Release Date: 11/08/2022
Isn't New York's motto, "Give me your tired, your poor, your undersexed"?
In New York, the party never stops and love's always just around the corner. At least, that's what queer journalist Esther Mollica told herself when she quit her job during the 2008 recession and moved three thousand miles away to become New York City's first blogger on lesbian dating. Her hometown brought her nothing but heartache, and none more devastating than learning that the love of her life was secretly married to a man. On the other hand, New York, with its brazen, sadistic wiles, promised something more than just another walk of shame.
What it really delivered was the woman who became Esther's hardest subject to write about: her editor. Soon, their tempestuous relationship turned into something as twisted and trauma-inducing as it was intoxicating. And even the haze of all-girl nightlife glamor at the height of pre-pandemic New York couldn't help Esther hide from the truth: about their dysfunction, about her past, and about the life she longed for in the city she loved.
Gritty, dazzling, heartfelt, and hilarious, The Queen of Gay Street is a personal window into the queer dating scene and a promise that those in search of true love will find their own happily ever after.
Plot/Idea: Mollica proves herself to be a capable and experienced writer. Her story is deeply engaging, unusual, and full of humor. Her pick-myself-back-up attitude will inspire readers not to give up on finding love even if the past is not pretty.
Prose: Mollica's prose is delightful: polished, upbeat, and self-reflective, she tells her story with honesty, integrity, and wit.
Originality: The author's experiences and perspective on life, work, and relationships are entirely unique. Her take on New York City also proves to be fresh and insightful.
Character/Execution: The Queen of Gay Street is finely executed and consistently appealing. The author's individuality shines through the pages, while Mollica's ability to find humor amidst dysfunction and heartbreak is among the book's greatest assets.
Date Submitted: November 28, 2022
“My destiny in life was to make zero sustainable dollars writing about pussy and crying at bars,” Mollica writes. In sharp, column-like vignettes covering her life in New York, she tells that story, conjuring the buzz and uncertainty of dating and Great Recession-era writing jobs with an emphasis on three major narrative components: her relationship with her abusive parents and how that shaped her love life; her unhealthy on-again-off-again relationship with her editor, Juliet, at GRL; and how she eventually found a healthy love. Of her relationship with Juliet, Mollica writes, with her customary incisiveness, “We wrote that bad romance. We revised it over and over…then ended up tossing it into a dumpster fire of lesbian drama.”
This is as much a briskly comic recounting of the lesbian dating scene of the late aughts as it is an affecting case study of finding love that’s not necessarily “requited” but at least “acknowledged.” With a feel for the telling detail and a deft hand at both punchlines and insights, Mollica offers a dishy, affecting memoir that should resonate with readers well beyond that “microscopic subset.”
Takeaway: A hilarious, irresistible account of a lesbian writing and dating in ‘00s New York.
Great for fans of: Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha’s Dirty River: A Queer Femme of Color Dreaming Her Way Home, Connor Franta’s Note to Self, Michelle Tea’s How to Grow Up.
Design and typography: A
Marketing copy: A-
A young lesbian looks for love in New York City in this bittersweet memoir.
In 2010, Mollica, who wrote the “Broads in the Big Apple” column for GRL Magazine, abandoned what she saw as the preachy counterculture of lesbian San Francisco for what she hoped would be the raffish glamour of lesbian New York. Unfortunately, the glamour proved elusive: Her Friday nights were given over to TV-watching with the elderly widow next door, and her dating life revolved around hookups that felt meaningless. She finally found the “femme and aggressive” person she longed for in Juliet, a charismatic blond editor who set her pulse racing; they enjoyed electrifying sex and racy repartee. However, Juliet’s energy also entailed relentless womanizing. Much of the book covers Mollica and Juliet’s testy relationship, probing their mutual infidelities and stormy breakups and makeups, which rolled on until Juliet spiraled into drugs and suicide attempts. In telling her story, the author also explores a dysfunctional, abusive childhood in which her mother spent child support checks on jewelry instead of food; she also writes of a devastating rupture with a woman she considered a soul mate. Mollica’s reminiscences are both a celebration of the promise of New York to a young woman hungry for connection and a plangent account of the pitfalls of bad relationships and isolation. Her depictions of lesbian life and dating are well observed and brimming with humor (“You lost track of how many people you’ve slept with?” “No! I, ah, I just mean that it’s more than twenty, and either at or less than thirty. I think”), but she also writes with penetrating subtlety about the pain of sputtering relationships: “This time, something in her touch and embrace had drawn me in deeper and shown more of her vulnerability than any time before, yet I felt something else fading and falling apart.” The result is an exhilarating ride on Gotham’s emotional roller coaster.
An entertaining, often poignant portrait of New York romance blending humor with heartache.
One of the most candid books I have ever read, Esther Mollica’s The Queen of Gay Street is a breath of fresh air when it comes to personal storytelling. I absolutely loved this book from cover to cover, and I found myself imagining each of Esther’s encounters along the way. The author’s strength bleeds through on every page of the book, even in times of hardship.
Esther was born and raised in the Tenderloin District of San Francisco. Her experience growing up in this neighborhood, full of homeless people and dirty streets, is just one of the things that made Esther the strong woman that she is today. Nothing was sugar-coated. Her father was abusive in more ways than one, and her mail-order bride mother would just brush off her father’s shortcomings. Esther, however, seemed to be born with an innate intelligence telling her there was more out there than her father’s porn and her mother’s QVC jewelry hoarding.
Esther meets a woman named Morgan in an online writing group and falls head over heels for her, only to find out Morgan had been lying to her for the duration of their long-term relationship. After flying to Chicago and having her heart broken by Morgan, Esther decides to set herself up for a new life. She moves to New York. From there, the reader is able to follow Esther through some really great adventures. Some of the job interviews (and jobs) she went on were so bad that they didn’t seem like they could be real. I was amazed at Esther’s will and her ability to pick up and start over when things didn’t go right. Then there was Juliet, an editor at the magazine Esther wrote for. If there was ever a messy relationship, this was it. I felt like poor Esther was really put through the wringer during this relationship as if she hadn’t already had a hard enough life as it was. There were also some really odd dates with random women thrown in there, such as the one who got mad she had to pay a dollar for Esther’s cup of tea after Esther had traveled an hour and a half to see her. The woman said now she would be short a dollar for her rent. Yikes!
As the book was coming to a close, I felt sadness for all of the truly horrific things that Esther had faced in her life. And at the same time, I felt happy for her as she ends up finding the gold at the end of the rainbow, along with all the glitter and sparkles she deserved. The Queen of Gay Street is a fascinating look into one woman’s life as a lesbian woman of color trying to make her way through this thing we call life. Thank you for sharing your story Esther.
Esther is what every queer woman might imagine herself being at some point in her life: a lesbian in New York. She relocates after a disastrous breakup with her girlfriend in San Francisco, moving across the country to make her life and herself anew.
And she does! The end! Drinks and kisses all around!
I’m kidding, of course. Things are always more complicated than that. Esther does get to a point where she is able to write a memoir of her first years in New York, though. Being able to tell your own story is almost always a sign of triumph.
Like so many who put their lives down in memoirs, Esther’s story is not always easy to read. She has trauma in her background from her parents, both of whom were unhealthy people in their own ways and only compounded the dysfunction when they were together with a child. After that was the disastrous girlfriend who turned out to be married through their whole relationship… to a man. Between those experiences, it would be hard for Esther to form lasting, healthy relationships in her new home, no matter how ready she is to recreate herself.
Esther doesn’t dance around any of her family issues but is upfront about what her childhood was like and how it has affected her. At times she circled around, moving out of order, but even if life happens step by step, it isn’t necessary for the retelling. What mattered more was her straightforward voice. She knows where she has come from, and she is willing to face it. That strength shines through the whole book.
The Queen of Gay Street isn’t just two hundred pages of her bemoaning her past traumas, nor even of her treating her childhood as ingredients for an exposé. It contains multitudes; at times, it is tender, at other times raunchy. (Those who are squeamish about the lesbian experience may find themselves shocked by this book. I found it delightful.) The strongest through-line of the book was humor. It had its laugh-out-loud funny moments, but more than anything, the book was dryly amusing. It’s comedic without being an outright comedy. If anything, I would call it good-humored, showing a learned optimism and an ability to smile despite adversity. Both are useful skills to have, especially when the world as a whole seems uncaring.
I enjoyed The Queen of Gay Street very much and would recommend it to the other queer women in my life, regardless of how close to New York they ever intend to go.
Born in the Tenderloin, which could be politely described as San Francisco’s grittiest area, Esther Mollica’s earliest memories are of “walking past prostitutes and heroin addicts … on the way to school.” Her early home life wasn’t much better than the life outside her home either. Her mum had borderline personality disorder while her dad was a diagnosed narcissist and sociopath, and they both exhibited significant rage and a distinct lack of empathy. What’s worse, her father sexually abused her from the age of five or six and her mother didn’t stop him. Even when the pair divorced, they each remained a force for devastation in Esther’s life.
Initially at least, adulthood proved to be a continuation of a dangerous and self-destructive roller-coaster ride for Esther. She came out, moved into her own apartment, secured a moderately paying job, and started dating. It was the dating that proved particularly problematic. As Esther describes it, she went on “dates with girls who had shown up on heroin, dates where women had disclosed that they had husbands or were still living with their girlfriends, dates where girls I barely knew tried to get me into threesomes.” She eventually formed a long-term, long-distance relationship with a woman named Morgan—who Esther later found out had been married to a man throughout much of their time together!
The painful breakup with Morgan prompted Esther to re-evaluate her life: she quit her job and moved to New York with no kind of plan in place. It was certainly a bold move, if not exactly a well-planned one, and it led to her becoming embroiled in even more romantic shenanigans, in addition to finding herself in numerous hairy situations and various employment-related catastrophes. Filled with drama, distress, hope, and hilarity, The Queen of Gay Street is Esther’s forthright memoir of her early years in New York, a period that saw her rise above the many obstacles that appeared in her way and achieve the victory of being truly herself.
Of course, a person can’t have a present without also having a past, and so Esther weaves reminiscences about her childhood and young adulthood into her memoir. While she deals with them in a matter-of-fact way, the memories she relates are often deeply troubling and upsetting, which really highlights how strong, resilient, and self-motivated Esther has always been. She has had to triumph over adversity after adversity, and she has maintained her compassion and good humor throughout. Given the shocking nature of much of what Esther experienced, The Queen of Gay Street is often far from being an easy or comfortable read, but it does manage to maintain a surprisingly positive tone.
Esther’s initial years in New York might not have been as disturbing as her earlier years of life but they were still characterized by any number of odd people and incidents. Some of the situations she found herself in really were mindboggling—it’s amazing she remained sane after dealing with one particular design agency’s Christmas card “database.” Plus, the relationship she fell into with Juliet, the web editor of a magazine she worked for, could only be described as soul-destroying. Still, no one’s life can be solely material for a “Broads in the Big Apple” column and The Queen of Gay Street ends on a melancholy high, leaving plenty of hope and belief that there will be great things in store for Esther in the future.
The Queen of Gay Street is an absolute delight for anyone who’s ever dreamed of running away to the big city to reinvent themselves. Esther Mollica’s writing style is tantalizingly descriptive, brilliantly bold, and unapologetically Lesbian. After losing her job during the 2008 recession, falling out of love with her hometown of San Francisco, and getting her heart ripped out by a duplicitous lover leading a double life in Chicago, the author decided that New York City promised all the tools she needed to start over. And the city that never sleeps certainly delivered. After a few slippery missteps in the sketchy New York job market, Esther lands a position as a blogger for the city’s Lesbian dating scene. Wild nights written with such heartfelt honesty and raw vulnerability, take up chapter after chapter; some feature one-night stands, while others revolve around the volatile, on-again-off-again relationship between the author and her erstwhile Editor. Tender musings on the effects trauma can have on romantic relationships and the distortions of self-worth caused by abuse are interspersed throughout, giving the reader a genuine and passionate perspective on what it’s like living as an out Queer woman in a world that isn’t always kind to us and certainly isn’t built for us. I literally read this book in a day. Not because it’s short, but because I genuinely couldn’t put it down. It seems like most new Queer media and representation tends to be geared towards a younger crowd, but as a Queer Femme Millennial who graduated college during the 2008 Recession and grew up on both Sex and the City and The L Word, I could not get enough of Esther’s story. Apart from also being Queer, there’s not a whole lot I have in common with the author, but the easy way she muses on both major and everyday events, the constantly shifting nuances of her feelings, and the way she experiences both the city and the people that waltz in and out of her life is some of the most relatable and engaging storytelling I’ve read in a really long time. If you’re looking for a spicy romp through the New York Lesbian scene with a sprinkling of introspective musing and a happy ending (which we all know is still a bit of a rarity for the LGBTQ+ community), then this is the book for you. Mollica certainly proves that she’s the Queen of Gay Street. All hail the Queen!
What prompted you to write your book?
When I wrote The Queen of Gay Street, I hadn’t written anything in 6 years. Friends kept telling me about this legendary writing teacher, Susan Shapiro, who jokes that she’s “The bestselling author of many books that her family hates.” Her students have published 175 books in the past decade. I decided to try her class on a whim and felt nervous because her students are industry pros, they write for places like The Times, and I thought I wasn’t good enough to be there. She had this assignment to write an essay about the most humiliating secret you can put your name on. It’s from her book, “The Byline Bible.” I kept thinking about this time I wrote about in the book when I ran into my ex at a bar with a new girl who was a senior editor at a large, nationally circulated magazine. This woman quickly dismissed me for being a low-budget relationship blogger and “wished me the best of luck with my career,” then went home with my ex and slept with her. I couldn’t think of anything more embarrassing than that single moment in my entire life!
So I wrote the assignment for Sue’s class and expected she’d find the story juvenile and silly. Instead, Sue smiled and said, “It’s fascinating!” She’s well-known for being a sharp critic who tells her students when something isn’t working so they can improve. It inspired me to get back up and try again.
During the second rewrite, the ex that I wrote about in the book suddenly died. After her death, I felt compelled to keep writing as my way to grieve her and to revisit a time in my life when I harnessed the raw, animal late-twenties energy that a woman uses to grow from being a girl into being a woman.
When writing your book, what was the process you went through to gather your thoughts and put them on paper?
I started writing more chapters about everything from that time and noticed consistently that Sue liked those pieces, so I decided to turn them into a whole collection. But now the problem was that it was going off in too many directions and including chapters that ultimately weren’t necessary. I pulled out my old books on screenwriting and looked at where the plot beats fall on a 90-minute script. Then I outlined to place the pages in my book to that timing, and I could better identify what to cut. I scrapped nearly everything throughout four more rewrites to match that narrative rhythm. In the end, the only thing that remained after four years of writing was that single essay I wrote for Sue’s class.
What is the main takeaway you would like your readers to have from reading your book?
Never give up hope in love, and never give up on yourself.
Growing up, what did you like to read?
When I first came out, I was utterly obsessed with 1950’s pulp romance (of course, the greats, Ann Bannon and Marijane Meaker.) I also started reading Michelle Tea because I was attracted to her rebellious and outspoken voice. Whenever someone compares my style to Michelle Tea, I think it makes sense because I gravitated toward her in my early twenties.
Who are some people who have inspired you throughout your life, and how have they inspired you?
Each of my writing mentors taught me something valuable that I adopted as I kept trying to perfect my work. Susan Steinberg taught me not to be afraid to drop the F-bomb and write about bad sex. Daphne Gottlieb taught me the art of experimental poetics. And Susan Shapiro, whom I mentioned earlier, taught me how to be more critical and objective with my work to get it to more professional quality. Sometimes I have too much fun goofing off and wander off the path of whatever I was writing, just like in life. Finally, Eva Natiello taught me how to think of writing not just as a hobby but as a business.
What do you and Elise like to do for fun?
Not much has changed since we first met that fateful night in 2012! We still love to play video games and go to metal shows or art museums. We love Game of Thrones or anything medieval. We even had our bachelorette party at Medieval Times.
If you were to give a gay woman advice on dating in today’s society, what would it be?
Get therapy! And don’t sleep with your editor.
Would you ever consider moving out of the big City and living somewhere with less hustle and bustle? If so, where would you go? If not, what is it about the big City that draws and keeps you there?
Sadly I am no longer the Queen of Gay Street. I am now the Queen of Suburban New Jersey! We decided to try moving outside the city to the ‘burbs as an experiment because our old apartment was just too small for two people. Then the pandemic hit, and we had to stay here since we both worked from home and needed the office space. I’m a lifelong city girl (even before this, I lived in SF and only briefly lived in suburban areas before that), so I make sure to come into the city almost once a week. New York’s my steady. I can’t stay away from her too long.
Congratulations on your comedy, Never the Bride, being featured. Do you think you will be writing more films? If so, are you looking to stick with comedy or venture out into other genres as well?
I’m thinking about expanding more into lez romance for the time being and revisiting film later, but I will always focus on comedy. As Paula Patton once said, “Comedy is not supposed to be funny. It’s supposed to tell the truth, and then that’s funny.” Using humor to say the quiet parts out loud, I think it’s how I’m supposed to contribute to society in this lifetime.
Where can fans read your current writings?
There’s an excellent anthology I’m in that Samantha Mann put together this year. It’s called “I Feel Love: Notes on Queer Joy.” The theme of the pieces is how each writer found the strength and joy to continue through adversity during the difficult times of their lives and found their happy ending. My essay there is about a time in my life before I came to New York, so if anyone likes this book, they’d probably love that anthology too! And last year, I wrote four pieces about Asian American identity and gaming with Wired. It’s not about romance, but they’re a lot of fun.
BookLife Reviews gave Mollica’s memoir an Editor’s Pick, describing it as “a dishy, affecting memoir that should resonate with [all] readers” and as having “a feel for the telling detail and a deft hand at both punchlines and insights.” We spoke with Mollica about her writing and advice for other memoirists.
How was writing The Queen of Gay Street different from the other writing you’ve done?
I think the tone is darker, with a more aggressive and seductive vibe than things I’ve worked on in the past. In my column-writing days, I was assigned dating topics because I was “the fluffiest writer on staff.” It was a perfect match because they needed lots of sexual innuendos and bad puns. So my style always had a girly sense of cheekiness and flirtiness. However, I realized when I finished this book that my energy had shifted to the theme of what this work is all about: that raw, animal, late-20s energy of when a girl discovers herself and becomes a woman.
When writing about past events, how do you refresh your memories of the people and experiences?
If someone says something hilarious or life-changing, I try to write it down as soon as possible. What they said, how they looked, everything I felt. My greatest fear is forgetting the pivotal moments I’ve shared with people I care about. When it’s time to write about whatever happened, I go back and look at my notes and play music relating to that era—this time, it was pop and club music from 2008 through 2012.
Was there anything you wanted to include in The Queen of Gay Street but had to cut?
A lot of people say that the book reads like a movie. That’s because I went back to an exercise from when I studied screenwriting. I looked at where plot beats hit on a 90-minute screenplay and outlined my book chapters during revision to match that narrative rhythm. Doing that meant making a lot of cuts. There were a lot of terrible dates that read like Sex and the City episodes, like one where I slept with a virgin and compared the terrible sex to the quality of a Papa John’s pizza. Truthfully, it didn’t move the story forward and I barely wanted to revisit it, so why would the reader?
How do you think readers will connect with this book today versus 10 years ago?
The world’s changed a lot. I realized as I wrote that I sound like a boomer when I talk about dating now. I’ve been with my wife for 10 years. We met pre-Bumble and just as online dating was starting to become popular. The queer scene has also changed significantly because gender is less binary. I used to get trashed a lot for being either too femme or not femme enough. Still, when I mentored a girl coming out last year, I found that some truths still hold universally: it’s challenging to find someone you love when the selection in our community is smaller than in other communities. Society is also much more open about sexuality than when I first came out in the aughts. My greatest surprise in writing the book was that many straight women liked reading about a gay SJP and wanted more. I didn’t anticipate that at all.
Do you have any advice for other authors who want to write a memoir?
Hold nothing back, and don’t worry if your writing is embarrassing or weird. Someone in my family told me to stop “writing about the gay thing.” You can see from my title how far I took their advice. Also, allow yourself to show your weaknesses and let the reader come to their own conclusions about your strengths. I struggled with writing this book for years until I got real and revealed the most flawed parts of myself, which were needy, lonely, toxic, and compulsive. I had to lean into the dark feminine in my work and personal life and defeat it to set myself free.
A symbol of exceptional merit, The Queen of Gay Street is awarded the Kirkus Star, now recognized in the top 10% of submitted manuscripts to Kirkus Reviews.