Seth Eisen

Homo File image

Homo File

MAY 30-JUN 15, 2014, FRI-SAT at 8PM, SUN at 7:00PM

Eye Zen’s racy performance project Homo File chronicles queer iconoclast Sam Steward—the sexiest professor on campus; seminal tattoo artist, author of pioneering homoerotic fiction and sexual rebel. The sold out 2012 work-in-progress returns, now a full-length production, premiering at CounterPULSE for the National Queer Arts Festival, May-June 2014.

Seth Eisen imageSeth Eisen (Artistic Director) is a San Francisco-based artist creating a hybrid of live performance and visual media as a vehicle to broaden human perspectives and effect social change. He performed as a member of the Butoh companies Harupin–Ha and Ink Boat from 1994-99. From 2000-10 he toured with Keith Hennessy and Circo Zero across the US and Europe. His solo performances and installation projects have been featured in the San Francisco Bay Area at The Oakland Museum of California, Yerba Buena Center, as well as being presented in art spaces on both coasts. For the past 20 years, Eisen staged performance pieces, street spectacles and installations and appeared in a number of collaborative productions created with other Bay Area artists. In 2007, Eisen founded Eye Zen Presents, a theater company that promotes social change by linking Queer history and aesthetics to contemporary Queer culture. The company’s productions have focused on recovering the lost history of Queer ancestors whose lives have been erased from the historical record. The work engenders an aesthetic that communicates across multiple genres and frameworks, blurring boundaries and expanding the dialogue between theater and visual art.


Eye Zen Presents: Mission, Vision and History

Eye Zen Presents promotes social change by employing the arts to reclaim the history, stories and traditions of Queer culture. Founded by Seth Eisen in 2007, Eye Zen creates visually dynamic, interdisciplinary devised theater productions that promote community dialogues on a wide-range of LGBTQ historical, social and political issues. All of Eye Zen’s productions have resonated deeply with LGBT audiences because they artistically examine periods when social and political repression erased most of the evidence of the nation’s LGBT community from the pages of history. In addition to artistically expressing and recapturing our community’s little-known past, our productions have explored the many self-protective disguises queer people have worn to conceal their private lives from the public.

Artistic Director Seth Eisen began creating original work in 1994 and, in 2007, Eisen founded Eye Zen Presents to raise funds to support the production of Blackbird: Honoring a Century of Pansy Divas, and became a fiscally sponsored client of San Francisco’s CounterPULSE. This production examined the lives of seven culturally diverse Queer artists of the 20th century such as disco diva Sylvester, New Wave operatic siren Klaus Nomi, film and stage star Danny Kaye and Brazil’s Ney Matogrosso, whose work subverted their era’s prevailing cultural norms by inventing innovative ways to be out, queer and vocal. Blackbird premiered at the 2010 National Queer Arts Festival and was subsequently staged 11 times in San Francisco.

In 2011-12, Eye Zen originated Buffet FlatsQueering Slow Food, a series of 5 sold-out performance events that took place in individual homes and at community sites. A racially diverse creative team of Queer actors, musicians, performance artists, chefs, farmers and ecology specialists worked with Eye Zen to stage these events. Part Queer history cabaret, part dinner theater and part environmental education program, they  informed the audience about the Pansy Craze of the 1920s, Gay history, local food sources and diverse culinary traditions within the LGBT community.


About Homo File

Homo File, a multidisciplinary theatrical production chronicling the life of Samuel Steward (1909-1993). Steward was a college professor, a prolific author of homoerotic fiction, an influential tattoo artist, and a sexual rebel who lived in the Bay Area for 30 years before dying at age 84, nearly forgotten. Homo File was developed at CounterPULSE as work-in-progress through the ARC program where we created the work during our residency (May-September 2012). In September 2012 we staged eight sold-out performances at CounterPULSE of a 40-minute work-in progress. Since then the creative team has been developing a 90-minute production that will premiere in May 2014.

Since 2007, our productions have told the stories of little known and under-recognized LGBT people whose lives contributed to the formation of contemporary Queer culture. Our current production, Homo File, presents Samuel Steward’s complex life through a devised theater piece incorporating, puppetry, live and recorded music, visual projections and other multi-media forms. It is the first full-length performance about this unique pre-Stonewall pioneer who was connected to many gay luminaries but not widely known.

 I began creating Homo File after reading a biography of Steward’s life, attending a scholarly conference about his work, and interviewing several people who knew him. In the 1950s and 60s, civil rights activists employedHomophile’ as an alternative to the word ‘homosexual.’ Samuel Steward lived for almost 85 years and meticulously described every one of his sexual encounters in his notebooks, “The Stud Files.” These prolific memoirs fill in many missing pieces of Queer history during the pre-gay liberation era (1930 through 1969), a period when the vast majority of the nation’s LGBT community lived underground in fear of being outed, fired, jailed and socially ostracized.

Homo File’s chronological narrative structure highlights the key moments of Samuel Steward’s life, as he evolves over the course of the Twentieth Century through his friendships with author Gertrude Stein and her partner Alice B. Toklas, revolutionary sex researcher Alfred Kinsey, playwright Thornton Wilder, renowned gay photographer George Platt Lynes and numerous other LGBTQ luminaries. Steward’s life story reflects the experiences of many Queer ancestors whose lives have been erased from the historical record. His writings provide a window into the life of a gay man who accepted his sexual orientation and examined his sexual impulses as sources of self-knowledge and artistic vision. Steward’s writings are a testament to how difficult it was for earlier generations of LGBTQ men and women to pursue self-empowerment and achieve self-acceptance while living inside a homophobic culture defined by prejudice and intolerance. By refusing to submit to social oppression, Steward paved the way for future generations of LGBTQ Civil Rights advocates and contemporary Queer culture.




Reading Room:

Books By Samuel Steward (Phil Andros)

As Samuel M. Steward:

As Phil Andros:

Books about Samuel Steward:

Seth Eisen and Eye Zen Art

Seth Eisen image

Seth Eisen’s work is a hybrid of visual art and live performance expanding the dialogue between various disciplines. In 1994 he developed the company Eye Zen Art as an umbrella for curating exhibits, producing performance, visual art projects and installations featured at The Oakland Museum of California, Theater Artaud, Zeum, Yerba Buena Center, SOMARTS, Theater of Yugen, and CounterPulse. He performed with Butoh companies Harupin–Ha and Ink Boat from 1994-1999 and from 2000-2010 with Keith Hennessy and Circo Zero touring in the US and Europe. Seth’s critically acclaimed solo show, Blackbird: Honoring a Century of Pansy Divas, sold out two San Francisco runs and received funding from Zellerbach Family Foundation, San Francisco Arts Commission (IAC) and numerous individual donors.

Eye Zen Art investigates the transgressive traditions of Queer history, Queer space and Queer culture. Through the expansion of LGBT self-awareness our work fosters the evolution of more inclusive conceptions of gender identities and sexual preferences. By harnessing and reclaiming the spirit, stories and traditions of historic and contemporary Queer culture, Eye Zen Arts creates hybrid works that combine live performance and visual media that broaden human perspectives and promote social change. Eye Zen Arts current project, Buffet Flats: Queering Slow Food, is a traveling dinner-salon that combines wild cabaret acts, a live cooking show and ecology talks at Bay Area homes and gardens. Info:

Eye Zen Art is a fiscally sponsored project of CounterPULSE.


Press for Blackbird: Honoring a Century of Pansy Divas (2010)

“Only a few moments into Seth Eisen’s exceptional one-man cabaret and the place is alive and kicking: doleful aspects of the decor making ample room for a sly, vigorous, soulful performer and a completely unexpected journey through some vibrant underground queer history … A multifaceted performer with quick tongue, nimble steps, and hearty voice, Eisen uses drag, dance, puppetry, and performance art techniques to give flight to worthy exotic blackbirds known and forgotten… a rollicking and poignant act of resurrection, insurrection, and homage.”
— Robert Avila, SF Bay Guardian

“Long before Antony warbled in the indie-rock spotlight, there was the lipsticked, harlequin-stylized Klaus Nomi, singing beside David Bowie on “Saturday Night Live.” Decades before Joel Grey scored an Oscar for his turn at androgynous Master of Ceremonies, there was Jean Malin, the drag emcee of the “Pansy Craze” of the early ‘30s. Those are two of the singer–some shimmering with renown and others sadly lost, and still others languishing in obscurity–that Eisen portrays in Blackbird: Honoring a Century of Pansy Divas.”
— Kimberly Chun, San Francisco Chronicle

“Eisen ingeniously morphs into his characters telling their stories not only in song and poetry but also with shadow theater, puppetry and video. His characterizations are nothing short of mesmerizing and his instinct for the theatrical make Blackbird a performance piece full of wonder.”
— Leslie Katz, The San Francisco Examiner



Seth Eisen's Blogs

Pride and Polaroids: a review of Homo File by Cleo Dubois
Jul 26th, 2014

Here is a moving article about Homo File by BDSM educator, coach, scholar and advocate Cleo Dubois. What an honor to have had her come see the show two times and to have participated on our panel discussion on June 6th.



Fly in the Ointment: Help lubricate Homo File
Jun 24th, 2014

by Gary Ivanek


What a wonderful run !!!

It’s been a week since we closed Homo File and the excitement continues. We sold out 8 of 9 shows in our run and we are starting to make plans to take the show to other cities.

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Here are some images from the show that we thought you might like. And at the bottom a special treat from one of our fans. Local tattooist Suzanne Shifflett of Modern Electric Studio created this comic for us. What an honor.

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phil comic

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BROTHERS- Impressions on Homo File
Jun 4th, 2014


By Martin Schwartz

These are impressions by playwright/theater director Martin Schwartz about the Work in Progress showing we presented a month before the show opened.


A hot Sunday a few weeks ago, March 30. I walk the block and a half from where I live to CounterPULSE for a work-in-progress showing of Homo File. I am psychically prepared to listen to human speech and to watch human bodies on a black stage. I write and direct for the stage, and some part of me has always thought of Sunday as a day particularly of the theatre. It is a day of work for our tribe, of repetition and bad jokes and Diet Coke. It is as such the unholy reverse of that other Sunday, the day of worship, rest, and family meals, which different tribes allegedly savor. For us, Sunday means uncertainty and self-examination, the friable hopes and niggling misgivings we confront under fluorescent work lights. But confront them we do. Because soon, the curtain will rise and ticket-holding strangers will fold up their playbills and watch you live under lights.

Soon, that is, but not today. Today, a friendly crowd is assembled here to appreciate your work and your intentions, and to aid you, however it can, as you unite the two. Homo File’s writer/director Seth Eisen has kindly asked me if I wouldn’t reflect a bit on my experience with the show for this blog. Now, I haven’t seen the play since that Sunday and don’t know especially much about its subject, the writer, tattoo-artist, and prolific lover Samuel Steward. But I was moved and stirred to thought by the WIP showing, and perhaps you will allow me to share a few of the impressions and considerations it occasioned.IMG_0607

The piece begins with texts from the foundational sexologist Havelock Ellis, counterweighted by warm, ensemble-sung music and projections. Ah, I mused, there are more objects and tendencies in heaven and on earth than are dreamt of in your sexology—and all of them are accessible by fraternity and good will. And, as Homo File’s score demonstrates, an openness to the forceful, optimistic camaraderie of Weimar-style songcraft doesn’t hurt. I think of Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin, and its one enormous word as the mutineers unite: “BROTHERS!”

Somehow separately, I begin to acclimate to a Face. It starts with an open, honest forehead and sizeable eyes you could as easily imagine on a Image 3spurned child, a benevolent government minister, or an old man at the birth of a granddaughter. The Face ends in a smile just beneath its thin, tidy chevron of a brown mustache. I understand as a matter of instinct that I am to read and follow the Face: it is that of Brian Livingston, the actor who plays, naturally, the lead. Through the Face, I can divine the cliffs, walls, and passages of the world of this play.

We are in the French country garden of Alice B. Toklas and our beloved Gertrude Stein, in whose rarified bosom young Sam is a favored guest. He is a young man of promise, something of a protégé of Gertrude’s: he has produced a novel, still in draft form, of course, of which she is quite fond. I’ve always rather thought of Gertrude Stein as a drag artist of sorts, and so seeing her played by a round-shouldered man, flaunting a drab tunic and a delightfully fruity literary drawl, feels like coming home. Our protagonist is shy. He suffers from a secret pride, as well as a humorously expanding array of food allergies (to the regal consternation of his hostess, Alice). A richly cultured painter (my friend and colleague Ryan Hayes, dripping vice and ennui as Sir Francis Rose) joins the party, accompanied by a shifty young Chicagoan. The Face’s mustache narrows and pinches politely, nervously, and then droops towards the ground. Hints are dropped, glances thrown and misplaced. Dinner is served.

A key. The stage is dark and a fat rope hangs straight down from the rafters. I am concerned. Sam approaches and begins to wrestle with the rope, to subject his body to gravity by means of it, to pinch his stomach and viscera hanging, and undoubtedly to abrade his flesh. When Sam engages the rope, he does so voluntarily, of his will. But as his form and limbs become entwined in the line and his body is variously suspended and swinging, this aspect of choice recedes. Sam’s entire body is implicated and in play, and now I don’t even watch for the Face. The body’s own pendulous, compromised weight, wrapped in rope, demands Sam’s continuous response and reconfiguration. If he doesn’t react, his body will contort and turn gray, and he may eventually die.


Now Sam reads from the ordered notecards on which he has noted, for posterity and private delectation, the essentials of what may be the meat of his life, his goodly and varied sexual encounters. The mustache purses and glimmers as it designates one past partner as an “exquisite sadist.” And then there is this incident, related in prose that strains against the confines of its Dewey-derived form. In a hotel in Chicago, in an empty room, after very forceful treatment indeed at the hands of a man one hesitates to call a lover, Sam is tied to a radiator and pissed on. And abandoned. The Face seems uncertain how best to comport itself while conferring this information, and so it settles on a soft amalgam of amusement and shame. Tied to a radiator and pissed on. And abandoned. I could not define abjection any more distinctly, and I know that I will never use the term again without this image. Tied to a radiator and pissed on. And abandoned. How could this happen to Sam? Is this just? Is it pleasurable? Is it a side-effect of pleasure? Is it something that simply happens occasionally in our world? I want to know, and I search the Face for an answer. But the Face, hurt and slightly sheepish, looks away. Lights.

IMG_0587Here Sam is now, in a tattoo parlor. Steadying an electric needle, he hunches over the limbs and loins of bawdy sailors, quietly absorbing their sex and their rowdiness as he leaves his bright, shallow, mute marks upon them.

And here he’s toted his camera to a bodybuilding gym, making himself small around the boys and grazing, sighing, on the wares on display. The Face can barely talk, it seems to me. The mustache now covers it entirely. Its blush and shyness have hardened into loneliness.

Sam’s pleasure in the gym or the tattoo parlor is quiet, self-sufficient in its longing, the necessity of its nonsatisfaction. It is almost Protestant in its poise. Tattooing a rowdy sailor’s crotch, curtly telling him to hold still or to shut up only when necessary, retreating, watching, painfully desiring, snapping pictures of young flesh in the gym. He hated being old, we read in Edward Guthmann’s note on this blog. And indeed, for a man whose primary gift to the ages is a catalogue of sex acts, aging would presumably be fearful. But for this Samuel, in this show, there is hope—in this viewer, anyway—that the desire itself is enough, that wanting it badly enough imparts a special dignity. Even, perhaps especially, when you’re too old or too shy, or tied up to a radiator and pissed on. And abandoned. This longing he expressed in his acts. And these acts he recorded in the Homo File.

IMG_0578Sam is once more with the painter, draped in a lush robe, in his Paris apartment. Francis is troubled. He, too, has been hurt and cheated. Beaten, his money stolen by lovers, he confides to Sam. And—another thing. He has been—and even in Francis, this seasoned rogue, there is some part of indignation and shock in recounting it—he has been tied to a radiator and pissed on. Sam listens sympathetically and says nothing. “BROTHERS!” I half want to call out. Brothers! Confess and embrace each other and cry. You know so much of the cruelty of men towards poised desire. But instead, polite concern and care persist. A silent sharing, perhaps, of the glories and indignities of desire. Perhaps. The Face folds into itself, just a bit.

My Brother

I remember in this play, in a faintly lighted scene of sculptural brevity, men strutting and stamping barebreasted and vested in jeans. “Make him your slave,” they intone, with the power of prayer. And I sense, without really understanding, the hard-edged charms and sharpened danger of the dockside, the streetlight, the fenced-off, broken-glass alleyways and disused hotel rooms where Sam gets what I know he must want.


Martin Schwartz is a San Francisco-based playwright, translator, and theatre director. Recent works, produced with Dark Porch Theatre, include StormStressLenz (2013 San Francisco Fringe, Best of Fringe Award, text forthcoming in Colloquium Magazine); TUTOR: enter the exclave (EXIT Studio; Space 55, Phoenix); Comedy Ballet (The Garage, SF; EXIT Stage Left); and Cockroach (2009 San Francisco Fringe, Best of Fringe Award; 2010 WOW Festival). TUTOR: enter the exclave was chosen in the Phoenix New Times as one of Phoenix’s ten best plays of 2012. A Theatre Bay Area ATLAS Playwriting Fellow and a finalist for the TITAN Award, Martin is a Marin County native and lives exactly 1.5 blocks from Counterpulse.



Kindred Mirror- Surprising Spirit–On Sam Steward and Homo File
May 27th, 2014

When I saw my college art instructor Seth Eisen at the Homo File Salon, his greeting was warm and sincere in his thanks for my support. Nevertheless his genuine warmth couldn’t hide some genuine curiosity as to my presence. He asked me to come up with a few words as to what Sam Steward’s significance was to me as a straight- identified male, and how I saw Sam as bridging our cultures. This is the most concise answer I can compose:

Kenneth Anger sporting his Phil Sparrow tattoo.

Kenneth Anger sporting his Phil Sparrow tattoo.

Prior to learning of Sam Steward, Phil Sparrow was not totally foreign to me; he’d tattooed the Red and White in the 60’s and 70’s, and his name came up sometimes in the same context as names like Horst and Stanley Maus. At one point I’m pretty sure I had been aware that “that guy who used to tattoo the Oakland Angels” had also been the guy to tattoo “LUCIFER” across Kenneth Anger’s chest, but it had been filed away as a curiosity, no more than a novel footnote in SF culture. Neither was the name Phil Andros completely unknown to me; the person who gave me my very first tattoo machine was a queer biker, and she had some of his novels. Nevertheless, I had no idea that those Phils were one and the same, or that both were Sam Steward, Ph.D -who I had came to know and love earlier this year.

I met Sam on a day I had shown up early to an appointment across the street from the public library, I decided to kill some time looking for obsolete books on american folk art that might inform my tattooing. Cross stitching, rosemaling and tattoos all live on the same shelf there, and I’ve perused most of the books 20 times, but on that day one jumped out at me: “Bad Boys and Tough Tattoos: A Social History of the Tattoo With Gangs, Sailors, and Street-Corner Punks 1950-1965.” It wasn’t a flashy looking book, in fact, it looked like some 1960s naval radar manual, but I couldn’t resist the title. I thought “This could be novel…” and started reading. Half an hour later I was still riveted where I stood. I devoured that book over the next two nights.Bad boys 2

Steward was a man who would have been significant had he only been notable for crossing the bridge from man of letters to man of colors, but he did much more. Sam Steward bridged worlds at every turn. A pre-Stonewall homosexual, he made discretion an art in and of itself as he moved like a partisan through layers of hostile hetero-normative cultures, while never ceasing to chronicle his citizenship in their sexual shadows. I found correlation with this in the experience of my ethnic identity as a Jew, both culturally as an American and personally as a caucasian biker.

I also found direct parallels in my own sexuality. His contributions to the Kinsey reports directly shaped the worlds cultural vocabulary for kink as well as queer life. I’m using the two terms separately, but they overlap. At one time, however, such a nuanced understanding of gender and sexuality was not available to many; Words like “Dom,” “Sub,” etc. were not seen by the mainstream as discreet. In fact anything outside of the norm of nuclear family, and reproductive sex was for the most part fallaciously associated with homosexuality and reconciled to “queer” in a pejorative sense.

Phil Sparrow tattoo shop signage

Phil Sparrow tattoo shop signage

I felt that I Immediately recognized a kindred spirit in Steward, regardless of our sexual identification, He provided me a surprising mirror, one that I needed at that juncture of my life. Whether I like it or not, I am both intellectual and academic. So was Steward. However, I’m also an ex-hoodlum and an artist, as such my participation in the “normative” social contract frequently feels both contextual and subjective. Sam navigated the subjectivity of that contract expertly. My current art project is tattooing myself, and my primary interest in that act is as a ritual, symbolic and therapeutic practice. Sam’s writings have a great deal to say about these ideas. In fact, my lifelong obsession with motorcycles has placed me firmly into a culture that many of Sam’s symbols helped to define.

My love of symbol has led my spiritual views to be influenced by occultism, including the mystical system of Thelema. 220px-Crowley_unicursal_hexagram.svgThis influence has frequently intersected with my eight years of recovery in twelve step programs – sometimes harmoniously, and sometimes causing me a great deal of pain as I’ve struggled with themes of authenticity versus ego, and the appropriate application of self-will in my own life. At the time I found “Bad Boys” I was contemplating leaving Cal to seek apprenticeship for my tattoo practice, or if I should hold out for higher education and believe that more would be revealed. That day it was, in the form of Sam.

Early into his book I noticed what I perceived to be a similar writing tone to that of Bill Wilson, the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous. You can imagine my surprise when, in the process of reading, I discovered that this funny, driven and diverse man – for whom my admiration grew by the page, not only quit drinking through the program of AA, but also gave the Thelemite film-maker Kenneth Anger his controversial chest tattoo… My mind was blown.

I have come to think of Sam Steward like my cool funny uncle but that doesn’t feel quite respectful enough for a man with his gravitas. He’s more like my spirit guide. Whatever his title, there is no question in my mind that Sam is my family. Everywhere on my personal path, he’s there. With the Beats, with the Intellectuals, with Oakland, with the bike clubs and the hobos and the stars. I stumble into him around the hallways of my cultural experience, as he emerges from some closet with a sneaky smile and tucking a little black book into his trouser pocket, reminding me that there are areas unexplored by the owners of every house. He represents something special to me, in that he was a strikingly self-actualized man who transcended many social roles, and in doing so helped to define them. To me, Sam carries the message that otherness and authenticity frequently go hand in hand.


While a secret historian of Gay Culture, in fulfilling that role Sam Steward became also a secret historian of human culture. The sparks from his tattoo machine light up certain shadowed areas of male sexuality, and his exhaustive stud files do not in my mind reinforce a binary of Gay culture versus Heterosexual culture, but instead serve to remind of the fact that all human sexuality and all human experience is spectral in nature, with poles on each end and myriad colors and shades between. I don’t see being a straight identified man with a gay hero as provocative. LGBTQ culture is world culture; Stonewall is an historic event. It’s time for the secret histories to be unearthed from the collective closets. I’m a native San Franciscan, and I’ve been blessed to grow up immersed in the gender/sexual political discourse. This upbringing has afforded me a unique set of tools for living an examined life: a sensitivity to certain cultural milestones that I might not have received if I’d grown up heterosexually identified during Sam’s time. As such, it has afforded me an increased level of sensitivity toward myself and my fellow humans. This in turn informs my ethical and intellectual inquiry, as well as enriching my artistic and social practices.

Sam is with me as I both receive and make my marks.


Aaron N.  AKA Slick


Queer Tattoo History and my visit to Modern Electric
Apr 4th, 2014

Sam Steward’s fascinating life as a shapeshifter linked many disparate worlds: literature, sexual research, academia and tattoo art.  For this iteration of Homo File I’ve taken a dive into researching Steward’s life as a tattoo artist. In this world he went by the name Phil Sparrow. I recently read his fascinating and really well written book Bad Boys and Tough Tattoos: A Social History of the Tatoo with Gangs, Sailors and Street-Corner Punks 1950-1965It’s pretty pricey since it is a rare book. So I borrowed it from the vaults of the SF public library page desk for a few hours and I was enchanted by its humor and candor. No pictures, but who needs them with a writer as visually descriptive and poetic as Steward.

His book tells the personal and social history of a tattooist  in the pre-Stonewall era navigating a very homophobic world from the point of view of a gay man. He was 41 and still working as an English professor at De Paul University when he took up the art form. And in a little over a decade Phil Sparrow became one of the most popular tattooists in Chicago.

Phils Tattoo Joynt, Chicago  1950s

                                                            Phil at work @ Phils Tattoo Joynt, Chicago 1950s

Phil’s Tattoo Joynt was always packed with sailors, motorcyclists, hustlers and guys seeking a good ink slinger. When he moved to the Bay Area in 1965 he opened a shop in Oakland called Anchor Tattoo Shop on San Pablo Avenue in Oakland.  He went on to mentor Ed Hardy and Cliff Raven who both became well respected tattooists in their own right. Ed Hardy went on to open several very popular tattoo parlors in SF and then in LA and now around the world with our very own Ed Hardy’s Tattoo City down in North Beach till this day.

Cliff Raven was perhaps the best known queer tattooist in the US until his death in 2001. As I see it, the queer tattooists  are part of a lineage of American queer tattooists following in the footsteps of Sparrow and Raven that is still very alive today. But when I went seeking out the guys in the queer tattoo scene I came up  with very little. What I discovered is that the tattoo world is very guarded and still very much dominated by a heteronormative paradigm. Well, except for a few radical queers who do things differently. Enter Suzanne Shifflett.

Suzanne Shifflett of Modern Electric Tattoo

                                                              Suzanne Shifflett of Modern Electric Tattoo

Suzanne (also known as Fish) “apprenticed under Wayne Bruce Lee. Who apprenticed under Cliff Raven. Bruce Lee, as he goes by, was also a gay leather biker. He’s part of the queer family tree of tattooing”. She invited me to her tattoo and painting studio Modern Electric a few weeks ago and it was like coming home. Just a few blocks from CounterPULSE, Modern Electric is an inspiring place filled with art and a very homey and relaxed environment. She opened in 2007 after moving here from Portland where she had another very successful tattoo business. Suzanne was really open to my questions and sharing her wealth of knowledge about the life of a tattooist. Some questions that came up in that conversation were:  Why are there so few queer male tattooists? Have Queer tattooists influenced the form and content of tattoo art over time? What does queer sexuality have to do with queer tattooing? Steward in his book sees a huge connection between the two. And finally, is there a queer aesthetic?

Now I get that these are not such easy questions to unpack but I did get a feel for a bit of the tattoo scene and the straight male conventions that have been part of the tradition for a few centuries at least. I learned how HIV and the fear and ignorance about it  has helped to keep queer male tattooists in the closet. That is of course an oversimplification and an idea I will unpack in further postings and events we will do with Homo File. But I got a feel from Suzanne and others that the larger tattoo world  is one that is largely homophobic and heterocentric. One look at the advertising for the recent Tattoo Expo where they touted hot chicks and beer as the central draw, says a lot. I get that it is a very competitive world especially with the growth of popularity of body modification and tattoo art in the past 25 years. So my quest for the lineage of Phil Sparrow continues. And it seems that with Suzanne I have found where the queer tattoo lineage is at now. She shared lots of cool books from her collection and I was impressed with the warmth and creativity and queer aesthetic that filled her bright studio. She is mentor to a younger generation of queer tattooists both trans guys and women. Her generosity of spirit was infectious. I think Sam would be happy to see that her practice and business is as creative and sexually liberated as he might have hoped for 30 plus years ago when he closed his Oakland based Anchor Tattoo shop.




Through Suzanne I have met Airick Redwolf, another queer tattooist,    body modification artist and activist who is more in the European queer tattoo lineage with the likes of Ron Athey, Mr. Sebastian and Herbert Hoffmann. He shed a lot of light on that part of the queer Euro tattoo lineage for me and I hope he will be able to blog about it here soon. Thank you Suzanne and Airick for preserving the queer spirit in your work and activism.





You must check out this video and then come to our video shoot this Sunday if you have tattoos and want to be part of Homo File and keeping the queer tattoo lineage alive.




This is tom my Pinterest collection of queer tattoos.


We are planning a video shoot for our show Homo File about a famous queer tattoo artist that opens May 30th at CounterPULSE. We’re seeking tattooed male models –all ages, shapes and sizes to join us for a fun few hours posing, cruising, schmoozing and showing off your ink. All for the sake of preserving the little known story of queer tattoo history.

Join us Sunday, April 6th at CounterPULSE from 5-8pm 1310 Mission St@9th. We are recreating the always packed 1950s-1970s tattoo parlor of famed queer tattooist Phil Sparrow.

What you get out of it?
**The opportunity to be part of a show that tells the story of one of the most radical queers of the past century–
**Many people will see your amazing ink!
**Food drinks and socializing with other guys about tats.

**Sam Steward (Phil Sparrow)- was a sexual outlaw and one of the most important queer tattooist of the 20th Century– Sparrow was the tattoo mentor to Ed Hardy and Cliff Raven. He was the tattoo artist of the Hells Angels, friends of Gertrude Stein and Dr. Alfred Kinsey. He kept records of all of his sex acts for over 60 years, authored many books, articles and poetry that bring light to the mostly underground life of queer people of the 1930s-to the late 1960s. He was the famed homoerotic author (under the pen name) Phil Andros. He lived in Chicago and moved to Oakland/Berkeley in the late 1960s where he had a shop on San Pablo Ave and lived for 30 years till his death. This is a chance to be part of this amazing tattoo legacy.

Bring: Simple 1950s, 60’s, 70’s style clothes- Jeans, khakis, boxers, tightywhities, white t-shits, plaid or white tank tops, converse sneakers, boots, leather, chaps, sailor–military garb. Leather boots, Jock straps and —anything that could be from the 1940s-1950s.

Simple tattoos, American Folk style tattoos, anything queer ODD or unique. Not as interested in tribal or contemporary designs if you are covered in them. More old school preferred- at least on part of your body.


Homo File’s First 2014 Work-in-Progress
Apr 1st, 2014
Famed painter Sir Francis Rose and his model. Phot: Gary Ivanek

Famed painter Sir Francis Rose and his model. With drawing in background by Diego Gomez
Photo: Gary Ivanek

Here is a photo from our March 30th work-in-progress showing of the new and updated Homo File which will premiere May 30th at CounterPULSE for the National Queer Arts Festival. The show chronicles the fascinating life of queer shapeshifter and iconoclast Sam Steward. In the late 1930s Steward met the painter Sir Francis Rose (played by actor Ryan Hayes) through his most fervent collector Gertrude Stein. Steward remained friends for many years with Rose who had a lasting influence on his artistic life. Besides becoming a well-known author of homoerotic fiction, Steward later became Phil Sparrow one the the most celebrated queer tattooists in American tattoo history. Rose is pictured here with his model and lover Luis (understudy, Maximilian Urruzmendi). Live drawings in the background by the amazing  Diego Gomez.


A short piece about Sam Steward and Homo File
Oct 10th, 2012

By Edward Guthmann

-Freelance writer and former SF Chronicle film critic

Thanks for your wonderful “Homo File.” It’s very inventive and smart, and I felt it captured a lot about Sam very accurately. Also liked the casting of your lead actor as Sam. Would love to see how it develops.

I knew Sam for a few years, probably starting in ’78. I was in my twenties, writing for a local gay rag, the Sentinel, and also occasionally for the Advocate. I think we must’ve met when I interviewed him at the time “Dear Sammy” came out. After that I’d visit him periodically at his little cottage in west Berkeley (the neighborhood was low-rent but not, as Justin Spring wrote in “The Secret Historian,”  a “slum.”) I remember his dachshunds and cuckoo clocks; his dapper moustache, turtlenecks and air of Old World gentility. I remember the thick atmosphere of exotic memories he’d surrounded himself with. I remember him complaining about his neighbors, a household of “unreconstructed hippies” who played the Grateful Dead too often and too loudly.

He wasn’t getting around much. He didn’t own a car, and I remember that going to San Francisco on the bus was exhausting for him. There was a sadness in him, deep regret about not accomplishing more as a man of letters. I remember he called himself “a minor literary figure” and I remember his tales of befriending his literary heroes by writing them. He had a formula for currying a friendship through letters: flatter the writer, but not too much; say something intelligent and specific about their work; and never ask for favors.

Sam was very lonely as an old man. I’m sure he missed his friends, most of whom were gone. I’m sure he missed being part of the game: the great sexual hunt, the conquest and the exhaustive documentation of that conquest that absorbed most of his life. I don’t know if he regretted not settling down with someone; maybe he figured it wasn’t in his nature. But I remember how, when I once lamented the loss of a promising love, he chastised me. “But don’t you realize, Edward?,” he said in a harsh tone. “The life of the homosexual is the life of the butterfly! Relationships don’t last.”

In retrospect that sounds like a line from from “The Boys in the Band.” I don’t know if the bitterness in that statement was the result of pre-Stonewall oppression, or specific to Sam’s own history of intense sexual obsession. I know he disliked being old. He was in his early 70s, which , 30 years ago, seemed much older than it seems now.  He said once, for dramatic emphasis, “After all, I’m NINETY” — as if 70 were so ancient that he might as well have been 90.

It was amazing to discover “Secret Historian” and to see what a thorough and intelligent job Justin did with it.  I was thrilled for Sammy to be remembered and validated. He would’ve been surprised — and deeply gratified. It was the kind of recognition he always yearned for, even if it was less for his writing and more for his pioneering perambulations and the varied, extreme, sometimes self-destructive choices he made.



Homo File is loved by audiences. Last chance to catch a glimpse of “the Zelig of 20th Century homosexuality”.
Sep 29th, 2012

Well the run has been amazing thus far with sell out houses and very enthusiastic audiences for both Homo File and FML. We got wonderful press coverage and  appeared in several blogs. Here are a few.

A fabulous article by Kimberly Chun in the SF Chronicle 96 hours

Really interesting article by Richard Dodds in the Bay Area Reporter

Stance on Dance is a really interesting interview blog by Dancer/Writer Emmaly Wiederholt

A lovely review by Rob Avila about Homo File says…”On the bill with FML is a work-in-progress performance of Homo File, writer-designer-director Seth Eisen’s multi-media and cross-disciplinary show. It already sports a formidable narrative arc and aesthetic vision as it explores the life of Samuel Steward (1909–1993), an amazingly well, um, connected English professor, writer of homoerotic fiction, famous tattoo artist, and sexual rebel. The 30-odd minutes of material on display delivers a strong sense of this fascinating figure (played by Ned Brauer, with occasional and evocative recourse to some aerial straps), who kept elaborate record of his astounding range of sexual conquests and liaisons in what he called his “stud files,” a concatenation that forms a backbone to the story of a life told from the vantage of final days. Meanwhile, Eisen and his winning cast place Steward in a mise-en-scène equally as promiscuous, ranging over dramatic scenes, aerial acrobatics, shadow puppetry, and even a hilariously lewd application of the old teacher’s standby, the overhead projector”. (Avila)

A beast in the Jungle has a really well written perspective on the shows.

On Thursday night Sept 27th we had an incredible turn out for the HOMO FILE SALON DISCUSSION at The Center For Sex and Culture, hosted by Dr. Carol Queen. I was honored to be on a panel about Sam Steward and Homo File with special guest Michael Williams, executor of the Samuel Steward estate. Michael was a dear friend of Steward for the last 10 years of his life and very instrumental in making his art and life’s work available to us so that we can get a glimpse of what Carol queen calls “the Zelig the 20th Century Homosexuality.”

We talked about

  • The importance of queer elders pass on the lineage of our tradition to the younger generation
  • Queer Alliances as a path to artistic freedom and personal evolution.
  • Documentation and queer identity and how  Sam’s documentation helps us to get a glimpse of what it was like to be queer back in the pre-Stonewall days.
  • Why Phil Andros books are important (Andros was Steward’s pseudonym for erotic fiction). Michael’s perspective on Sam and the artists of his milieu was enlightening.
  • We Discussed the role of women in Sam’s life and that of Emmy Curtis his one and only long time female lover and dear friend. This is the role played by Elana Isaacs in the show.


All in all it was a great event with over 60 people in attendance.

The other amazing piece of that evening was the intimate conversation that the cast of Homo File had with Michael Williams in the dressing room after the show. He was really wonderful to us and filled with stories and tidbits about Sam which was a huge gift to us. It truly felt like the passing on of this really extraordinary lineage. I know it was a big gift to us. Here is a photo of Michael with our lead actor Ned Brauer who plays Sam Steward.


And lastly I want to share a very special photo of a few months ago taken my Director’s Assistant,Casey Collins who I am very grateful to for all of his support. These are the hands of the bunraku puppet of the old man Sam in the oven before being painted and added to the body. We have truly met our goal of making a really delicious Sam Stew.


Audience Reactions to Seth Eisen and Xandra Ibarra
Sep 21st, 2012


Re-imagining a Polaroid pioneer
Sep 19th, 2012

In 1948 The Polaroid Land camera revolutionized photography by allowing people to instantly and privately develop their own photographs. For Steward this was particularly important because any kind of evidence of deviant sexuality could be incriminating and may have cost him his job and led to prison time. He took these photographs in the hundreds and shared them with Dr. Kinsey and The Institute For Sexual Research where they were valued as a brave act of historic and scientific research. There was very little evidence of queer sexuality in these times.

Through the documentation of his sexual acts he was making queer sexuality visible. Along with his other record keeping practices such as the Stud File catalogue, documenting every sexual encounter of his life, Steward has left behind a testament of his sexual activity and a “body of evidence” marking his existence in a social arena that would have rendered him invisible.

In our gallery exhibit in the CounterPULSE lobby  we have re-imagined Steward’s queer gaze. We recreated his polaroids using local guys to pose for photos with our very own Sam Steward–Ned Brauer, the lead of Homo File.
















Photos by Gary Ivanek