Let’s Chat With Tim Murphy, Founder of The Caftan Chronicles Interview Series With Gay Men “Of a Certain Age”
Recently, we’ve been loving Substack’s The Caftan Chronicles, NYC-based novelist and journalist Tim Murphy’s monthly very loooong and deeeeep interviews with notable gay men “of a certain age” (usually 60 or older) about, well, every single aspect of their lives, from their public career and persona to their private hopes, dreams, fears, and regrets. It’s a very intimate and probing look at the lives of older gay men at a time when such lives, with all their ups and downs—the homophobia of the 20th century, the tension between the closet and living openly, AIDS and its aftermath—are often being forgotten as we focus more on the younger, up-and-coming generations of queer people, including trans and nonbinary folks.
Tim’s most recent interview (for October) is with longtime drag queen and porn producing legend Chi Chi LaRue (who talks honestly about her lifelong desire to be popular and her own take on a 2020 sexual assault allegation from porn actor Papi Suave), but in the past year, he’s also interviewed legendary novelist Andrew Holleran (“Dancer from the Dance”), pioneering 1970s disco DJ Nicky Siano, 90s and 2000s porn god Tom Chase (who is nearly 60 but wants to make more porn), groundbreaking 1990s NYC AIDS doctor Gabriel Torres, choreographer David Rousseve and the last remaining producer of “Emerald City TV,” a late-seventies NYC weekly cable show about gay life at the height of the disco era.
We chatted a bit with Tim about The Caftan Chronicles, which is $5/month for full access, even though he usually puts about the first third of his interviews in front of the paywall.
Instinct: Hi, Tim! How did you come up with this idea?
Tim: Well, I’ve been a journalist for nearly 30 years, mostly on LGBTQ stuff, and I really just wanted to have a platform that was all my own with no editors, where I could do a really long, deep interview that unfolded like a real conversation, sometimes jumping around in time. Also, I feel like, despite how many amazing gay men we lost to AIDS, there are still so many older than I (53) who survived and who’ve lived amazing lives in the arts, entertainment, politics, what have you. They have amazing stories to tell and I wanted to help get some told before it’s too late. Also, I’m just a big sixties-seventies (especially seventies!)-eighties nostalgia queen and I love asking gay men older than myself where they partied back then, what they wore, what music they listened to, what gay life was like. It’s like going back in a time machine.
Instinct: What has been the best interview so far?
Tim: That’s really tough to say. Tom Chase, the porn star, gave a really good interview about very deliberately choosing to go into porn even after getting a college degree, and about a decade of misery he experienced in midlife where he says he cried every single day for years until he came out the other end. He also gave so much detail and insight about the porn industry—Chi Chi LaRue. did too. The Holleran interview was incredible—I think he is one of our most beautiful writers, woefully underrecognized outside of the gay world. He writes about the gay life cycle, especially middle and late age, with such melancholy that it’s actually gorgeous. And I loved doing the “Emerald City TV” interview because somehow I’d had no idea that this show had existed, but once I found the episodes archived on YouTube, I could not stop watching—it’s truly about as close to going back to pre-AIDS gay New York as you’ll get.
Instinct: Is there a commonality to the interviews?
Tim: When I reach out, I tell everyone up front that I want extreme openness, honesty and self-reflection, and thankfully that’s what I’ve gotten, although of course it varies from person to person. The interviews usually range from two to four hours—sometimes more than one session! I don’t want to just do a play-by-play of someone’s greatest hits; I’m very interested in how we as gay men see and understand our own lives, how we divide them into chapters, how we learn about ourselves on all levels—sexually, socially, intellectually, artistically. We’re a generation of gay men who really had to make it up for ourselves without the pre-ordained pathways of legal marriage or having children or even being able to be our whole selves everywhere we go—at least until recently—and I think we’ve shown incredible bravery, resilience and creativity in how we’ve gone about constructing our lives, our sense of family, our sense of romance and intimacy.
Instinct: Who’s up next?
Tim: I hope to get a real legend of the New York theater who is coming up on 80, but it takes time. I put a lot of time into showing someone my work and letting them know what kind of questions I want to ask and getting them to trust me and understand that we don’t have to talk about anything they don’t want to talk about. I don’t go into these with a “Gotcha!” attitude. I’m really grateful to anyone who agrees to do the interview and I want them to feel good about it after and not like they were tricked in any way. I’m really pleased that many of the guys, after the interview, told me it was cathartic and like an unburdening or a massive therapy session, or that they thought about their lives differently.
Instinct: So you have a $5/month fee to read the entire interview. Why?
Tim: It’s to offset the time away from my paid work that these interviews take, because each one takes hours of prep, then the interview itself, then typing it up, sourcing and adding photos, promoting it. It’s a labor of love. I hope people would think that they’re making a little contribution toward getting the full lives of these men into a kind of archive that I hope will be useful to scholars and all sorts of people in the years to come. These interviews are a record of what it was to be a gay man in the U.S. in an often very hostile time, amidst a plague, and well before gay people were as integrated into mainstream life as they are now.
Instinct: And why the title ‘The Caftan Chronicles’?
Tim: Because every gay man of a certain age has earned the right to wear a caftan, if they’re not already! You can’t just WEAR a caftan—you gotta EARN it!