Michael J. Emery
Born in Jersey City, New Jersey, on March 23, 1943, Robert Carey Chesley moved while young to Pasadena, California, with his sister and just-divorced mother. Attending primary and secondary school in Pasadena, Chesley earned a Bachelor of Arts with a music major from Reed College in Portland, Oregon, in 1965. Upon graduation he married Jean Rusch and taught music in private schools for a decade he later described as wasted. He was living in upstate New York when he had his first sexual experience with a man, on August 25, 1975. The next day he came out, lost his job, ended his marriage, and moved to New York City, where he entered the gay community. For the next five years he worked as a journalist and drama reviewer, including at Channel 13. Playwright Doric Wilson* introduced Chesley to the leather bar scene in New York, which Chesley said had a formative influence on his sense of gay theatricality: “The leather crowd in New York around the Spike [bar] certainly were theatre people and people in the arts. Everyone was in costume” (qtd. in Kelly 10). In 1980 Chesley quit his job and turned to playwriting full-time to fulfill his artistic potential and, as he says, “because I was liking other people’s plays less and less” (Jerker, video interview).
This period coincided with the initial AIDS crisis, and Chesley’s first notable gay writing was a letter to New York Native in December 1981 denouncing Larry Kramer’s* position on AIDS:
Read anything by Kramer closely. I think you’ll find that the subtext is always: the wages of gay sin are death. I ask you to look closely at Kramer’s writing because I think it’s important for gay people to know whether or not they agree with him. I