Nancy Adair is a photographer and filmmaker, best known for her work on the 1978 documentary Word Is Out.

Early life and education

Adair was born in New Mexico, the younger sister of filmmaker Peter Adair, and raised on the Navajo and Zuni reservations. She was educated in New York and Washington, DC, and earned her degree at San Francisco State University.

Coming out

Nancy Adair first became aware of her sexuality in 1967, when a lesbian friend invited her to Maud's, a now defunct lesbian bar which at the time was the oldest in San Francisco. Here she met many gay women from a variety of diverse backgrounds and personality types. Adair was simultaneously confronted by the stereotypes and preconceptions she had long held about lesbians, and the fact that she herself had for years been emotionally and sexually attracted to other women. Months later, she came out to her mother, Casey Adair. Casey's reaction was one of acceptance, but also worry of what Nancy might face in a society traditionally hostile towards gays. Her fears were partly confirmed when a year later Nancy came out during a meeting of the SFSU Students for a Democratic Society, and found the reception she received to be less than warm.

Photography and filmmaking

A freelance photographer and artist, Nancy Adair worked variously as a farrier, tow truck dispatcher, and cab driver. She was unemployed when, in 1975, her brother Peter asked if she would be interested in helping him on a documentary about the lives and perspectives of lesbians and gay men living in America. She was especially flattered that her brother had asked her, particularly since they had never been very close and in fact had not gotten along well as kids. Nancy agreed to help with the film, tentatively titled Who Are We? and originally intended to focus only on gay people living in the San Francisco area. Nancy would screen and interview lesbian women for the film, while Peter would screen and interview gay men. In time they formed a small production group including Andrew Brown, Rob Epstein, Lucy Massie Phenix, and Veronica Selver, called the Mariposa Film Group, a name taken from a San Francisco street and meaning "butterfly" in Spanish, but which Nancy later learned was a derogatory name for gay men in Mexico. Their project eventually evolved into Word is Out: Stories of Some of Our Lives, and was pivotal as the first documentary to positively explore the diverse lives and experiences of gay women and men.

Documentary memes

Nancy found most of her interview subjects through contacts at Maud's, including one of the bartenders, Whitey, a confident and self-reliant woman who lived in the country outside San Francisco in a cabin she had built herself. One of the first subjects featured in the final film, Whitey recounted among other things how her parents had turned first to religion and then psychiatry in what amounted to abusive and quackish attempts to "cure" her lesbianism. Others included a seventy-seven year old lesbian who recounted what it was like to grow up lesbian when the word was not even uttered in "polite" society, a former WAC who lamented the lack of support in the lesbian community, and one subject who in part talked about what it was like to be a gay black woman, a threefold minority. When the film project evolved further to include gay perspectives from other parts of the country, Nancy went at Peter's request to the New Mexico home of Mattachine Society founder Harry Hay and his husband, teleidoscope inventor John Burnside, to conduct a preliminary interview in preparation for the final one conducted by Peter and included in the film. Harry and John warmly welcomed Nancy and admitted her into their "Circle of Loving Friends." She also traveled to and interviewed lesbian women in New York and, seeking a Southern perspective, interviewed members of the Atlanta Lesbian Feminist Alliance (ALFA) in Georgia and the members of a lesbian farming commune in North Carolina.

Word Is Out

Working on Word Is Out proved a cathartic and healing process for Nancy Adair, as she found herself making a final confrontation with and exorcising the negative feelings society had towards gay people and independent women which she had internalized. She also mended fences with and became closer to her brother who when hiring her had expressed the hope that their similar visions could outweigh their differences. She had also become much closer to her mother Casey, who worked on the film as a transcriptionist and secretary. In addition to calling her by her first name, Nancy began to see Casey as a mother/companion/friend amalgam, for which she noted there was no adequate word in the English language.

Word Is Out was finally completed and released in 1978. That same year, Nancy had helped Casey compile transcriptions of the interviews used in the film into a companion book of the same name, adding her own recollections of working on the film and what doing so had meant for her. Adair has remained active in gay rights and feminist circles ever since.

External links

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