Leslie Jordan Was the Sassy, Southern Gay Man We Needed

Actor and LGBT icon Leslie Jordan, who died on Monday, was sassy, sissy, and Southern to a generation of millennial men.

That latter bit is crucial because despite the South being home to a rich history of queer artists, they have been underrepresented in the canon. Even the much-loved pink cat Snagglepuss, who was based on Southern writers like Truman Capote and Tennessee Williams, wouldn’t be published in a graphic novel until 2017.

Leslie Jordan Was the Sassy, Southern Gay Man We Needed

In 2001, Jordan stepped into the role of Beverly Leslie on Will & Grace, a homosexual sitcom that helped convince Americans that being gay was not only acceptable but also humorous. Jordan was able to steal the show wherever he went by simply uttering a string of “well, well, wells” as long as the Mississippi. It was as if Jordan had tapped into the spirit of his Southern, gay forefathers, turned up his accent to foghorn volume, and declared to the world, “We’re here, damnit!” in his signature, cocky manner.

Naturally, Beverly never revealed his sexual orientation to the public. (At least not at first; it was a story point in the new season of Will & Grace for him to reveal his sexual orientation.) Like the rest of us, he had to deal with a homophobic society.

Do you not see that Jordan was trying to warn us that life is a comedy with his award-winning performance? The point was precisely that it was absurd. This guy had to act straight too, and he better look good doing it. I, along with many other LGBT people across the country, made extensive notes.

We recognized ourselves in Jordan, who like us was completely enamored with country music superstars like Dolly Parton and Reba McEntire and who wanted nothing more than to dress up as them and perform at home. He was so much better at it than the rest of us that he was eventually able to take his talents to the silver screen for financial gain.

Leslie jordan gay
Leslie jordan gay

He gives a deliciously camp performance in the Del Shore production of Sordid Lives, which has been included in the LGBT canon. His character, Brother Boy, was a cross-dressing old man named Tammy Wynette who had been institutionalized 23 years before by his own family. Being a proud Christian lady (yes, a woman) is bittersweet, but Jordan plays both sides like a fiddle. The situation in which Brother Boy found himself was both terrible and all too familiar. Even after being subjected to “dehomosexualizing therapy,” he remained authentic and attractive. “You did say I have a serious case of homosexuality,” he says to his therapist, brandishing a container of hairspray.

I’m relieved that the pandemic gave Jordan another shot at stardom. After the success of Will & Grace, he went on to appear in a successful autobiographical show off-Broadway and do little parts in other TV shows. To be honest, we had forgotten how legendary he was until he invited us into his life when we were housebound.

What could have been a better way to end his career than to be a guest judge and perform on RuPaul’s Drag Race last season? (And who could forget Trinity the Tuck’s “Snatch Game” impression from the second season of All Stars?) As a result of his public appearances, he gained even more fans within the LGBTQ community and its supporters.

My numerous gay and female friends instantly flooded my group chats with the sad news of his untimely passing. The initial reaction was one of shock and denial, but eventually, we all came to terms with it and began to talk about our favorite one-liners from his repertoire. I wish a bottle of rum could waltz, but unfortunately.

There will never be another like him; he was one of the great modern LGBT legends who proved that one could be proudly gay and Southern without compromising either identity. As a gay Texan who struggles with his own swishy tendencies and tries to live as freely and magnificently as Leslie did, I feel this loss deeply.

Thankfully, Jordan’s legacy will live forever. Some Southern performers who have made an impact in Hollywood have done so by employing drag, and their names include Ginger Minge, Eureka O’Hara, and Shangela. I don’t think it’s unfair to suggest that they owe a lot to Jordan and the work he performed to pave the road for their success.

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