RECAP: Tom & Lorenzo Discuss Legendary Children at Housing Works Bookstore
Social distancing is not what New Yorkers generally practice, and many of us are becoming starved for social interaction. So, we decided to run a non-covid story about an event which happened in early March, right before we all went on lockdown. You know, some escapism.
The term “Legendary Children,” part of the title of Tom Fitzgerald and Lorenzo Marquez’s new book, Legendary Children: The First Decade of RuPaul’s Drag Race and the Last Century of Queer Life, was brought to the mainstream by the 1990 drag ball documentary Paris is Burning. The authors, better known as Tom and Lorenzo for their wildly popular eponymous fashion and culture blog, have expanded the phrase to refer to the trailblazers of LGBTQ’s history.
We recently attended an event at Housing Works Bookstore celebrating the launch of the book. At the gathering, Tom and Lorenzo, or TLo, as they are affectionately known to their fans, recorded a live episode for their podcast, Pop Style Opinionfest.
Joining them in the podcast discussion was Marti Gould Cummings, who is running for councilperson in upper Manhattan. Aside from being able to rattle off an impressive breadth of statistics, Cummings discussed city policy and political issues affecting the LGBTQ community. Also a (fabulous) drag performer and the first nonbinary person running for office, Cummings is one of the trailblazers featured in Tom and Lorenzo’s book.
The duo tell us that their book is meant to be read one-handed. Get your minds out of the gutter; it’s not what you think. Legendary Children provides a crash course into queer history and culture, and the folks who broke the rules and broke new ground.
This history, Tom and Lorenzo say, is significant. “The first queer masquerade balls started in the 1860s. The first drag queen was a former slave.”
The book covers a lot of territory, but also prompts the reader to dive deeper into both the people and topics. They even include a resource guide with references to everything from the backstory of the Stonewall Riots, the lesser known Compton’s Cafeteria riot, and the Harlem drag ball scene, to the making of an all drag sci fi B movie.
The book is not all sequins and stilettos, though. Legendary Children pays tribute to the many LGBTQ icons and inspirations, including often-neglected people of color. Marginalized and brutalized, they lived their lives in fear of violent attacks and arrests, while building up a thick skin and an arsenal of quick wit and survival skills in order to demand a seat at the table for themselves and for their community.
Tom and Lorenzo have blogged about the phenomenon of the reality TV series “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” since its beginning 12 seasons ago. This certainly qualifies them to write in the book’s introduction:
The story of RuPaul’s Drag Race is the same as the story of the LGBTQ political and cultural movement of the past half century; it’s impossible to separate one from the other. You can’t talk about RuPaul’s Drag Race in any depth without talking a bit about the history of drag as a form of expression and a part of pop culture. And you can’t talk about drag as a form of expression without talking about its place in queer life. And you can’t talk about queer life over time without having some idea of what LGBTQ folks faced in the past and how their lives played out.
RuPaul and his show are not immune to controversy, which Tom and Lorenzo discussed during the event. But despite that, Tom asserted, “You cannot discount the power of Ru. [He] is kind of limited as a civil rights entertainer, but has been a trailblazer.”
On the cover of their book, illustrator Cheyne Gallarde beautifully depicts RuPaul, Divine, Leigh Bowery, Crystal Labeija, Gladys Bentley, and Marsha P. Johnson, among others. If you don’t know some or all of the people on the cover, use the one-handed reading method that TLo suggested and look them up.
In the quick-witted and emotional evening, Marti asked “who’s your favorite person in the book?”
Tom’s reply: “Everyone who is on the cover – front and back.”