GAYLETTER

GAYLETTER

Tuesday 02.01.22

Out of a Dream: James Bidgood

When I first arrived at James Bidgood’s West Village apartment, I watched him tear open an envelope and read an eviction notice.

 

“Oh, fuck!” He told me. “Well, I apologize. I might be a bit distracted today. I’m not really sure what’s happening here.”

 

I nodded and told him to take his time and make whatever phone calls he needed while I found a spot for my jacket and backpack. Looking around the tiny apartment, I couldn’t imagine how he’d ever move everything out of this cramped space if he were indeed forced to leave. Shelves were packed with boxes, bags lined the walls and reached the ceiling. Glitter covered the floor, and a large plywood table littered with bits of paper and chiffon bisected the room. No idea where he slept.

 

“It’s a mess in here because we were shooting. I can’t find my dust pan, so what good would it do to sweep?”

 

Nearly all the images Bidgood created of beautiful boys swimming in shimmering lagoons, laying in flowers beneath a pink sunrise or standing in front of the Eiffel Tower were photographed in a space similar to the one I had just entered. It was Bidgood’s wild imagination and abilities to trick both the camera and the viewer that made these photographs seem so surreal.

 

I thought about the whimsical, ethereal paradises he created in his past work, most notably in his watercolors and in his 1971 film Pink Narcissus, and how terribly far that world is from his present reality. …

Thursday 01.27.22

ALL FOR ALTU

Joseph Altuzarra started his namesake brand in 2008, just as fashion blogs were taking off but long before the mayhem of social media was mandatory. It’s in the new Instagram era, however, that the French-American designer recently launched his second brand Altu, featuring cozy knits and soft cotton pieces he describes as genderful, suggesting they’re conceived with an abundance of gender expressions in mind. Joseph told us he thinks of Altu as “who I really was and who I really am, not an idealized version of me.” Our conversation covered everything from loving Tom Ford and Marc Jacobs to being a dad to mining your awkward 16-year-old self for inspiration. Plus we got the tea on exactly what New York does better than Paris.

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Tuesday 01.25.22

TROY MONTES-MICHIE

A selection of artworks from Rock of Eye.

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Monday 01.17.22

JOVANI & HARPER

A conversation between the two soloists

Jovani Furlan (left) joined the New York City Ballet as a soloist in 2019. Born and raised in Brazil, 11-year-old Jovani got his start dancing at the Bolshoi Theater School in his hometown of Joinville, where the famed Russian institution has its only satellite school outside of Moscow. “I started because my grandma thought I had talent, she was like, ‘you love dancing at family barbecues so maybe you should take this test for the ballet school.’” He adds, “My party trick would be doing the splits.” Jovani also spent several years with the Miami City Ballet, first attending their school on scholarship, then joining the company and eventually being promoted to principal dancer in 2017.

 

 

Originally hailing from Dover, New Hampshire, Harper Watters (right) has been with the Houston Ballet for a decade and a soloist with the company for nearly half that time. His parents, both college English professors, signed him up for dance lessons at a young age because he had a lot of energy. “I’ve always loved attention and I’ve always been a natural performer,” he explains. Through social media and viral videos (like the one where he’s running on a treadmill in pink heels), he has also found a way to connect with a wider audience than just classical ballet lovers. “I’ve needed the self-expression that things like Instagram have given me. Being more comfortable outside the studio allows me to be more comfortable inside the studio, which then allows me to be a better dancer.” …

Saturday 12.18.21

STEPHANIE YOUNG

On a late summer morning, we called writer Stephanie Young to talk about her latest book of poems, Pet Sounds, and about her scholarship on disparity in contemporary American poetry. What follows is our conversation alongside an excerpt from Pet Sounds, the poem “IN MY MEME.” Meow.

Trying to be a good researcher, I listened to Van Morrison’s song “Madame George,” the original take from his album T. B. Sheets, referred to throughout Pet Sounds. It was cool to hear all the voices intermix and interrupt. What drew you to writing your version of “Madame George?” I have a group of friends who get a place in the summertime to write together. Revising and revising. I was driving home from that retreat, it was in the days past CDs and yet my car still had a CD player. I had that album [T.B. Sheets] in the car. I put it on and it did that kind of Proustian thing, opening up a wormhole into the past. It opened up a history, an autobiographical story that I wanted to tell. This complicated story about being bi, and about not wanting to ever claim that because I live in a relationship that’s recognized as a cis-hetero couple in the world.

 

I was listening to that song and remembering arriving in California. That summer, there was a dryness in the air. It was probably a fire season moment. I remembered arriving in California 20 years earlier. Music holds the past; it holds these moments up. And then it opened up. I couldn’t stop listening to the song. I went on a serious bender.

 

This is a way that poetry feels related to the essay form for me. Once I started listening and had that moment of encounter that felt almost mystical or something, I’m like, “oh, research. …

Monday 09.27.21

LINDA SIMPSON

Linda Simpson is one of those New Yorkers who makes you remember why you love New York. The downtown drag queen has seen it all, and documented a good chunk of it with her camera. The list of people she’s photographed, and befriended, is long and illustrious. Having moved to the city back in the early ’80s from Minnesota to study at NYU, Linda quickly became a part of the downtown scene hosting parties and publishing a street zine called My Comrade. Linda was there when RuPaul, Lady Bunny, and Leigh Bowery were making names for themselves in local East Village bars like the Pyramid Club. She got to know Joey Arias, Tabboo!, and Justin Vivian Bond.

 

This year she released her coffee table book The Drag Explosion, which features candid photos of those I just mentioned, plus many others. The book is a love letter to her community and to New York. Early one April evening we sat down with Linda to discuss the book, her life and her first impressions of some of the people that make this city so special.

 

We love the book, it’s so fun to look through. So much queer New York history and so many interesting people. How did you end up in New York City? I grew up in Minnesota. I originally came to New York for school. I went to NYU for about a year and a half. I actually dropped out and then moved away for a while, but then I came back and went to FIT. …

Thursday 09.23.21

Justin Vivian Bond

Justin Vivian Bond is the definition of a multi-hyphenate, an actress, singer-songwriter, artist, and writer, the list goes on, but maybe the most accurate title is cabaret phenomenon. Vivian’s star first rose with the success of Kiki and Herb, a self-consciously camp act where Vivian played Kiki DuRane, a broke-down showbiz diva, and Kenny Mellman her pianist, Herb. Since then she’s established a singular career that spans Broadway, opera, musical albums, and an autobiography. Vivian’s good friend actress Gwendoline Christie caught up with the powerhouse over zoom. The duo had a rollicking good time reconnecting. They discussed everything from human contact to tips on how to stay juicy.

 

 

I want to see your eyes. Can I see them? I’ll show you mine crying.

 

Oh, sweet heart. How are you? I’m all right. I had a crazy night last night, but I just got off the phone with my psychoanalyst. He was very helpful. He said this wonderful quote, that healing comes from doing unto others that which was not done unto you. It’s taking it one step further than those lazy Christians.

 

Not only are you one of our greatest living performers, a modern-day Maria Callas, but you’re also effortlessly beautiful. How do you stay so juicy? That is a very good question. Obviously I hydrate, I drink water. I’m from the South where it’s very dry, it just leeches all the moisture out of your brainstem. It’s sort of like magic mushrooms, you’re basically tripping.

 

So if you want to have an out of body experience, dehydration will take you there. …

Monday 09.20.21

CARLOS MARTIEL

With his body at the center of his durational performances, Martiel pushes his own limits while also calling attention to deplorable histories.

Perhaps we should start at the beginning; could you speak a little bit about what it was like coming up in Cuba? When did you begin performing? I started working in performance in 2007. I remember that back in the day I was studying goldsmithing at the San Alejandro Art Academy, and alongside my jewelry work, I was also making unconventional drawings. I say unconventional because the materials I was using to make them were not traditional, like oil or acrylic paint, or even using a canvas. I was using different pigments, such as iron oxide diluted in vinegar, coal, beeswax, and blood. And it was the use of my own blood, specifically, which catapulted me to working with my own body. To extract my blood and make drawings, I had to go to public clinics and ask the nurses on duty to perform a phlebotomy on me. At first they agreed to do it, but as I started coming to the clinic more often, they began to either decrease the amount of blood extracted or refuse to do it altogether. This caused a great deal of frustration, since I couldn’t materialize the type of work I wished to make. That’s when I had the idea of using my body as an object and a subject of my conceptual interests, without having to depend on a third party. This is how I came to realize my first performance.

 

 

I am blown away at your roster of past performances; you are quite prolific. …

Wednesday 09.08.21

QWEEN JEAN

She's is a true force of nature. She’s an activist and, in her own words, a “fearless woman” working tirelessly to advocate for trans liberation. She tells us about her mission, her inspirations and the kind of world she’s trying to create.

I love to start every conversation with a bit of joy and positivity. So what is bringing you joy right now, Qween? At this very moment, well, in terms of today on the 14th of June, what’s really bringing me joy is the love that I felt yesterday. It was the second annual Brooklyn Liberation March at the Brooklyn Museum, organized by Black queer and Black trans, intersectional community members, and activists who wanted to create a safe space for community and particularly the transgender community, the transgender youth. People came from all parts of New York City, also from Jersey, from Upstate, from Philly, from D.C. They really came out for liberation.

 

When you look in the mirror, who is Qween Jean to you? Queen Jean is a bad girl. She is a fearless woman. She’s curvy, she’s beautiful. She’s dark, she’s rich, and she loves to smile. That’s who I see.

 

 

How did growing up Black and trans in Florida inform and influence your activism and the community that you cultivate today? Growing up Black and trans in Florida, honestly, I felt alone. I felt a lot of doubt. I questioned everything about myself. I questioned so much that I considered and contemplated, you know, “would it be better if I wasn’t here? If I wasn’t alive? If I wasn’t a burden to the people who said that they loved me?” And to be honest, I think as soon as I moved away, I actually made a promise to myself that I could never go back to that headspace. …

Monday 08.30.21

ERIC RHEIN

In his new book, the southern writer and artist channels the unknown and documents the intergenerational experience of HIV.

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Monday 08.23.21

YANNICK LEBRUN

Yannick Lebrun is a 34-year-old dancer and a principal at the esteemed Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. He spoke to us about growing up in French Guiana, moving to New York City, and performing for Beyoncé.

 

How did you end up in New York? I moved to New York at the age of 17 after I graduated high school. I was born and raised in French Guiana, which is an overseas department of France in South America, between Brazil and Suriname. So my environment was Amazon forests, tropical — a very green territory. I started dancing in French Guiana when I was nine years old. I did a lot of different dance competitions, got a lot of different scholarships, and had opportunities to attend summer programs in New York and France. When I received the scholarship to come study at the Ailey School in 2004, this is when I was like, okay, New York will be the place where I follow my dream and become a professional dancer. I wanted to go dance in a company that would accept my background, my unique cultural identity as a person of color. So, joining Alvin Ailey was my goal. First, I joined the Alvin Ailey School where I trained for two years. Then, I joined Ailey II in 2006, and then I joined Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater officially in 2008. That energy coming to New York City and being surrounded by all these amazing, young and talented Black dancers — I was so inspired. …

Friday 08.20.21

ROBIN FRANCESCA WILLIAMS

“I want it to feel as though these women are getting the last laugh,” artist Robin Francesca Williams explains about the toothy grins in her atmospheric portraits. With much of her work, Williams aims to show how women have been mistrusted, scapegoated, and demonized, but also to expose the expectation of their moral superiority, that they must kindly demonstrate purity and unconditional love on behalf of mankind. Interested in flawed, malicious, menacing, and wild female characters, she has a fascination with B-movies and cult classics, gravitating toward erotic thrillers because they tend to argue that the flaws of women are inherently more dangerous than the flaws of men. “They make tidy stories out of this belief,” she asserts. “My paintings are looking to untidy those stories and test these cultural contradictions.” She always renders her figures with a twist — a pregnant ghost, a kind troll hanging upside-down, or a dark angel as the embodiment of outer space. “None of my witches have pointy hats,” she laughs. “Sometimes I think about that test they did during the Salem witch trials — how they would throw a woman into the water. If she sank, then she wasn’t a witch, but she drowned. And if she floated and lived, then she was seen as a witch, and they would burn her. But I always thought if she was a real witch, she would constantly be a few steps ahead of them. She’d dive right in. She would just turn into water. Or turn into stone, sink to the bottom and walk out.” …