Lady Bunny talks about a new documentary, politics, New York, and more.
by David Goldberg
Photo by Timothy Greenfield-Sanders
With a wave of young drag celebrities fighting for their fifteen minutes, one has to honor the few ladies who have been around the block… for decades. Enter Lady Bunny: drag icon and nasty favorite to all kinds of audiences. OutSmart spoke to the one and only about Drag Race, her appearance on HBO’s The Out List, and her life in New York.
David Goldberg: I saw the trailer for HBO’s The Out List. As someone who has been publicly open about your identity for decades, how does it feel to be surrounded by a newly outed batch of celebrities?
Lady Bunny: I will tell you that a lot of these people are not celebrities. There’s a lesbian from Afghanistan who had to leave her country in order to be who she is, and a black football player who thought he was cursed from God because he was gay. There are all kinds of stories besides the celebrities. I don’t usually read people on how long or how much they’ve been out.
It seems like you are a pioneer.
What you mean to say is that I’m the least successful person on the panel!
Well, it’s not too late. Maybe you should go back in the closet.
You know who would love that? My parents. “HBO’s The Out List: It made me go back in the closet…after I’d had a sex change!”
I have to ask. What was it like to be impersonated by Alaska [on season five of RuPaul’s Drag Race]. You’ve been lip-synching to other women and riffing off pop culture for years, and now it is being done to you.
I think Alaska’s very talented and original, and I thought she did a good job. Ivy [Winters] invoked me earlier in the season, so it’s close to flattery. But I’m going to be honest with you: besides a few quick clips, I didn’t see it. I am flattered, but I can only say that Ivy did it good, but she couldn’t seal the deal because she’s too thin and pretty. It’s a good read and it’s absolutely true.
Now that they’ve done five seasons of that show, and now that you’ve been in New York for twenty-five years, are you seeing different generations of drag? Are there tiers to the social scene, or is it any performer’s game?
Well, there are tears every time Hedda Lettuce leaves the stage. And a loud cry for refunds. I’ve always thought that drag artists in New York got along surprisingly well. At one point, the transsexuals were picking on the drag queens because they knew that we were taking men from them—for free. Well, we were giving it away, rather. But even they got it together with us after a while. I don’t really perceive that much animosity between the queens. Of course they are competitive, and of course they are catty on stage, but we generally feel like, Hey, we’re in the same boat—we’re in the same business. We’re not going to make it painful. Is that a disappointing answer?
No. You are the authority. So, now that you are touring so much, do you still see yourself staying in New York?
I do. Sometimes I get sick of it, but when I ask myself where else I would go, the answer is: nowhere, bitch, you are staying here.
Do you think if you were in your twenties and you moved to New York now, would you be able to make it the way you did twenty-five years ago?
I could never have afforded to move here, and I don’t know how anyone without a backer or a trust fund could. I saw a club kid who was working in a Sports Authority (don’t ask what I was doing in there). I see this guy behind the counter and I think he’s probably working for minimum wage so he can go out every night in different colored wigs. For kids to be dressing like that, they must be living like four or six to a room. When I came here, the rent was $500. With $250, you could move in. Look, the experience in New York has also changed. With the high rent, it is losing some of its flavor that made it funky and bohemian. It is very much more corporate, very much more sterile, and there’s a bank on every corner and a Subway sandwiches on every other corner. But it’s still New York City.
How is the single coming? Do you think it is getting enough attention?
I will say that I’ve released a couple of things over the years and I’ve written songs for other artists, but this song most represents what I want to sound like as a solo artist. Of all the projects I’ve ever done, this one feels like it is getting the biggest push and the strongest reaction. What that translates to in sales in a record industry that’s in a tailspin, I have no way of predicting. On the one hand, I notice that the record industry might be looking for the next Beyoncé or Britney Spears, not some old transvestite. But I also know that in the dance world, artists like Divine and Sylvester—who have been outrageous, crazy-looking, fat, in drag, in half-drag—[have succeeded].
I’m really enjoying your blog. It’s quite political, though.
You have to be these days. The govern-ment no longer represents us. We have to speak out. When 91 percent of us want enhanced background checks on guns and Congress can’t pass it, that means the government no longer represents the people. 91 percent doesn’t mean anything.
Do you think you are having an influence?
Politics is not everyone’s cup of tea. The original music is not everyone’s cup of tea. The comedy can be too risky for some. Not everyone is going to like everything that I do, but I love my job more when I can do different things, because I never get bored.
I hope more queens can gain political followers.
Not yet! Let me have them first! I was amazed and thrilled that Sharon Needles sold so many albums—she was right up there with Justin Bieber and Adele. It’s too much.
Lady Bunny appears in HBO’s The Out List throughout the month of July. Go to hbo.com for the schedule. Her single “Take Me Up High” and her blog are available at ladybunny.net.
David Goldberg is a frequent contributor to OutSmart magazine.