New York

View of “Linda Simpson,” 2022.

View of “Linda Simpson,” 2022.

Linda Simpson

Hard-core nightlife denizens are not necessarily archivists or librarians—though legendary drag journalist and bingo maven Linda Simpson is clearly an exception. On two separate visits to this presentation of Simpson’s seminal queer zine, My Comrade—which was also a celebration of the periodical’s thirty-fifth anniversary—I was able to revel in the aftershocks and ephemera of downtown Manhattan’s queer nightlife scene, spanning 1987 to the present.

The exhibition featured blown-up copies of pages extracted from the magazine and its sister publication, Sister! (the latter, nestled into several editions of My Comrade, was aimed at ladies of the Sapphic persuasion, if that wasn’t clear.) The images were accompanied by large handpainted banners, courtesy of Steven Hammel, that were hung above the reproductions and emblazoned with messages such as LONG LIVE THE GAY NATION. Key to the experience of the show was that Simpson let the hilarity of her project speak for itself, devoid of explanatory wall texts that might have helped contextualize or soft-pedal some of the less PC aspects of the material. Vitrines displayed a few of the original issues in chronological order—but since they were behind glass, we couldn’t flip through them, so they remained closed testaments. Still, there was much bliss to behold, including vintage pictures of RuPaul, Lady Bunny, and other equally sexy if lesser-known queens, flaunting their all.

As I chatted about the show with a friend, they lamented it as a reminder of how fun/funny we—“the gays”—used to be as a community, fighting the terrors of the AIDS epidemic with a kind of strident wit and off-color commentary that feels nearly extinct in 2022. One advertisement for the periodical seemed to have lifted its graphics from the Dick and Jane book series; its camp description read, MY COMRADE: A STRONG VOICE IN HOW GAY PEOPLE THINK ABOUT THEMSELVES AND THEIR LIVES! Beneath the ad copy was a typewritten list of downtown spots where the magazine might be procured. I recognized St. Mark’s Bookshop and Patricia Field’s boutique with some nostalgia, and wondered about other lost locales, such as Einsteins and See Hear, both of which were formerly situated on East Seventh Street.

In addition to featuring ads for various queer meccas from the Lower East Side to Chelsea, the zine also included faux movie ads: See Valerie’s Angels, a reimagining of SCUM Manifesto’s legacy if Valerie Solanas had possessed the entrepreneurial acumen to brand and lead a pack of, in her words, “groovy females” to take down the patriarchy. Elsewhere was a “profile” of drag star Lypsinka for one of her performances at the Pyramid Club. Hilariously, the article provided no real photographic evidence of her exploits, just collaged cutouts of the diva in various grandiose poses. Like many before her, Simpson subversively reworked the traditional magazine format to reflect the absurdities of attempting to structure one’s queer life around work and romance, especially as those arenas continue to be so narrowly cordoned off and policed by the straight world.

Perhaps the most exciting development to come out of the show was the debut of a new double issue of My Comrade/Sister!, featuring musician Macy Rodman on one cover and drag king extraordinaire Murray Hill on the other. I got mine for just five bucks—even the price felt like a throwback to another era! Highlights from the summer 2022 edition include an interview titled “Diarrhea and Irony with Lady Bunny,” which turned me on to Ebony and Irony, Bunny’s podcast with RuPaul’s Drag Race alum Monét X Change, and a “cheesy” centerfold by photographer Gregory Kramer featuring hot twink Jonah Almost, who flips off the camera while hiding his junk behind a slice of pizza. There’s also a great fashion spread imagining “our country’s top transgender government official” Rachel Levine—assistant secretary of the US Department of Health and Human Services—wearing Balmain, Schiaparelli, and Versace, suggesting that everyone deserves (and secretly wants) a makeover. We are living in an age that has all but retired print (personal plea: please bring back theater programs; no one is scanning that fucking QR code), so to see an ongoing commitment to this form of mass communication, especially under Simpson’s glorious expertise as a part-time publisher for thirty-five years, was a tender balm to this member of the Gay Nation.