Josh Kilmer-Purcell’s former persona, Aquadisiac, was quite a resourceful drunk drag queen. For instance: While traveling abroad to entertain lascivious Asian businessmen, she found a way to overcome the language barrier in order to obtain goldfish for her illuminated aquarium/breasts. She knew just how many ounces of chilled vodka were needed to numb the pain of a tightly laced-up corset. And she was polite too. When hosting a social gathering for office mates and sex workers, she was always mindful not to disturb the crack-cocaine gay sex orgy taking place on her living room floor.
And no, these aren’t skits from any of Aqua’s past performances, but are some of the moments shared in Kilmer-Purcell’s best-selling memoir, I am not Myself These Days. This self-described "typical boy-dressed-as-girl-meets-crack-head-male-s/m-escort story," shares the true tale of Kilmer-Purcell's early years in New York. Working as a junior ad-exec by day and an east-coast diva by night, a chance meeting with a charming and handsome young man yields a turbulent eight month love affair that is anything but conventional, yet strikingly relatable.
Compelling in literary beauty as well as sensationalism, the book was optioned for film before the first printing rights were even sold. Between traveling with his lover of five years and serving as partner to a midsize advertising agency in Manhattan, Kilmer-Purcell met up with ChicagoPride.com to discuss his successful first book, a missing sock and the motivations of the modern-day drag queen.
JPF: Despite the chance of being perceived as overly doting, I have to first say I that loved this book!
I was a little biased going in, thinking, "Oh gosh, not another gay memoir; growing up gay sucks—I get it!" But this truly was an original and unpredictable take on gay relationships and love.
JK-P: I'm really happy you liked the book. I set out to make it unique among memoirs by trying to make it universal. So many writers, I feel, use their books to point to themselves and shout: "Look how different I am than you!"
I wanted mine to say: "Look again...I'm really the same."
JPF: It's probably safe to say most debut novelists don't sell the movie rights before they sell the print rights—like you did. You're either the best writer in the world, an extremely savvy salesman or just dumb lucky. So which is it?
How'd you swing that?
JK-P: Truly...just dumb lucky. I sat down on a plane next to a guy who turned out to be the executive producer for Clive Barker's film company. The fact that he was also cute made it easier for me to begin chatting him up. Poor guy was trapped on a transatlantic flight with some guy pitching him a story. Luckily, I'm fascinating. When he returned to L.A.., he read the manuscript, Clive read the manuscript, and they decided they wanted to option the book for a movie. Only problem was, it wasn't a book yet. So Clive called up Harper Collins, and asked them to publish it. It's not easy to get publishers to read a memoir about a drunk drag queen and her crack addict gay prostitute lover. "Who the f*ck is the target audience?" they ask themselves by the time they get to page three. So Clive's industry weight was very important.
JPF: Assuming a drag persona can be extremely laborious, painful and, considering the cost of makeup and costumes, very pricey. Yet, as noted in your book, compensation for club performances can be nil in comparison. What do you feel is the motivating drive of the drag enthusiast? Is it the pursuit of art, attention or something else?
JK-P: Let's face it, there's not a lot of performance venues for gay entertainers (except, of course, American Idol...but I would addend my statement to “openly gay.”)
That's nothing new and, unfortunately, not something getting old either.
Drag is one of the few, predominantly gay entertainment traditions we have. So if you're a little fey, and you like to make people clap, it's one of the few options available. I think the drive of a drag queen is the same as it is for any performer...a combination of all you listed. Art. Attention. Validation.
But, unlike other natural born performers, naturally born gay performers need to go to where there's an audience for them ... Oh, and drink tickets. That's was a huge driver for me.
JPF: The afterward of your book states that you never spoke with Jack again. However you mentioned during your book signing that you and he did have the chance to talk about the book post publication. What was that experience like? What was his take on the book?
JK-P: I can't say too much legally, but yes, I have been in contact with him. He called shortly before and also after the books release. He seems happy and healthy, and (luckily I have this on tape) proclaimed that the book was "accurate" and "chivalrously discrete." It was important for me to have him understand that, unlike most tragic love stories, there was no protagonist and antagonist in I Am Not Myself These Days. It's just a dispassionate, non-judgmental, portrayal of an actual doomed romance. I think he does understand that. Or at least he hasn't tried to sue me yet.
JPF: Though Aqua may be long-since retired, her predilection toward alcohol hasn't gone anywhere—I saw you throwing back a few at Cocktail after your Chicago book signing!
JK-P: You were at the cocktail party after the signing? Did you happen to find my left sock? It got caught on the tap when I fell off the bar.
JPF: If you’re talking about that black nylon dress sock hanging off the Bud Light Tap handle, that later found its way into my coat pocket, than no. I didn’t find it.
JK-P: (Laughs) But sure, I still drink whatever's put in front of me. A lot of people are surprised by that. A lot of people write to tell me that I'm in denial about alcoholism. Here's what I know ... I don't get myself in trouble when I drink anymore. And I don't drink to get myself in trouble either.
So whatever the combination of that defines ... that's what I am.
JPF: My favorite part of the book was when Aqua orally fluffed a go-go boy at a club, then met up with Jack moments later telling him, no kisses, "You don't know where this mouth has been." It showed that sexual intimacy was not a binding factor in their relationship. Where do you feel Jack and Josh's connection came from? If not physical love, what kind of love did they share?
JK-P: Sexually intimacy was there, just different. When you're dating an escort, it sort of has to be redefined. Why did we love each other? I think we were both careening down the road of life, and few people—neither our parents nor friends—were very successful roadblocks for us. For whatever reason, we were able to serve as a conscience for each other. Sometimes in the end, it turned out we were more speed bumps than roadblocks.
But I still love him for the simple fact that he would not let me try crack. There was no reason for him to hold back. I could've enabled his habit very successfully. But he didn't.
JPF: If you could choose any actor to play Aqua in the movie based on your book currently in the works, who would it be and why?
JK-P: I haven't come up with a good answer for that. I don't watch a lot of TV, and rarely see movies that have 20-something actors in it. So I'm sort of stumped as to who's the "it boy" of the moment. If anyone comes up with a good answer, send it on to me. I get asked all the time, and obviously, I'm coming off stupid in my reply.
JPF: Can I play Jack?
JK-P: Of course. Didn't we begin the audition process at that bar in Chicago? Or wasn't that you?
I am Not Myself These Days is available in bookstores now by Harper Perennial. Josh Kilmer-Purcell is currently working on his second book, a fictional piece, that he is convinced "is going to suck."