Morgan Levine: From soaking up rays to stimulating Philly’s nightlife
by Suzi Nash
Dec 13, 2012 | 1126 views | 0 0 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Morgan Levine
Morgan Levine
You may know Morgan Levine as one-half of the party duo (along with Amber Hikes) that runs the popular Stimulus and Arouse parties, but the multi-faceted blond with the ever-present smile is so much more. Levine has been cited in the Who’s Who segment of Philadelphia magazine, been voted a Women’s History Month HERO as well as a Business Hero by the Delaware Valley Legacy Fund and is a planner of the Dyke March — all while working as a marketing assistant at a law firm and pursuing a degree in psychology. Levine took time off between studying for finals and preparing for tonight’s Stimulus holiday party (I don’t know how she does it all) to talk to us about life on and off the party circuit.

PGN: So, your name has become synonymous with Philadelphia parties. Are you a Philly gal?

ML: No, I was born in Atlantic City, raised in Ventnor, like on the Monopoly board. My dad was the local cab driver and he used to deliver ice cream on the beach. So I was on the beach 12 hours a day.

PGN: Did he have a bell?

ML: Yeah, he was the crazy Jewish guy that would wear red trunks and a Santa Claus hat in July. He would order trinkets from a novelty company and give them out to the kids.

PGN: He sounds like a generous guy.

ML: [Laughs.] Um, no. It was good business. He was a good hustler. He always had something going on.

PGN: And your mom?

ML: She was the opposite, she was very laid-back. She was from a hippie kind of family and he was from a very conservative, Republican family. I grew up with a lot of partisan politics. He was overbearing and she was very hands-off, but they divorced when I was young, so they split the ticket. There was a big age difference too. He was 20 years older than her, so while he was off fighting in the Vietnam War, she was still a toddler and her parents — who were only two years older than him — were out protesting against it.

PGN: Any siblings?

ML: I have a younger sister who I’m really close to, and my father remarried at age 60 so he now has young kids again, including a son who is the same age as his only grandchild.

PGN: That’s wild! Were you bookish or sporty as a kid?

ML: Definitely bookish, but my parents always tried to get me involved in extra-curricular things. I did ballet, tap, jazz, softball and all sorts of things, but all I wanted to do was sit with a good book.

PGN: What was your favorite?

ML: Oh, different books at different times, but I’d have to say Dr. Seuss was a favorite. I’ll say “Cat in the Hat” just because it was the most popular.

PGN: I was a “One Fish, Two Fish” kid.

ML: I was going to say that! That’s also a favorite. I’ve done nanny work since high school and that’s a favorite read. And I read a lot of Judy Bloom. I was an angsty teenager.

PGN: What was a memorable moment from one of your activities?

ML: Well, in truth, family life was pretty awful so I spent a lot of time with my grandparents. I started writing poetry when I was young and one of my memorable moments was winning an award in eighth grade for a poem I wrote about my grandmother. I was really proud of that. I wrote all through high school but I’ve gotten away from it. I still read a lot of poetry, though, and enjoy hearing it.

PGN: What made family life so difficult?

ML: My dad was not a particularly nice guy. He was very aggressive. He was ... is ... a Vietnam veteran and had a lot of anger. He is very stoic and doesn’t acknowledge PTSD or believe in therapy. It manifests itself in him being very demeaning and misogynistic and, as I got older, homophobic. So he was a veritable party of things that weren’t good. My mom developed some mental-heath issues as well so I pretty much raised myself with a lot of help from my grandparents. They were both professors and nurtured the inner nerd in me, and they loved to travel so we would get to travel with them during school breaks.

PGN: What was a favorite travel adventure?

ML: Every summer we would go camping at Lake George. [Laughs.] I was really into pioneer women and would read every book I could find on the subject. I loved “Little House on the Prairie,” so when we went camping I would pretend that I was a pioneer woman living off the land. My grandfather was a physiologist at Stockton so we got to go to Costa Rica several times, which was really cool too.

PGN: Best teacher?

ML: Peter Murphy. He was my poetry teacher for four years and really took me under his wing. He knew I had a rough time at home so if I didn’t want to go to a particular class, I could always go hang in his room, which helped a lot. He ran the Poetry Festival in New Jersey and was very inspirational.

PGN: Activities?

ML: I was very involved in student government and things like the Diversity Club, where I was one of the only out students in the club. Around that time I also started coming to Philly to go to The Attic Youth Center.

PGN: I didn’t know you were an Attic kid!

ML: Yes, whenever I could get in town. I was part of a teenage women’s group.

PGN: When did you come out?

ML: I first told my mom that I liked kissing girls more than boys when I was 13 and I had my first girlfriend when I was in high school. The most traumatizing coming-out was telling my dad. I was in my 20s and, at first, he was fine with it, and then after it simmered for about a year he let loose all his stored homophobia on me. That was hard because I’d been out in the queer community for so long, it was hard to deal with someone who hated me just because I was gay. [Laughs.] Especially since it was my father.

PGN: Were your parents very religious?

ML: My father was pretty hardcore conservative Jewish and my mother was more reform. My stepfather is Catholic and my mother’s been with him since I was 6, so I’ve always had a Christmas tree. Personally, I’m into Buddhism. I try to practice meditation and mindfulness. Our culture is so much on the go all the time and I’m definitely a product of that. I seem to feel comfortable in chaos so I’m trying to make an effort to stop, be still and touch base with what’s going on in my head.

PGN: So who was the troublemaker in the family?

ML: [Laughs.] I prefer to say I was an independent spirit. I remember when I was 6 asking my grandmother, “When can I get a job and move out?” So I had that same mentality when I was a teenager and pretty much did what I wanted. I wasn’t really a troublemaker, just rebellious.

PGN: What’s your involvement with Dyke March?

ML: I’ve been a planner for years. I took a hiatus for a while after my friend Crystal took her life; it really set us all back a bit. But I’m very passionate about it. It only happens once a year and it’s a rare and special gathering. I don’t think anything in Philly brings the radical lesbian community together the way the Dyke March does. It’s very empowering.

PGN: One thing I find puzzling is that most of the people I know that are involved — you, Amber, Samantha Giusti, Jen Anderson — are not who I’d imagine identifying with that term.

ML: It’s something that we’ve been discussing. Historically, I would say that I’m a dyke, but it’s not necessarily the term that I would choose. I identify more often as queer or lesbian, but it’s more about taking a word that has been used against women, any woman, and reclaiming it. There’s power in taking back the word and making it ours to use as we choose.

PGN: Ah, that makes it clear. So how did you start Stimulus?

ML: It was actually started as a fundraiser for the Dyke March. Amber and I were both on the committee and were talking about the fact that we both liked to go out dressed a certain way and socialize with a very diverse crowd, and we weren’t seeing that for women. Men in this city have so many options, different places to go depending on your mood and tastes, but women really didn’t. At the time, Obama had just enacted the stimulus package for the country and we decided to stimulate the nightlife in Philadelphia, so that seemed like a good name. And that’s pretty much how it came about.

PGN: I heard the number-one question you get is, “Where do all these beautiful women come from?” So where do they come from?

ML: Everywhere! I don’t know! Every time we have a party I see more people we’ve never met before. They come from New York and Delaware and all over. It’s kind of crazy.

PGN: You do so many different things at the events — speed dating, talent showcases, movie screenings, happy hours and Gay Day at the Renaissance Faire. What’s a favorite?

ML: Our movie screening of “Miss Representation” was really powerful and I had fun at the Renaissance Faire, but if I had to pick one I’d say the talent show. I’m so jealous of people who can do something, but it’s amazing to watch.

PGN: I love the fact that in addition to the entertainment part of Stimulus, you also get people together for community service.

ML: Yes, Stimulus Gives Back is an important side for us. Neither of us really identify as party promoters; we wanted to create a certain space for women to enjoy but never intended to be promoters. With SGB we are able to take the presence that we have in the community and show that we are not just lesbian or queer, we’re part of a greater population and we can do more than just party. So we have volunteered to sort food for families in need at Philabundance, packed care packages for children at Cradle to Crayons, lent wo-manpower to DVLF for their annual fundraiser TOY and cleaned up parks with Greater Philadelphia Cares. It’s fun!

PGN: And currently you’re pursuing a degree in industrial/organizational psychology. What on earth is that?

ML: Well, I’m really into mindfulness, knowing ourselves and our effect on other people. I’m not into clinical practice but I found that organizational psychology was really fascinating. We spend so much time in the workplace, especially in this economy where people have two and three jobs, so it’s the study of how organizations function and how we work within them. What makes the leaders, the team players and how do the people interact?

PGN: Where do you work now?

ML: Lundy Law firm. I kind of fell into it. Marvin Lundy passed away recently and they started a foundation in his name. Right before he died, he hired Tami Sortman and she helped bring me in to run the first project for them, which is the Lundy Law Library Express. I’m responsible for collecting donated books and coordinating everything. We’re doing things like if you want to wear jeans on casual Friday you have to bring in a new book. We’ll be launching it with Children’s Hospital in January. We’re going to have different celebrities come and read stories to the kids. It’s pretty cool.

PGN: On another note, I read one of your tweets about “Supporting a queer workforce: Optimum practices and why it’s important.” Why is it important?

ML: There’s a tendency to whitewash in the corporate mentality. And queering a workforce is not just about being gay, it’s about accepting all differences and recognizing that everybody has something to contribute. You don’t have to just be white and male to be successful and offer something. And it’s important to not just assume that we’re all the same.

PGN: So, not immediately assuming someone is going to have a wife and kids at home.

ML: Exactly. Eliminating stereotypes and embracing differences. The most successful and creative teams are those that do so.

PGN: Speaking of wives, are you partnered?

ML: Yes, I’ve been dating someone for about two-and-a-half years now, she’s pretty awesome. Her name is Cameron and she’s a probation officer. Very low-key and laid-back.

PGN: OK, random questions. Other than Cameron, whom would you call to be bailed out of jail?

ML: My best friend, CC. We’ve been best friends since we were about 3. She’s queer too, and that person who knows everything, but if you had a secret you didn’t want anyone to know, she’d take it to her grave.

PGN: A gift you really wanted when you were a child but didn’t get?

ML: New clothes! My dad was really cheap and always had us get second-hand clothes. As soon as I became an adult, I fell in love with the feel of new jeans.

PGN: Middle name?

ML: Alexis. They thought I was going to be a boy. I was supposed to be named Taylor Alexis.

PGN: I would have been Christopher had I been a boy. Any instruments?

ML: I played the clarinet when I was a kid, but never kept up with it.

PGN: If you could have the original of anything in the world, assuming you could never sell it, what would you want?

ML: I just read that they’re discontinuing the Encyclopedia Britannicas so I’d like a set of them. I’m a nerd.

PGN: I read that your motto was, “I do what I can to be all that I can and hope to inspire others to do the same.”

ML: Yes, I kind of feel that I had a rough start, but I don’t want that to define me. So I do what I can ...

PGN: [Laughs.] Well, that seems to be more than enough!

Holiday Stimulus will be held at 10 p.m. Dec. 14 at Square Peg, 929 Walnut St. In the spirit of giving back, Stimulus will collect items for the Community Women’s Education Project’s Kids Early Learning Center and Preschool — specifically school supplies such as construction paper, educational puzzles, games and toys, Pampers and pull-ups, craft supplies, multicultural dolls (large size), Elmer’s glue and washable paints.

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