GLORIOUS PROFESSION: Cabaret Diva, Singer, Song-writer, Artist, Activist
GLORIOUS PERSONA: Sexy Quirkball in the Mansion Next Door
GLORIOUS QUALITIES: Sharp as a Tack, Hilarious, Randy, Mouthy
I was thrilled — way beyond my ability to remain cool — to be invited to the fabulous Justin Vivian Bond's “House of Whimsy” in upstate New York. We spent the afternoon on a sun drenched, delightful, cozy porch — boozing, laughing, chatting away about life, art, politics — and sex, bien sur.
JVB became a New York legend as Kiki DuRane, one half of the infamous, Tony-nominated act, Kiki and Herb. I first saw this superstar 18 years ago at Westbeth Theatre, and felt mesmerized, strangely connected to Kiki (perhaps my inner rage?) After 20 years of success, JVB (known as Viv to friends) had the chutzpah to leave the duo and rock out solo as a cabaret performer. Now free from the constraints of WWKD (What Would Kiki Do?), Justin Vivian Bond on stage is magnetic, political, hilarious and poignant — called "the best cabaret artist of their* generation” by the New Yorker, by the by.
Grab a glass of rosé and settle in for this extended chat with the very Glorious Broad, Mx Justin Vivian Bond …
WAS IT HARD FOR YOU TO MAKE THE DECISION TO LEAVE KIKI AND HERB AT ITS PEAK?
No, it was hard for me to continue with it.
It was defining me. I have some distance from Kiki now and I still love that character. But Kiki came out of the AIDS crisis in a time when I lived in San Francisco. I was so fragile. She was a way for me to channel my rage …. it just wore me out. I either had to commit to doing it for the rest of my life, or put a complete cold stop to it. Which is what I did.
He really didn’t want to do that. So. We didn’t speak for like five years.
Right after my 50th birthday, we started talking. And then, we did a reunion 3 years later.
HELLOOOO. I COULDN’T GET A TICKET!
Yeah, people loved it. The program director at Joes Pub said: “how much would it take for you to bring Kiki back.” It was shortly after I saw this house. I did my calculations. And she said “I think we can do it.”
(Laughs) And so this is the house that Kiki bought.
WAS THE CROSS OVER TOUGH? COMING OUT AS JUSTIN VIVIAN BOND ON STAGE AFTER THE BELOVED KIKI?
When we were at Fez as Kiki and Herb, I thought, ok, I’ll start performing at Joe’s Pub as Justin Bond and developing my own separate audience.
THE AUDIENCE DIDN’T DEMAND KIKI?
No. I didn’t just quit one and start the other. My fans were people that came to see Kiki and Herb because they wanted to see me being trashy.
BUT ULTIMATELY YOU WERE READY FOR A CHANGE?
Well, we took Kiki and Herb to Broadway. We headlined. We did Carnegie Hall twice. Sold out. We toured the world. So I know what it’s like to be in that place.
And you know what? It’s not really that much fun. It’s a lot of work.
TOO MUCH WORK?
I will just say that you have many people messing with you. They invest in you. And they want their money back.
SO WHAT ABOUT NOW?
Now, I just basically call all the shots.
WELL, I LOVE SEEING YOU POP UP ON COOL TV SHOWS AND EVEN COOLER MOVIES.
I love that too! And I don’t have an agent or a manager.
I’m like, yeah, I like that show. I’ll be on that show. This year alone I was on Difficult People, High Maintenance …
And the movie, Can You Ever Forgive Me ... about the woman who wrote the biography of Estée Lauder, Lee Israel. I am obsessed with Estée Lauder.
So, when I got that call, I was like, well, I just need you to know that I’m standing here talking to you from my living room, and I’m literally looking at the book Lee wrote. Because it’s on my altar.
So the answer is YES
SO MUCH HAS CHANGED IN TERMS OF GENDER AND HOW IT’S BEEN PERCEIVED SINCE YOU STARTED WORKING.
All these things I dreamed about when I was young just seemed so impossible. But I didn’t give up, whereas a lot of others did.
Now I see these people 20 or 30 years younger than me – and they have their entry.
I SEE YOU CALLING OUT AGEISM ON SOCIAL MEDIA, LIKE WHEN ONLY YOUNG PERFORMERS ARE CHOSEN FOR AN AWARD THAT IS CLEARLY RIGHT FOR YOU.
Yeah, it’s true. Not ok. I don’t have getting older wake up calls that a lot of other people do. I never have kids around me to go … you’re embarrassing. Stop! You’re old. Nobody’s ever said that.
NO AGE GAUGE. ME NEITHER.
We don’t have those references. And with young gay people, they want to call older trans women their Auntie or Mom or whatever. I’m like: I’m not your fucking mother, and I’m not your fucking Auntie. No, I don’t have children your age. I fuck children your age.
SO WHO WERE YOUR MENTORS?
My true mentor is Kate Bornstein.
I had been in San Francisco for less than a year, and got cast as a romantic lead in a gay musical — the sex object. I’d never been that. In college, it was all about needing to butch up. Very discouraging. Kate was at the show — and she came knocking on the dressing room door.
SHE SPOTTED THE TALENT ...
Well, she’d just written this play called Hidden A Gender. Kate wanted me to play the lead, a trans character. And I was like, (whispers) I don’t want to play this part. I was just feeling good about being a boy. I knew it was an act but I was enjoying that people were buying it.
A trusted friend told me: you’ve got to play this part. So I did. That was the beginning of this journey as a trans person. Coming to terms with all that …
WHEN DID YOU KNOW YOU WERE TRANS?
All through my teens, I prayed that I would wake up and be a woman — you know. And I didn’t want to be a trans person. I’d always been a freak, because I was outed as gay from the time I was 10 or 11. And I didn’t even know what gay was. You’re treated in that way… (whispers) I’m not gonna have to go through all that again …
WHAT DOES BEING TRANS MEAN TO YOU?
I learned so much Kate. She was a trans woman. And she was herself — a woman but more than that. We found a new way of looking at ourselves, which there weren’t really words for. We were part of that nexus.
HOW DID YOU START TO GIVE PEOPLE THE WORDS?
We toured that show to Women’s Studies groups and colleges. And we started doing talk backs. We discovered that the whole binary gender system was kind of a fraud. Because the words — being man or woman – was not enough. I feel that we definitely helped open that door.
AND NOW EVERYONE IS BECOMING AWARE — FROM TOILET SIGNAGE TO GOVERNMENT FORMS — THE WHOLE DAMN WORLD IS CHANGING.
It’s like the whole Mx thing. I started to use it. And these activists in Brighton, England checked with me to see if they could use Mx for another category. OF COURSE. Now Mx is in the dictionary!
Then I went to battle with The New York Times.
VIV VS. THE GRAY LADY
When they reviewed my book, “Tango: My Childhood, Backward and in High Heels” they talked about me being a trans throughout the article, but they called me a boy in the headline. Wha? If I’m a trans, why are you Mr. Bonding me? They didn’t get it.
WHAT YEARS WERE THESE?
2011. A lot’s changed since then.
They would continue to print stuff and get it all wrong, I’d put it up on Twitter or Instagram “The New York Times did it again!” and get immediate support. The internet’s changed everything.
Then, they did a great big profile on me in the style section. And this guy, Michael Schulman, he had to fight to change the rules of the style guide.
They now agreed to say, Justin Vivian Bond, who was born male, but who identifies as transgender and uses the pronoun …. blah blah blah. They couldn’t just use the pronoun. But that’s ok. It was a MAJOR BREAKTHROUGH.
And so the whole thing started, with Kate and I, the Style Guide in The New York Times — changing the language. We need these words. Or, therefore, the ideas don’t exist. Now the ideas do exist.
SO HERE’S A QUESTION. I MEAN, HERE YOU ARE — THIS AMAZING, GLORIOUS BROAD …
AS A KID, DID YOU SEE YOURSELF BECOMING WHO YOU ARE TODAY?
Yeah, I was like, get out of my way.
And I still feel that way. I mean, that’s why I was excited about the idea of Glorious Broads — I was obsessed with those kinds of people. It was like — someday I’m going to be that.
SO — WHAT IS KIKI’S ORIGIN STORY?
Well, I’m in my 20s, living in San Francisco, learning about politics, living in the midst of this genocide against gay men. And I’m realizing that I need to perform and be a voice for my community. The coolest, hippest, wildest people were the ones that died first — and I was not a cool, hip, radical person — but I admired them. And wanted to be one.
So one night, I realized I could create a character who could say all these things that I wanted to say as a 27 year old, but that I couldn’t really say it without sounding just like, well, how millennials sound now. I just felt like I found a way to say it that was charming. And people would listen. And I showed up as Kiki.
SO YOU PUT YOUR REAL SELF OUT THERE.
Yeah. I had to keep getting where I was going. But I could have been more challenging in retrospect — especially with my parents.
WHEN YOU DID COME OUT TO THEM?
After college. They were paying for it. So I’m not gonna fuckin’ tell them anything they don’t want to know until it was paid for!
Well. My father didn’t speak to me.
AND WHEN DID THEY UNDERSTAND THAT YOU WERE TRANS?
I made it clear to them that I was trans in the early 90s. Like many straight people they tried to pretend it wasn’t so until I started on hormones when I was in my late 40s.
HOW’D THAT GO?
My father called me on Thanksgiving Day, years ago. I thought he was wishing me a happy Thanksgiving. No. He wanted me to know that he doesn’t want me to come home looking like a “fake woman.” OK. You don’t want me to come home.
Well, then he got cancer. When I got the news he was sick, I said to my sister: I’m sad that he’s got stage 4 cancer. And hope he recovers, but, I just don’t want him to die between April 21st and May 22nd, because that’s the Kiki and Herb reunion and its gonna be a lot of work — and I just don’t want him to die then. OK?
DID HE LISTEN?
May 6th, three days before my birthday and smack dab in the middle of the run.
STICKING IT TO YOU …
That son of a bitch …
DO YOU CONSIDER YOURSELF A FEMINIST?
Of course I am a feminist. My hope for feminism was that it would break down the barriers of gender. But when it became the “women’s movement,” it left men out. It became marketed.
But I always have been and continue to be a feminist.
WHAT INSPIRED YOUR STYLE AND SENSE OF SELF?
I always liked fabulous old ladies. I was obsessed with my dad’s best friend’s mother, Mrs. Offutt. She had a three-story mansion. She lived alone, was Swedish and wore bright red lipstick — all the time. Peroxide blonde hair, thin. Very chic. And living on a shoestring. The rich husband died and his family screwed her over. She had Pekingese and English sheep dogs, a shed and a cage behind her mansion — and the inside of the house was gorgeous, beautifully furnished from better days. Two grand pianos. She liked me. She’d say things like: I think you have to be smart to not get headaches. You probably don’t get a lot of headaches, do you? “No. I don’t.” She’d get on a skateboard and go down to the middle of town when she was in her fifties … nobody did that. I wanted to be like her. And now I am.
Sleeping with inappropriate people in my big house. The kooky lady with the pink door, bringing my men out.
I LOVE IT.
I love it.
DO YOU FEEL FREER AS YOU GET OLDER?
I don’t know if I feel freer – I think the really fun people are either — just aged into not being as much fun — or they OD’d. There’s just not as many free spirits around me anymore.
ARE YOU COMFORTABLE WITH AGING?
I’m trying to be pretty upbeat about the whole thing. I mean, it’s like, how much pressure do you put on yourself? How much pressure do you put on other people to believe in your delusion about yourself? (laughing)
I don’t feel like it’s over. But I do definitely feel condescended to quite often by younger people.
WELL, LET’S GO AGELESS. I’M FREEZE DRYIN’ AT 67. IT HAS A NICE RING … PEOPLE WILL ASSUME THINGS WITH NUMBERS, AND TREAT YOU DIFFERENTLY — UNLESS WE CHOOSE TO EDUCATE THEM I’m on this app where I get all my sex. And I’m on there as 38 and you know what? If they come to all the trouble to come to your house to have sex, they don’t give a fuck.
They’re like, you’re so beautiful. Can I come over? And I’m like … maybe ….
And it just says I’m not a biological female.
That’s the first line on my thingey.
MY FINAL QUESTION IS WHAT DOES GLORIOUS MEAN TO YOU — SINCE YOU ARE A GLORIOUS BROAD?
Fully realized — as her experience allows.
That’s a Glorious Broad — because you still have to be adventurous.
I heard somebody I would have considered to be glorious say: “I just don’t get it with the ‘they’ and ‘them.’ I don’t know. I just don’t like it.”
I didn’t say anything, but I wanted to say to her: so, when was it that you decided that you didn’t need to learn anything anymore?
I don’t ever want to get to that point.
* We’ve corrected this quote to use Viv’s preferred pronouns they/them/their — People, let’s get it together with the pronouns already!
Make your day by following Mx Justin Vivian Bond on instagram @mxviv. You’ll learns lots, laugh lots, and hear where they will be performing.