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Tales of Times Square: Sessums on the City Pride Month reflections by celebrated author and journalist Kevin Sessums
On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of Stonewall, we asked Kevin Sessums — former Executive Editor of Andy Warhol’s Interview, Contributing Editor at Tina Brown and Graydon Carter's Vanity Fair, theater critic at Towelroad.com, author of the New York Times best-selling memoirs Mississippi Sissy and I Left It On the Mountain, and current editor-in-chief of sessumsmagazine.com , an online magazine of culture, conversation and current events — to reflect on his intersections with Times Square, LGBT history, and the theater over the years, drawing on his life and work. We will share these installments, prepared throughout the month, during the week leading up to World Pride on June 30.
Yesterday, I wrote of Nathan Lane, who recently starred in Taylor Mac’s play Gary: A Sequel To Titus Andronicus at the Booth Theatre, and how deeply humane Lane’s clowning is, as is Mac’s. If Lane is the high priest of comedy, Mac is more an intersectional, ritualistic shaman.
Taylor Mac Bowyer was born in Laguna Beach forty-five years ago and grew up in Stockton. Judy's [n.b. Mac uses "judy" as a gender pronoun] mother was an art teacher and his father, who died in a motorcycle accident when Mac was four, was “in stocks, I think. He worked for the National Forest Service and helped invest its money. Something like that. I could be wrong, ” Mac once told me over Skype when I was doing a story on judy for San Francisco magazine. Mac was sitting in judy's New York apartment and judy's shaved pate gave judy a Yul Brynner-ish handsomeness if Brynner had been less brash in his own appeal. For as challenging and brazen as Mac is on a stage, judy is just as charmingly self-effacing off one. Judy is certainly no milquetoast, but could be cast as one. “I have only a few memories of my father,” judy quietly continued. “I remember riding on his motorcycle. Playing hide’n’seek. Jumping on a trampoline. I took art classes from my mother but I never really liked it,” judy rather surprisingly admitted. “It was drudgery for me.”
There was also a stepfather who was emotionally abusive. Mac’s mother divorced him when Mac was nine. “He was sort of a hippie but more to be trendy. He was a hippie who wanted to perpetuate the system. A raging leftie homophobe and misogynist.” An art school teacher for a mom and a hippie for a step-father with anger issues: sounds like the all-American California upbringing. “Oh — and my first job was as a paperboy when I was 11 to 13,” judy said, laughing. “One of the worst jobs I’ve ever had. You had to get up every day no matter the weather or how tired you were. You got paid a hundred dollars a month and you had to collect the money. This was around 1984 – 86.” So judy must have been preternaturally aware during that time of Gorbachev’s rise and Indira Gandhi’s assassination, Microsoft’s first release of Windows and compact discs going on sale, the famine in Ethiopia and the summer Olympics in Los Angeles? Again, judy laughs. “I didn’t read the headlines, honey, I just delivered the papers.”
It was in 1987, however, when awareness not so much shifted for Mac but emerged full-blown when, at the age of 13, judy attended the first AIDS Walk in San Francisco. “I had never met an out homosexual before — or, at least, one that was out to me. I found out about this AIDS Walk that was happening in San Francisco so I went with my friend Marcy,” Mac remembered, mentioning Marcy Coburn who is now the Executive Director of the Ferry Building Farmer’s Market. “The first time I ever saw an out homosexual was thousands of them at the same time,” judy said, recalling that San Francisco AIDS Walk. “It was a profound experience to see that queer history, queer agency, queer pride, queer power all for the first time.”
“And queer grief?” I asked.
“Yes — and queer grief,” judy agreed. “People were pushing loved ones in wheelchairs. The Sisters of Perpetual of Indulgence were there. I saw my first drag queens that day. People were singing and chanting. People were screaming and furious. ACT UP was there. It was the first AIDS Walk they ever had I think in San Francisco before it became something one was expected to attend. So that first one felt like a seditious act just to be there. To discover that community as a result of the community deteriorating and falling apart because of the epidemic was to discover at the same time a community being built and strengthened. That paradox — the dichotomy of that — was profoundly interesting to me and I think I just put that in the back of my brain.” Judy paused. Every queer of a certain age has learned to blink back tears when recalling that time. “No. No, it didn’t go to the back of my brain,” Mac insisted as judy both hardened and softened all at the same time, such an emotional, yes, dichotomy the dizzying heart of so much of Mac’s art. “It was one of the most profound moments of my life and really affected me."
For the launch of sessumsmagazine.com last year, I talked to Taylor Mac who was in San Francisco for a stand at the the Curran Theatre where judy had brought an extraordinary 24-hour durational concert, A 24-Decade History of Popular Music. Read the full interview here.