life and three films by out gay and queer directors.

Photographer and PGN contributor Tara Lessard has spent much of her career documenting Philly’s LGBTQ-plus community, but these days she’s turning the lens on her personal struggles with cancer, which she has been battling since 2015.

A mainstay on Philadelphia stages, Keith Conallen is known for playing edgy, daring roles with independent theater companies such as Azuka, Theatre Exile and the now (sadly) defunct Flashpoint Theater Company. But Conallen's zealous collaboration with the Wilma Theater and Blanka Zizka's HotHouse ensemble has given him a spiritual home. He’ll tackle his latest role in the Wilma’s production of “Dance Nation” by Clare Barron, opening Oct. 22.

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