Jacob Glickman: Bringing LGBT Philly to the Fringe stage

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There are two things I love. Well, there are a lot of things I love, but two of my faves are our lovely city and the Philadelphia Fringe Festival. Each year, I look forward to the inventive shows in a myriad of unexpected places. I love the fact that Fringe has always been LGBT-inclusive; one of the first shows I saw years ago took place in the bathroom of a small restaurant. You paid $3 and two by two went into the ladies’ room, where two actors played lesbians discussing their lives at the mirror. We were excited at the time to see anything that reflected our lives.

This year’s festival also provides quite a bit of queer content, starting with Trajal Harrell’s “Antigone Sr./Twenty Looks or Paris is Burning at The Judson Church (L),” a redo of “Antigone” with an all-male cast (tagline: “Antigone is in the house, bitch”). There’s Half Straddle with “In the Pony Palace/FOOTBALL,” a show about football with an all-female and gender-queer cast, complete with cheerleaders, coaches and fans. “Two Street — A Tale of Star-Crossed Mummers” is a Romeo and Juliet, or more aptly a Romeo and Romeo, comedic take on warring Mummers, performed by Tribe of Fools. From the same company that produced the popular “Heavy Metal Dance Fag,” “Bent” is a powerful theater piece about two gay men in a concentration camp. I saw the film long ago and am happy that the work is being kept alive. Two Fringe stalwarts (both of whom were profiled here in past years), Gunnar Montana and Brian Sanders, return once again with shows that look to be thrilling and provocative. And finally, there’s the show that features this week’s portrait, “100% Philadelphia,” which combines the two things I love: Fringe and Philly!

The show stars 100 Philadelphians chosen according to the city’s census data. These non-actors — who are statistically representative of varying races, genders, ages and neighborhoods — will share their views on current issues and tell their stories on stage, exploring what it means to live in this City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection.

I spoke with Jacob Glickman, who was chosen to represent the LGBT community on the pie chart.

PGN: Tell me a little about yourself.

JG: I came to Philadelphia to pursue my master’s in clinical counseling at La Salle University. My goal is to then get a second master’s in sex education and my doctorate in clinical psychology. I plan to spend my career in psychology helping as many individuals in the LGBTQIA community as possible and destigmatizing mental illness for at-risk minorities.

PGN: So you’re a slacker! And from the South, I understand.

JG: Yes, I was born and raised in Tampa, which is not the most liberal area, but it’s next to St. Pete’s, which is sort of the apex of the queer community in Florida. Having that resource available was really good. Regardless, it was still the South. I always felt like a Northeasterner who lived in the South, despite being born and raised in Florida. For trans* people, the North always seemed to hold the promise of more freedom and tolerance.

PGN: Tell me about the home life.

JG: I have a younger brother, Sam, who is two years younger than I am. I’m a Russian Jew on all sides: My entire family came from one small little Russian village in the middle of nowhere! My parents are very true to the Jewish faith in that they were set up together by my grandma, practically a matchmaking thing. There’s a lot of pressure in the Jewish community to get married and have children but I guess I thwarted that tradition since I can’t have children. My family is not particularly religious outside of the culture, and I’m not religious at all. I consider myself Jewish in heritage only. I am an atheist and a realist with liberal leanings. But I do have a sense of spirituality and appreciate that religion adds grounding and comfort to the lives of many.

PGN: School?

JG: I went to an Episcopalian school for 10 years, the type of place where if you’re a leftie, they teach you to write with your right hand. My dad attended the same school.

PGN: Is there a big Jewish population in Florida?

JG: Not in St. Pete’s but in Tampa there was.

PGN: What did/do the folks do?

JG: My mother is a doctor specializing in general medicine and geriatrics. She actually just gave up her practice last month. My dad was in the House of Representatives for eight years. After the Republican takeover at the beginning of the ’90s, when the entire House switched to red, he lost his position and became an accountant for a little while. Now he works in the Second District Court of Appeals as a review lawyer. Whenever someone wants to get out of jail, they send their plea to the review lawyers and they make a recommendation to the judge. So my dad works at that end of the criminal spectrum, and I’m working at the other end, once people are released from jail. I particularly concentrate on working with transwomen, rehabilitating to help get them back on track and curbing recidivism. My dad definitely inspired me with his sense of justice and intent for the well-being of others. I was essentially raised by my paternal grandma, the one who set up their marriage. And she had a big impact on my life too.

PGN: What kinds of things were you into as a kid?

JG: I’ve always been extremely bookish. I was and still am an avid reader. I played the piano for 11 years and I also played guitar. Neither were really my instruments; I’m still looking for something that speaks to me. I swear it’s out there somewhere. I was a theater kid, and I’ve always loved to write.

PGN: What was your first play?

JG: Oh, I’ve always been sort of a loner and in sixth grade, I had no social group. They were holding auditions for “Grease.” [Laughs] Well, it was a watered-down version — no teen pregnancies — but I auditioned and got a part as the principal and it was my first foray into theater. They saw something in me, which I’m eternally grateful for, and I fell in love with the stage. It’s where I found a sense of community and where I still do as a member of a drag and burlesque troupe.

PGN: Do you sing?

JG: I do. Well, I did before doing copious amounts of testosterone. I can’t say much for my voice at this point; it’s dropped a couple of octaves! But out of my triple threat, I’ve always considered myself an actor first, followed by dancing, then singing. I’m a ballroom dance instructor.

PGN: Say what?

JG: Yes, I left the Episcopalian school and at first my dad wanted me to go to the all-girls Catholic school his sisters went to but I put the kibosh on that, just couldn’t do it. And I ended up at a wonderful, small liberal-arts school. The theater department was phenomenal and they cultivated a lot of training, including ballet and ballroom dancing. In college at Florida State University, I joined the ballroom-dance club and became the president and have been teaching ever since.

PGN: Have you had a student who just had no sense of rhythm?

JG: Um, my partner of five years. At least not when it came to ballroom. She could do a mean Dance, Dance Revolution but she’s what you’d call a bratty sub. She always preferred to be the follow partner but she doesn’t take directions well, so she would try to take the lead! To this day, she still identifies as a submissive, but still doesn’t like to give up control.

PGN: When did you start discovering yourself as a trans person?

JG: Well, I was always very different and didn’t really get along with boys or girls. I was by myself a lot and created my own worlds. I’m writing a novel right now and the main character is male. I started writing it when I was 6 or 7 and having an internal monologue that was male was definitely an early sign. I’ve written thousands of pages over and over and it’s become a kind of narrative therapy for me. In high school, I first introduced myself with a male name. The first time I really conceptualized that trans identity existed — other than a few brief glimpses like Lou Reed’s song, “Walk on the Wild Side” and in my mom’s medical practice, though I remember her describing them in very disparaging terms — was with my partner who was also trans. She’s MTF [male-to-female], and it was a few months before she came out to me as trans. She was the first trans person I knew and as soon as she told me, it clicked that it could go the opposite way too. I quickly realized that that was who I was and what was going on. I’ve found with most people, though there’s an underlying sense of knowing, there’s usually a pivotal moment and that was mine.

PGN: Were you identifying as lesbian before that?

JG: No, I think I’m one of the few transmen who didn’t! I’ve always identified as gay male and I’ve always been attracted to male-presenting people, though my partners have all been female-presenting! Go figure. But I’m primarily attracted by intelligence so my sexual orientation never played much of a role in it. Besides, once you come out as trans to your parents, you can be anything you want! [Laughs] I’ve never had problems changing my sexual identity and they don’t even ask any more. Once I dropped the first bombshell, and chopped off my boobs, the rest was easy.

PGN: [Laughs] Really? I would think the facial hair would take more getting used to than a flat chest.

JG: True. Last time I went home, my dad was a little freaked out. He was like, “Oh, you have a lot of facial hair!” I said, “Yes, yes I do.” My dad and my grandma and a few family members have been supportive throughout, but with a lot of them there’s sort of a blithe ignorance; they acknowledge that something’s going on but prefer not to discuss it. My mother has been the leader against it but it’s slowly starting to shift a little.

PGN: I’m guessing they’re not still together?

JG: No, they’re the couple that should have been divorced years earlier but stayed together for the kids. They just got officially divorced last Monday. So congratulations to them!

PGN: I was reading in your show bio about your bat mitzvah. Was it hard to participate in a “becoming a woman” ceremony at 13?

JG: It’s definitely been a unique experience, but I think for anyone, whether you’re cis or trans, coming of age is tough. I still haven’t completely come to terms with where I am on the gender spectrum. I’ve been doing this for a long time [laughs] — by this I mean living and I’ve been actively transitioning for seven years and I’m still not there. I’m an atheist …

PGN: Me too.

JG: Yes, [Laughs] I worship glitter. But my grandmother is still very religious and that was a challenge but, by some miracle, I have queer-identified second cousins who were leaders in the gay-rights movement. They have two daughters now and they got bat mitzvahed at a wonderful welcoming temple that had people of all races, gender expressions and sexual orientations. My grandmother went and I don’t know what they did to her, but she came back a changed person. It was a great thing! She realized that you could be queer or transsexual and still be Jewish. So now she has more problems with my atheism than she does with my gender!

PGN: Any hobbies?

Editor’s note: The answer was yes and at this point the writer’s nephew and Glickman discovered a mutual interest in gaming and anime and “geeked out” for close to 45 minutes about gaming, zombies, vampires and cosplay.

PGN: Explain cosplay for anyone not familiar.

JG: It’s dressing up as and embodying a character that has a pop-culture reference — doing it in a community of other people who will not only get the reference but appreciate the art behind what you’re doing. It can be expensive but that’s one advantage of being part of the drag and burlesque community, because we’re used to making our own costumes. It’s mostly done at conventions but there’s a beautiful thing called cosplay murder mysteries, which are really fun. We did a My Little Pony one, which was ridiculous but fun, solving a murder as your character. And we do some cosplay burlesque as well.

PGN: And you also work as a portrait artist?

JG: Yes, I’ve been drawing since I was a kid. One day I was drawing stick figures and the next day I was doing portraits. I don’t know how it happened, just a good night’s sleep I guess! I’ve been a commissioned portrait artist for several years now. I’ve done a lot of anime too; it’s so absorbing, I just go into another world when I draw. If my apartment ever caught fire, my sketchbooks are the first thing I would save — closely followed by my violin.

PGN: People often mistake me for …

JG: Daniel Radcliffe. I’ve actually made money being Harry Potter.

PGN: So how did you end up in the Fringe Festival?

JG: Somebody in Liberty City Kings Drag and Burlesque referred me. I just love everybody there. I was a drag king in Tallahassee, which was a struggle in itself, but it was a good replacement for theater. The entire community in Florida was focused on drag queens, so it was great to find a troupe that focused on kings. For “100% Philadelphia,” we all had to choose an object to bring and I choose the first pair of pasties given to me when I joined. They were given to me by another performer, Van Nguyen. She’s the one who got me involved.

PGN: I profiled Van, I also chose her for a Woman Crush Wednesday pick.

JG: Oh cool! She’s a sweetheart; she’s in the play too. The show is a phenomenal idea. I’m fascinated by Philadelphia, and the premise is that each of the 100 cast members each represents a segment of Philadelphia and you get a snap shot of the city through the different individuals. It’s a beautiful concept. A little improv, a little interview. I feel privileged to represent the LGBTQI community. It was wonderful to see that our voice was represented loudly and clearly, something I’m not used to coming from the South! Between this show, working with LICK, performing at Tabu and the work that I do with the health center, it’s heartwarming to see how unified a community can be.

To encourage the entire city to participate, tickets to “100 Philadelphia” are pay-what-you-wish.

To suggest a community member for Family Portrait, email [email protected].