The Fabulous Sylvester

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The Fabulous Sylvester - Joshua Gamson

It was a voice hard to define as traditionally masculine or feminine. With his glamorous, androgynous stage looks, San Francisco’s self-described “disco queen” blurred binary gender lines, not only vocally but visually.

Sylvester James was born in 1947 into a devout Pentecostal family in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles. At the age of 15, Sylvester moved out of his parents’ home after they discovered he was gay and mostly lived with his gay-accepting grandmother, Julia.

Sylvester fell in with a group of young queer people of color, including trans women, who called themselves the Disquotays. He began taking more risks with how he presented himself, wearing a blue chiffon gown and beehive hairstyle in his high school graduation picture.

When the Disquotays disbanded in 1970, Sylvester took off for San Francisco, where he became part of the experimental drag troupe the Cockettes, described by Cockette member Rumi Missabu as “gender anarchists” as much as performers. 

Hardback copy, 2nd hand very good condition.

306 pages