Nancy was born in New Mexico, the younger sister of filmmaker Peter Adair, and raised on the Navajo and Zuni reservations. She was educated in New York and Washington, DC, and earned her degree at San Francisco State University.
Nancy first became aware of her sexuality in 1967, when a lesbian friend invited her to Maud's, a now defunct lesbian bar which at the time was the oldest in San Francisco. Here she met many lesbians from a variety of diverse backgrounds and personality types.
Nancy was simultaneously confronted by the stereotypes and preconceptions she had long held about lesbians, and the fact that she herself had for years been emotionally and sexually attracted to other women. Months later, she came out to her mother, Casey Adair. Casey's reaction was one of acceptance, but also worry of what Nancy might face in a society traditionally hostile towards gays.
Her fears were partly confirmed when a year later Nancy came out during a meeting of the SFSU Students for a Democratic Society, and found the reception she received to be less than warm.
A freelance photographer and artist, Nancy Adair worked variously as a farrier, tow truck dispatcher, and cab driver. She was unemployed when, in 1975, her brother Peter asked if she would be interested in helping him on a documentary about the lives and perspectives of lesbians and gay men living in America.
She was especially flattered that her brother had asked her, particularly since they had never been very close and in fact had not gotten along well as kids. Nancy agreed to help with the film, tentatively titled Who Are We? and originally intended to focus only on gay people living in the San Francisco area.
Nancy would screen and interview lesbian women for the film, while Peter would screen and interview gay men. Their project eventually evolved into Word is Out: Stories of Some of Our Lives , and was pivotal as the first documentary to positively explore the diverse lives and experiences of gay women and men.
Working on Word Is Out proved a cathartic and healing process for Nancy Adair, as she found herself making a final confrontation with and exorcising the negative feelings society had towards gay people and independent women which she had internalized. Word Is Out was finally completed and released in 1978.
That same year, Nancy had helped her mother Casey compile transcriptions of the interviews used in the film into a companion book of the same name, adding her own recollections of working on the film and what doing so had meant for her. Adair has remained active in gay rights and feminist circles ever since.