Vincent Astor: Historian of the Queer Culture
Vincent Astor went to Rhodes so long ago it was Southwestern, when all of the bars he was going to were beer bars, they didn’t serve liquor, and I don’t like beer. So… I actually remember the 70’s.” And it’s a good thing to as “the original queen who remembers too much” his recollections help preserve that era of Memphis LGBTQ+ culture.
Vincent’s fingerprints extend from the 70’s, when he was writing for queer publications such as Gaiety, Gaze, or the Triangle Journal News, to his recent endeavors to ensure those records are preserved. Until recently, many of these publications were all housed as a menagerie in a single Memphis library. Vincent worked to separate them by publication and date, and distributed duplicate copies across the Memphis library system.
He felt the need to do this archival work as the queer community has “lost a lot of it’s history to time, to whitewashing – it gets swept under the carpet.” But largely, Vincent helps to preserve the history of his community by the oldest means: via spoken word. The first piece of history Vincent recounts is about Haliburton tower, the symbol of Rhodes college. “It’s named for one of the biggest screamers of the 20’s,” Richard Haliburton, a flamboyantly gay man. Vincent talks about how while Haliburton’s travels, and the well-received book he wrote about them, are well preserved and positioned within Rhodes college, his queerness is not – its been swept under that proverbial carpet.
Most of his memories are from what he lived through: Memphis’ queer community of the 70’s-80’s. They range from the humorous – such as “7 ft.” Suzanne being heckled over her “fake” breasts by a DJ at the original Lafayette’s, her undressing them, plopping them on the DJ table, and asking the DJ if they looked fake to him – to the more substantial – like how the community has Bill Johnson and Rick Sullivan to thank for coming back from the 1979 March of Washington and really bringing the queer liberation movement to Memphis.