The Gay Agenda
By Mark Peikert
Photo by Christian Coulson
Once a month, the poised and frighteningly knowledgeable—and funny—Justin Sayre holds court at The Meeting*, the monthly gathering of the International Order of Sodomites. The monthly variety show has all the earmarks of a community meeting: the news, what’s coming up on the calendar, and some very special tributes. This Thursday, Feb. 16, at 9:30 p.m., Sayre and The Meeting* will pay homage to Judy Blume. We spoke to Sayre about Blume’s status as a gay icon, the continuing importance of Judy Garland, and what his required camp viewing consists of. Catch Sayre and special guest Natalie Joy Johnson Feb. 16 at The Duplex in Manhattan.---
At what point did you think to yourself, The gays need a meeting!
About two-and-a-half years ago I was talking to a bunch of friends, and I was surrounded by all these gay men, and I said, ‘Wouldn’t it be fun if we had a meeting we had to go to to find out what was going on?’ And I thought that was very funny. That was just the time that Prop 8 had come out and been defeated and we kept finding out information afterward. A friend would tell me that Urban Outfitters gave a bunch of money, and I thought, ‘Well, why didn’t we know that? Why aren’t we boycotting?’ And I thought why not kill two birds with one stone and have this funny joke and also give out information at the same time?
I love the retro, old-school vibe of the event. Very Paul Lynde, Charles Nelson Reilly.
We did Match Game at the first benefit! I love Charles Nelson Reilly and watching it, it’s amazing the things they got away with. They were so ahead of their time. And we try to do new. We’ll probably never do Lady Gaga. Well, maybe in 20 years.
One of the great aspects of the series is that here’s a place where the gay icons of previous generations are being kept alive. There’s nothing worse than someone saying, ‘Who’s Paul Lynde?’
What I’m finding more and more is there is this young, gay kid who’s just hungry for that information. Who knows all the John Waters movies and is mesmerized by Grey Gardens and has all the information, but feels like they’re trapped in a bubble. And when we do something about this or that gay icon, people get excited because it feels like they’re being acknowledged.
And now you’re doing a tribute to Judy Blume!
We’re kind of doing the Vagina Monologues of Judy Blume. And I’ve been going through [the books] and going, ‘Wow. Not only was she a great writer, but she really pushed the envelope.’ I don’t know if she’s technically a gay icon, if there’s a bunch of queens in Atlanta having a Judy Blume party, but she’s certainly someone to be celebrated in the camp for speaking the truth and I think that applies to gay people.
Who will you be celebrating coming up?
The next couple of months we’re doing Judy Blume, Diana Ross and John Waters. May, we’re doing mothers, because they made us gay so we might as well celebrate them once. And then in June, as we’ve done the previous year, we do a big benefit for Ali Forney called Night of a Thousand Judys. So we get a whole bunch of performers to do Judy Garland. And that’s one of my favorite events because you get to see how many people want to be involved in Judy Garland and all the proceeds go to Ali Forney, which is a cause that’s very dear to me.
Isn’t that exactly what you pictured New York would be like? Everyone doing Judy Garland?
I moved to New York in 1999 and when I first came people were just kind of shocked by everything that had happened. AIDS had kind of slowed down and the gay men I knew were just in shock. And no one was able to mentor me or tell me what’s what. I had already liked Judy Garland and all those queens, but it’s become this kind of triple discovery. And what I’ve found is there’s a lot of young gay people looking for queer mentors. And the show tries to facilitate that and put a modern twist on that. I think the great aspect of the show is the joke of it.
And finally, what are your mandatory camp classics?
There’s a triumvirate for me. I insist you watch Liz Taylor’s Cleopatra, because it will change your life. The spectacle! I definitely tend to push that on people. I actually took a young gay man to see A Star Is Born because he had never seen it, and I was shocked. And he died! He couldn’t grasp how good it was. And I was like, 'Welcome to my world.' So I’d say a Judy Garland picture or a Bette Davis. I love all those. And Grey Gardens is a big one because it teaches you about relationships in a weird way. And that’s something that I like to go back to.