It’s a bit odd how we lack a term to differentiate the masters –err, mistresses – of drag from the masses. While there’s a clear difference in success and level of recognition between an actor and a movie star, any male with a wig, a bit of dramatic make-up and non-sensible heel gets clumped under the rather distinguished classification of “drag queen.” Perhaps because “drag princess” just doesn’t sound as catchy?
But if we were to point fingers – sometimes one just has to point after all – and call out the legends from this cross-dressing lot, we’d finger the legendary Lady Bunny (metaphorically of course); a wickedly talented, bewigged sextuple threat: actress, DJ, singer, songwriter, comedienne, and well…according to her…ho.
Bunny is arguably one of the most sought after talents in the world of drag, as her Facebook and MySpace pages and blog read like a schizophrenic travel agent’s to-do lists. She is whisked all over the States and around the globe to perform and DJ – this year at parties for Pride celebrations in places like Dallas, Toronto and Warsaw—yes, Poland.
We snagged a bit of this New York-based queen’s time to get a look at the Bunny brain beneath the giant wig. We covered everything from her start in drag to her passion for politics, learned who makes her laugh, and ended with a prediction of who would win in the ultimate West Coast vs. East Coast drag knife fight.
Be warned, the Lady’s got a lot to say, but we found her so entertaining, that once we started asking questions we couldn’t stop. So grab that pack of Ho-Hos and dig in:
Do you remember the first time you did drag?
Yes! It was in my first grade talent show. I played a snake charmer--and I've charmed quite a few snakes since then. Mom went all out on my costume. Harem pants, a red velvet vest trimmed with gold rick-rack and a turban with jewels. And of course, slanted eyeliner to make me look more "Middle Eastern." In fact, I was trying to look like my idol Barbara Eden from I Dream Of Jeannie. I wore my hair so long in grade school that one particularly old-fashioned teacher in Chattanooga, Tennessee threatened to cut it. My dad marched down to the school and told them that my hair was my own business and that he'd take the issue to the Supreme Court if they touched one hair on my head.
My dad was a history professor who got a teaching scholarship to West Africa for one year when I was 11. Men wore very loud print dashikis there with fancy embroidery around the neck. Since my folks were very thrifty, they had many of these shirts made in large sizes so that I could grow into them. Upon my return to Tennessee I attended a new school and the teacher, seeing my colorful blouses, assumed that I was a girl for the first week or so of school. Much to my class' amusement. So it could be said that I lived in demi-drag until puberty. The gender line was always somewhat blurred with me.
Where did the name Lady Bunny come from?
Southern queens often call themselves Lady this or that to seem grand. Like Lady Chablis, who I saw perform decades before her success in Midnight In The Garden Of Good And Evil. My drag was the opposite of grand so it was a bit of a joke on that. Not a very good one, but it stuck and it's too late to change it.
You've said RuPaul is your drag mother and for some queens, establishing one's own drag family seems very important. Have you adopted any of your own drag children?
Ru is only one year older than me, but he did show me some of the ropes when we were getting our start in Atlanta. In truth, Ru was doing more of a club kid look than drag back then, but he still helped me get some of my first gigs, one of which brought me to NYC and I never left.
I don't have any "children," but in general, I'm a queen who likes other queens and I hope that I'm considered sisterly by the gurls. Most of my friends are drag queens. But I don't have protegees. I think the drag mother concept is often when a queen coaches her "daughters" on how to win pageants, who to get silicone injections from or sell "pu**y" to--and I'm not involved in any of these ventures so I can't give suitable advice.
What are you most proud of in your drag career? Any unusually large gems in the Lady Bunny legacy?
I'm proud of organizing Wigstock for 20 years. Today, our culture is obsessed with competition and I think it's played out. Every show has to be about who is the best chef, singer, dancer, model, designer, drag queen, or who can lose the most weight or shove the most bugs into their mouth. The sad thing is that we're being gypped by cheap TV networks which don't have to hire writers for competition-based show because the elimination becomes the plot. Wigstock was a forum for different kinds of performers from drag queens to musicians to shine in their own way. This obsession with winning is a disease. There should be no best--why can't different performer be good in different ways?
I was also very happy to be chosen as a notable New Yorker in September's issue of V magazine. Mario Testino shot Mark Ronson and I for a full page in the magazine along with other lesser known New Yorkers like Marc Jacobs and Lady Gaga.
Sometimes drag queens complain about being desexualized by doing drag or conversely are fetishized by "chaser" types. Do you think it’s hard for a queen to snare or have a boyfriend than it is for others?
It's definitely harder. When I used to cruise gay bars as a boy, I'd have to hide my drag if I took them home. Gay men normally want manly men--not drag queens. But I'm not going to hide who I am to get a husband who's ashamed of me. That kind of defeats the purpose. And the gay men who do go after queens are often either climbers seeking to enhance their scene status or even worse--guys who are using you so that their own drag persona can blossom through you.
Tranny-chasers are fine by me. They are never going to take you home to meet their parents, but the sex is major! And they make me laugh! It's quite ridiculous for me to be calling boys half my age "daddy," but it's all an illusion. The funny thing is that I don't necessarily seek out younger guys but they are often the ones who are both internet-savvy and the horniest.
You recently served as headmistress on Logo's "Drag U," a show where female contestants were put through a drag makeover. What famous woman would you have wanted to put through the school system?
Readers of your blog and Facebook fans of LADY BUNNY FOREVER! know that you’re not just dangerously funny but also quite passionate about politics. Do you think Democrats and Obama have done an award-winning job the past two years? Are you nervous for the upcoming elections?
Definitely not award-winning and VERY nervous. A lot of the legislation which Obama and this Congress have passed are beneficial, but the Democrats haven't tooted their own horn about these accomplishments--like the insurance reform which went into effect recently that prevents your insurance company from dropping you if you become very sick and therefore expensive to cover. You also can't be denied coverage for pre-existing conditions. Although I'm not certain that you'll receive reasonably-priced coverage, they have to cover you. These are very positive developments. Obama did stop a total economic crash--but it's hard to campaign on a platform of "Look what I did NOT let happen." That's just not an easy concept to grasp.
The fact is, maybe America was not actually liberal enough to elect a black president. But in 2008, Obama seemed so much smarter and level-headed than McCain, who admitted that he knew nothing about economics and would read a book on it. This is the best the Republicans could come up with for a candidate? Then he added the horror Sarah Palin to his ticket who couldn't name one newspaper she read. So we voted for a black guy out of fear for our pocketbooks. Now that Obama hasn't fixed unemployment--he has helped it--the racism is coming out of the woodwork. And Republican have been very successful at fanning the flames of racist, anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim among their ignorant base.
I understand that people are fed up, broke and unemployed. But Obama and the Democrats are just the janitors trying to clean up the mess that two terms of Bush left. Don't channel your anger towards them. Republicans created this mess--is our memory that short that we'd really hand the country back to the party which represents big business, outsourcing of jobs, ending public schools, the minimum wage, abortion and social security? I hope that people can see through their disappointment with Obama and the Democrats and realize how far right the new crop of Republican candidates are. You can kiss gay rights goodbye if the GOP regains power. Staying home and not voting is the worst thing you can do. It's being practical. I don't love Obama and the Democrats, but I hate the Republicans and their turn-back-the-clock-on-civil-rights-agenda. See the Democrats as the lesser of two evils if you must, but remember, the worse of those two evils is VERY evil. And crazy. Can you believe that Sharron Angle freak who wants to bring back Prohibition in Nevada--home of the boozefest known as Las Vegas? And she won the Republican nomination after the front-runner recommended trading chickens for health care. Bizarre.
You have quite the extensive travel schedule, and are often in other cities to perform or DJ . If you weren’t currently living in NYC, where would you be?
I can't imagine living anywhere else. NYC has changed for the worse--becoming very corporate and losing its local flavor, but there was so much flavor here to begin with. And Latino is the flavor I savor! I love South Beach (which has also seen better days) and San Francisco is this country's prettiest city, but only for a visit. I'm a New Yorker now.
When was the last time you saw another drag queen perform that reminded you of yourself or a younger Bunny? Or the last time you saw a drag queen perform and thought “damn, she’s remarkably good.”
There's a queen from Boston called Olive Another who I saw perform in Provincetown this year. She does remind me a little of myself--because she's getting fat! No, she's a terrific actress like all the queens in Ryan Landry's Gold Dust Orphans. I also caught Coco Peru and Dina Martina in P'town and they were excellent. Jackie Beat continues to amaze me--she is probably the best stand-up of any drag I know. She's the only drag I know who has written for comics like Roseanne.
A huge part of your act and success must be attributed to your wicked sense of humor. Have you ever had anyone in an audience ever say to you that they were really offended by something you said?
I do have an irreverent sense of humor. In my private life, my humor knows no bounds but when the audience starts throwing things you have to reel yourself in. In fact, I really like commenting for Star Magazine's "Worst Of The Week" page because it forces me to channel my humor through a mag which is available in every supermarket and thus must be acceptable to housewives and religious folks.
I recently wrote and shot a parody of Katy Perry's "California Gurls" called "West Virginia Gurls." The joke is that unlike the hotties in Katy's video, West VA girls were inbred, pregnant, toothless hags. A lot of people enjoyed the twisted humor. But one of the comments actually called the video "hate speech," which shocked me. Lighten up and get a sense of humor. I didn't travel the country and make a scientific study on which state had the ugliest women and make a video to target them. It's just that when you replace California in the lyrics with another word for a parody, the replacement must have the same number of syllables. For example, Maine or Iowa just wouldn't sound right. And I'm from Tennessee, the other end of the Appalachians, so I'm no better than anyone. In fact, the video was born out of my desire to play an inbred, overweight, toothless skank. I think I pull it off really well! And my co-stars are out of their mind! You can watch it here and decide for yourself.
Why and when did you start DJ’ing?
Axe-murdering club kid king Michael Alig gave me my start in the late '80s. Music became so hard and techno that big clubs would want more melodic music in the auxiliary room. When the circuit sound kicked in the '90s, a lot of people were turned off by dance music since it was so tripped out and hard that you'd have to be on Ketamine to enjoy it. I love to dance but can't tap a toe to that big room sound. So I had to be in charge of the music in my area.
You recorded an album a few years ago, that’s actually pretty amazing and deliciously catchy. Any plans to do another one?
Aw, that's very sweet of you. It actually is just a demo and only two songs were released on very independent labels. I have kind of put music on the back burner but writing it is actually what I love the most. I wrote and sang a duet on RuPaul's last album "Champion" which can be purchased on iTunes. It's called "Throw Ya Hands Up." I also wrote a song which is in "Another Gay Sequel: Gays Gone Wild," but they never released the soundtrack. I'm currently working on writing for other singers but the music biz is in a bit of a tailspin right now.
If you'd like to hear Lady Bunny's other songs, there's a music player on her website - www.ladybunny.net that will allow you to listen to a sampling of them. Click around and you'll find her music video for her R&B jam "Sneakin'," which has to be one of the catchiest, sultriest, silliest songs ever created by a queen.
Though not every queen can be as legendary as Lady Bunny, if you’ve got a globe-trotting “gender illusionist” gal in mind that you’d like to see profiled for “All Hail the Queens” – email email@example.com.