How Justin Sayre Became Chairman of the International Order of the Sodomites
“Oscar Wilde meets Whoopi Goldberg” is how the Village Voice once described Justin Sayre, host of the outstanding podcast Sparkle and Circulate and creator of the live show The Meeting of the International Order of the Sodomites. Justin spent years searching for the big queer community that he knew was out there somewhere, but he never was able to find a place where he felt he fit. So he did what came naturally: He created that community and appointed himself its chairman.
Justin was my guest recently on The Sewers of Paris, a podcast where every week gay men share intimate, revealing stories about the entertainment that changed their lives.
Finding a Queer Tribe at a Young Age
Like many of my guests, Justin knew from an early age that he was queer — around the time he first heard an Ella Fitzgerald record. A fellow musicial kid in the neighborhood played a record for him, and he was astounded by her improvisation and verve. It was amazing to him that a large woman who didn’t look like traditional Hollywood glamour could create such beauty.
Even then, it was clear that culture was passed between queer people: Another gay boy in the neighborhood passed along old radio shows that helped Justin figure out his aesthetic at an early age.
“It was a lesson in seeking out a certain kind of entertainment, a certain kind of art that connected with you, and knowing there was a treasure trove of other artists,” he said. He bought every Fitzgerald record he could find, his eyes opened to the fact that there was music out there that he needed to hunt down, and that there was a tribe of artists out there he might belong to.
He was a performer his whole life, diving into school plays in his small Pennsylvania town. But: “I saw that I lived in a very small slice of the world,” he said. “And I wanted more than that.”
Connecting with Gay Men
So he moved to New York to become an actor. He was expecting to find a queer tribe there, but something was just … off. He just never felt close to other boys. “I wasn’t able to carve out a piece of gayness for myself,” he said. The muscles and aggression and clubs of New York’s gay community felt as alien to him as the straight world.
“I felt isolated,” he said. For years, he struggled to find a way to connect with queer men.
“The older generation thinks the younger people don’t have any idea,” he said, “the young people think the old people are full of shit. And you can’t have a conversation about politics and queerness. But you can talk about Grace Jones. There was a commonality that we could find through art.”
That was the secret ingredient to finding his tribe: art. He noticed that when he talked about art and culture, suddenly people found a common touchstone.
He knew how to take advantage of that phenomenon, too. He created a live show called The Meeting of the International Order of the Sodomites where, once a month, gays could gather and gab about issues and art of the day.
Immediately, the show was a tremendous hit, drawing a packed house every month. As it turns out, there were gay men just like him out there, desperate for a conversation around the same art and culture that he liked. They were just waiting for someone to create a reason for them to get together.
That’s a helpful reminder for people of any particular tribe: No matter how isolated you might feel, there’s more people out there who understand the same things you like. And even if there’s no opportunity to meetup yet, there’s nothing stopping anyone from creating a space for that tribe to come together.