COUNTDOWN TO NYE
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.
By Kevin Sessums
When I think of young queer protagonists in American literature, my southern thoughts turn toward three seminal works by authors who hailed from the south where eccentricity is an art form, though otherness is not. Otherness, in fact, turns most Southerners accused of it into furtive figures once they pass puberty around the age of fifteen, and then into fugitives. But first they are children known for their precocity and empathy and even courage. They don’t scare easily as children. Adulthood is a bit more daunting for such figures in real-life. But these queer children of American literature have lasted for generations because of that one reason: they don’t grow up. They remain young forever and, in remaining so, they continue to be courageously generous of heart. They make our own hearts feel more generous when meeting them for the first time and each time we are re-introduced to them we find again the generous spirit within ourselves that they first inspired. Their otherness — their queerness — didn’t queer us in the old-fashioned sense of such a verb. But it did — it does — queer us in a more newfangled way; it helps us see the world from more than one point of view. They make us less constricted as they fight to make their own worlds less so in their narratives. These characters make us empathetically more fluid.
There is Frankie Adams in The Member of the Wedding by Carson McCullers, Jean Louise “Scout” Finch and Dill Harris in To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, and Joel Harrison Knox in Other Voices, Other Rooms by Truman Capote. Each child is struggling with his or her sexuality and even, I’d venture, their gender identity. They are what we might commonly refer to as a sissy or a tomboy. One of the central questions of my life — which I addressed in my own book about southern otherness and queerness, my memoir Mississippi Sissy — has been what does it mean to grow up different in the deep South?
Moreover for the purposes of this post, what does it mean to come of age on Broadway and celebrate one’s own queerness while doing it?
These questions all conflate in the guise and reality of the young actor Gideon Glick who is playing Dill Harris in the Broadway re-imagining of of To Kill A Mockingbird. Glick, who grew up the son of college professors outside of Philadelphia, is currently starring as Dill in Aaron Sorkin’s Broadway adaptation of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, directed by Bartlett Sher. It is Glick’s third stint on Broadway after appearing as Ernst in Spring Awakening and starring as Jordan Berman in Significant Other — two other queer characters. Like those characters in those three books, Glick was a queer kid — yet one who owned his own queerness. He came out when he was twelve years old. He is the queer child in his own story. And he remains generous of heart.
Gideon is engaged to a young doctor from his hometown and they have recently moved from their apartment in Brooklyn to a new home in Manhattan. I met Glick a few months ago for lunch in Brooklyn before the big move. I even got to his neighborhood early, so I browsed the Unnamable used bookstore and bought him a gift before our lunch – Truman Capote’s Brooklyn Heights: A Personal Memoir — as a nod both to his portrayal of Dill and his waning weeks in Brooklyn himself. Here is some of what we talked about that day.
KEVIN SESSUMS: Are your college professor parents happy that you are engaged to a doctor?
GIDEON GLICK: Actually, he and I grew up together. We went to high school and summer camp and college together, but we didn’t know each other. He knew of me just because I was “the out kid.”
KS: I’ve read that you came out in seventh grade. Is that right?
GG: Yeah. I did. And I was a theatre kid. His sister did plays with my brother. I went home once to take care of my mom’s puppy for a week when he was finishing his residency at Penn. We’re all from around Philadelphia. He said hello to me at the gym. And from that moment – that was four years ago – we’ve talked every day since.
KS: Get married, and that will stop.
GG: (Laughs) No, we’re very co-dependent.
KS: Since you’ve been out since you were in seventh grade and your first role in New York was as a gay character in Spring Awakening and you’ve played others in your career, do you worry about being typecast as the gay guy who gets cast in gay roles? Have you had those discussions with your agent?
GG: Not really. I don’t worry about it. I’ve always just gone with my gut. I think because I came out so early, there was never a question as to what I was going to do, or not do. Also, because I came to New York in that gay role and, as a result, it was part of the conversation, it was never something I cared to deny. That would have felt like a step backwards. I believe in radical honesty – not only interpersonally, but also in your work.
KS: Speaking of radical honesty – you have talked before about your being in the past part of an open relationship with two other guys.
GG: I just ran into one of them yesterday. The other two guys are still together and they now own a house up in the Berkshires.
KS: So you were the one brought into their relationship? You were the smart, cute little canapé?
GG: (Laughs) Yes, I was the one “brought in.” It was an exciting time. [There is a pause in the conversation for me to give Gideon his gift. He studies the photo of Truman Capote on the book’s cover.] Truman Capote was so striking as a young man. I have a beautiful portrait of him in my dressing room. I think it’s in this Brooklyn Heights house. It has a kind of kitschy, eclectic background. It’s a very famous portrait. My partner got it for me.
KS: Had you read To Kill a Mockingbird before getting the part of Dill and moving into that dressing room?
GG: I read it in seventh grade.
KS: Seventh grade was a big year for you.