In a New Memoir, Harvey Fierstein Shares Gossip and Regrets

You were wearing earrings that your mother had never seen before when she came to see “Torch Song” at La MaMa in 1978.

I used to steal a lot of her jewellery when I was doing drag as a child. As a Pratt student, she received all of my jewellery creations during my time there.

Did your parents make you feel like they had your back?

My father was brought up in an orphanage as a child and was adopted as an adult. He taught my brother and me that family is everything, and he promised to be there for us no matter what. There are no doubt that he and my mother spent many sleepless nights discussing what I was doing, what I was wearing, and so forth. For the longest time, we just accepted him as Harvey. That was something my brother once told Lesley Stahl in an interview that was never broadcast.

So how did your mother react to those tender, but also brutal, early plays?

As a child, she frequently took me to the theatre because she loved it so much. And she was well-versed in the personal lives of all of my ex-boyfriends. She was not a helpless victim.

It’s a new world out there now. Your trilogy was written at a time when gay couples were less likely to have children.

There were a lot of gay kids in group homes at the time, and they were being beaten up. There was a pressing need for us to go beyond our own individual needs and form a community that would care for our children. There was a fight between my mother and I when I was a child over the Harvey Milk school in New York City, where gay children were educated. They’ll never have the chance to live if you don’t mainstream them now, she warned. Having a gay student changed her mind completely.

In your book, you make mention of L.G.B.T.Q.L.M.N.O.P. Having a glib demeanour could get you fired.

No, as our membership is well-known to be on the rise. There were two kinds of people in the world to me as a child: those who were gay and those who were straight, and everyone else was in the closet. As I got older, I began to notice that our crayon box contained a wide variety of hues.

There was no consensus among the men in my play “Casa Valentina,” which was based on interviews with actual straight cross-dressing men from the 1950s. That we’re all alike is the greatest deception of all time. No two of us are alike. Each of us is a one-of-a-kind creation.