How Leslie Jordan Made Being a Sissy OK For Gay Men Like Me

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At times, these attributes were the butt of the joke, but Jordan was always the one laughing last. Nothing proved this better than when he went toe-to-toe with Megan Mullally’s Karen Walker on “Will & Grace.” His character, Beverley Leslie, was a pompous closet-case who always knew how to expertly deliver a shady read or cut someone down to their ankles (possibly so you could actually make eye contact with him). Where Beverley began and Leslie stopped was a blur, and that role become one of the greatest of his career, even snagging him an Emmy in 2006.

I often say stars like Jordan have a Wikipedia page that reads like a CVS receipt and does his ever. Just his television roles rattle on forever: “Hearts Afire,” “Murphy Brown,” “Ally McBeal,” “Reba,” “Boston Public,” “Boston Legal,” “Nash Bridges,” “American Horror Story,” “Ugly Betty,” “Celebrity Big Brother,” “The Cool Kids” and “Call Me Kat” — which is currently in its third season on Fox. For film, he had memorable roles in “Sordid Lives” and “The Help,” and he’s performed his original plays and one-man shows on stages all over the world.

“Many gay rites-of-passage stories are echoed here: hostile small-town environment (Chattanooga, Tenn.); rigidly masculine father; humor as armor against bullies; unrequited loves; drug and alcohol dependency; internal homophobia; weakness for rough trade,” theater critic David Rooney wrote for the New York Times back in 2010. “But Mr. Jordan’s candor gives them a fresh spin.”

His fresh sageness on stage and off made him the gay elder many of us didn’t have at a time when queer representation was just taking off in pop culture. This could be because so many of Jordan’s generation was lost to AIDS. We may have had more grandfather figures like him to inspire us, and provide a blueprint on how to age when you love to twirl. But everyone — sissy, not-a-sissy, gay, straight, old, young, white or Black — can learn something from him. That stepping into whatever makes you unique no matter what it is isn’t weakness, it’s your power.

Maybe because he already had lived through one, Jordan helped us all find the silver lining in those early, dark days of the pandemic when there was nowhere to find one. Now it’s our turn to pay back the favor and find the silver lining in his tragic passing.

He did it his way. Yes, a very gay way. OK, a very, very, very, very fabulous, flamboyant and feather-boa kind of way, but it was always honest and it was always true.

So thank you, Leslie, for teaching me and so many others the power of individuality. You were there for your fellow hunker-downers when we needed you most. You made us feel seen and because of this, we will never forget you.

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