Recently, I had the opportunity to sit down with J. Courtney Sullivan of Vogue magazine to discuss life, love, and all things Nayrotica™. Below is the transcript.


J. Courtney Sullivan: Thank you so much for taking the time to sit with me today and indulge my curiosity. 

Nay: Oh? What curiosity is that? <laughs> No, no. Thank you! I hope it wasn’t too much of a hassle to find this place. I know it’s off the beaten path.

JCS: It is, isn’t it? Perhaps that’s where I will start… Why this place?

Nay: It’s adorable, quaint. I met the owners at Chelsea Market a while back. They were very sweet and told me about their café over here. It’s been open for 27 years now, and with more and more corporate cafés opening, it’s really a testament to the small business owner… but that’s not what you’re here to talk about.

JCS: True, true. Okay. Then let’s get into it.

Nay: Uh oh. Let’s.

JCS: I think a lot of people share my first questions… Why Nayrotica? What does it mean and where did it come from?

Nay: Yeah. It came from a couple of things honestly. So I have a nickname, Nay Nay, and it’s probably no surprise to anyone, but I have an irrational love for Madonna. When I was thinking about what to call my variety show, a lot of names were floating around, most of them had references to Madonna albums. I kept coming back to her Erotica album. That stage of her career has always fascinated me. The short hair, the masks, the gender play. In merging the two things, Erotica and Nay Nay, I came up with Nayrotica™. It’s an homage and word play.

JCS: Nayrotica started as a show, but now it seems to have become something more. Is that intentional or did is just start to happen?

Nay: At first it wasn’t intentional. Don’t get me wrong, I had a lot of fun promoting that show and am delighted that Nayrotica has become something more, but it wasn’t the goal at the onset. But sometimes the universe just gives you a set of options, and you have to roll with it. That is what I am doing; I am remaining open to whatever comes my way. I haven’t always been that way. Once upon a time, I was living in a very prescribed manner and was absolutely miserable. I never had fun; I could never relax. I was always looking at the shortcomings of the world around me, and then in turn also beating myself up for all of my shortcomings. That’s no way to live. Years of therapy, fitness, eating right, and a mood stabilizer later, I am much happier. That isn’t to say those feelings of inadequacy and low self worth don’t emerge from time to time, but they are not constant and they don’t last long. I was in a bad place, breaking down in public, not being able to lift my self off the floor and the pool of tears I had created, literally. Mental health is one of the most commonly ignored areas of our lives, probably because there is such a stigma in the US attached to admitting that you need help, or that you are not well. I was exhausted and I needed help. I sought it out, and it changed my life. It allowed me to breathe and really start seeing the big picture again. But I digress.

JCS: You speak so candidly about it. 

Nay: Yes. I do. I don’t think there should be shame attached to seeking help; whether that be for tasks or health reasons. From such a young age, we get one of two messages: go find a mate who can take care of you; or be alone and rely only on yourself for everything. When we are pigeonholed into one of these two prisons, it’s easy to lose sight of a more multi-dimensional way of living. Things don’t have to be either/or. I am tired of people trying to tell me that. You either fail/succeed, lose/win, marry/become a shrew, be male/female. After a lot of reflection and negotiating with myself, I can easily and wholeheartedly say that I reject the binary system, with my whole person. There is not one part of me that believes we only have two directions we can go in our lives– which I think it pretty clear when looking at me.

JCS: That’s amazing. And I would imagine it’s not easy every day. You take a “zero fucks” attitude to a new level. 

Nay: Ha! Well, yeah. I guess I do. But it’s not just because of my shining personality… <laughs> It’s because of the people with whom I surround myself. My friends are remarkable– all successful in their fields and not because they have been given everything. They have all worked to get what they have. There is no overnight success in my circle. We have all worked through the jobs that were horrible– the jobs that everyone says gives you solid life experience and teaches you hard work, discipline. There has been no instant gratification. That isn’t to say we don’t struggle in our own ways– we each have vices and need to be reminded of the reasons we work so hard every day. And the funny thing is, the goal that we are each working towards is like one of those fake rabbits at a dog race. What a horrible thought– I hate when they take animals and pit them against each other. But that rabbit– it’s always in front of the dogs; most of the time the dogs never catch that rabbit. Very occasionally, a dog is too fast, which is antithetical to the whole idea of a race, but it’s too fast. And then it’s a massacre. I don’t know if you’ve ever see it when a dog catches the rabbit? It’s horrifying. <long pause> To me, that’s what each of our lives look like. We run and run to chase our dreams and goals, and if we EVER reach them, it’s chaos. There’s the moment of triumph when you realize you caught that rabbit, but then what happens after? It all falls apart. And that is what I think complacency does to us. The idea is not to reach something and stop, but rather to reach something, reevaluate, redefine, and start working again. That’s just me. I will always want the next thing. I want to be better, do better, live better.

JCS: Can I back you up for a second? 

Nay: Absolutely.

JCS: When you speak of those around you… do you mean that if you choose to NOT spend time with people, they are of no significance to you? 

Nay: Oh. No no no. That’s not what I meant. If that’s what it sounded like, my bad. No, what I mean is that if you are in my life, whether I see you on a regular basis or not, you are valued. I don’t have the time to meet everyone’s needs, and I don’t think that any one person should be held responsible, nor have the time, to do that. It’s a losing battle. I’ve mentioned that I am a free bird… and that means I may not be at every party to which I get invited, but it’s not because I don’t care… quite the opposite. With aging, I have found that I am more introverted than I used to be. I also think sobriety has something to do with that. All the sober community red flags are going to go up when they see this– but, rest assured, I’m not isolating. If I catch myself doing so, I socialize. I push myself to do something fun with friends. So to answer your question, no. <laughs>

JCS: Ok. Let’s talk Nayrotica. I feel like we keep getting sidetracked. 

Nay: That’s your fault. <laughs>

JCS: Fair enough! <laugh> What is your plan for Nayrotica™? To me, it sounds like porn. Or like it’s supposed to be super sexy all the time. Is that true?

Nay: Well I guess that depends on your definition of ‘sexy.’

JCS: Is that your answer?

Nay: Do you want it to be? <pause followed my laughter> Nayrotica™ does not mean sex. It most certainly does not mean porn. I am not a porn producer, nor am I super sexy at the present moment. Look at me!

<He is wearing fashion sweat pants a black v-neck tee, and a long mod black hoodie; his glasses are matte black with tortoise sides>

Nay: So my project is not those things. What it IS? Well, the world is curious, huh?

JCS: Yes! I think they are. And I am too!

Nay: Good. That means I have you just where I want you! <laughs> To be completely honest, it really has taken on a life of its own. It started out as a reason to get my super-talented friends together to have a send off and also do it for a cause. Since I was preparing my return to New York, I want to give thanks the Twin Cities is some way. So I decided to do a fundraiser variety show. I continue to say to my friends, “it’s a true look into the mind of a crazy person.” They laugh, but I’m not entirely kidding.

JCS: Do you think you’re crazy?

Nay: Some days, yes. But then I also believe that most people are crazy– we all have ticks. We all have irrational reactions to certain behaviors. It generally manifests in protection of space, or time, or appearance. We all want to at least appear that we have it ‘together’ when it truth, none of us do. We are all slowly unraveling. I find that beautiful, rather than upsetting or a sign of weakness. Showing your frayed edges? That’s beauty. And if you think you have it all together and that this doesn’t apply? Well. Those are the folks who are going to snap at any moment. Embrace it. Give in. Ease up.

JCS: Easier said than done.

Nay: True. But it takes trust in that grand thing we call the universe. I don’t believe in egalitarianism. That would be boring. Conflict should exist– that is what makes us dynamic. However, trying to control the outcome in every situation only begets more chaos. I know some people who are like that– I used to be one of them! It’s exhausting when you are constantly disappointed by those around you who cannot live up to your expectations. People will never act like you want them to… you have to let them be them, and figure out if that is a person you want to be around. I spent a lot of time working through that idea. Too much, probably. But once I understood it, it opened up my mind and life trajectory to new experiences.

JCS: Will you be my life coach? 

Nay laughs.

JCS: We are almost finished. I just have a rapid fire list of 10 questions that I want to ask you.

Nay: Okay. Let’s do this. Fire away.

JCS: Who was your first love?

Nay: Ha! <stares off into the corner> Hmm. Next question.

JCS: Okay. Valentine’s Day plans?

Nay: No. I am not big on the commercial holidays. Nor am I big on any holiday for that matter. I will likely do something on February 14, but it’s not going to be romantic. It will probably be Nayrotic.

JCS: Way to bring it back! 

Nay: Thank you. It’s my job. Next question.

JCS: What’s your favorite drink at the moment?

Nay: Tonic water. I love tonic water. Did you know the quinine helps with leg cramps?

JCS: I didn’t! Do you have many leg cramps?

Nay: Not anymore!

JCS: <laughs> When are you releasing Nayrotica™ on Youtube?

Nay: After this interview.

JCS: Exciting! I know your fans are looking forward to it. 

Nay: I hope so. How many questions do we have left?

JCS: …3, 4, 5, 6. 6 questions. Who is your favorite designer at the moment?

Nay: Helmut Lang with always and forever be my favorite. But I know local boutiques more than anything, You can find unique pieces and I am a huge proponent of consignment stores too.

JCS: Do you have tattoos or piercings?

Nay: Yes. And I used to.

JCS: May I ask where? And what are they?

Nay: No. And that was 2 additional questions. You have 2 left.

JCS: I like it when you play hardball! Okay, what do you think your life in one year will look like?

Nay: Huh. In one year? Well, I try not to live in the future, but if I were to answer that honestly, hopefully my book will be out. And I will be studying and reading more. I really striving to be the best version of myself daily. And I fail, all the time. But that’s what we do. We fail, and we try again. So, I would imagine I will be doing that pretty regularly in a year. <pause> Last question.

JCS: What’s one word that would describe your next project?

Nay: Shit. NO! That’s not my word– that was my knee jerk reaction to the question… So no. Not my work. So one word… That’s tough. Ok. Here it is. <pause> NAYROTIC.

JCS: Naturally. 

Nay: I think you meant Nayturally. 

JCS: Of course. Of course I did. 

To watch the entire Naytrotica show, please visit Youtube here