It was Halloween, 2013, and Maggie Collier was throwing one of the hottest women’s parties in town. The theme behind the bash was “Stiletto Is The New Black,” fusing Maggie’s smash-success upscale lounge event, Stiletto, with costume themes from Netflix’s hit women-in-prison series, “Orange Is The New Black.” Ladies donned their best Dickies and headed in droves to the venue, formerly Maritime Cabanas, to celebrate Halloween and send off Stiletto for the season (the indoor/outdoor party ran yearly from May-Oct). By all accounts, the soiree was a blast. It would, however, stand out as Stiletto’s last showing for nearly three years, and the woman behind the wildly popular event was nowhere to be found. Maggie Collier couldn’t make it to her own party: She was bed-bound with debilitating late-stage Lyme disease and barely able to function.
“My wife at the time and several others close to us were helping a lot with Stiletto’s operations because at that point I was often unable to walk and talk,” says Maggie, known in the community as “Maggie C.” A tireless, committed promoter and advocate, Maggie was renowned in NYC’s LGBT community as the beautiful face of and brains behind three sultry parties that all fostered a vibe of inclusive, casual comfort: Stiletto, and the past events Eden and Crème de la Femme (which took place at The Gates and USL, respectively). Maggie C’s parties came to fruition to fill what she saw as a void in the NYC lesbian scene: After living in LA for six years, she was struck by the number of events held at upscale venues in the city that were not necessarily lesbian bars—unlike in the Big Apple. Her goal was to bring that LA production value to New York. Maggie set about creating fabulous events that would inspire women of all stripes to come together. Her parties felt welcoming to women of all ages, races, and identities, and the resulting soirees emitted a uniquely positive communal pulsebeat. The community—and press—responded in kind. Stiletto was voted “Best Party” by New York Magazine and was mentioned in the Village Voice, Page Six, Time Out, the New York Post, and of course, GO Magazine.
With the overwhelming success of Maggie’s events, it’s no wonder that slowing down, taking a backseat to her projects and stepping back from her involvement in the community was not easy for the workhorse wunderkind. But by the end of 2013, her life had reached a crossroads.
After suffering from dozens of inexplicable symptoms and undergoing a battery of tests, Maggie finally found a doctor specializing in Lyme disease and received the correct diagnosis for an illness that had become increasingly eviscerating. “In the beginning of 2013, all my symptoms pointed to late-stage Lyme and I was positive for every test. I kept working as much as I could, probably doing too much. At that point, I’d become debilitatingly sick. My doctor, who was well-versed in Lyme and what it does to you, basically told me that if I didn’t focus on getting better, I wasn’t going to get better. It’s very shocking when someone tells you that you can’t work and that you need to put your life on hold. But I kept on going and going and it turns out she was very right. Working that hard made it a lot worse.” Maggie was eventually completely sidelined by her illness.
More Than Just Exhaustion
A Southern girl from South Carolina, Maggie C describes herself, with amusement, as “country come to town.” She says she always took care of herself and thought she was very healthy, even though she admits she “loved [her] fried food.” In the early heyday of Stiletto, she didn’t initially notice any symptoms that indicated a serious issue, and she was working extremely hard and fully committed to her multiple events, which had become incredibly successful, incredibly quickly.
“I had several events I was running and producing at the time. I was focused so much on serving the community; helping them let their hair down and take care of one another,” Maggie says. She continues, “I was juggling so much and trying to adapt to that learning curve. It was difficult learning all these things at once while simultaneously creating them. To manage that and learn how to delegate and how much staff to have, etcetera. I did a lot of it on my own, which resulted in incredible sleep deprivation and lots of stress.”
Hindsight is 20/20, and looking back, Maggie remembers when she first started to notice odd symptoms, including, “pains, like a fire burning in [her] stomach.” She battled migraines; seizures she wasn’t aware of because they were very small; and extreme, unexplained weight loss. After repeatedly telling her doctors something was beyond “off,” medical professionals kept insisting she was merely overworked. But she thought, “That can’t be right. Everybody’s stressed and overworked.” Her body was just screaming at her that something was very wrong. The biggest shock came when she started having grand mal seizures. Without any answers, she continued working and living her life even though her health continued to devolve.
A Diagnosis, and the Real Cost of Treatment
Maggie and her fiancée at the time began doing their own research. They found that all of Maggie’s symptoms seemed to point to Lyme disease. Lyme is tested indirectly, by measuring the body’s antibody response to the infection, not the infection itself: These are not standard tests. Once they found a doctor who specialized in Lyme, Maggie was immediately diagnosed by her symptoms, and the diagnosis was reinforced after her Lyme status was confirmed by myriad evaluations.
Lyme is transmitted by the bite of a tick, and Maggie says she was bitten a long time ago; unknown to her, the Lyme disease it transmitted lay dormant in her body for quite a long time. Before her diagnosis, she was very private with people who were wondering what was going on—because she didn’t know herself. After her diagnosis, she continued to work, she got married, and she kept hiding her illness. She realizes that she had been in a sort of denial about the gravity of her condition: She overdid it, and then some, and exactly what the doctor said was going to happen, happened. Her disease progressively worsened.
While Maggie reveals that her family was, unfortunately, generally unsupportive, she credits her former wife with being her rock. “It was a long road, but a beautiful one, and we made an incredible team. We kept the joy and the resilience alive. Certainly, this was not going to take me or us down.” But eventually the couple was worn down, particularly because insurance companies still refuse to cover progressive Lyme treatments, and due to the harrowing nature of the disease’s manifestations. “This is the most candid I’ve been about it, but I think perhaps my wife had a snapping moment of, ‘Is my wife going to wake up today?’ Which is pretty terrifying, because that reality was certainly a possibility.” Maggie says she’s found this is a common experience of families and people suffering from this disease. The resulting financial and emotional pressures can result in the breakdown of relationships. Maggie states that as traumatic as the break-up of her marriage was for her, she is sure it was the same for her wife.
“So many Lyme patients suffer the unraveling and loss of their relationships not because of their illness but because people come to a point of, ‘What do we do?’ when there’s no support from the medical community,” Maggie says. “People spend all of their income to survive this.” There also remains a stigma attached to the disease, and this response from society can prove as detrimental as the disease itself.
Effective treatment for Lyme remains staggeringly expensive and difficult to obtain, yet through the help of the friends, the community and a GoFundMe page and video produced in conjunction with Veronica Heffron, Maggie is now receiving the treatment she desperately needs. She describes her recent recovery as nothing short of “miraculous.” Medically, she attributes her improvement to her “amazing” Los Angeles-based doctor, Dr. Gisler, and to ozone treatment, which the FDA recently approved for use by Lyme patients to aid in the relief of various symptoms. With this treatment, which is administered similarly to dialysis, Lyme patients receive “autohemotherapy”: After they have their blood drawn, it’s infused with saline and 2ccs of ozone (an essential natural element), and then re-administered to the patient. These efficacy of these treatments increases with the frequency at which they are administered. Maggie says, “Basically, this method is able to systemically attack whatever’s ailing you throughout the entire body.”
With ozone therapy, Maggie says she is feeling “70 percent better” and has reached a point of what she refers to as “remission.” “To go into remission or close to it and for work suddenly to kind of fall in my lap again has been a wonderful gift and also a big shift and an exciting one,” she says. “I’m incredibly joyful and happy, and now it’s time to give back.”
Community as Family, and Giving Back
Maggie asserts that throughout her Lyme journey, the LGBT community has been her stalwart support, her family and now, also, her lifeline. A little less than a year ago, Maggie began posting the crowdfunding videos asking for help with her treatments. She has immense gratitude for everyone in the community who reached out and helped her immediately, no questions asked, once they realized the severity of her illness.
One individual in particular, her friend Marie—who, coincidentally, was her very first patron ever 10 years ago at Eden—contacted Maggie immediately and said, “I’m getting you here [NYC] now! You have a family, you have a home.” Marie, a tenured teacher in New York, not only took on the role of Maggie’s caregiver but also financially took care of her—all on limited means. Marie has been another “rock” through Maggie’s Lyme battle, which they describe as being “both of their disease.” Both Marie and her family have been there in so many ways and I feel so fortunate to now have what I call ‘family,’” Maggie says with emotion. “Marie and I are thankful beyond belief for the ways the LGBT community and beyond have stepped in to help” get Maggie into remission. “This is the most beautiful example of what ‘community’ means to me. Marie’s support represents such a universal purpose for all of us—that we are here on this Earth to take care of one another. And it’s so amazing that so much of the community that I’ve been a part of for so many years has reached out in the way they have. Often it’s people I don’t even know that well. It’s remarkable to think of these individuals who come out of the woodwork and are just willing to help.”
Maggie continues, “With Pride coming up, I can say that it means something more layered to me now and I’ve truly never been so proud. I don’t know where I would be without this community,” Maggie says. She knows that she will always have Lyme; her body will always be different and she’ll always have to follow an extremely restricted diet. She will remain on seizure medication for the rest of her life, and constantly must monitor her immune system. But, “To get your life back you have to make these sacrifices in how your life has to be led…and it’s totally worth it. I enjoy every day and want to be the biggest advocate I can to others who are suffering.”
Maggie doesn’t want Stiletto to solely be a forum for getting on the mic every week to talk about Lyme disease, but she certainly wants to address it in a way of thanking everyone and letting them know they have truly helped save someone’s life. She hopes “that the lesbian community will be a part of raising awareness for others suffering with Lyme. It might be fun to have some ‘Lesbians Against Lyme’ buttons, I won’t lie,” she laughs. “I’d love to do motivational speaking and spread the word about treatments and find a way to reach out to other Lyme sufferers to make sure that they’re taken care of and not left alone. As I continue along, I want that to be my mission.”
To other Lyme sufferers, Maggie advises, “Try at all costs to keep stress at bay, which is so difficult given all the obstacles facing us even beyond the illness itself. Continue to fight – there are ways to obtain help. Reach out as much as you can to other Lyme sufferers using ilads.org [the International Lyme and Associated Diseases Society’s invaluable informative and community-oriented website]. The more education and awareness spreads, the closer we get to the help that we need. Have a good diet and a good community, in whatever way you can get it. Hold on.”
On The Heels of Stiletto
Three years after her diagnosis and the 2013 Stiletto season, Maggie is back – but not just as a promoter. As an advocate for Lyme awareness, she has committed to joining all those who are speaking out about the disease and those in LGBT community suffering from it. At Stiletto’s hotly-anticipated relaunch party on Sunday, May 29th at the swanky spot The Park, the International Lyme and Associated Diseases Society (ILADS)/ILADEF (ilads.org)—also known as ILADEF, the educational foundation whose mission is to support the work of ILADS—will receive $1 of every cover charge sale, and those funds will directly benefit Lyme awareness. Stiletto will have an ILADS representative in attendance, a red carpet and step-and-repeat packed with celesbians, and invites have gone out to all community promoters and DJs. Known as the event for women for years, Stiletto is coming back with a bang as one of the sexiest, most unique parties at which to see and be seen in the city—with a newly revitalized Maggie C at the helm.
The emphasis on community and inclusion remains an integral aspect of Stiletto for its relaunch Memorial Day weekend. Stiletto will take place at the legendary venue The Park Penthouse for a beautiful indoor/outdoor setting. Maggie is excited to have new partners on board to bring new vitality and creativity to the table, and to help manage and support the event. Danielle Stanziale of Danielle Presents and Hana Love of girlNATION nyc are two of Maggie’s new partners, as is Nell Galvin, who was actually the first door girl at Stiletto 10 years ago. With DJ shErOck as the resident DJ, GO Magazine as presenting sponsor, and top androgynous model Rain Dove in attendance, the entire community is pumped to help get Stiletto and Maggie up and running again.
“It’s a privilege to welcome Maggie and Stiletto back,” says GO Magazine Publisher Amy Lesser. “Maggie’s brave three-year battle with advanced Lyme has been a source of concern and inspiration for many in our community. We’re proud to offer our support to Maggie and her partners as they relaunch this amazing event, which will hopefully raise much-needed awareness about this harrowing disease.”
The feeling is mutual. Maggie says, “I’m so thankful for how GO has supported our community for so long as well as all our events, and it’s an honor to have GO as the presenting sponsor for Stiletto this season. I am also very grateful to the woman behind GO, Amy Lesser, who has been a very important part of my life for so long.”
To her friends, supporters, Stiletto attendees and community as a whole, Maggie says, “I’m so proud of this beautiful community and how we have been and always will be fighters who’ve worked together to gain our rights as individuals but also to support one another. Stiletto is so beyond a party to me now. It really is about celebrating everyone, and it’s their party. It always was.”
Stiletto Returns!/ILADS/ILADEF Benefit Info:
Sunday, May 29, 6pm-12am
118 10th Ave, New York, NY
21+, $5 before 8pm/$10 after ($1 of every cover charge donated to ILADS/ILADEF)
Happy Hour Specials 6-8pm, food menu and drink pitchers available
May is Lyme Disease Awareness Month!
To learn more, visit ILADS.org
You can see a video of Maggie discussing her diagnosis and treatment on her GoFundMe page, started by Veronica Heffron, helping to raise money for her treatments: https://www.gofundme.com/vb6e87w
Facebook Official Fan Page of Maggie C Events: