Every month in New York you are invited to a meeting, an underground meeting called the International Order of Sodomites that promotes the homosexual agenda.
Hosted by Justin Sayre, the IOS is actually a variety show that has been running for two years. The first "meeting" was inspired by Proposition 8. Sayre, who admits he was never a political person, realized there was a need in the community to come together and discuss current events in a different kind of way.
The show is structured as any members-only meeting would be: business of the day first, and then the fun begins with discussions, comedy sketches, musical numbers, and sometimes even games. The next "meeting" is set for Dec. 15 at the Duplex in the West Village and will pay tribute to writer Quentin Crisp. It will also feature Cole Escola and Randy Rainbow.
I had a chance to talk with Sayre, a native of Forty Fort, Pa., about the upcoming show, his childhood, and his important message to those who are being bullied.
Is the IOS based off anything?
We made up everything as we went along. We made it up as this age-old institution with gay people deciding what was going on.
It's sort of the Shriners for gay men.
Really, darling. Only we have better hats. I prefer pearls.
This upcoming show, your holiday celebration, pays tribute to Quentin Crisp. What do you love about him?
He was born on Christmas, so that is one of the things we love about him. He was out publicly before a lot of people. There's a certain amount of bravery and sense of bravery. I think he was really fascinating -- even today. I've met people who knew him, and they have had wonderful things to say about him.
You just turned 30 on Dec. 5, but it's been said you moved to New York believing it was still 1947. Could you explain what that means?
I was raised primarily by my grandmother. I just thought you'd go and see Benny Goodman or see Tennessee Williams having a cocktail somewhere. Then when I came I was sorely disappointed -- well, not disappointed, but it was different from what I had expected.
What were you like as a little boy growing up in Pennsylvania?
I think I was very interested in make believe. There was a little girl next door to me, and I think we watched the Bette Davis movie The Virgin Queen, and we were fascinated by her. We'd play Mary Queen of Scotts in the backyard and chase each other around. I was imaginative and a little shy but fascinated by comics and comedy and how you could make a group of people laugh. Even as a child I took notes on comics and how they wrote jokes and how many beats you waited.
How did your peers respond to you?
I was not teased as much as I probably should have been. I think having humor as a defense, you were always able to get out of it. I was always able to turn it around on a dime. I was not out in high school, which is a regret of mine now. I see young people being so brave, and I think it's just wonderful, but I was not there yet. I was about as gay, but I think it came across as just artsy.
There has been a lot in the news lately about bullying. What would you say to those who are being bullied?
You have to figure out how to operate in the world because there's always going to be someone who's not going to like you. I used to go around at parties as a young person and say, "There's one person in this room who doesn't like me, and if I don't find them, it's my loss." I wish kids a lot of luck, and I hope they know they are supported, but I hope they find ways to be true to themselves and really make the best of some really awful situations.
When did you come out?
I was old. I was out of college. Everybody had my number except me. It was fine when I came out with my mother and father. It's the subtleties of it that take a while, I feel. Coming out is just not one day where you sit and have a heart-felt brunch. It's a process of years.
Finish this sentence: Justin Sayre is the kind of man who...
Is always shocked he's called a man! I forget that I'm an adult and not some kid.
Oh, I thought you meant that you were confused that you were actually a man --
Oh, no, I don't confuse that. I think I'm going to grow up to be an old lady, but I'm never confused at where I'm at now.
Since your shows always focus on current events, what do you think is the biggest issue facing the LGBT community today?
I think it's a search for identity. I don't think it's marriage. I think marriage is the issue that is political. For being a group who love the same kind of people, we're so different. I think our greatest struggle is to find where we're similar. I think if you put five different homosexuals in a room, you'll get 10 different opinions about everything. There are people who don't think that marriage is the answer. There are a lot of people who are exploring different ways to live. I think the greatest issue is how do we come together and how do we honor each other without taking things away from each other?
What is your identity?
I'm probably old-fashioned. I'm just an old-fashioned gay person. I know there is queer, and I have many friends who identify as that, but the theme that comes trickling off my tongue more often than not is a gay person. I'm very comfortable with that. I'm very proud of that identity. But, I understand the search for other names, and I'm always interested in those conversations with people.
So, being old-fashioned, do you believe in marriage for you?
I don't know that I'll have children. I'd like to get married. I don't think I'll have a wedding. I'll just sit with some man over brunch and say, "Oh, let's just go."
What is your ultimate dream in life?
I'd like to be the gay Woody Allen.
Do you want to be famous?
I don't know. I hate people staring at me on the subway now. I think the purpose of fame is that I could walk into a room and everyone would know my work and would want to continue to work with me, but I wouldn't want to be followed around by the paparazzi.
You speak with such a distinctive accent. It's almost British. How did you acquire that from being born and raised in Pennsylvania?
That's the funny story. When I was very young I had a stutter. So, I went to a speech pathologist, and this is what came out. If you listen to earlier Bette Davis movies, this is exactly what she sounds like.
After everything you've accomplished, what are you the most proud of?
I wrote a routine a couple months ago for National Coming Out Day. I wrote this funny, little guide to coming out for those people in the audience who had yet to do it. We got a lot of laughs. Somebody in the audience came up to me after and said, "My mother still hasn't spoken to me from coming out, and it's finally good to laugh about it." It's moments like that that make me very proud of being an artist.
Photo: Christian Coulson