I valiantly tried to embody the anguished suffering artist, but chronic backsliding forced me to resign myself to a life of delight, abundance, and gusto. My checkered past includes stints as a buoyant union organizer, bona fide sex researcher, and deeply engaged college professor. I attended Oberlin College and Yale Graduate School, then for over a decade taught cultural studies with an emphasis on the histories of gender and sexuality. On an urgent quest to relocate pleasure, I took up printmaking and became utterly smitten with the medium as art and as craft. In 2000 I surrendered my academic life to assume care of Chrysalis Print Studio, where I now teach linocut and monotype classes. Along the way I founded City Art Cooperative Gallery, a thriving artspace on Valencia Street, and the Queer Ancestors Project, which is devoted to forging sturdy relationships between young LGBTQ people and their ancestors.
My prints frequently interweave the visual and the verbal. The Queer Words explores the multiple meanings of Queer slang – retooled epithets, secret codes, and camp – as a record of creative resistance. My “Pulps” are faux pulp fiction covers: art for novels I’ve invented that are set in 1950s San Francisco and celebrate the city’s history. In writing blurbs for these fabricated novels, I engaged deeply with the aesthetics of pulp fiction and noir. Gradually, the text outgrew the prints and became an actual novel, Blackmail, My Love (Cleis Press), which won Lambda and Indifab Gold awards.
Blackmail, My Love is an illustrated noir mystery set in San Francisco in the Dark Ages of Queerdom: 1951. Josie O’Conner searches for her brother, a private dick who disappeared while investigating a blackmail ring targeting lesbians and gay men. Josie adopts Jimmy’s trousers and wingtips as well as his investigation, battling to clear his name, halt the blackmailers, and exact justice for the mounting number of Queer corpses. Along the way she rubs shoulders with a sultry chanteuse running a dyke tavern called Pandora’s Box; gets intimate with a red-headed madame operating a brothel from the Police Personnel Department; and conspires with the star of Finocchio’s, a dive so disreputable it’s off limits to servicemen – so every man in uniform pays a visit.
I was awarded a Creative Work Fund grant to witness and preserve Queer and Trans elders' experiences of tavern culture and bar raids in the 1950s. In conjunction with that research, I completed a second novel, Thrill Spot, a fictional account of an actual 1954 raid on a San Francisco lesbian bar called Tommy's Place. Police arrested two bartenders for serving alcohol to minors. Salacious headlines expanded the charge to “recruiting schoolgirls into their academy of dope addiction and sex perversion.” The raid on Tommy’s Place is the stuff of legend: a lesbian vice academy, swaggering butches, police corruption, political intrigue, and angry legions marshalled by the PTA. Woven throughout the novel are original newspaper accounts in all their lurid unease. That manuscript is currently looking for a publisher. I'll be leading more historical bar district walking tours when it comes out.
I am currently working on a print series bearing witness to the work of Queer community-building in the 1950s.
In 2018 I was named one of the YBCA 100, and in 2023 the Queer Ancestors Project was honored by the GLBT Historical Society of Northern California.