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Fun Is What It's All About

Life in Italics

By Michael R. Grunwald, Crimson Staff Writer

The platinum blonde half-Asian sprite with the thick granny glasses is flouncing his way down Mount Auburn Street, smoking cloves, chattering about the city of Boston (totally uptight) and his one-piece Calvin Klein underwear (just wonderful) and his new boyfriend Paulo (the most magnificent man in the entire world). He's doing it in italics, which is the way Thomas M. Lauderdale does everything. Thomas--everyone calls him Thomas--is wearing hiked-up khakis (so comfortable), a cream-colored print tie decorated with nuclear radiation symbols (too cool) and a woman's fire-engine red felt jacked (isn't it marvelous?) Little Lord Fauntleroy meets Little Red Riding Hood. His accessories for the day include a plastic Jetsons wristwatch, a pink fluorescent pen and, of course, his sleek mud-brown cigarettes. "It's all about accessories," Thomas insists. Definitely put that in your article."

Thomas sashays along, giggling impishly, working the mid-afternoon crowd like a town mayor on acid. When he sees a friend--which is often--he breaks off his monologue for an ecstatic hug and a shriek: "Hiiii!" "You look wonderful!" "I love your hair!"

A croaky voice from the sidewalk interrupts his assessment of the ultraconservative campus magazine Peninsula (a bunch of big fags). It's a homeless woman, panhandling from her usual perch in front of UHS. But she doesn't ask Thomas for money. She says hi and starts telling him all about her new brand of cigarettes. Thomas squats down listening intently, politely, hand cupped to his ear.

"Can I try one?" She hands him a cigarette,which he sniffs deeply. "Mmmmmmm. That smellswonderfull. Thank you very much."Thomas tucks the gift behind his ear-another day, another accessory--and flutters off to meet Paulo at The Coffee Connection.

After coffee, Thomas is jabbering about his family (the best family in the entire world) when he passes the homeless woman again. Once again. he stops to chat. Before leaving, he gives her a fistful of change.

THOMAS WAS born in an Oakland navel hospital in 1970. For what he's heard, his mother was a 15-year-old prostitute. His father was Filipino, or Chinese, or something, possibly amilitary man of some sort. Thomas doesn't lose alot of sleep over his natural parents. His adoptive family is interesting enough.

Thomas' father Kerby (a former minister for the Church of the Brethren who quit to become a gardener) and mother Linda (a hospital unit secretary who grew up on an Ohio pig farm) are white. His brother and sister are Black. His other brother is Iranian. And in 1980--about the same time Mount St. Helens erupted, Thomas says with a grin--Kerby ran away with a gay lover. Today, Kerby and Linda are best friends, living a few blocks apart in Portland, Ore. Every now and then, they tell their story on a TV talk show.

"We're not a typical American family, but we're an honest family, a fabulous family," Thomas says. "We're multicultural, multiethnic, me and my dad are big fags--we're Phyllis Schlafly's worst nightmare. My parents are absolute heroes--honest, open, caring supportive. They made it easy for me to be myself."

Thomas has become a Harvard celebrity, a campus icon synonymous with unrestrained flamboyance, with an effusive, unapologetic sense of self, of gay identity. But for most of his years in Portland, Thomas was a serious closet case. He was a model student, a piano prodigy, a typical overachiever--but he kept his secret to himself. He was afraid of being hated, afraid that his friends would turn their backs on him. He compensated by pounding at the piano for hours on end, obeying the driving beat of his metronome. He also cried a lot.

He finally came out during his senior year of high school, but he returned to the closet during his freshman year at Harvard. "I had vague political dreams. I lost my cool, I lost my sense of myself," he recalls. Finally, in April, he posed for a Time magazine photograph of gay Harvard students opposed to ROTC. Thomas was out for good. He felt relieved. Guiltless. Free.

And let's face it--he really hadn't been fooling anyone, anyway.

SOMEHOW, when he wasn't producing elaborate Mainstage productions like The Duchess of Malfi and Dreamgirls, when he wasn't swamped with responsibilities as Adams House Committee chair, when he wasn't throwing the most outrageous parties at Harvard, when he wasn't playing the piano at Boston's Club Cafe or Adams House's Club Mardi, when he wasn't club-hopping with his army of close friends, when he wasn't cavorting through the Harvard Yard snow wearing a pink fur coat and nothing underneath, when he wasn't chewing 20 sticks of Cinnaburst at once to win a bet, when he wasn't bumming cigarettes off homeless people, Thomas has managed to fulfill his academic requirements.

He passed his courses, passed History and Literature generals, wrote a thesis on Pakistani author Hanif Kureshi (he's totally full of shit, but Thomas can relate to that). So today Harvard's hostess with the mostest will receive his diploma, and the campus social scene will never be the same.

"I'm stunned, honored and stupefied thatI'm a getting a degree from this place, because I've done everything here but study," Thomas giggles "For me, Harvard has been all aboutfun."

Before the official cruise director for theclass of '92 graduates, it seems only fitting to indulge in a little Thomas-party nostalgia.

The First Fete: Thomas threw his first Harvard party when he was living in Mass Hall. it was a tremendous bash--400 invitees, strawberry daiquiris, Thomas resplendent in a lovely cocktail dress. Only problem was, Thomas wasn't supposed to be living in Mass Hall. And he definitely wasn't supposed to be living with three women. After the party, a dean told Thomas that it might be a good idea to spend a bit more time at his assigned quarters in Matthews.

The Bungle in the Jungle: An infamous Thomas-hosted blowout which culminated with a festival of naked drunkenness in the Adams House pool, and which in turn resulted in the closing of said pool. ("Ooh, I was so bitter...")

The 69th Annual Adams/Dunster/Eliot Disco Masquerade: A Thomas retro spectacular--dance platforms, disco balls, The Wiz, the works,("Three crazy houses, each insane in their own way. Everybody came. I was so happy..")

Chocoholiday: Another Thomas brainchild that became an annual Adams House tradition.("It's all about chocolate. And it's all about eggnog.")

The 1992 Waltz: Fog machines. An orchestra. And a seven-foot ice sculpture of St.Sebastian.

The list is endless. Thomas takes his fun very seriously. You can tell, because he uses even more italics than usual when he talks about it.

"People here are desperate for fun," he says, "I know so many people at Harvard who wouldn't know fun if it sat on their faces.Well, my parties are fun, and they're accessible, too."

"Look at the Hasty Pudding's parties," he snorts. "God, those are the most boring parties I've ever seen. Why would anyone pay huge amounts of money to join that club, to go to bad parties with bad music, watching people who can't evendance? There's bad lighting, badatmosphere, bad crowd.Blecchhh. It's justpathetic. walk in and think 'God, I could have had a V8. God. I could have done anything, I could have stayed at home and watched Sally Jessy Raphael.' It's just plain boring. And I want you to put this in your article, OK?"

OK, OK! Jeez..

WELCOME to a legendary Harvard attraction: Thomas's closet. To your right, you'll see a startling array of headgear: a cute blue fez, a polo helmet, a sharp Jackie O pillbox number, white bunny ears. Straight ahead, you'll find a mountain of ties--most of them wide, all of them loud. On the floor, there's a fog machine and a stack of the official Adams House "We're All Gay and We're Coming to Get You" t-shirts Thomas designed. On the left, Thomas hang his dresses--a clingy purple Betsy Johnson, a turquoise suede Halston circa 1972. Everything in the closet is distinctive ("I love wearing things no one would think of wearing."), comfortable ("It's all about comfort.."), and cheap("..it's all about discounts.").

But most of Thomas's dresses are, fittingly, out of the closet. At this moment, he has dresses living in New Hampshire, New York, San Francisco, Hawaii, Paris and God knows where else. Thomas enjoys wearing them, but he really enjoys letting his friends--especially his male friends--wear them. "It's all about accessorizing other people's closets," he says, giggling devilishly."I love that."

Thomas still thinks cross-dressing is wonderful, but he doesn't do it very often anymore. He's never liked being stereotyped as a drag queen and, well, he just doesn't feel like wearing women's clothes these days."Ultimately it's just not me," Thomas says.

THE ME that is Thomas Lauderdale has changed quite a bit since he came to Harvard.

He says the turning point came during winter break of his sophomore year, when he came out to his grandparents--"sexist, racist, homophobic people," according to Thomas--in a mobile home park in Anaheim, Calif. His grandparents were horrified. And Thomas was glad.

"There I was, the overachiever of the family,there last hope, telling them I was a faggot," Thomas recalls. "It was their worst nightmare, and I was thrilled to give it to them. Because people need to be honest, and people who hate have no place in my life. I'm learning to be stronger about that, to insist on that. I don't accommodate people who hate anymore."

Homophobia used to send Thomas into spasms ofdepression. Now, he fights back. A few months ago, two guys from the Law School screamed about "fucking faggots" while taking a leak of Adams House. Thomas and a friend chased the men down Plympton Street, catching one of them and holding him for the police.

"God, that was amazing," Thomas squeals. "There we were two flimsy faggots, hunting and stalking two terrified jocks. Wow!That was an empowering moment."

After his parties ended, Thomas used to weep himself to sleep. He'd feel like he had given apart of himself away, and he'd retreat into post-partum depression. But Thomas is a lot happier these days. He doesn't cry that much anymore. He can give without feeling empty.

"I feel completelyfulfilled. Not that I'm not going to go out and do more, because I want to do it all. But right now, I'm deliriously happy."

WHEN THOMAS says he wants to do it all, he isn't kidding.

Start with his summer plans. He still has a job playing cocktail piano at Club Cafe. He scored a second job as security guard at the Gardner Museum. (No lie.) He's looking for a third job in the produce section of Barsamian's, because lately he's decided that it's all about fruit.

In his spare time, Thomas will be producing a film version of Zora's Kitchen, a mystery-thriller-farce-revenge tragedy written by his friend Orion Ross '92. He also plans to writea book about Lucille Hart, a wonderful woman from rural Oregon who disguised herself as a man for 40 years. And then there's Paulo...

Those are just his short-range plans. Long-term, Thomas wants to open a disco. And a jazz, club. And a 24-hour bookstore. He wants to be a concert pianist. He wants to produce filmsand theatrical productions. He wants to rewrite West Side Story as a gay romance, the way he believes Leonard Bernstein wanted to do it in the first place. He wants to meet Florence Henderson. And that's not all.

"My ultimate dream is to have a huge island for all my friends to live and work and do their art," Thomas says, chuckling to himself. "They can do films. they can write, they can sculpt, they can bring their families, they can bring their lovers. Nobody would have to deal with any hate. It would be a place where people would be free to do everything, to be everything, to not worry. And it would be fun."

Fun, after all, is what it's all about. It's all about fun, and cheetah-print carpets, and being true to yourself, and sticking up for your friends, and refusing to accommodate hate. It's all about Julio Iglesias, and living life in broad strokes, and opening up to the world, and eggnog. It's all about throwing wonderful parties,and inviting everyone you know.

That's what it's all about.CrimsonZachary M. SchragTHOMAS M. LAUDERDALE

"Can I try one?" She hands him a cigarette,which he sniffs deeply. "Mmmmmmm. That smellswonderfull. Thank you very much."Thomas tucks the gift behind his ear-another day, another accessory--and flutters off to meet Paulo at The Coffee Connection.

After coffee, Thomas is jabbering about his family (the best family in the entire world) when he passes the homeless woman again. Once again. he stops to chat. Before leaving, he gives her a fistful of change.

THOMAS WAS born in an Oakland navel hospital in 1970. For what he's heard, his mother was a 15-year-old prostitute. His father was Filipino, or Chinese, or something, possibly amilitary man of some sort. Thomas doesn't lose alot of sleep over his natural parents. His adoptive family is interesting enough.

Thomas' father Kerby (a former minister for the Church of the Brethren who quit to become a gardener) and mother Linda (a hospital unit secretary who grew up on an Ohio pig farm) are white. His brother and sister are Black. His other brother is Iranian. And in 1980--about the same time Mount St. Helens erupted, Thomas says with a grin--Kerby ran away with a gay lover. Today, Kerby and Linda are best friends, living a few blocks apart in Portland, Ore. Every now and then, they tell their story on a TV talk show.

"We're not a typical American family, but we're an honest family, a fabulous family," Thomas says. "We're multicultural, multiethnic, me and my dad are big fags--we're Phyllis Schlafly's worst nightmare. My parents are absolute heroes--honest, open, caring supportive. They made it easy for me to be myself."

Thomas has become a Harvard celebrity, a campus icon synonymous with unrestrained flamboyance, with an effusive, unapologetic sense of self, of gay identity. But for most of his years in Portland, Thomas was a serious closet case. He was a model student, a piano prodigy, a typical overachiever--but he kept his secret to himself. He was afraid of being hated, afraid that his friends would turn their backs on him. He compensated by pounding at the piano for hours on end, obeying the driving beat of his metronome. He also cried a lot.

He finally came out during his senior year of high school, but he returned to the closet during his freshman year at Harvard. "I had vague political dreams. I lost my cool, I lost my sense of myself," he recalls. Finally, in April, he posed for a Time magazine photograph of gay Harvard students opposed to ROTC. Thomas was out for good. He felt relieved. Guiltless. Free.

And let's face it--he really hadn't been fooling anyone, anyway.

SOMEHOW, when he wasn't producing elaborate Mainstage productions like The Duchess of Malfi and Dreamgirls, when he wasn't swamped with responsibilities as Adams House Committee chair, when he wasn't throwing the most outrageous parties at Harvard, when he wasn't playing the piano at Boston's Club Cafe or Adams House's Club Mardi, when he wasn't club-hopping with his army of close friends, when he wasn't cavorting through the Harvard Yard snow wearing a pink fur coat and nothing underneath, when he wasn't chewing 20 sticks of Cinnaburst at once to win a bet, when he wasn't bumming cigarettes off homeless people, Thomas has managed to fulfill his academic requirements.

He passed his courses, passed History and Literature generals, wrote a thesis on Pakistani author Hanif Kureshi (he's totally full of shit, but Thomas can relate to that). So today Harvard's hostess with the mostest will receive his diploma, and the campus social scene will never be the same.

"I'm stunned, honored and stupefied thatI'm a getting a degree from this place, because I've done everything here but study," Thomas giggles "For me, Harvard has been all aboutfun."

Before the official cruise director for theclass of '92 graduates, it seems only fitting to indulge in a little Thomas-party nostalgia.

The First Fete: Thomas threw his first Harvard party when he was living in Mass Hall. it was a tremendous bash--400 invitees, strawberry daiquiris, Thomas resplendent in a lovely cocktail dress. Only problem was, Thomas wasn't supposed to be living in Mass Hall. And he definitely wasn't supposed to be living with three women. After the party, a dean told Thomas that it might be a good idea to spend a bit more time at his assigned quarters in Matthews.

The Bungle in the Jungle: An infamous Thomas-hosted blowout which culminated with a festival of naked drunkenness in the Adams House pool, and which in turn resulted in the closing of said pool. ("Ooh, I was so bitter...")

The 69th Annual Adams/Dunster/Eliot Disco Masquerade: A Thomas retro spectacular--dance platforms, disco balls, The Wiz, the works,("Three crazy houses, each insane in their own way. Everybody came. I was so happy..")

Chocoholiday: Another Thomas brainchild that became an annual Adams House tradition.("It's all about chocolate. And it's all about eggnog.")

The 1992 Waltz: Fog machines. An orchestra. And a seven-foot ice sculpture of St.Sebastian.

The list is endless. Thomas takes his fun very seriously. You can tell, because he uses even more italics than usual when he talks about it.

"People here are desperate for fun," he says, "I know so many people at Harvard who wouldn't know fun if it sat on their faces.Well, my parties are fun, and they're accessible, too."

"Look at the Hasty Pudding's parties," he snorts. "God, those are the most boring parties I've ever seen. Why would anyone pay huge amounts of money to join that club, to go to bad parties with bad music, watching people who can't evendance? There's bad lighting, badatmosphere, bad crowd.Blecchhh. It's justpathetic. walk in and think 'God, I could have had a V8. God. I could have done anything, I could have stayed at home and watched Sally Jessy Raphael.' It's just plain boring. And I want you to put this in your article, OK?"

OK, OK! Jeez..

WELCOME to a legendary Harvard attraction: Thomas's closet. To your right, you'll see a startling array of headgear: a cute blue fez, a polo helmet, a sharp Jackie O pillbox number, white bunny ears. Straight ahead, you'll find a mountain of ties--most of them wide, all of them loud. On the floor, there's a fog machine and a stack of the official Adams House "We're All Gay and We're Coming to Get You" t-shirts Thomas designed. On the left, Thomas hang his dresses--a clingy purple Betsy Johnson, a turquoise suede Halston circa 1972. Everything in the closet is distinctive ("I love wearing things no one would think of wearing."), comfortable ("It's all about comfort.."), and cheap("..it's all about discounts.").

But most of Thomas's dresses are, fittingly, out of the closet. At this moment, he has dresses living in New Hampshire, New York, San Francisco, Hawaii, Paris and God knows where else. Thomas enjoys wearing them, but he really enjoys letting his friends--especially his male friends--wear them. "It's all about accessorizing other people's closets," he says, giggling devilishly."I love that."

Thomas still thinks cross-dressing is wonderful, but he doesn't do it very often anymore. He's never liked being stereotyped as a drag queen and, well, he just doesn't feel like wearing women's clothes these days."Ultimately it's just not me," Thomas says.

THE ME that is Thomas Lauderdale has changed quite a bit since he came to Harvard.

He says the turning point came during winter break of his sophomore year, when he came out to his grandparents--"sexist, racist, homophobic people," according to Thomas--in a mobile home park in Anaheim, Calif. His grandparents were horrified. And Thomas was glad.

"There I was, the overachiever of the family,there last hope, telling them I was a faggot," Thomas recalls. "It was their worst nightmare, and I was thrilled to give it to them. Because people need to be honest, and people who hate have no place in my life. I'm learning to be stronger about that, to insist on that. I don't accommodate people who hate anymore."

Homophobia used to send Thomas into spasms ofdepression. Now, he fights back. A few months ago, two guys from the Law School screamed about "fucking faggots" while taking a leak of Adams House. Thomas and a friend chased the men down Plympton Street, catching one of them and holding him for the police.

"God, that was amazing," Thomas squeals. "There we were two flimsy faggots, hunting and stalking two terrified jocks. Wow!That was an empowering moment."

After his parties ended, Thomas used to weep himself to sleep. He'd feel like he had given apart of himself away, and he'd retreat into post-partum depression. But Thomas is a lot happier these days. He doesn't cry that much anymore. He can give without feeling empty.

"I feel completelyfulfilled. Not that I'm not going to go out and do more, because I want to do it all. But right now, I'm deliriously happy."

WHEN THOMAS says he wants to do it all, he isn't kidding.

Start with his summer plans. He still has a job playing cocktail piano at Club Cafe. He scored a second job as security guard at the Gardner Museum. (No lie.) He's looking for a third job in the produce section of Barsamian's, because lately he's decided that it's all about fruit.

In his spare time, Thomas will be producing a film version of Zora's Kitchen, a mystery-thriller-farce-revenge tragedy written by his friend Orion Ross '92. He also plans to writea book about Lucille Hart, a wonderful woman from rural Oregon who disguised herself as a man for 40 years. And then there's Paulo...

Those are just his short-range plans. Long-term, Thomas wants to open a disco. And a jazz, club. And a 24-hour bookstore. He wants to be a concert pianist. He wants to produce filmsand theatrical productions. He wants to rewrite West Side Story as a gay romance, the way he believes Leonard Bernstein wanted to do it in the first place. He wants to meet Florence Henderson. And that's not all.

"My ultimate dream is to have a huge island for all my friends to live and work and do their art," Thomas says, chuckling to himself. "They can do films. they can write, they can sculpt, they can bring their families, they can bring their lovers. Nobody would have to deal with any hate. It would be a place where people would be free to do everything, to be everything, to not worry. And it would be fun."

Fun, after all, is what it's all about. It's all about fun, and cheetah-print carpets, and being true to yourself, and sticking up for your friends, and refusing to accommodate hate. It's all about Julio Iglesias, and living life in broad strokes, and opening up to the world, and eggnog. It's all about throwing wonderful parties,and inviting everyone you know.

That's what it's all about.CrimsonZachary M. SchragTHOMAS M. LAUDERDALE

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