Zeek Taylor was born in the Arkansas Delta in 1946, and raised in the small town of Marmaduke, where his mother was a hairdresser and his father was the postmaster. During Zeek’s growing-up years, school let out in the Fall for cotton harvest. Zeek picked cotton alongside his schoolmates until he started college in 1964 at Arkansas State University.

Following college graduation, Zeek taught public school art before returning to school at the Memphis College of Art where he majored in painting. While attending art college, Zeek danced with Ballet South. He later worked professionally as a hairdresser until his art career took off.

While living in Memphis, Taylor met his longtime companion Dick Titus. From 1975 to 1987, they lived in Fayetteville, Arkansas. When Zeek’s art caught the attention of a Chicago company with international distribution, Zeek and Dick headed about an hour northwest to the tiny Ozark artist colony and resort town of Eureka Springs. In May 2014, after “a damned long engagement”, Zeek and Dick became the first male couple to wed in Arkansas – and, in fact, in the entire South.

Zeek’s art is primarily brightly colored depictions of animals and flowers. His work has been displayed five times at the Arkansas Arts Center, three times in the prestigious Delta Exhibition, and four of his watercolors have hung in the Arkansas Governor's Mansion.  Zeek’s segment on NPR’s “Tales From the South” series was heard by 130 million listeners worldwide. He’s also been featured on NPR’s Morning Edition and Storycorps. In 2012, Zeek received the Arkansas Governor’s Art Award for Lifetime Achievement. Zeek published his memoir of short stories, Out of the Delta, in 2016.

In preparation for OUTWORDS’ first trip to the South in 2017, we searched extensively for the region’s LGBTQ pioneers. But it was only on the eve of our trip that we learned of Eureka Springs, possibly the most gay-friendly small town in the South. A bit oddly, Eureka Springs is also a magnet for evangelical Christians who flock there by the busload to watch The Great Passion Play, a re-enactment of Jesus’ last days on Earth. Right in the middle of town is Zeek and Dick’s home, a lovingly decorated Victorian bungalow that somehow feels just right for a couple of peace-loving, contented queers.

Mason Funk: Right.
Natalie Tsui: Yeah, that's the thing.
Zeek Taylor: Sometimes I just think, I've got to stop.
Mason Funk: Someone one time told me, a poet said, "a poem is never finished, it's abandoned."
Zeek Taylor: Yeah. Oh, I love that. I love that.
Mason Funk: Same thing could be said for a painting, probably, or a shot ...
Zeek Taylor: Or lighting.
Mason Funk: you just say, we're going.
Natalie Tsui: So I do have to turn off the fan.
Mason Funk: Okay, so we are going to turn off the fan.
Zeek Taylor: Okay.
Mason Funk: [00:00:30] What we can do is we can go for a little while. This is what we typically do when we're in a warmer space. We go for a little while and then we take a little break. That will cool us off, and we turn the fan on, and then we just resume.
Yesterday when we were at Diana's house, we were in the upstairs of her house which, needless to say is not air conditioned.
Zeek Taylor: Oh yeah.
Mason Funk: It got really warm upstairs.
Zeek Taylor: We usually are cool in here but-
Mason Funk: You must by dying to get that out.
Zeek Taylor: [00:01:00] Yes I am.
Luckily when the HRC was here filming, the air conditioner was working. It went out that night.
Mason Funk: Aha. So where did they actually come from, do you know the crew?
Zeek Taylor: [00:01:30] The one guy. The guy that operated the camera, that person was from Ocean Springs, Mississippi. The other guy came from DC headquarters but he was originally from Tennessee. He was the media person for the southern states.
Mason Funk: Aha. Cool. We’re speeding?
Natalie Tsui: Although the mic is making some sound, so I want to ... alright recording.
Mason Funk: Okey dokey. So first of all, just start with just tell me your first and last names, and spell them out for me please.
Zeek Taylor: [00:02:00] Zeek Taylor. Z-E-E-K T-A-Y-L-O-R
Mason Funk: Okey dokey. And tell me please, the exact date and location where you born.
Zeek Taylor: I was born in Paragould, Arkansas. November 28th, 1946
Mason Funk: Okey dokey. Now when I ask you a question, if you can take the information in my question and try and weave it in to your answer. So if I say, who is your brother, you would say, my brother is, as opposed to he.
Zeek Taylor: Gotcha.
Mason Funk: [00:02:30] So that we know what the question was without hearing my question.
Mason Funk: I'll remind you if you forget.
So do me a favor, tell me ... I always like to know about one's family of origin. Who was in your family and what it was like? What was valued, what was stressed, what was the atmosphere like?
Zeek Taylor: [00:03:00] I grew up in north east Arkansas in the delta in a family of five. I had two sisters, I was the middle child. My parents were both, I guess I would say, workaholics, and they really stressed the value of work, and that's what they did their entire life. They instilled that habit, that quality in their children.
Unfortunately, I think I'm a workaholic because of that, but it was a wonderful place to grow up. It's a small town, 650 people, and because of the size of the town, in one way, neighbors became family. It was sort of like having an extended family where we all got along and took care of each other. It was a wonderful place to live.
Mason Funk: What did the majority of folks there ... what kind of work were they involved in, like the town. What was the town economic base?
Zeek Taylor: [00:04:00] The town where I grew up had two cotton gins, and cotton was king in that area. I went to a little school, there were 33 people in my graduating class, and probably 30 of those kids lived on cotton farms. That was really the ... the economic base was cotton.
In the fall, during cotton harvest, and everyone was picking cotton, we felt rich. That's when we had money. That was the good times, during fall.
Mason Funk: [00:04:30] So that's what your folks did as well. Your dad?
Zeek Taylor: My parents were not farmers. My mother was a hairdresser, and my father, when I was really young, was a banker and he ran the branch bank in the little town where I lived. When I say he was a banker, he was a one person operation, he was the teller, the manager, and the janitor at the same time. He had a good job because he got off at 2 o'clock. He had bankers hours.
My mother on the other hand worked six days a week doing hair and she would work long eight hour days. The beauty shop was connected to our house so I grew up with all these women, right next to our living room I could hear them. To go to the bathroom, the women would trot through our living room in front of the TV. Of course, we knew all those women and part of those became like family to us too. They would bring the kids, my sister and I, they would bring us gifts and it was really a pleasant situation. I enjoyed having that beauty shop.
The beauty shop is where my friends and I would hang out at night. It was like the teen center of our town. It was a fun situation growing up like that.
Mason Funk: [00:06:00] You say the beauty shop is where you and your friends would hang out. So it would convert into an all purpose kids hangout space?
Zeek Taylor: [00:06:30] Yes. There was really not a place for kids to go in the little town where I lived. There was no movie theater, or swimming pool, or rec hall or anything like that. In the little town of 650, our house was pretty much in the center of town, and my parents loved for us to have friends over.
They would come over, we would go to the kitchen, fry french fries seemed to be what we did, and use the beauty shop as our hangout place. Had a nice linoleum floor, and I had a record player, and we would dance. It was probably the only place in town where we could dance. We weren't allowed to dance at school. There was a lot of churches in that little town, and a lot of people that were against dancing. We would dance in my mother's beauty shop. The only other place that allowed dancing was at the Methodist church, the youth group could dance, but only Methodists could dance.
Mason Funk: Sorry. That was just a truck.
Natalie Tsui: Okay. I can still hear it.
Natalie Tsui: I don't know if you-
Mason Funk: We won't be able to stop for every vehicle, it's just a car.
Sorry, she's got the headphones on.
Zeek Taylor: Yeah.
Natalie Tsui: [00:07:30] Actually this thing glitched so I'm just going to roll it. It's still there but it's-
Mason Funk: We're gonna be-
Natalie Tsui: Yeah I think the [inaudible 00:07:35] will be okay.
Mason Funk: So you were talking a bit about how the Methodist church allowed dancing, but in general was religion a strong presence in your town.
Zeek Taylor: There were-
Mason Funk: [00:08:00] In my town, maybe start by-
Zeek Taylor: [00:08:30] In my town there were several churches. There were three Baptist churches, a Church of Christ, and a Methodist church, which is a lot of churches for 650 people. The Methodist were the most liberal, and we were Methodist, so I could dance. My parents encouraged me to dance. They loved to dance. They would go to another town, a little larger town, and go to a supper club at least once a month to dance.
They made sure that my sisters and I knew how to dance. They drove us to another town for dance lessons because they said that we'd be socially handicapped when we went to college if we didn't know how to dance. I'm glad that they wanted me to dance. I continued to dance and, for a while, I danced ... I took all kind of dance lessons, but I danced with Ballet South in Memphis eventually. That also came from my parents encouraging me to dance.
Mason Funk: Is that a reflection of who your parents were that they ... you could almost say valued dance as much as they valued religion. They valued dance.
Zeek Taylor: [00:09:30] My parent were not religious particularly. My mother went to church, pretty much every Sunday because it was the thing to do, but she would make beeline home the minute church was over so she could get Sunday dinner on the table.
My father was the son of a Methodist minister, and the only time he went to church was when my grandfather would visit. They were really liberal in their views, and my mother, until the day she died, at the age of 88 was very liberal politically. They were democrats.
Mason Funk: Just one second.
Natalie Tsui: [00:10:00] One note, while we have this noise. So your hand ... right now, I have your hand in the shot, and it looks kind of awkward there, so I was wondering if you could put it on your leg.
Zeek Taylor: Sure.
Natalie Tsui: Great, coz every time you move your hand it looks like you're doing something.
Zeek Taylor: Yeah, we don't want to do that.
Natalie Tsui: Yeah. So I don't know-
Mason Funk: Fulfilling everyone's stereotypes-
Natalie Tsui: My mother was very liberal.
Zeek Taylor: And she'd say, play with yourself, and I'd say okay.
Mason Funk: Okay mom, whatever you say mom.
Natalie Tsui: I realized that you're just fidgeting, but based on the angle that we're at.
So you were saying they were liberal. I can't remember example what thought we were on. You were saying your mother, till the day she died.
Zeek Taylor: [00:11:00] My mother, until the day she died, at the age of 88 was still liberal. She was liberal politically, she was pro choice. She was for equality, for gender equality, racial equality. A lot of people, especially maybe older people in the south, they sorta tend to get more conservative as they get older. That didn't happen with my mother. Nor did she get more religious than she was.
I think a lot of people get more religious, sort of like insurance, against going to hell if they die. I'm glad they were liberal. It really helped me to be who I am. Not be afraid of who I was. If they were bigoted in any way, my life would have been a lot harder I think.
Mason Funk: [00:12:00] Now you told a story. I found this online somewhere, about these fishing trips you'd go on with your family, but you got bored within five minutes and you found ways to opt out. I would love it if you would tell us that story about the fishing trips, and your own choices around that.
Zeek Taylor: [00:12:30] One of my family's favorite pastimes was to go fishing. We would drive to the river, my parents, my grandmother, and my two sisters, and me. It didn't take them long to figure out that fishing wasn't a thing I enjoyed. It was hard for me to sit still in the that boat. You need to sit still. You need to be quiet.
They all loved it, but not me. When I was old enough, maybe around 10, the decided that they could leave me on the river bank, and they could go out and fish. I would spend my time playing in the sand, building sand castles, collecting driftwood, and being creative. They were perfectly fine with that.
They would go out and catch fish. My sisters loved it. One thing, I wasn't about to bait a hook. Just didn't want to kill the worms for one thing. They would catch fish, we would go home. I would go inside the house while my grandmother, and my two sisters cleaned the fish, because I couldn't stand the sight of the blood and the guts.
My parents were fine with that, that I was a sensitive boy, and a boy that didn't want to sit still in a boat and catch fish, and then kill them and clean them. I didn't want to kill the worms.
Mason Funk: Tell us a bit more about the kinds of activities that you would get up to. I think you even mentioned this thing I read, that the boat would go round the bend. Then you would even have your complete privacy.
Zeek Taylor: [00:14:00] Yes. There were times when we were fishing ... most of the time, the river was the St Francis river. It was real swampy, with a lot of cypress, and a lot of bends to it, and most of the time, the boat would go around a bend, and so I would have complete privacy and I could really be myself and dance, and prance, and turn cartwheels, and do whatever I wanted to without fear of my sisters maybe mocking me and making fun of me. It was a great time on the river by myself.
Mason Funk: It's very Huck Finn.
Zeek Taylor: It was Huck Finn like.
Mason Funk: [00:14:30] Do you think your parents had any notion that you might be a gay kid?
Zeek Taylor: [00:15:00] I think my parents knew that I was gay. My father and I never really talked about it but there were times when he would say things to me that would let me know that he knew.
One time, I was 20 I guess, I was going to the Memphis College of Art. I went home during spring break and while I was there, my parents went to visit my aunt in another town, and so I was there by myself.
My mother had left a set of self piercing earrings in the bathroom, and I thought, I wonder what I'd look like with a pierced ear. So I placed one on my ear. They were the type of pierced earring that you were supposed to put on and they would eventually work their way through. The hey had a sharp point on them.
So it sort hurt but I thought that looks pretty good, so I just pushed it on through and pierced my ear. I thought, I wonder what my parents are going to say when they get home. When they did get home later that day, my mother saw the earring and she said, “How come you only pierced one ear?”
My father didn't say anything and I thought, oh, man. It was two or three days later. I was getting ready to go back to school in Memphis. We were sitting under a shady tree in the backyard. I finally said to him, “Did you notice that I pierced my ear.”
He said, “Yeah. It's your damned ear, you can do with it what you wanna do.” He said, “In fact, you need to do what you need to do. There's a whole big world out there that I don't understand.” He said, “You need to be yourself. You need to be happy. You need to do whatever it is that will make you happy.”
Then I knew.
Mason Funk: What did you know?
Zeek Taylor: I knew that he accepted me for how I was and he wanted me to be who I needed to be in order to be happy. I felt like I had his blessing.
Mason Funk: Wow. That's amazing.
You don't necessarily know what he meant by that. Just it was his blessing.
I think my father ... I pretty much know my father knew that I was gay, and I think that was just the easy way for him to tell me that, it's fine.
Mason Funk: Wow.
Did you ever come out in any kind of more formal way to your dad, or your mom?
Zeek Taylor: Not to my dad-
Mason Funk: Could you incorporate my question in your answer.
Zeek Taylor: [00:17:30] I never really came out and talked about being gay to my dad. My mother and I would not really talk about it in that sense, but she always was really glad that I had a-
Mason Funk: Sorry. Natalie interrupted me. The refrigerator went on.
Natalie Tsui: Yeah, so do you mind if we turn it off?
Zeek Taylor: No.
Natalie Tsui: I'm just gonna cut.
Mason Funk: [00:18:00] So tell me, let me just ask you that question. Did your parents ... did you ever come out directly to your mom, or your dad.
Zeek Taylor: [00:18:30] I never came out directly to my dad, even though I knew he knew. My mother, I guess I would say I came out indirectly to her. I always had a guy with me when I'd go home, and she expected us to sleep together. She would introduce him as ... this is my son's friend, to all her friends.
She told me one time, I'm glad that you're not like your sisters and go and get married and have kids. That way, you can be with your friend, and you can travel, and you can do things that they can't do, because they're burdened with family.
So, indirectly, we talked about it in that way.
Mason Funk: [00:19:00] Okay. Excellent. Now let me just check on my questions over here.
Let's just set a little bit about what was going on culturally and societally around you in terms of ... You were born in '46.
Zeek Taylor: Yes.
Mason Funk: [00:19:30] This was a time ... growing up, this was the 50s in to the early 60s. A lot of social turmoil around civil rights. What do you remember about the changes that were coming, the turmoil that those changes created?
Zeek Taylor: [00:20:00] I grew up in the 50s and the 60s. During the 50s, it was the Eisenhower years. It was like a TV sitcom, with the happy family. The mother, father, and everything was really white bread. Eventually, the civil rights movement came along. Arkansas was a big part of that, we had a racist governor, Faubus. All this turmoil was going on in our state, and a struggle for civil rights.
Of course, I took notice of that, and of course I was for equality. I hated the bigotry that was going on in the state of Arkansas and ashamed of the reputation that we were getting because of the hate created by so many people living here, and that hate had been here, but it surfaced when people were asking for equality during the civil rights movement.
Central High School, if you say Central High School, which is one of the largest high schools in Little Rock, racism comes to mind. Fights for equality. I grew up during that time and I guess for men, one needed to be macho. By the time I was in senior high ... Well I think I was a senior when the Beatles came along, and all of a sudden, there was a little bit of change in what's acceptable for men to be, because they weren't macho. They were fun, colorful and feminine. For some reason, the Beatles in a way, set me free to move in another direction and made it a little easier to be who I am.
One of the strange thing about the Beatles who I did see in person, by the way ... it was an interesting time to transcend from the 50s, which was so white bread, and so boring to me, in to the 60s. The 60s seemed to suit me more and of course we went through the Vietnam war, which I was very much against the war, and protested the war. It was just a turbulent time but exciting time.
Mason Funk: Was there ever any chance that you would be drafted into the war?
Zeek Taylor: [00:22:30] When I was 18 I had to take a physical. We had a mandatory draft, and it was during the Vietnam war. I did not want to go to war. I didn't believe in war, I'm not soldier material. I had to go to Memphis for the physical, so I got on a bus, I was 18 at that time. I got on a bus with people that I knew, guys that I graduated high school with, all 18.
I knew that if I went to Memphis and I checked the box, and check the box at that time, means I'm gay. I'm for 4F, I'm not fit to be in the military. I couldn't do it, I couldn't do it. I thought I had ... I'd rather be drafted and die, than come out in front of all these guys, the same age I am. I couldn't do it. I couldn't let them know I was gay.
I thought if I checked the box, I had heard ... that they would keep you overnight for mental evaluation. It was a mental illness to them. I thought, if I don't get back on that bus, all these guys are going to know I'm gay.
The night before I went, I ate tons of sugar. I had heard if you eat sugar, they'll think your diabetic. That didn't work. So I was in perfect physical condition, but fortunately for me, by the time I graduated college. I could go in to college, you were given a four year deferment, but the minute you graduated college, you'd be drafted at that time, or I would have been.
So I graduated college and fortunately for me, I found a teaching job. A public school art teacher, and being an art teacher, or any teacher, you could get an occupational deferment. So I was deferred from the draft for that.
Natalie Tsui: Siren.
Mason Funk: Oopsie, siren.
Just hold that thought.
Natalie Tsui: [00:24:30] [inaudible 00:24:33]
Zeek Taylor: We don't hear that much here. Maybe once a day at most.
Mason Funk: Yeah, would that be a cop. Probably?
Zeek Taylor: No it's ambulance.
Mason Funk: Ambulance.
Zeek Taylor: [00:25:00] We hardly have ... I think in the past 10 or 15 years, we've had one murder. Some guy got beat up and they found his body behind the Baptist church dead. He was a real ... I didn't know him but he worked at the Tyson chicken plant. They went over there and asked, is there anyone over here that would have murdered this guy, and they said, "everyone."
So he had been downtown drinking ... It might be a fire.
And got in to all these bar fights with different people and so got beat up a lot. They didn't know who dealt the fatal blow, so they didn't charge anyone coz there were so many people had hit him.
He was asking for trouble. That was the last murder we had. It's probably about 15, 20 years ago.
Natalie Tsui: Okay it's gone.
Mason Funk: [00:26:00] Okay. So you got this teaching job, and that gave you another deferment, and by that point, had the danger of being drafted passed, essentially?
Zeek Taylor: [00:26:30] I was able to secure the teaching job and as long as I kept that, I could keep that occupational deferment. Who knew that art teachers were that valuable? I was really glad. I taught school for two years and at the end of two years, the government established a lottery. The lottery determined who would be drafted.
During the time of the lottery, I was back in summer school, picking up some additional hours, and I was in the student lounge with a bunch of guys we were watching TV as they drew the numbers. The lower the number that match your birth date, the more prone you ... well, you'd be drafted.
That year they would draw number and match it to a birth date. I think that year they took up to 167. I won the lottery, I was like number 287. So, once you went through the lottery, it was a one time thing. I didn't have to worry about the draft any more. I quit teaching, teaching wasn't my thing, and I want back to school to study more painting.
Mason Funk: [00:27:30] Wow. That's amazing. I knew about the lottery. I think you're the first person who's told me like, sitting there watching TV.
Zeek Taylor: [00:28:00] Watching TV and they'd be guys that would cry. Other guys would shout happy. Depending on what the numbers were. It was hard to do. I went back ... I was staying in a dorm that summer to pick up those hours, and I went back to my room. I was elated, but at the same time, I was so sad for the guys that didn't win the lottery, knowing what their fate was going to be. They were going to Vietnam to serve in what I thought was a senseless war.
Mason Funk: [00:28:30] Now along the way, in your questionnaire, you mentioned your first lover, and let's wait for the plane to pass, but I would love to hear the story of who this person was, and so ...
Zeek Taylor: [00:29:00] My first real lover was a guy that was ... never came out the closet. We were in college together, we slept together, but never talked about it, and I was madly in love with him. First love.
After college, It ended. We went our separate ways. I was heartbroken but I met another man, who was a drama teacher at a university, and he was so affectionate and open with me. Maybe a week or two after we met, and we were getting together, he told me he loved me. That's the first time a man ever said to me, "I love you." I was overwhelmed with emotion, just hearing those words from a man. It was beautiful. I felt like I was no longer living a lie, in a sense, like I had with the first love. With a guy that we never openly showed affection to each other. He wouldn't allow that. So it was a liberating moment to hear, I love you.
Mason Funk: Zeek Taylor: Mason Funk: Was that something to do with who this guy was. Who was he? Tell me more about him. The first … No. The second guy
Zeek Taylor: [00:30:30] The second guy who I had ended up being involved with. The one that told me "I love you", was a drama teacher and he was real theatrical, flamboyant, and fun, and totally affectionate. The first night I went home with him, it was in July. He turned the air conditioner up as high as he could and lit a romantic fire in the he fireplace, so we could lounge in front of the fire and drink champagne. It was just so different from what I had been accustomed to.
He was what I needed at that time. To make me know that this type of love was possible.
Mason Funk: So at this point in your life, how would you describe yourself to someone who didn't know you, or someone who did know you. Someone who met you for the first time, how would they perceive you, and kind of frame it in the timeframe we're talking about.
Zeek Taylor: [00:31:30] During that time when I met my second lover, I had started to be more out. As a teacher, I had to be conservative. I had to make sure my hair was short enough. I had to wear a necktie. I had to stay in the closet for fear of losing my job. After I quit teaching and met this man who told me I loved him, a man in the theater, I felt like I could really be myself. I had no fear of losing my job, and I was going to go back to school.
From there I went to the Memphis College of Art, and when I got there, I met guys, artists, people that were openly gay, people with pierced ears, and long hair. They were hippies. I wanted to be a queer hippie too, and being at that school, and having that lover, I felt totally free for the first time in my life, to be who I needed to be and who I was.
I would go to school, and it was like, absolutely fine to be me. I liked being me instead of being the teacher, or the kid that was scared on the school bus going to get the physical. I found freedom in Memphis.
Mason Funk: [00:33:00] How did you respond in terms of your art. How did you respond artistically?
Zeek Taylor: [00:33:30] Well I was in school at the Memphis College of art, I majored in painting. The school was small, pretty much all art related so we were immersed in art. We didn't have sports teams, or fraternities and sororities. We're queer artist hippies, some of us, and we celebrated and had a good time.
We'd go out at night to the gay bars and go to school during the day. We did a lot of drugs, a lot of drink. We had a great time. I would think people would ... if they would describe me, they would describe me as a queer hippie artist, because it's exactly who I was, and what I was. It was good to be described for what I was, for a change.
At the same time as I was in art school, I was dancing with Ballet South, which was a semi professional dance company, so the combination of being this queer hippie artist, and a ballet dancer, there was no doubt when people met me that I was gay. And I liked it, I liked it. There was no shame, there was no hiding. There was freedom. I pretty much, for myself anyway, have been free ever since that time. Since my 20s, to be who I need to be.
Mason Funk: [00:35:00] That's awesome. That's great. Thank you for that.
Now, along the way, you met Dick, when you were 25. So tell us how that came about.
Zeek Taylor: [00:35:30] I met the love of my life when I was 25 years old. I was hanging out in this bar called the Psyche out In Memphis, and there was this guy that had the hots for me, though I didn't know it. He was a good friend of Dick.
He told Dick, he said, you need to come down and see this guy. Well Dick came down to see me, and he was smitten with me. I learned that Dick had a reputation, so I thought, I'm not going to be a notch on this guy's bedpost, so I made him court me properly for about six months, to make sure his intentions were pure, and they were.
We have been together ever since, 45 years together. He was so different from me. At that time he was a bookkeeper in an auto parts store, had short hair, I had long hair. He taught me a lot. We balanced each other out, and because we accepted each other for who we were, it worked. I didn't try to change him and he didn't try to change me. It just totally worked. We've been supportive of each other. We lived together in Memphis and eventually moved to Fayetteville and to Eureka Springs.
Mason Funk: Did it surprise you that you were falling in love with a guy who wasn't one of those free spirited art students?
Zeek Taylor: [00:37:00] I fell in love with Dick because, even although he was different from who I am, or who I was at that time, and who I still am I guess. He was so kind, gentle, sincere to me. So loving, so supportive of me, that he was easy to love even though we had our differences. All through our life together, we have ... he does things I can't possibly do, and I do things that he can't do. It's been a wonderful relationship in that sense. I think it's good that we're so different. We think differently, I can be a space cadet, totally into color and art. He can work on my car. it really has been good.
It did surprise me a little bit because I was attracted to these other queer hippie guys, but none of them showed me what he's shown me. The ... His character. He was a good guy.
Mason Funk: What are some of the things ... you said you made him court you for six months? What are some of the things he did to show his sincerity?
Zeek Taylor: [00:38:30] During the courtship, Dick would bring me gifts, take me to dinner. I was a poor starving art student. My parents sent me $10 a week to buy groceries and I'd spend about half of that on beer. Dick would lavish gifts on me, take me out to eat, buy me things, and make sure I was comfortable, my car was running good, everything in my apartment was working good. He did everything he could for me, and I thought, okay. There was nothing I could ask him to do that drove him away. I knew he was sincere. I knew that he was not just wanting me as a notch on his bedpost. He invested a lot of time, money and effort in the relationship. I just wanted that assurance. I had, especially with the first guy ... I had been burned, so I was entering it cautiously.
Mason Funk: [00:39:30] That's great. That's great.
Now, tell me about how you guys first got to Fayetteville, and eventually to Eureka Springs. Just give me a little bit of an overview of that.
Zeek Taylor: [00:40:00] Well Dick and I were living in Memphis. We felt relatively safe, but after a few years there, it started to feel a little dangerous. They started having a night beat policeman walking in our neighborhood. We thought, maybe it's time to leave here.
We were both attracted to the beauty of the Ozark mountain in Arkansas. I would have moved to Eureka Springs at that time. It was 1975, but the economy here wasn't all that good, and I was working as a hairdresser then, and there just wasn't a good place to work.
Fayetteville, because it's a university town, had a lot of haircutting places. It was easy to get a job there. So I got a job there and lived there for 13 years, until I got my art career to a point where I could move here, live comfortably, and live on my art.
Mason Funk: [00:41:00] Hold on one second.
So that just pip back a little bit. Maybe, say, by such and such a year, my art career was at such a level, or such a stage that you can move to Eureka Springs. Something like that.
Zeek Taylor: [00:41:30] We'd been in Fayetteville 13 years, and my work got picked up by a national company. The Franklin company, out of Chicago. It was distributed nationwide. Dillard's carried it, Neiman Marcus carried it. This allowed me to make the change and concentrate more on my art.
By that time Eureka Springs, it's economy was booming. It had become an art destination and was also a gay destination. Because of my art and the way my career was going, I was finally able to move here. Of course, Dick came with me, and at that time he was a master electrician, so he could work on his own, and there was plenty of electrical work here.
Mason Funk: And tell us about this time, I guess this would have been Fayetteville. The years when you and Dick had to have a very particular type of arrangement for your relationship in terms of who was out, who wasn't, and so on.
Zeek Taylor: [00:42:30] Well living in Fayetteville, Dick worked in the trades. The trades being construction. He was an electrician. He worked with manly men, and probably if he had come out he would have lost his job. He would have been fired for being gay. There was no protection, still not protection.
We maintained two residences. One where we didn't live, that he had furnished, kept beer in the refrigerator in case some of the guys from work wanted to drive by and have a beer after work. They couldn't come to my house because they didn't know now about me.
At work, Dick was Oscar. His real name is Oscar Dickerson Titus, but he goes by Dick to all his friends. But at work, he was known as Oscar. So if we were together, at the mall, and somebody came along and said, Hey Oscar, I knew it was someone he was working with, so I kept on walking. I kept on walking.
If it was someone ... and I probably knew if they said Dick, then I knew it was safe for us to be seen as a couple. It was a necessary arrangement to have two houses. It was an expense of course, but if he had lost his job, we'd have been out even more money, so there were a lot of times when I had to walk on by.
Mason Funk: It's so hard to imagine. It's just a very unique interesting arrangement, and I wonder how it felt when you were in it.
Zeek Taylor: [00:44:30] When we were living with that arrangement with two separate houses, it just felt necessary. We had grown up, had lived our whole lives, worrying about being discovered, him in particular. There was always that fear of being fired, being beat up, being discriminated against, being hated. A lot of people during that time lived deceptive lives. It wasn't always possible to be out in the open for a great number of people.
I was fortunate, I was an artist, I did hair, I danced with the ballet company. People that I was around expected me to be gay. But for people like Dick, working in the trades, it wasn't possible. It wasn't a feeling of ... I guess it didn't feel strange or unusual to be in the that situation because a lot of people were in that same situation. They had to protect themselves from a lot of different things, and one of them is getting fired.
Mason Funk: Do you remember in this era ... I know that of course in big cities, and probably smaller cities, if there were gay bars that they were frequently raided by the police.
Mason Funk: It was not an uncommon thing. Did you ever go through any experiences like that?
Zeek Taylor: [00:46:00] When Dick and lived in Memphis, it was against the law for two men to dance together. There were people during that time, guys, that were arrested for dancing. Their names and photographs were in the Memphis commercial appeal they were in the newspaper.
We loved to dance, and what gay guy doesn't love to dance, right? We would go to the bar where we met, the Psyche Out, and we would stay in there and drink on Saturday night until midnight, and the bar closed. The bar closed but no one left. The doors were locked, and the music started, and we danced. We pushed the tables aside and everyone danced. There was a lookout in the parking lot, who would notify us if the police came up because they pretty much knew what we were doing. It was a private party though, but it was still against the law for us to dance together.
So if the police did show up, they would flicker the lights in side the bar. Everyone would immediately sit down, they would open the door, let the cops stroll through and see that we weren't dancing. See that we weren't doing anything illegal, dancing.
They looked intimidating, but nothing they could do. So they would leave, the door would lock, and we would dance again. We danced all night. We would dance until the sun came up and then a bunch of us would go out for breakfast. We did that every Saturday night. In one sense, it was sort of exciting to be able to do something that was illegal and hidden, and we were getting away with it. That's what made it exciting. Hard to believe that it was illegal for two men to dance together. Women could dance together. We could watch American Bandstand, there would be women dancing together. Men could not do it.
Mason Funk: Do you remember specific incidents of people you know, did they get arrested? Dd their names get printed in the newspapers? Did they surfer repercussions?
Zeek Taylor: [00:48:30] The people that were arrested, I didn't know personally, but it was the talk of the town. I really don't know what happened to them. They probably lost their jobs and never went out again, I don't know. They were probably shamed for dancing.
Mason Funk: So what did it feel like ... during this time, were you aware that, for example, according to the American Psychiatric Association that being gay, or being homosexual was considered a mental illness. Were you aware of that at the time?
Zeek Taylor: [00:49:00] When I was young, I was aware that homosexuality was considered a mental illness, and partially because the 4F status in the draft. They considered that person to be mentally unfit to serve in the military.
I didn't believe it. I knew I wasn't mental ill. I was gay and I felt okay about it, I did not feel the need to change at all. I didn't feel mentally ill, it seemed like a crazy thing.
I honestly do know people, guys, that had shock therapy. Their parents put them through shock therapy thinking that they could rearrange their brain I guess, and get rid of this mental illness. It didn't work.
Mason Funk: Great.
Let's take a little break.
Mason Funk: So we're resuming. Tell me ... you did mention in passing the break you got in your art career that changed your life, but tell us a bit more about that.
Zeek Taylor: What I consider my big break came was when this woman came in to get her hair cut.
Mason Funk: Do me a favor, say, my big break as an artist.
Zeek Taylor: [00:50:30] My big break as an artist came one day when a woman came into the salon where I was working to get her hair cut and noticed a painting I had on the wall. She was a rep for a national print company, the Franklin company of Chicago, and she thought my work would be suitable for a national market. She contacted headquarters in Chicago and they liked what they saw.
My work ended up in showrooms from New York city to San Francisco. I made appearances with my art at markets in Dallas, North Carolina, Atlanta. The work was carried in Dillard's, Neiman Marcus, a lot of department stores and boutiques, and sold well.
Natalie Tsui: Actually, I'm sorry, I forgot to turn off the fan.
Mason Funk: Oh.
Natalie Tsui: So we have to-
Mason Funk: We were wondering why it feels so cool in there.
Natalie Tsui: It feels so nice.
Zeek Taylor: Ain't it amazing how that can make a difference?
Mason Funk: They sure can yeah.
Natalie Tsui: [00:51:30] So can we start-
Mason Funk: Okay, so we'll just start the story over again, just the way you were going was absolutely perfect.
Zeek Taylor: I'll see if I can remember what I said.
Mason Funk: The one thing ... Well, you'll start with you were the big break when the woman came in your salon, but the one thing I would have you include is, when you say it was ...
I don't know, does this mean your work was being sold as framed prints, or was it ... was it on a pillow, or was it on a-
Zeek Taylor: They were framed limited edition prints.
Mason Funk: [00:52:00] Okay, good. So just explain that.
Zeek Taylor: And ended up doing pillow work though. That's how I did the chimps.
Mason Funk: Okay. But just start the story again and include just how the work was being merchandised.
Zeek Taylor: My first big break in my art career occurred when this woman came into the salon where I was working to get a hair cut and noticed a painting that I had done that was hanging in the salon. She really-
Mason Funk: Can I interrupt one more time.
Mason Funk: Include in the introduction how old you were, and where you were working at the time.
Zeek Taylor: [00:53:00] My big break with my art career came in Fayetteville. I was in my late 30s at the time. I was working in a salon. A woman came in to get her hair cut and noticed a painting on the wall that I had done. She really liked it. She was a rep for a national art company, out of Chicago, and she thought my work would be perfect for framed prints that the Franklin company of Chicago carried.
She sent samples to them, photographs. They agreed and so my work ended up as signed, numbered, framed prints carried in markets coast to coast, from New York city to San Francisco. The work was carried by, sold in Dillard's department stores, Neiman Marcus, a lot of other outlets homes department stores in New Orleans.
I went to markets in Dallas, Atlanta and in North Carolina. In those markets, especially at North Carolina high point, there were international buyers so my work ended up in the Orient, in Sweden. I had people from all over, which was a dream come true for me. Because of that, I was able to concentrate on my art career, and that made it possible for me to move from Fayetteville to Eureka Springs, where I really wanted to live because it's an art colony.
So Dick and I moved to Eureka Springs, all because of having my work on the international market. When we moved here, I was 40 at the time, so I still had a lot of years to paint.
Mason Funk: [00:54:30] And what were the paintings of? For example, the painting on the wall in your salon, what was it of?
Zeek Taylor: [00:55:00] The painting that the woman noticed in the salon was of a house, a Victorian home. It was essentially a house portrait, and this was popular on the international market, the decorating market. I did several house portraits on the international market. One in particular was of a house in Fayetteville, and everywhere I was, it didn't matter. At market, a buyer would say, oh this reminds me of my grandmother's house, or this reminds me of the house where I grew up. There was a sentimental attachment to that particular piece to so many people.
The other subject matter I did were florals, which always sold well. The hardest part for me at that time was, working with a particular color palette, I had to use whatever the color trend was, and at that time, green was a no no.
So I had to learn to paint florals and house settings with bushes and trees answer suggest green without using it. I've had a lot of people ask me, how could you let someone control you like that. I didn't consider it as being told what to do. I considered it as a challenge, and I think it helped me grow creatively by having to think outside of the box about having to not think green when I was painting florals.
Mason Funk: So what were some of the solutions you'd come up with?
Zeek Taylor: [00:56:30] I learned, instead of using green if i used a bluish gray, it had the feel of green, and if i would make the flowers in a floral so dominant, and suggest the leaves and stems with that grayish blue, that it worked. It worked in the stores where it was carried, people bought it.
Mason Funk: There's a wonderful parable there. I don't know what it is. It feels like some kind of a metaphor for gay life.
Mason Funk: Now, I know that if somebody goes to your website, they will find a single type of painting that dominates all the others which is chimpanzees. Tell us about that and how did that come about?
Zeek Taylor: [00:57:30] I'm often asked about an iconic image that I use in my art, and that is chimpanzees. I do a lot of chimpanzees. I almost felt like a robot when people ask, why do you paint chimpanzees? The first one I did, was an assignment. At that time I was doing work for a decorative pillow company, and they would use my paintings, put them on fabric, and make pillows. They would tell me what they wanted, and one thing the wanted was a clothed chimp.
It was so well received and so much fun to do, I just kept doing them. People started collecting them and it allowed me to have an iconic image that people recognized as a Zeek Taylor, but it also let me play around with costuming in a way, because I would make costumes up in my paintings of the chimps, and make stories. Each painting had it's little story card. It satisfied me in a lot of ways, and I'm still painting chimps, and still creating stories, and still having a great time with it.
Mason Funk: And you published a book based on this.
Zeek Taylor: [00:59:00] I do have a book with several of my images in it. It's a colored book, an art book called, Chimps having fun. Zeek has fun doing them. It's been a good seller, they carry it in the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art museum store. Sells well there. It's fun to have so many images in one place in a book. There are people that would like to have an original painting that can't afford it, but they can take home these images.
Also, kids and adults both love the book. It's fun for children, but some of the stories are sort of ... I won't say adult theme, but adults appreciate the stories as well.
Mason Funk: That reminds me, I used to do some documentaries for Disney about their animated films, and the creators would say, all that we’re about is writing a story that adults will appreciate on one level, and kids will appreciate on another.
Zeek Taylor: Yes, and I do that too.
Mason Funk: [01:00:00] Yeah. Ha.
So what are some of the ... as your relationship with these chimps has grown, and kind of evolved, what are some of the themes that you enjoy in terms of these chimps, these animals. What you're able to express about yourself through them.
Zeek Taylor: [01:00:30] Most of the chimpanzees that I do are female. So maybe I'm able to put that feminine part of my personality in to my work when I create these characters.
One of the last ones that I did was sort of cat themed, the chimpanzee is a cat lady, there are several cats in it. She has on a dress with cat images on it. Her name is Kitty Catmore. I love cats as well as chimps.
Sometimes the story comes while I'm doing the painting, even although it starts as a theme. Sometimes it might be a cowgirl theme, or whatever. I also do themes that show ethnicity ... I've done Japanese, I've done Egyptian themed chimpanzees. I not only do paintings, I do three dimensional shadow boxes, where I incorporate the chimpanzees into a little stage setting. In those I use a scroll saw. I cut out the chimpanzee image, do the painting. I use mirrors and Swarski crystals in it. They're a lot of fun to do.
Mason Funk: Wow. Sounds like a lot of fun. I'd love to see ... Do you have any of those three dimensional ones here?
Zeek Taylor: [01:02:00] I don't. I had one.
There's the show called the delta show in Little Rock, it's like an eight state show, and I have one in the Arkansas art center. The only other one I had is in Fayetteville now.
Mason Funk: Switching topics, tell us about you and Dick, about your marriage. About your wedding and how that came about, and the controversy that swirled around that.
Zeek Taylor: [01:02:30] Dick and I really wanted to get married when marriage became legal in certain states. We talked about driving ... At that time the nearest state would have been Iowa, to get married. But we really wanted to get married where we lived, we wanted to get married in Arkansas. So we thought, will this ever happen? we just had to take a chance and wait it out, and hopefully get married in Arkansas.
In 2014, in May, a judge in Little Rock, Judge Piazza , at the end of the day, on a Friday, declared that the ban against same sex marriage in Arkansas was unconstitutional.
It was too late for anything to happen because it was 5 o'clock on Friday. I was at an art reception, but I knew that he was going to issue this ruling one way or the other. I was monitoring it on my phone. I saw that it happened. I called Dick, who was at home, and I proposed to him. I said, would you like to get married. He said, “what!”. He said, “sure”. So I said, “we are going to the courthouse in the morning”.
Eureka Springs is a tourist destination, and one of it's draws is it’s a marriage venue. It's known as the marriage capital of the mid south, and for that reason, the courthouse in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, is the only courthouse open on Saturdays to issue a marriage license. So I thought we can do it.
So, I planned a garden wedding in our backyard, contacted friends. I thought we'll go down get our license, come home, get married. I contacted this friend of mine, a former mayor to perform the ceremony. Then I got wind, through the HRC, that there could be some trouble, and that, if we could get the license, we should get married as soon as we could, so I contacted my friend that was going to perform the ceremony. I said, be at the courthouse, because we're not going to wait.
We got to the courthouse very, very early. It opened at 9 Okey o'clock, but we were there at six. There were two female couples ahead of us.. one of them had driven from Fort Smith, the other was from central Arkansas.
Soon, there were lots of people there, because it was the only place for same sex couples to get married in Arkansas. So we waited. The deputy county clerk showed up, and I knew her. She walked up the steps ... you have to walk up steps to get into the courthouse. I was standing there, and she told me that she would not issue marriage license to same sex couples. Only to normal couples.
I had judge Piazza’s ruling, I had printed off the 14 pages, and I said, “You are authorized to marry us. It is now legal, and we demand our rights.” She said, “I'm not going to do it.”
I told everyone to get in line, and go in to the courthouse. We lined up the way we were. We were third in line. We stood there, and stood there, and stood there, and waited. She called the police to run us out of the courthouse for disturbing the peace, I guess. I'm not really sure what she thought we were doing. We're there demanding our rights. We weren't doing anything illegal.
So they came and eventually did clear everyone out. Dick and I were the last to leave, and Dick came home, back up to our house with our friend that had driven over from Fayetteville with all this food and drink for our reception. He'd put some of it away. By the time he got home, the police came back out to the parking lot. I was just getting in my car, and they said, another deputy clerk said she will issue the license.
I called Dick, he got in the car, he came down there. We got back in line the same way we were. We got our license. We walked down the hallway, and were married immediately. Turned our license back in so it could be recorded, because we knew that there was going to be a stay executed.
I think that day there were maybe 70 couples that were able to get married because the courthouse by law, for some reason had to close by 1 o'clock, and it took that long to issues those licenses. It turns out we were the first male couple to be married in Arkansas, or in any southern state.
I've had people ask me, don't you wish you could have waited and got married in a more formal setting, and had a big reception. I said, “No”. What we did was so historic. It felt so important, and I wouldn't trade the way it happened for anything. We made a stand for equality, we made a stand for love. It was perfect. At that time we'd been together for 42 years. That's a damned long engagement, so ... We've celebrated our third year wedding anniversary and our 45th year of begin together.
Mason Funk: That is awesome.
Now I rarely do this, but I think in this case it's worth doing it. Could you tell the same story, and just try to make it like shorter. Just give me the same story, the same bullet points but maybe half as long because it might be useful in a short format.
Mason Funk: [01:08:30] Tell me about you and Dick getting married.
Zeek Taylor: [01:09:00] Dick and I waited 42 years to get married, and we wanted to do it in the state of Arkansas. A judge in Little Rock issued a ruling late one Friday afternoon that it was unconstitutional to deny gay people the right to marry.
Eureka Springs is the only courthouse open in the state of Arkansas to issue marriage license so I called Dick and said ... we were in different locations ... to ask if he wanted to get married. He said, “Yes.”
So we were at the courthouse the very next morning about six o'clock. The courthouse opened at nine. There were two female couples ahead of us to get their license, and soon there were people from all across the state there since it was the only courthouse open in the state of Arkansas to issue the marriage license.
The deputy clerk showed up, the one that would issue the license and refused to do so, told me she would only issue them to normal people. I had the judge’s ruling in my hand, the pages that I'd printed off. I told everyone get in line, we went in the courthouse and stood our ground. She called the police on us, they ran us out of the courthouse. About the time we'd all got out of the courthouse, we're all getting in our cars, the police said another deputy clerk would issue the license.
So, we got back in line, Dick and I were still third, we got our license. We walked down the hall. This friend of ours was waiting for us, he could perform the ceremony for us. We were married immediately in the courthouse. I turned in the license to have it recorded so that there was nothing they could do then. We were legal. We were the first male couple to be married in the state of Arkansas, or any southern state. It was a perfect day.
Mason Funk: That's awesome.
Zeek Taylor: That good enough?
Mason Funk: [01:10:30] That was perfect. It was amazing how you were able to shorten it. It was great.
So let me ask you this. Prior to marriage ever becoming a possibility for same sex couples, when you first started hearing about marriage, what was your reaction to it?
Zeek Taylor: [01:11:00] Dick and I had talked about if marriage were ever legal, would we get married? And when it was happening in certain states, after we thought about it and researched it, we wanted to be married.
Not because we felt like we needed to make a stronger commitment, a religious commitment or ... we wanted a legal commitment.. we wanted the same protections, the legal protections that straight people have when they get married. We wanted to be able to have joint property.
We wanted to be able to that if one of us passed away, that the other one automatically had that property as a married spouse. We wanted to make sure we had hospital visitation rights. Those things that were denied to people, gay people that were living in a spousal relationship without the legality of marriage, of having that license.
That's the main reason we wanted ... it had nothing to do with ... We couldn't have been more committed but it is really given us a great relief. A sense of protection; protection, and equality.
Mason Funk: [01:12:30] Over the course of your relationship with Dick, it's been a lot of time. You said 45 years. What have been some of the ups and downs?
Zeek Taylor: [01:13:00] I think Dick and I ... with the relationship there's been more ups than downs. Even when there has been down time, things that were down, we've been there to support each other. There's things that I've gone through that I thought, if I didn't have Dick, could I have done this?
At our age, of course, we've lost people to death, that's always a downer. Our parents are gone, both my sisters are gone, but just having each other to have that support of a strong relationship and a spouse to prop you up has even made the down times, up times.
When we live in Fayetteville and have to live ... He had to live a double life. In a way that was a down time because we weren't always comfortable being out together. That was sad, but there's been a lot more good times than bad times, that's for sure.
And no matter what kind of time it is, it’s good to have someone to share it with.
Mason Funk: [01:14:00] I think I have one more question, and then I'm going ... I always let Natalie ... she always has questions too. But I wonder if you can just talk to us about Arkansas. This is my first time here and it's an unlikely place.
Arkansas doesn't figure in national news, but it seems to have a really unique character. You're a native Arkansan, I wonder if you can talk about your perseptive on Arkansas from that point of view, as a native.
Zeek Taylor: [01:15:00] I was born and live most of my life in Arkansas. Arkansas is a southern state, that's for sure, and there's a lot of things I like about the south and about Arkansas. I'm proud of being from the south.
There was a time when I was taking some journalism courses, some radio courses when they tried to make me change my accent, and I couldn't do it, so I now own it. But the state as a whole, has a lot of wonderful people, but a lot of conservative people. Especially nowadays, politically.
We are fighting legislation to make our life harder as gay people. I hate that part of it. I love the friendliness of Arkansas, the southern friendliness, the manners. The food is great. It's a beautiful, beautiful state. I think a lot of people don't realize that ... how beautiful it is. How wonderful it is here.
Where I live in Arkansas, in eureka Springs is an oasis of liberalism. It's a wonderful, beautiful place to live. Other areas in the state that are the same. Right now, we have a total Republican legislature. Our representatives and senators are Republican, but Arkansas was one of the last holdouts at being a Democratic stronghold of the south. I'm hoping that we can resist and turn that back around, because it really is a beautiful, wonderful, warm place if you can get past the politics. We've had ... Bill Clinton, I think helped our image some, and the woman that should be president now, Hilary. We've had some strong people come out of Arkansas that have helped put us on the map, but we are often overlooked.
Mason Funk: Is there anything that you would say distinguishes Arkansas, say from Mississippi, or, I don't know what state exactly is due east. I should know, Tennessee, or-
Zeek Taylor: Oklahoma, Texas, Tennessee.
Mason Funk: [01:17:00] Yeah. In the surrounding states, what makes Arkansans different?
Zeek Taylor: [01:17:30] Man that's a little bit of a tough question. Arkansas, is probably more, as a whole, akin to Tennessee, Mississippi and Louisiana, culturally. Texas, we border, a little bit of Texas, and Oklahoma. They both have more of a western flavor to them. Missouri ends up being, even through the southern part is ... Missouri is still pretty southern. Boot Hill is really southern, but it has more of a Midwest feel.
Unfortunately what sort of ... the similarity is our politics. The conservative nature of the people living in Arkansas and the surrounding states. If the weather weren't so bad, I'd move to Massachusetts, but we're so used to having nice warm winters here. At the same time I would never leave, I'd rather stay and try to make it better. Try to make it better. It is definitely a southern state. You take that for what it's worth, and more akin to Mississippi, Louisiana, and Tennessee than the other states.
Great. Hey Natalie, do you have questions?
Natalie Tsui: Yeah, I was wondering if you could talk about the queer community in Eureka Springs?
Paint us a picture of that. And talk to me as if I ask the questions.
Natalie Tsui: Yeah, don't look here at all.
Zeek Taylor: No one over there.
Eureka Springs is a-
Mason Funk: [01:19:00] Can you say Eureka Springs, Arkansas.
Zeek Taylor: [01:19:30] Eureka Springs, Arkansas is a resort and has always been a resort area. It's in the Ozark mountains, a town of 2,200 people, and we have a million or more tourists every year come through, so it seems a lot bigger.
It's known as a place where hippies live. It's got that reputation, and it has a reputation as an art colony but also, it's reputation that I'm proudest of is that it's a gay mecca.
We have three diversity weekends a year in Eureka Springs. A lot of gay tourists, a lot of gay own businesses. We have a huge gay population, per capita in our town. We have gay people that are part of city government. I myself have been on the arts council, the arts committee, I’ve boarded chamber of commerce board, so we are in every aspect of the city, but the best part about it is, we feel like we belong here.
It's sorta strange but we'll go to parties, and they're all mixed, and I don't think about being different at all. We're a couple, just like any other couple. It has a wonderful feel to it that way. Everyone is so accepting of each other here in this little town in Arkansas.
Natalie Tsui: Wait, a business.
Mason Funk: Just back up and say everyone is so accepting of each other. Hold on one second. Yeah, just start there again.
Zeek Taylor: Everyone is so accepting of each other in this little town of Eureka Springs, Arkansas.
Mason Funk: I think you said somewhere online is what makes us all alike, is that we're all different.
Mason Funk: Is that right?
Zeek Taylor: [01:21:00] Yes, that is.
There's so many different types of people in Eureka Springs, and from so many different places, and we are all different, and in a sense that makes us all alike, because we have those differences. It makes it exciting and fun to be with people from everywhere with different viewpoints even.
Mason Funk: Is there much mixing between ... I know there's also a very strong Christian community, church based faith based community here. And then there's the queer community, and the hippies, and these artists. Do those communities just all leave each other alone or is there some dialog?
Zeek Taylor: [01:22:00] There are several churches in Eureka Springs, Arkansas. The ones that are here that would be considered more conservative tend to perhaps stay to themselves more. They don't really give us any flack or trouble. I don't know if they accept us. They are tolerant of us, but they are also three churches here that are so supportive of the gay community. Unitarian church, the Episcopal church, and particularly the Methodist church, has a congregation that has a certain title to it of being an accepting congregation. It has a huge number of gays that go there.
The Methodist church joined Eureka Springs Methodist church in our pride parade festival in Fayetteville. They're always there to support. All three of those churches set up in the park downtown, their diversity, to give refreshments and drinks to gay tourists. It's sort of interesting. I think we have some of the right churches in the town like this for our community. And for those gay people that feel the need for church, it's readily available.
Mason Funk: Natalie do you have other questions?
Natalie Tsui: Okay, I have one more.
So you moved from Memphis to here.
Zeek Taylor: Or to Fayetteville and then here.
Natalie Tsui: [01:23:30] Fayetteville and then here, and it seems like you were saying that it was dangerous, so I was wondering if you could elaborate on the importance of a queer community, or a queer friendly community in your life.
Zeek Taylor: [01:24:00] Dick and I moved from Memphis because the crime was getting bad. It was a metropolitan area and we wanted to move to the Ozark mountains of Arkansas, but at the same time, we wanted a gay friendly community. We thought that a place where we could both work would be Fayetteville, Arkansas, and because of the university of arkansas, the main campus is there, we knew it would be probably more gay friendly, more liberal, and it was.
We chose the right place. The entire time we were there, even before we were there, I really wanted to live in Eureka Springs, because it certainly is a gay friendly place to live. I wanted small, I wanted beautiful, but I wanted gay friendly. It's hard to find all those things in one place in a small town, but we found it.
Natalie Tsui: That's it for me.
Mason Funk: Awesome.
So let's do the book reading. So why don't you grab the book.
Natalie Tsui: Or do you want to do your four questions.
Mason Funk: No, let's do the book first if you don't mind. And the book is where?
Natalie Tsui: [01:25:00] Just over there, because your chair is almost at the tripods.
[inaudible 01:25:01]
Mason Funk: There you go.
Zeek Taylor: So you're going to Little Rock tomorrow, or tonight.
Mason Funk: We're going tonight actually.
Zeek Taylor: How long will you be in little Rock?
Mason Funk: Two nights and one day.
Zeek Taylor: And then where do you go from there.
Mason Funk: Then we go to Jackson, Mississippi.
Zeek Taylor: Mississippi.
Mason Funk: And then keep going south as far as the gulf, and then over to New Orleans.
Zeek Taylor: Oh, wow. Have you been to new Orleans before.
Zeek Taylor: I love New Orleans.
Mason Funk: [inaudible 01:25:27]
Zeek Taylor: [01:25:30] It is wonderfully decadent.
Mason Funk: So why don't you just. To make it flow smoothly have your finger in the he book but just have it in your lap, the book.
Mason Funk: And let me just say, what do you have in your hand there? And you'd say like, here's a book that I wrote. It's called out in the delta. It's about blank, and here's little excerpt. Here's a little story from it. Something like that.
Mason Funk: [01:26:00] So what do you have in your hand there?
Zeek Taylor: [01:26:30] This is a book that I wrote called Out of the Delta. It's pretty much an autobiography, and this is a little story from that book.
As a child, I had many pets. I had dogs, cats, a pony, mallard ducks, geese, pigeons, hamsters, turtles, and a rabbit. Also, I had aquariums and I had parakeets. One pet that I desperately wanted was a monkey. I would see ads for squirrel monkey in the back of comic books. No matter how much I begged my parents to let me order one, the answer was always no, monkeys are nasty.
In the fall, during cotton harvest, when folks had money, there was an auction every Saturday night in downtown Marmaduke, the town where I was living. The auction nave folks an opportunity to socialize, and to spend some of their cotton picking money.
I loved going to the auctions to watch people bid, and I liked viewing the ever changing merchandise. At one of the auctions, there was a live monkey that was going up for bid. I arrive at the auction early, saw the monkey, and immediately ran the couple of blocks back home to get my daddy. I wanted him to go to the auction and bid on the monkey. He did go back to the auction with me, but he refused to bid on the monkey.
Hoping to appease me, he bid on, and bought for me, a fairly good sized chalk deer compete with antlers. That helped a little but it wasn't a monkey. Almost 60 years later, I still have the chalk deer. It is an aged patina. The antlers are long gone, and I had to glue one of its ears back on.
Every time I look at the deer I think, you should have been a monkey.
Mason Funk: That's great.
Natalie Tsui: [01:28:00] There was a car that pulled, it kind of backfired during the last couple of sentences so I don't know if you want to re read it.
Mason Funk: I think it's probably going to be fine. With that mic on him, I think it's so directional.
Natalie Tsui: I heard it. It was like zzzz and then like ch ch...
Mason Funk: Okay, then we should probably have you do it again.
Zeek Taylor: The whole story
Mason Funk: Yeah, yeah, yeah, the whole thing.
Zeek Taylor: I'll get one drink of water.
Zeek Taylor: I have allergies.
Mason Funk: They kick in. Probably especially when you're being interviewed.
Zeek Taylor: Of course.
Haven't sneezed or anything though.
Mason Funk: [01:28:30] By the way, what is a chalk monkey?
Zeek Taylor: A chalk-
Mason Funk: I mean a chalk deer. It's like a mounted head?
Zeek Taylor: No, it's on my back porch, do you want to see it.
Mason Funk: If you could just describe it.
Zeek Taylor: There it is. Like the carnival chalk figures they used to give.
Mason Funk: Oh, okay. Oh. A chalk monkey.
Zeek Taylor: A deer.
Mason Funk: [01:29:00] I mean a chalk deer. The thing is I realized when you were reading the story. I thought, I wonder-
Zeek Taylor: That's what they use to call them chalk.. they're really more like plaster.
You want me to change the word to plaster?
Mason Funk: That would be good. That would just make the whole thing-
Zeek Taylor: If you were my age and grew up in Arkansas, you'd know, but I'll do plaster.
Mason Funk: Yeah, I heard you say plaster deer, we'll get it immediately.
Mason Funk: So start over by saying, what I have here is this book. Just like you did before.
Zeek Taylor: I have a book that I've written. It's called, Out of the Delta.
Mason Funk: I'm sorry, just keep talking to me.
Natalie Tsui: Yeah, don't look here. Don't ever look here.
I have a book I've written.. it's called, Out of the Delta.
It's pretty much an autobiography, and this is a short story from that book.
Not my monkey.
As a child, I had many pets. I had dogs, cats, a pony, mallard ducks, geese, pigeons, hamsters, turtles, and a rabbit. Also I had aquariums and I had parakeets. The one pet that I desperately wanted was a monkey. I would see ads for squirrel monkeys in the he back of comic books. No matter how much I begged my parents to order one, the answer was always no, monkeys are nasty.
In the fall, during cotton harvest, when folks had money, there was an auction every Saturday night in downtown Marmaduke, the town where I was living. The auction gave folks an opportunity to socialize, and to spend some of their cotton picking money.
Hoping to appease me, he bid on, and bought for me, a fairly good sized plaster deer compete with antlers. That helped a little but it wasn't a monkey. Almost 60 years later, I still have the plaster deer. It is an aged patina . The antlers are long gone, and I had to glue one of its ears back on a couple of times.
Mason Funk: That's great. That's great. Thank you for that.
Now we have final four questions I ask every interview. Let's move the book completely out of the frame.
Natalie Tsui: Yeah, that's out.
Mason Funk: [01:31:30] That's out, and it's still on the table.
These are intended to be short, kind of concise answers. Not that you're haven't been, but these are like the short ones at the end.
The first one I like to ask people is, if somebody came to you today and said that he or she was thinking about coming out, whatever that meant to that person. From your own experience, what little pearl of guidance or wisdom would you share with that person?
Zeek Taylor: [01:32:00] If someone came to me and asked about coming out, I really don't know if I could give them an easy answer because situations are so different. But it is freeing to come out. My partner/husband, Dick always approached coming out to people differently than I had to do.
I was pretty much out. Evident in who I am. But he would work with people and let them get to know him in different situations, and then he would tell them that he was gay. That would probably work for quite a few situations. It may not be easy, but it is liberating.
What is your hope for the future?
Zeek Taylor: [01:33:00] My hope for the future is that more and more rights are granted to homosexual people. IT’s getting better all the time, compared to when I was young. I really have great hope for young people that they are going to have the same rights. They're going to have equal rights. They're not going to be tolerated, but they're going to be accepted. And I really think this is going to happen. I have great hope with the young people. I think they're ready for it.
You've told your story now a number of times. You've become ... you've been in the Huffington Post and on StoryCorps, but why is it important to you to tell your story?
Zeek Taylor: [01:34:00] I feel like, of me, and for everyone, the more we tell our stories, the more everyone, the public, realizes that we're human beings just like they are. I think it just lets people know who we are. I think it's been important for me, I started doing it. The first time I did it was for a radio show called Tales from the South, and when I did it, it was so ... that was liberating. It went out to 130 million people worldwide.
I thought, okay, there's that many people that know me and they know a gay guy that told a story, and I hope they liked it, and I hope they like me, and that's why I like to tell the story, I guess.
And lastly, what do you see is the importance of a project like OUTWORDS, which is like a collection of stories like yours from all over the country, and eventually sharing them with many, many, many people. Kind of like Tales from the South.
Zeek Taylor: [01:35:00] I think projects like OUTWARDS is very important, because it is going to document history. People my age, I'm 70, went through a time, and have seen great changes in attitudes toward homosexuality, from it being a crime and a mental disease, to really being accepted by the majority of the American public now.
But I think it's important to document that history. To let younger people know what we went through to get them there.
Mason Funk: What do you see as some of the things you went through to get younger people here?
Zeek Taylor: [01:36:00] I think for me personally, just working so quietly and with a loving heart has made people accept me as a gay person, and maybe that's my contribution.
There have been warriors in this fight from Harvey Milk on up, that are heroes of mine, so there's different ways to do it. I like to infiltrate and work from the inside out.
I don't know if I really made a brave stand, but I have made a stand, and I feel good about what I've done.
Mason Funk: One of the impressions I have of you is that you ... just by being who you are ... that you've been kind of a change agent, because you've been creative, you've been a kind of a free spirit. Do you relate to that? Does my perception seem accurate to you?
Zeek Taylor: [01:37:00] I guess so, only because people tell me that, that I've inspired them. I had people tell me that today. It is almost embarrassing to me, but I hope I have achieved the goal to put a human face on a gay person, and hopefully inspired people, gay and straight.
I've sort of had a Forrest Gump type life in a way. Things have come my way and I've been really fortunate to be where I am and to have been where I've been. Sort of an embarrassing question for me because-
Mason Funk: I can tell, it's okay.
I didn't mean to put you on the spot.
Zeek Taylor: That's alright.
Mason Funk: [01:38:00] But my last question would be, some people talk about the goal of acceptance. Tolerance, but then acceptance, but some people also talk about the celebration of the gay spirit in the world. The gay presence, the queer presence as having a unique contribution to make to the world. Adding something to the world. Do you see things that way?
Zeek Taylor: [01:38:30] I do see that. I think if ever gay person disappeared from the face of the earth now, a lot of culture in particular would be lost. The arts would really suffer.
I think gay people as a group, as a culture has made serious contributions all through time, from the beginning of time, and I think if we're allowed to be free, and granted our rights, we can contribute that much more.
Mason Funk: Great. That's fantastic.
How's that for you Natalie.
Natalie Tsui: Good.
Mason Funk: Good. Okay.
Zeek Taylor: Okay. Okay.
Mason Funk: [01:39:00] We're done. We're going to do 30 seconds of what we call room tone which is silence basically. That's technical, except for the final mop up details.
Natalie Tsui: So room tone.

Interviewed by: Mason Funk
Camera: Natalie Tsui
Date: July 07, 2017
Location: Home of Zeek Taylor, Eureka Springs. AR