Famous People

Justin Vivian Bond on Being an Arrogant Feminist and the Problem with NYC Pride

by Max Kessler
Night of a Thousand Judys -- the charity variety show which celebrates all things Judy Garland -- is happening tonight (with tickets still available here) and they've got quite the line-up. Of the many performers who will grace the stage and give their best Judy, Mx. Justin Vivian Bond may just be having the biggest moment. Bond is everywhere right now: in addition to taking the stage at Night of a Thousand Judy's and continuing V's run of "Miss America" send-up Mx America, V just released a fragrance and created a new cabaret act, Summer Camp, around the subject of love. We caught up with the busy performer and chatted about V's feelings on Judy Garland, the problem with the New York Pride Parade, and being an arrogant feminist.

You're doing Night of a Thousand Judys tonight. Were you always a big Judy Garland fan?
Well, when I was little I'd see The Wizard of Oz on TV every year and I always sort liked Judy Garland because of that. Then when I was in high school, there was this kooky weird girl named Michelle who was obsessed with her. She was the one that got me turned on to Judy. I like [Judy's] combination of total show business schmaltz and her crazy vulnerability, none of which was real, I'm sure. But as someone was who always being told that my emotions are too much, it was comforting to see that she was being that emotional and was celebrated for it. But I must say she wasn't one of my top idols. I liked her, but I loved the stories about her.

Who are your idols, then?
When I was a kid I liked more icy people. I liked, and still continue to like, Joan Didion and Patti Smith and Marianne Faithfull. When I was a young kid, I loved Vivien Leigh and Grace Kelly.

Since it's Pride month, what's your craziest Pride story?
Oh no, I'm not telling you that! Here's a story I will tell: my first Pride was in 1989 when I was in San Francisco. I decided that I'd go to the front of the parade, and when I saw a group go by that I felt I could identify with or march with I'd go and march with them. And this group came around the corner -- they'd taken this car and painted it to look like a police car. Instead of a siren on the top, they had this huge papier mâché high heel on the top with a crazy, fucked up-looking person in a bikini, egg yolks over their flat chest. They'd dead-bolted an apple crate to the trunk of the car and everybody was wearing combat boots and beating the shit out of this police car with high heels. I said "My people!" and grabbed a high heel. By the time we got to the end [of the parade] the car was just destroyed.

Do you have plans for NYC Pride this year?
I won't be in New York, I'll be in Provincetown performing my show Mx America. I don't go to Pride here because it doesn't really have many celebratory aspects. I loved it in San Francisco because there was a real end -- you marched and at the end, everybody was there together and there was a show or whatever. But here you just go down and disperse. There's no real formation of community around it -- I feel like it's almost designed to dissolve community. I go to the Drag March, which I go to every year and then to Stonewall, where I see the same people every year. I like the Drag and Dyke March but Pride is not very interesting to me

Tell us about Mx America.

Mx America is my show that came about from this quote, which is by my friend's father: "You can tell the depth of a person's tragedy by the amount of space between how they see themselves and how they're seen by others." I thought that as a trans person and as an American, that was an interesting notion. So I decided to address that in a cabaret form. It's just me. And the good thing about this Mx America is that there's no competition -- I'm already the winner! You can enter with real confidence knowing you're going to win.

You've got a very busy performance schedule -- you're also doing the cabaret show Summer Camp at 54 Below. How'd that come about?

I'm singing this song "Love" for Night of A Thousand Judys. When I was prepping for it, my iPod just started going down through all the love songs I have. So I decided to do all songs with "Love" in the title, since it's June, and since this is a time when supposedly the ruling's coming down from the Supreme Court on gay marriage, and since the songs that I'm writing for my next album are about love. So I decided to do Summer Camp! If the audience comes, then they get their merit badge in "Love."

What do you think about the state of cabaret today?
It's exciting! There are so many people who are doing it. Unfortunately, the business model of the people who present it is really difficult to sustain. I'm lucky enough to be on Broadway and be able to do some free performances. I've developed a following that can afford to come see me in these places. If I performed exclusively in very upscale cabarets I wouldn't have a career because my audience could never afford it and I'd never be able to develop a loyal following. A lot of the older, more established cabaret artists are screwed because of that. But then there are all these places where young people are doing all kinds of crazy stuff and touring around -- thank God.

And you've got a fragrance with Etat Libre D'Orange, which most celebrities would kill for.
My directive was, I wanted it to smell like "a touch of taint on the knoll at twilight." By that, I mean I wanted it to smell like two faeries dancing by a fire in the woods and then going off and having sex next to a bed of flowers. It's kind of sexy.

That's quite an inspiration for a fragrance.
I've had that hillside experience and just don't get to have it all the time. I wanted to make sure to remind myself and everyone else that it could be done.

We loved "The Drunk News" and haven't seen it lately. Are we getting more?
I hope so! Sometimes I say things that I think are so funny but I'm afraid of putting them online. I don't want to deal with what people will say. So sometimes the drunk news gets carried away and it just doesn't make it to YouTube.

You should post them anyway!
Oh yeah, that's easy for you to say -- you don't have mean people commenting on you.

You're name-dropped in the Le Tigre song "Hot Topic" and have some high-profile feminist friends. Do you feel a connection to the Riot Grrl movement?
I'll say this: I've always been a feminist, since I was a kid. I'm proudly feminist, if not arrogantly so. You can never have too many arrogant feminists. I was watching this great interview on YouTube yesterday with Joni Mitchell, and she was like "I'm not a feminist, I don't hate men." I can proudly say I do!

The New York Times recently came under fire for endorsing GENDA -- which would "prohibit discrimination because of a person's gender identity or expression" -- while using "transgender" as a noun, which is considered a no-no. And New York Magazine referred to you as a "cross-dresser." Do we all just need a trans style guide for when we write about these things?
You'd think because these people have jobs at the New York Times that they're clever. But it's all these arrogant fags who think that because they were called "sissy" as a kid that they get it and they understand it and they don't need to learn it. Just like I'm an arrogant feminist, they're arrogant LGBTQ advocators. They think they already know stuff, therefore they aren't learning.

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