Sukie de la Croix made such an indelible mark on Chicago's LGBTQ scene when he lived in the Windy City from 1991-2014 that the Chicago Sun-Times proclaimed him "The Gay Studs Terkel."
During his time here, de la Croix authored the award-winning book Chicago Whispers: A History of LGBT Chicago Before Stonewall and wrote the popular Chicago Whispers column in Windy City Times. He wrote for numerous other papers as well, including Outlines, Chicago Now and Chicago Free Press. His popular history blog, Bitter Old Queen, was published on the Chicago Tribune Media Group's website, Chicago Now. His colorful LGBT history anecdotes and engaging personality merged when he scripted and conducted the Chicago Lesbian and Gay Tour for Chicago Neighborhood Tours, a division of Chicago's municipal tourism authority. In addition to being a popular speaker on LGBTQ history, de la Croix has had two plays adapted for the stage and was inducted into the Chicago LGBT Hall of Fame in 2012.
Since moving to Palm Springs in 2014, de la Croix has remained busy. In addition to maintaining his strong queer presence on social media, de la Croix last year released a novel set in 1924 Chicago, The Blue Spong and the Flight from Mediocrity. Last month, de la Croix released his latest work, The Memoir of a Groucho Marxist: A Very British Fairy Tale, a fantastical tale of his impoverished childhood in Bath, England and the first part of the story about how Darryl Michael Vincent eventually became St. Sukie de la Croix.
Windy City Times: What did you want to capture with The Memoir of a Groucho Marxist, the fantastical story of your boyhood in Bath, England?
Sukie de la Croix: I've never been a Grateful Dead fan. Their music reminds me of a bewildered old man wandering the streets with his fly open, trying to remember where he lives. However, having said that, Jerry Garcia said one good thing. He said, "What a long, strange trip it's been." Life is strange. I may now be living in a four-bedroom house in Palm Springs, but I came from intense poverty. After World War II, Britain was devastated, and I grew up in its wake. Bomb sites, ration books, damaged peopleall figured in my childhood.
With The Memoir of a Groucho Marxist, my initial intention was to write a novel about a little sissy boy growing up in post-World War II Britain. I soon realized I was writing about my own childhood. I've never dwelled on the past before, but this book started to pour out of me. A floodgate opened. I just let it go. My attitude was, "Let's see what happens with this." What emerged was the story of an outcast. A boy who escaped into children's adventure books, then ran away to join the circus.
I'm at a point in my life where I've given myself permission to look back and ponder.
WCT: If you were to give me a recipe of your childhood, what would the ingredients and proportions be?
SdlC: My childhood certainly wasn't a gourmet meal with specific proportions. It was a big old pot where anything around me was thrown in. Ingredients included chaos, insanity, isolation, socialism, Buddy Holly, I Love Lucy, children's storybooks, steam trains, butterflies, art, love, Russian spies and the wisdom of the fairies.
WCT: How do you explain Darryl Michael Vincent becoming St. Sukie de la Croix?
SdlC: Our birth names are only temporary. They come from our parents. Mine named me after Darryl F. Zanuck, the film producer. However, as I explain in The Memoir of a Groucho Marxist, I was not really born of woman. I emerged from a badger hole in Midford Woods. Growing up, it soon became clear to me that sissy boys were not welcome in "their" society, so I set off in search of a world where I belonged. That's what LGBT people do, isn't it? Not only LGBT people, but all outcasts. That's our journey and our destiny. In the same way that everyone should have a drag name, we should all have a fairy name as well. St. Sukie de la Croix is my fairy name.
WCT: Fairies and the spirits of Virginia Woolf, Hans Christian Andersen, Oscar Wilde, and others visit and advise you in the book. What's the best advice you've ever been given?
SdlC: Never disrespect a guinea pig and never take advice from humans.
WCT: If they visited and spoke to you in Bath, whose spirit spoke to you and advised you during your Chicago years?
SdlC: For me to write I have to separate myself from what most people call the "real world." I observe it and report what I see. Other people's opinions are irrelevant to me. I get my advice from a more-trusted source. I absorb the wisdom of those who have passed from this earth. Dead people have no agenda.
In the Introduction to Chicago Whispers: The History of LGBT Before Stonewall, I wrote: "If you stand on a corner in Chicago and close your eyes, you can hear the past: the rat-tat-tat of Al Capone's machine guns, the Haymarket Rioters, and the screams of the passengers on the SS Eastland capsizing into the Chicago River in 1915. Stand on the corner long enough, peel away those cries from the past like the layers of an onion, and underneath you will hear the whispering of ghosts as they tell their untold stories. These voices belong to lesbians and gay men locked in the closet of Chicago's past. Men and women who lead double lives, lying to the world by day, then turning up their collars to hide their frightened faces as they dart down litter-strewn alleys into unmarked bars at night."
Those are the voices I listened to in Chicago. I listened and wrote that book.
WCT: I love that. You wrote Chicago Whispers, you have done columns for years on Chicago social history, given numerous tours, etc. What spot, or two, in Chicago should every LGBTQ Chicagoan know about and celebrate as part of our local history?
SdlC: Henry Gerber, who started the first gay-rights organization in the U.S., lived at 1710 N. Crilly Ct., so that's worth a visit. Also, a mostly gay African-American jazz joint called the Kitty Kat Club at 611 E. 63rd St. It's an empty lot now, but you can feel the history there. I'd also suggest a visit to Bobby Love's, the location of the earliest gay Lake View bar I can find. It was the Inbetween circa 1972, run by a woman, and then it became Augie's, a lesbian bar, the following year. It was two years later that a men's gay bar opened in Lakeview.
WCT: As a queer historian, what era would you most like to have lived in, and why?
SdlC: [In the] 1940s, [at] a gay-friendly jazz joint in Chicago with a drag show called Joe's Deluxe. Why? Who wouldn't want to go see that?
WCT: As someone with a strong Internet presence, do you consider social media a godsend or a scourge?
SdlC: Well, it's obviously both. It's like all drugs; some people can pace themselves and others overindulge.
WCT: Tell me about life in Palm Springs. What is a typical day like in the life of St. Sukie de la Croix?
SdlC: I'm an early bird. Up between 3-4 a.m. usually. Most days I drive to a gym in Palm Springs, lift weights and work out for an hour. Home, it's breakfast, often sitting outside in the garden. Then I start work in my office. I try to take a break at lunchtime, which is coffee or lunch with friends. I continue working until I'm too tired.
Then I sit outside, make notes, doze off, drink chocolate milk, swim in the pool, read books, make more notes, etc. I'm cutting back on eating out, so I cook, or mostly my husband cooks, dinner. Evenings it's a gallery opening, a movie, a play, TV etc. I always use marijuana in the evenings. I'm stoned by 8 p.m. I lead a very quiet life. I don't drink alcohol anymore, so I only go to a bar once a week. On Sunday afternoon, to a leather bar called the Barracks.
WCT: Palm Springs must be agreeing with you because you are in an amazingly productive phase. What other projects do you have coming?
SdlC: Several. I'm putting the finishing touches to Out of the Underground: Homosexuals, the Radical Press, and the Rise and Fall of the Gay Liberation Front. That's been a major project. Local artist Curt Miller did the artwork for the cover. That should be published in the New Year. The next book is St. Sukie's Strange Garden of Woodland Creatures, a collection of short stories being illustrated by Roy Alton Wald, another local artist here in Cathedral City. The next book is under wraps, but it's a collaborative effort called Tell Me About It. I've also completed the next installment of Chicago Whispers, but it needs a lot of work.
WCT: What's been behind your sudden surge of productivity?
SdlC: I started Rattling Good Yarns Press. I wanted control over my own work, covers of the books, etc. Now I'm the literary dominatrix.