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The Subtle Art of Living

By Jerry Portwood


Photography by Alec Hemer

Taylor Mac is known for playful provocation. Having embodied a giant flower in an epic five-hour theatrical search for identity and performed as a hermaphroditic Coney Island sea creature, he’s best recognized when encrusted with glitter and sequins, wearing false eyelashes and platform heels. So walking up to his apartment building, located in New York City’s Gramercy Park -- a gentleman’s address that takes pride in its London-style gated garden -- is a bit of a shock. Surely it’s a tumbledown walkup, a hidden gem of rent-controlled refuge. But no, a doorman greets me in the entry and guides me to the elevator. Am I in the right place?

Mac is aware of the dissonance between what’s expected of an edgy downtown performer and his posh digs. “I felt fancy because of the address,” he says, “but when you’re living in a studio apartment with somebody else, it’s not as fancy as all that. And the building itself is not really my taste; I’m used to something a bit more grungy.”

He lived in a Park Slope brownstone in Brooklyn for eight years and briefly subletted a closet-sized East Village room with a mattress on the floor. “I guess I thought at a certain point, as this place started to solidify, I feel like a man now. I was 35, and, Oh, I have man things. But I come home in drag late at night every so often, and sometimes there’s a new doorman and he thinks I’m some crazy homeless person. I explain, ‘No, I live here.’ ”

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Rather than trash bags of sequined gowns cluttering an artist’s hovel, the sunny studio apartment is a tidy, carefully curated home with tasteful art by friends, a small black piano, and built-in bookcases. Mac lives here with his lover of eight years and jokes that it’s their pied-à-terre in the city, since they often spend time in another home in the Berkshires. “We’re fancy queens!” he quips. His partner, an architectural designer, devised a cozy sleeping area by constructing a shoulder-high, cornflower-blue structure that has a hinged door for easy egress. Responding to my surprise at the lack of drag disorder, Mac says, “I’m not big on keeping things. I really believe strongly that you have to fall in love with verbs more than nouns.

I think, What can I do, not What can I get? All those books will go at some point, and we’ll turn the bed area into something else. I don’t like to hold on to stuff. I like to hold on to people. Those are the nouns that I keep.”

Mac and his partner, Patterson Scarlett, recently scored the studio next door and plan to combine the spaces and create a guest room for friends. His attitude toward his New York City haven is also a conscious lifestyle choice. “What ritual do you go through to become a man? I think at a certain point, especially with queers who aren’t interested in necessarily having kids and living a status quo life, we have to redefine what makes us adults, and oftentimes it becomes our space or our work; you create an environment for yourself, whether it’s your art or career.”

But do his friends give him a hard time for having a comparatively swanky pad? “Yes, this is absolutely a bourgeois life. I’m living in a very bourgeois crisis,” Mac says in mock horror, followed by a sly titter. “I can’t afford to tip the doorman: It’s a bourgeois crisis! Oh well, I’ll tip the doorman. It’s the easiest thing to do.”

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