Chloe D is a tall blonde standing on the corner of Ninth and Avenue C. Her friend and creative partner, Eric Miclette, calls her a WASTY-kid: a white Anglo Saxon tranny-child. “I am a direct descendent on my mom’s side of relatives who paddled over on that boat called the Mayflower,” Chloe says. “I guess I’m still paddling away from some of that repressive WASP stuff that was so damaging to me inherently. And now, here I am — as long as the neo-conservative religious whatevers don’t do some ‘drive-by’ — wandering around the neighborhood that I am sadly watching disappear.”
The neighborhood she is talking about?
The East Village, where she moved in 1981 and lived for many years with Pyramid Club founder Bobby Bradley,who was accused by some, due to the popularity of the club in the 80s and 90s,of starting the gentrification of a then very underground-squatting-project-artist-immigrant-and-junkie-filled East Village and Lower East Side.
What was her life in the East Village like back then? “I was around a lot of junkies making art,” Chloe says, walking into Tompkins Square Park. It was hard to decipher sometimes what was what — art and drugs were very much integrated in the culture at the time. Chloe, who is now an activist who sits on one of Bloomberg’s boards, was lead singer in an underground band, Transister, and was one of Nan Goldin’s subjects. “Now junkies come dressed in Urban Outfitters with trust funds. Seems that way. Funny how art can look so clean these days,” she says, laughing, as she looks around the park, now peopled not only by the squatters and old-school East Village rent-stabilized artist types, but also a lot of new inhabitants — many of whom are nine to fivers and NYU kids. “I guess the economics of the city has necessitated some of these changes,” she says, “but it’s a pity to have lost so much of the art and culture and experimentation we had back then. That’s why I am finally taking steps to pass along that period in the 80s and 90s to the people I believe can honor it as I do,” she says. “It was an important time for me. And for the East Village and the Lower East Side.”
The time in question is a period in the 80s and 90s when the likes of Ann Magnuson, Klaus Nomi, Karen Finley, Keith Haring and the Fleshtones frequented or performed at the Pyramid, where drag was reborn, where the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Nirvana played their first New York shows and Madonna her first AIDS benefit. But more importantly, it was a place where East Village and LES’s transgressives — misfits, punks, performers — and others like Chloe, found a home. “The Pyramid, CBGB’s, and later, Squeezebox, these are the places where I grew up — my safe havens, the places where I was so embraced and understood. It means a lot to me to have come from the community of ‘whatevers’,” she says, with affection.
“One of my greatest memories about the Pyramid,” Chloe recalls, “is that there was no direct racism, gender bias going on that I can remember. In fact, one of my friends ran into an old bouncer from back then in Miami and he said that while he worked there, oddly enough, there was no violence around that stuff. Drugs maybe, but not that racist stuff. Like in the 60s, the acceptance of the diversity was more natural, maybe, back then. I am looking to try to recreate that kind of environment in my creative world,” Chloe says. “We are a city that is surrounded by a puritanical wave that goes very deep I think, considering the history of NYC. It’s often baffling for others who hear about horrid things happening to people — gay and transgender people, people of color, people with HIV — it’s as if in their world they go untouched on some level until maybe they have a chat with somebody like me,” says Chloe, who started EQUI-AID, a non-profit horse-riding organization for children with HIV and other serious illnesses, and who currently sits on NYC’s HIV planning council, an appointment given to her by Mayor Bloomberg.
Though her work is in social justice and will remain so, Chloe understands the potential political power of popular culture and entertainment, and is at work, with Miclette, on an independent feature called Face to be produced by her old friend from the LES, Rosario Dawson. “The very smart thing that Isabelle Dawson, or Mama D to many of us (Rosario’s mom and Chloe’s dear friend) did,” says Chloe, “was she integrated her kids with a circle of white people, who were all very involved in social justice and were leading lives where that white privilege was reworked. Rosario was raised as I was — to use the privilege she had to work towards social justice. I’m interested in making films that inspire others to do whatever they can to integrate the social enterprising model: where a film can act as a fundraising tool and bring social change to areas that really need it.” Face, she says, “addresses that New England repressive ‘God forbid one mentions sex at the dinner table’ legacy that still trickles down, and most likely will for many generations. We are interested in exposing that legacy in the context of today’s sexuality and all its many faces — hence the title,” she says. “I’m not interested in stereotypes. I can’t really say more than that right now. But it’s in the works with Rosario and Eric and other members of my community — as well as people I love who have lived in the LES for many, many years.”
Her take on politics in the era of Bush II? “I don’t get into political discussions at dinner often anymore,” she says, “‘cause I want to embrace everyone no matter what. ‘Political’ for me is when I walk out of my house. If I can make an impact with my allies who share my views and/or pose questions to people, then that is maybe the best I can do politically. Love seems to be political to me these days, and has for many years. That loving somebody is so political,” she says, “is such a heartbreaking truth.”