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2021 Queer Women of Washington

Celebrating voices of change in D.C.



The Washington Blade, in partnership with the Mayor’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs and the Office of Women’s Policies and Initiatives, is proud to present our annual Queer Women of Washington.

Here we celebrate some of the city’s many inspiring queer women who are the voices of change from a diverse group of industries. Nominations came from our readers; that list was then trimmed to the queer women profiled here.

Rewatch the Queer Women of Washington Awards presented by DC Department of Health HERE.

Meg Metcalf

Meg Metcalf (Photo courtesy of Metcalf)

Occupation: Library of Congress (Librarian & Collection Specialist, Women’s, Gender, & LGBTQIA+ Studies)

Where do you live? Ward 5

What does being a queer woman in Washington, D.C. mean to you?

Being a non-binary queer femme in Washington, D.C. has given me an unparalleled opportunity to influence the way cultural memory institutions document and remember LGBTQIA+ life, history, and cultures in our nation’s capital and beyond. What happens in D.C. resonates nationally and globally, so it’s a wonderful place to live and work as a librarian, activist and advocate.

Michele Zavos

Michelle Zavos (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Occupation: Zavos Law

Where do you live? Ward 5

What does being a queer woman in Washington, D.C. mean to you?

I identify as a lesbian, as I have my entire adult life. That identification to me means a certain way of looking at the world, as a woman who loves and prioritizes women.

D Magrini

D Magrini (Photo courtesy of Magrini)

Occupation: Whitman-Walker Health

Where do you live? Ward 3

What does being a queer woman in Washington, D.C. mean to you?

A native Washingtonian proudly being myself.

Yvette Scorse

Yvette Scorse (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Occupation: Communications Director, ByteBack

Where do you live? Ward 6

What does being a queer woman in Washington, D.C. mean to you?

Being a queer woman in Washington, D.C. is about more than embracing and enjoying my own identity and love openly. It’s about celebrating other LGBTQ+ people, about nurturing a safe and welcoming environment for my colleagues, and it’s about putting equity and inclusion first in our community. I’m proud to be among a group of diverse, strong, creative, inspiring queer women in D.C.

Tiera Craig

Tiera Craig (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Occupation: The DC Center

Where do you live? Ward 3

What does being a queer woman in Washington, D.C. mean to you?

I am a proud Black combat service disabled veteran lesbian professional committed to the LGBTQ community and passionate about All Things Lesbian. I strive to represent, educate, encourage, and empower members of the community in any way necessary. Being a queer woman in Washington, D.C. means that I have a greater opportunity to affect change on a micro and a macro level. It means that I am in a position to have my finger on the pulse of transformation in policy. It also means that I am a part of the dopest community in the country!

Sunu P. Chandy

Sunu P. Chandy (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Occupation: Legal Director, National Women’s Law Center

Where do you live? Ward 3

What does being a queer woman in Washington, D.C. mean to you?

While we are lucky to be queer women in D.C. given all of our local legal protections for LGBTQ individuals, we also need to push the U.S. Senate to pass the Equality Act so that our rights in this country don’t depend on our zip code. We also need to keep organizing and advocating for social justice across the areas of our lives here in D.C. too. I am excited to keep building, alongside so many terrific comrades, toward gender justice, racial justice, disability justice, immigration justice and more.

Cee Smith

Cee Smith (Photo courtesy of Smith)

Occupation: Color Wheel Capital

Where do you live? Ward 5

What does being a queer woman in Washington, D.C. mean to you?

Being a queer woman in D.C. means that I’m a part of a small but mighty percentage of the population that’s known to overcome despite the disparities. It means working daily to advance a community I believe in.

Heidi Ellis

Heidi Ellis (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Occupation: Founder, HME Consulting & Advocacy

Where do you live? Ward 6

What does being a queer woman in Washington, D.C. mean to you?

My identity has always been my compass as I’ve navigated different spaces throughout my upbringing, education, and career. For me, it’s not about only being a woman, or queer, or Black, or Latinx. I am all of those things. The experiences I have occupying space as a woman with an intersectional lens dictate my priorities when allocating some of my most precious resources, including time, money, and my mental capacity. I am dedicated to building coalitions and improving systems that will ultimately lead to liberation for the most marginalized members of our community. I feel inspired living in Washington, D.C., as we are uniquely able to see the progress, and sadly the failures, of our government and the power structure. Local culture and history also inspire me. D.C. is a treasure trove of historical events and stories that influence our community, and I hope to continue learning while adding to the rich history.

Charlotte Cleveland

Charlotte Cleveland (Photo courtesy of Cleveland)

Occupation: American College of Surgeons

Where do you live? DMV Area

What does being a queer woman in Washington, D.C. mean to you?

Being a queer woman in Washington, D.C. means being a part of a profoundly embracive, proud, diverse, and welcoming community. By nature, it means I get to be both national and local. We live at the epicenter of American politics, which can be an ugly and treacherous space to exist as a queer person and we see the progress, and failures, of our government in real-time. This allows me to use my voice and uplift the voices of others to advocate for change. On the local level, D.C. is one of the queerest cities in America and I can unabashedly be my queer self every day.

Morgan Butler

Morgan Butler (Photo courtesy of Butler)

Occupation: Public Allies DC

Where do you live? Ward 4

What does being a queer woman in Washington, D.C. mean to you?

So much of my gender identity, sexuality and spirit has been nurtured and influenced by D.C. As a gender fluid femme queer, it’s been important for me to acknowledge all my selves, to care for them, to inspire them, to reparent them and heal them from childhood wounds. D.C. has been the safest place for me to reparent myself — this city has provided me and (with extreme reverence) allowed me to provide platforms and opportunities for others to experience the beautiful, whimsical, magical, intense heat that quite honestly, no other city has. The way D.C. is continuously birthing renaissance astounds me every moment of every day. The way this city breeds and nurtures talent is something I intentionally try to emulate in every space I’m welcomed in outside of the city. My work is so intrinsically connected to this city, in the same ways that my person and my spirit is.

Aditi Dussault

Aditi Dussault (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Occupation: Co-Founder & Director, GovContractPros, LLC

Where do you live? Ward 1

What does being a queer woman in Washington, D.C. mean to you?

I first moved to D.C. to attend college – a somewhat typical story of “finding myself” in a new place. My favorite part of being queer in D.C. is not only have I found myself, but also I have found so many amazing people who are so different from me. In finding and exploring differences, I have found incredible threads of commonality and I think D.C. is particularly unique city for bringing it all together.

Melissa DeShields

Melissa DeShields (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Occupation: CEO, Frontline Solutions

Where do you live? Ward 4

What does being a queer woman in Washington, D.C. mean to you?

Being a Black queer woman in Washington, D.C. means that I live in the intersection of race and identity. My work, my politics, my life is about justice and dismantling systems of oppression.

Ashley Carothers

Ashley Carothers (Photo courtesy of Carothers)

Occupation: Minority Veterans of America

Where do you live? Ward 5

What does being a queer woman in Washington, D.C. mean to you?

Being a queer woman in D.C., our nation’s capital gives me the opportunity to mentor folks not just within our LGBTQ+ community but those outside of our community. I’m able to have conversations with people from all spectrums, change hearts and minds. I’m also able to open the door for the voiceless so that they can be seen and heard in the room. I’m able to cross lines and push boundaries so those coming behind me are able to live more as their true selves.

Olivia O’Neal

Olivia O’Neal (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Occupation: IONA, WWH, Mary’s House for Older Adults, DACL, Seabury Resources for Aging

Where do you live? Ward 6

What does being a queer woman in Washington, D.C. mean to you?

Being a queer woman in D.C. means that I can advocate for all women’s rights no matter what their sexual orientation may be.

Jade Flower

Jade Flower (Photo courtesy of Flower)

Where do you live? Ward 7

What does being a queer woman in Washington, D.C. mean to you?

Being a queer woman in D.C. means being a part of rich legacy — generations of Black lesbians in Washington have made this city a safe, inclusive and celebratory place. I grew up here, had my first kiss on a front porch off Nannie Helen. My first Pride (before I was out), I wore a different rainbow color every day of the week. My first party experiences were at the Edge and the Delta. My first time on a board was with Women in the Life Association. I screened my first film at HRC headquarters. I hope to continue to honor a tradition of so much self-love that it effortlessly pours into the LGBT community and allies alike.

Adalphie Johnson Wilhite

Adalphie Johnson Wilhite (Photo courtesy of Wilhite)

Occupation: SMYAL – Programs Director, The Community Church of Washington DC UCC – Assist. Pastor, Mx. Boss Lady Enterprises – Founder/Consultant

Where do you live? Ward 8

What does being a queer woman in Washington, D.C. mean to you?

Being a Queer Womxn in the DMV to me means, having the knowledge, courage, and ability to be and create agents of change in the community in all of my queerness. As a Black, queer woman, mother, wife, leader, and pastor I recognize many spaces are not affirming of my identities. In knowing that, it is my responsibility to be unapologetic about my identities while speaking truth to power and empowering others to live in their authentic truth. Being a queer womxn means penetrating spaces, and holding leadership positions that historically have been held by male-identified persons while also carving spaces of our own. It is our responsibility to be visible in responding to the injustices that plague our communities in an effort to build a better present and future. Being a Queer Womxn in the DMV means to be proud, passionate, caring, unapologetic, fierce, and in the words of the beloved Audrey Lorde, deliberate and afraid of nothing.

Alexis Grady

Alexis Grady (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Occupation: Law Student

What does being a queer woman in Washington, D.C. mean to you?

Being a queer non-binary person in Washington, D.C. has been an incredible and enlightening experience. The protections and opportunities afforded to me as a queer person in this city have allowed me to live more openly than I ever anticipated, and to be a fierce advocate for people in the LGBTQ community. From interning with the Victory Institute to serving as the president of Howard University’s CASCADE, my interactions with our community here have been overwhelmingly meaningful and positive. The protections and support for queer people, particularly women and non-binary people of color, are a large part of the reason I have chosen to make Washington, D.C. my permanent home. I am so grateful to be considered among the women and queer people who have made it possible for me to survive and thrive. Being a queer non-binary person in Washington, D.C. means being a step closer to freedom and being wrapped in the support of my community at all times.

Elizabeth Birch

Elizabeth Birch (Photo courtesy of Birch)

Occupation: VP CBRE and CEO Elizabeth Birch Company

What does being a queer woman in Washington, D.C. mean to you?

Being a lesbian or anyone on the LGBTQ spectrum in Washington, D.C. is a gift. It gives you a perspective on humanity that might elude you in a purely straight world.

Yvonne Z. Smith

Yvonne Z. Smith (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Occupation: Disability and Mental Health Advocate

What does being a queer woman in Washington, D.C. mean to you?

Being an out queer woman in D.C. allows me a amount of personal and emotional freedom. Although it’s been decades since I opened those closet doors it’s still refreshing not to be anything other than who I am. The Washington region is best place to work or play for any age of queer women. Although it still has some significant challenges that I work on through many LGBT organizations as well as disability organizations in the city I have never had to hide who I am or not advocate for all segments of the community I am a part of, including the Queer community.

Kisha Allure

Kisha Allure (Photo courtesy of Allure)

Occupation: Director of Victim Services/Resilient Development, Casa Ruby

What does being a queer woman in Washington, D.C. mean to you?

As a Queer woman, I have been classified as the unexplained subject of a marginalized population. However, As Queer Woman I will continue to stand in my truth. Living the way I feel, from the inside out. I will walk, work, and experience equal opportunity as every human being. I will continue to bridge the gaps and create systems of tangible resources, for all genders to access, which is the biggest barrier in the LGBTQ community.


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Hip-Hop’s complicated history with queer representation

At 50, experts say the genre still doesn’t fully welcome LGBTQ inclusion



Rapper Lil Nas X faced backlash for his music video ‘Montero,’ but it debuted atop the Billboard 100.

I didn’t really start listening to rap until my college years. Like many queer Black children who grow up in the closet, shielded by puritanical Christianity from the beauty of a diverse world, I longed to be myself. But the affirming references I could pull from — in moments of solitude away from the wrath and disdain of family and friends — were in theater and pop music.

The soundtrack to my teenage years was an endless playlist of pop divas like Lady Gaga and Beyoncé, whose lyrics encouraged me to sashay my hips anytime I strutted through a long stretch of corridor.

I was also obsessed with the consuming presence of powerful singers like Patti LaBelle, Whitney Houston, and the hypnosis that was Chaka Khan. My childhood, an extrapolation of Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays spent in church groups, choir practices, and worship services, necessitated that I be a fan of throaty, from-the-stomach singing. But something about the way these artists presented themselves warmed my queer little heart. LaBelle wore avant garde geometric hairdos paired with heavily shoulder-padded blazers. Houston loved an elegant slender gown. And Khan? It was the voluminous red mane that gently caressed her lower back for me. 

Listening to rap music in college was a political experience. My sociology classes politicized me and so it was only natural that I listened to rap music that expressed trauma, joy, and hope in the Black experience. However, I felt disconnected from the music because of a dearth of queer representation in the genre. 

Nevertheless, groups like Outkast felt nostalgic. While delivering hedonistic lyrics at lightning speed, André 3000 — one half of the rap duo — mesmerized with his sleek, shoulder-length silk pressed hair and colorful, flowing shirts and trousers — a style that could be translated as “gender-bending.” Despite the patriarchal presentation rampant in rap and Hip-Hop, Andr​​é 30000 represented to me, a kind of rebellious self-expression that I so badly wanted to emulate but couldn’t because of the psychological confines of my conservative upbringing. 

My discovery of Outkast was also sobering because it was a stark reminder of how queerness is also often used as an aesthetic in Hip-Hop while actual queer people are shunned, rebuked, and mocked. Queer people in Hip-Hop are like backstage wingmen, crucial to the development of the show but never important enough to make a curtain call. 

As Hip-Hop celebrates 50 years since its inception in New York City, I am filled with joy because it’s been half a century of Black people owning their narratives and driving the culture. But it’s fair to ask: At whose expense? 

A viral 2020 video shows rapper Boosie BadAzz, famed for hits like “Set It Off” and “Wipe Me Down,” rebuking NBA star Dwayne Wade and award-winning actress Gabrielle Union-Wade for publicly supporting their then-12-year-old daughter after she came out as transgender. 

“Don’t cut his dick off, bro,” said BadAzz with furrowed eyebrows and a gaze that kept turning away from the camera, revealing his tarnished diamond studs. “Don’t dress him as a woman dawg, he’s 12 years. He’s not up there yet.” 

The responses from both Wade and Union-Wade were a mixture of swift, sarcastically light-hearted, and hopeful.

“Sorry Boosie,” Union-Wade said to an audience during a live podcast appearance at Live Talks Los Angeles. “He’s so preoccupied, it’s almost like, ‘thou doth protest too much, Little Boos.’ You’ve got a lot of dick on your mind.”

Wade also appeared on an episode of podcast, “I AM ATHLETE,” and looked directly into the camera.

“Boosie, all the people who got something to say, J-Boogie who just came out with [something] recently, all the people who got something to say about my kids,” he said. “I thank you because you’re allowing the conversation to keep going forward because you know what? You might not have the answers today, I might not have the answers, but we’re growing from all these conversations.” 

This exchange between the Wades and BadAzz highlights the complicated relationship between Black LGBTQ individuals and allies and the greater Hip-Hop and rap genres and communities. While Black queer aesthetics have long informed self-expression in Hip-Hop, rappers have disparaged queerness through song lyrics and in interviews, or online rants like BadAzz, outside the recording studio. 

And despite LGBTQ rappers like Queen Latifah, Da Brat, Lil Nas X, and Saucy Santana achieving mainstream success, much work lies ahead to heal the trauma that persists from Hip-Hop’s history of  patriarchy and homophobia. 

“‘Progression’ will always be relative and subjective based on one’s positionality,” said Dr. Melvin Williams said in an email. Williams is an associate professor of communication and media studies at Pace University. “Hip-hop has traditionally been in conversation with queer and non-normative sexualities and included LGBTQ+ people in the shaping of its cultural signifiers behind the scenes as choreographers, songwriters, make-up artists, set designers, and other roles stereotypically attributed to queer culture.”

“Although Hip-Hop incorporates queerness in their ethos, ideas, and trends, it does not privilege the prospect of an out LGBTQ+ rapper. Such reservations position LGBTQ+ people as mere labor in Hip-Hop’s behind-the-scenes cultivation, but not as rap performers in its mainstream distribution,” he added. 

This is especially true for Queen Latifah and DaBrat who existed in the genre for decades but didn’t publicly come out until 2021. Still, both faced backlash from the Black community for daring to challenge gender roles and expectations. 

Queen Latifah dodged questions about her sexuality for years before acknowledging her partner and their son in 2021. (Photo by DFree via Bigstock)

Lil Nas X also faced backlash for his music video “Montero” with satanic references, including one in which he slides down a pole and gives a character representing the devil a lap dance. Conservatives such as South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem accused him of trying to scandalize children. 

“You see this is very scary for me, people will be angry, they will say I’m pushing an agenda. But the truth is, I am,” Nas X said in a note that accompanied “Montero.” The agenda to make people stay the fuck out of other people’s lives and stop dictating who they should be.”

Regardless, “Montero” debuted atop the Billboard 100. 

In an article published in “Souls: A Critical Journal of Black Politics, Culture, and Society,” scholar C. Riley Snorton posited that celebrating queer visibility in mainstream media could be a problem as this kind of praise relies on artists presenting in acceptable forms of gender and sexuality expression and encourages representation that is “read alongside…perceptions of Hip-Hop as a site of Black misogyny and homophobia.” 

In the case of Frank Ocean, who came out in 2012 prior to the release of his album “Channel Orange,” his reception was warmer than most queer Hip-Hop artists because his style of music is singing, as opposed to rapping. Because of this, his music was viewed more as R’n’B or pop. 

“Frank Ocean ain’t no rapper. He’s a singer. It’s acceptable in the singing world, but in the rap world I don’t know if it will ever be acceptable because rap is so masculine,” rapper Snoop Dogg told the Guardian in 2013. “It’s like a football team. You can’t be in a locker room full of motherfucking tough-ass dudes, then all of a sudden say, ‘Hey, man, I like you.’ You know, that’s going to be tough.”

So what’s the solution for queer people in Hip-Hop? Digital media.

Williams, the Pace University professor, says that being divorced from record labels allows queer artists to be independent and distribute their music globally on their own terms. 

“We witnessed this fact with artists such as Azealia Banks, Cakes Da Killa, Fly Young Red, Kevin Abstract, iLoveMakonnen, Lil Nas X, Mykki Blanco, and Saucy Santana, as well as legacy LGBTQ Hip-Hop acts like Big Freeda, DeepDickCollective, and Le1f,” he said. “The music industry has experienced an increasingly mobilized market due to the rise of digital media, social networking platforms, and streaming services.”

“More importantly, Black queer Hip-Hop artists are historicizing LGBTQ+ contributions and perspectives in documentaries, films, news specials, public forums, and podcasts. Ultimately, queer people engaging in Hip-Hop is a revolutionary act, and it remains vital for LGBTQ+ Hip-Hoppers to highlight their cultural contributions and share their histories,” he added. 

(Hip-Hop pioneers Public Enemy and Ice-T will headline The National Celebration of Hip-Hop, free concerts at the West Potomac Park on the National Mall in D.C. on Oct. 6 and 7.)

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Cuisine and culture come together at The Square

D.C.’s newest food hall highlights Spanish flavors



(Photo by Scott Suchman)

Downtown got a bit tastier when “the next generation of food halls” opened its doors on Tuesday near the Farragut West Metro stop. Dubbed The Square, its half-dozen debut stalls are a Spanish-flecked mix of D.C. favorites, new concepts, and vendor-collaborative spirit.

After two years of planning – and teasing some big-name chefs – the market is, according to the owners, “where cuisine, culture, and community are woven together.”

Behind this ambitious project with lofty aims are Richie Brandenburg, who had a hand in creating Union Market and Rubén García, a creative director of the José Andrés Group who also was part of the team of Mercado Little Spain, the fairly new Spanish-themed Andres food hall in Hudson Yards.

Food halls have come a long way since the new Union Market awakened the concept a decade ago. Instead of simply rows of vendors in parallel lines, The Square has a new business model and perspective. This food hall shares revenue between the owners and its chef partners. Vendors are encouraged to collaborate, using one software system, and purchasing raw materials and liquor at scale together.

“Our goal was two-fold: to create a best-in-class hospitality offering with delicious foods for our guests; and behind the scenes, create the strong, complex infrastructure needed to nurture both young chefs and seasoned professionals, startups, and innovation within our industry,” says Brandenburg.

The Square has embraced a more chef-forward methodology, given that the founders/owners themselves are chefs. They’re bringing together a diverse mix of new talent and longtime favorites to connect, offer guidance to each other, and make the market into a destination. 

(Photos by Scott Suchman)

The first phase of The Square premiered this week. This phase encapsulates a selection of original concepts from well-known local chefs and business owners, and includes:

• Cashion’s Rendezvous – Oysters, crab cakes, and cocktails, from the owners of D.C. institutions and now-closed Cashion’s Eat Place and Johnny’s Half-Shell (Ann Cashion and John Fulchino).

• Jamón Jamón – Flamenco-forward food with hand-cut jamón Iberico, queso, and croquetas, sourced by García himself.

• Brasa – Grilled sausages and veggies are the stars here. Chef García oversees this Spanish street-food stall as well.

 Taqueria Xochi – Birria, guisado, and other street tacos, plus margs. Named after the ruins of Xochitecatl in Central Mexico, and from a Jose Andres alum.

• Yaocho – Fried chicken, juices, sweets, and libations.

• Junge’s – Churros and soft serve ice cream. Brandenburg and García both have a hand in this stall.

• Atrium Bar – The central watering hole for drinks. Atrium Bar serves cocktails, wine, and beer curated by The Square’s Beverage Director Owen Thompson.

“Having been part of Jose Andres’s restaurant group and getting to know Ruben and Richie, it’s amazing to see how their values align with ours at Taqueria Xochi. Seeing all these incredible chefs heading into Square feels like a full-circle moment,” said Geraldine Mendoza of Taqueria Xochi.

Slated for fall 2023, the next round of openings includes Flora Pizzeria, Cebicheria Chalaca, KIYOMI Sushi by Uchi, Shoals Market (a retail hub), and more. Additionally, chef Rubén García’s Spanish restaurant, Casa Teresa, will soon open next door to The Square.

The Square is just one of a handful of new food halls blossoming in and around D.C. Up in Brentwood, Md., miXt Food Hall is an art-adjacent space with tacos, a year-round fresh market, coffee, and beer. Across from Union Market is La Cosecha, a Latin marketplace with everything from street food to a Michelin starred restaurant and a festive vibe. Closer to The Square is Western Market by GW University, which opened in late 2021 with a buzzy, relaxed style.

For now, the Square is open Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. The Square plans to open on weekends and extend hours to offer dinner service in the coming months. A few alfresco seats will accompany the hall.

(Photo by Scott Suchman)
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Charles Busch reflects on the paths he didn’t take in new book

‘Leading Lady’ a riveting memoir from legendary entertainer



'Leading Lady: A Memoir of a Most Unusual Boy' comes out on Sept. 12.

“Charles, I’m telling you, I go to plays in rat-infested basements where I’m the only one who shows up,” the late queer icon Joan Rivers once told the queer, legendary playwright, actor, director, novelist, cabaret performer and drag icon, Charles Busch. “I can see the actors peeking through the curtain and groaning, ‘Oh God, that old bitch in the fur coat is here. Does that mean we’ve gotta go on?’”

Busch reminded Rivers that she’d seen him perform in a rat-infested basement.

This is just one of the many stories that Busch, born in 1954, tells in his riveting memoir, “Leading Lady: A Memoir of a Most Unusual Boy,” which comes out on Sept. 12.

“Leading Lady” is a page-turner. Some of its tales of Busch’s life and career, such as his account of a Christmas party with Rivers as a guest, are dishy. Others, like his memories of trying to care for his beloved Aunt Lil, when he knew she was dying, would make even the Wicked Witch in Oz tear up.

The memoir, is, as Busch says on his website (, the story of “a talented artist’s Oz-like journey.” 

“Leading Lady” isn’t linear. This isn’t a detriment. Busch deftly intertwines memories of his life and career from his mom dying when he was seven to being raised by his loving Aunt Lil to being the author and star of the cult classic “Vampire Lesbians of Sodom” to watching Kim Novak handle fans to being the Tony-nominated writer of “Tales of the Allergist’s Wife” to being creative during the pandemic.

“Storytelling is a huge part of my life,” Busch told the Blade in a lengthy phone interview, “I get into various adventures and, I think, this could be a good story to tell.”

Interviewing Busch is like chatting with a fab storyteller over coffee or a glass of wine. Except that you’re talking to a legend who’s entertained and inspired queers (and discerning hetero audiences) for decades. (I’m wearing my “Vampire” T-shirt as I write this.)  

As a playwright, Busch writes “linear” plays, with a beginning, middle and an end, he said. As a cabaret singer, “the way I sing songs is telling a story,” Busch said.

Since childhood, he’s been creating vivid scenes in his imagination. From early on, Busch has felt as if he’s both a spectator and star in the movie of his life.

It seemed inevitable that he’d write a memoir. It’s the ultimate form of storytelling. “You reach a certain point in your life,” Busch said, “where you’re more reflective and see your life as a whole.”

“You reflect on the paths you didn’t take,” he added.

Busch spent his childhood in Hartsdale, N.Y. He had two older sisters, Betsy and Margaret. His mother’s death was devastating for Busch. His Aunt Lil and Joan Rivers have been among the women who have been “mothers” to Busch since his mom died.

Once, Busch said he and Rivers dined with friends. “Joan Rivers said ‘I wish I had a gay son I could phone at midnight and discuss whatever movie was on TCM,’” he recalled.

Busch would have loved to have been Rivers’s “gay son.”

Life in Hartsdale was hard for Busch after his mother passed away. His father was often absent and showed little interest in his children.

Things were miserable for Busch when his grandmother, for a time, cared for the family. He knew, as a boy, that he was gay and hated going to school where a movie-and-theater-loving kid who liked to draw wasn’t one of the cool kids.

Yet Busch forgave his “father’s failings,” he writes in “Leading Lady, “because he gave me the theater.”

Busch became entranced with the theater when his father, an aspiring opera singer who performed in summer stock, took him to the old Metropolitan Opera House in New York City to hear Joan Sutherland sing the role of Amina in Bellini’s “La Sonnambula.”

Busch was saved from a life of boredom and bullying when Aunt Lil, his mother’s sister, took him to live with her in Manhattan. There, like Auntie Mame, she raised him. She prodded him into applying to the High School of Music and Art in New York City. He was accepted there.

After high school, Busch graduated with a bachelor’s degree in drama from Northwestern University in 1976.

“My Aunt Lil is the leading lady [of the title of his memoir],” Busch said, “she was the most influential person in my life.”

One of the reasons why Busch wrote “Leading Lady” was to paint a full portrait of her. “It was important that it not be this kind of gauzy, sentimental memory piece,” he said, “making her out to be a saint.”

Aunt Lil adopted Bush when he was 14. Her goal was that he would go to college, become independent, be a survivor – make a place for himself in the world.

“I don’t know what would have happened if she hadn’t stepped in,” Busch said.

“She was very intellectual,” he added, “I’ve never met anyone [else] with such a pure devotion to thinking. It was a little intimidating.”

Aunt Lil’s standards for caring – for giving of oneself – were so high that it was almost impossible to meet them. “She believed that you should anticipate what people would need,” Busch said, “before they told you.”

Looking back, Busch is most proud of himself when, “I’ve gone past my natural self-absorption,” he said, “when I’ve thought of someone else.”

Busch is being too hard on himself. In “Leading Lady,” and when interviewed, he’s caring and curious as well as witty, savvy, and as you’d expect, a bit campy.

His sister Margaret died recently. “She declined gradually over nine months,” Busch, said, choking up, “I gave her my bedroom and I slept on my sofa.”

Like many of her generation, Aunt Lil didn’t understand queerness or drag. But she loved Busch. She didn’t go to see his productions, he said. “She could have gone like other parents,” he said, “and been tight-lipped. And said something nice that she didn’t believe.”

But “she didn’t want to lie or be hurtful,” Busch added, “so, for her, it was: can’t I just love and support you, and not go?”

Aunt Lil didn’t get Busch’s sexuality. But she knew about secrecy. Busch learned of a terrifying secret that his aunt had long kept hidden. In the 1930s, during the Depression, Aunt Lil worked as a nurse. One day, when she worked overtime, one of the patients suffered a burn. She had to leave nursing. “Her sister in a nasty mood revealed this,” Busch said, “Aunt Lil never discussed it.”

In the 1970s, Busch had trouble getting into theater because there were only roles for actors playing straight male characters. “The only way I could get on stage was to write my own roles,” he said, “I have a rather androgynous nature.”

Busch found that the feminine within him was a place of authority and strength. “I’m fine when I play male characters,” he said, “but I’m better when I play female characters.”

Why this is so liberating for him is a bit of a mystery to Busch. “But I accept and love it,” he said.

Times have changed since Busch made his first big splash with “Vampire Lesbians of Sodom.” “In 1985, being a drag queen was considered a negative,” Busch said, “my generation of drag performers bristled at being referred to as drag queens.”

Busch no longer bristles. “I feel like the characters,” he said, “I enjoy costumes and getting the right wig.”

“But, I go from male to female not through trickery or anything visual, I transfer through my soul.”

In “Leading Lady,” Busch recalls AIDS and other dark moments from the past. Many of his friends and colleagues died from AIDS. “AIDS was the World War II of our generation,” he said.

But Busch, in his memoir and in his life, isn’t only looking back. He’s very much in the present. Busch is embarrassed to say he was lucky. During the pandemic, devastating to many, he made art. He did play readings on Zoom and finished writing “Leading Lady” which he’d worked on for 14 years.

During the pandemic, Busch with Carl Andress co-wrote and co-directed the movie “The Sixth Reel.” The film’s cast includes Busch, Julie Halston (Busch’s longtime muse), Margaret Cho and Tim Daly.

Busch describes the film, an homage to the Hollywood madcap movies of the 1930s, as “a comic, caper movie.” 

“I play a disreputable dealer in movie memorabilia,” Busch said, “a legendary lost film is found, and I see it as my ticket out of debt.”

The “Sixth Reel” is playing from Sept. 21 to Sept. 27 at the LOOK Dine-In Cinema West 57th Street in New York City.

“I hope the run in New York will encourage people to distribute this little movie,” Busch said.

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