When you pick up the phone to a drag queen you never know what you’re going to talk about but it’s usually all cocktails and cock. So it was a surprise when Lady Bunny launched into a full on political rampage and she’s not afraid to speak her mind. For those to whom Lady Bunny is an unknown, she’s a Southern-born, New York living drag legend. Having paved a path since the 80s as one of the States’ most famous drag exports, Lady Bunny is a much-loved personality as the face of one of New York’s most famous festivals, ‘Wigstock’ which ran successfully every Labor Day in the city for twenty years. Of course, her TV credits run to Sex And The City and her film credits feature, To Wong Foo and Another Gay Sequel: Gays Gone Wild. It’s 9AM EST when I call – I’m expecting a tired voice – but no, she’s up, raring and she’s got a man in to fix her wires… she tells me she’ll be running out of electricity any minute…
What do you think the differences are between American drag and British drag?
Well you know I did a panel on drag with Boy George and some others. He claimed that the dole makes performers lazy, and that therefore he preferred American drag queens because if you don’t have a safety net, which is going to help you out financially, you have to develop something that works, or sit penniless.
That was brave of him.
Well I mean, I don’t actually know what your social situation is. I’m jealous of your healthcare. I could tell you that right now. I wish we had it here, but I mean that was his observation. My observation is that if you’re living in New York City, especially now, you have to hustle to pay rent. Somebody has got to like what you’re doing.
Do you think there’s a difference between American and British audiences?
Yes. I’m told by people who have more experience doing theatre that British audiences are more reserved, that they will often not be as vocal. I mean please, Americans yell in a movie theatre when the actors can’t even hear them, with their bucket of fried KFC and popcorn. I’m also told that just because the British audience is more reserved doesn’t mean they’re not enjoying the show.
My observation of English drag is that it’s really like American drag. There’s the queens that are very beautiful and can’t do much. Which is basically what’s happening in a lot of countries due in part to Ru Paul’s Drag Race. They have a fantastic look and they’re young, and they’re pretty and thin, and I’m jealous. They’re not necessarily performers. They’re booked maybe because they’re on TV. Some of them are great performers don’t get me wrong.
I love the English tradition of the salty pub drag who sings live. The tradition Lily Savage comes out of…
Do you enjoy watching drag as a spectator?
Oh my god yes. All my best friends are drag. I love to watch all kinds of drag. I love to see a great lip sync. There’s also the theme queens. Like, Tasty Tim and Lady Lloyd. They’re just cool people who you want to have at a party.
What’s the best thing about being Lady Bunny?
Well. Oh gosh. I’m always horrible at these questions. The best thing, listen, I’m happy to just be working regularly because, to be honest, you don’t see that many older queens out there working.
I don’t know what happened, but whether they just decided the discomfort is too much as your body gets older, or it’s because you don’t look as good. When you get older, no one does!
For reasons unknown to me, you don’t see a lot of old queens working. I’m thankful I am one who is. I don’t know how to do anything else. I don’t have to work a day job. It keeps me very busy. I’m always travelling. I’m a worker bee. I love my work and listen, I chose it and somehow it worked out. I said, “Hey you need to pay attention to this.” And they did, so I can’t bitch now. I got what I wanted.
Did you ever imagine growing up in Chatta…
Is that small town America? What kind of place is that in Tennessee?
Well it’s a medium sized city, and it’s in the South, so there’s Republicans and rednecks and evangelical Christians. Luckily my family was not one of those. I mean that’s why I really got the hell out because you’d be walking down the street minding your own business and a car would drive by, and a bottle will whiz by your face, or maybe hit you in the head. Sometimes I live in the big city bubble where we forget how rough things are for gay or trans people in the rest of the country.
I just went to North Carolina where they have the Bathroom Bill that won’t allow trans people to use the bathroom of their choosing, and I was like I didn’t know what bathroom to use under fear of arrest. Luckily my heavy flow, extra strength, industrial diapers enable me to go pretty much anywhere I want. Anytime, anywhere I want.
Was it good having your own facilities?
I mean that the idea that someone like me is going to go into the ladies room and peek over the stall to make sexual advances on someone’s wife or daughter is so insane. I do that in the men’s room honey.
At the front, historically speaking, drag queens have always been at the forefront of getting things done. Getting shit moved, and things like that. Why do you think that is?
Well I mean one example is Stonewall, where drag queens and trans people were credited with starting that riot. Here’s the thing. If you’re gay and you can pass as straight, and you have a job in the straight world and are closeted, then you can choose to put on a pink t-shirt and march in a parade once a year and be overtly gay when you choose. But if you are noticeably effeminate, or if you are a trans person who doesn’t look exactly like a woman or man, or a drag queen; then you get the shit on the street that is going to make you say, “Uh-uh, I’ve had enough. I don’t have a closet I can retreat into because this is who I am.” Sometimes we will feel the brunt of the discrimination for that reason.
So moving on to Trump. What are you feeling about Trump?
Trump is a jackass and I’m shocked that he’s gotten as far as he’s gotten. I didn’t think he was going to make it out of the convention because Republicans hate him. His own party hates him.
None of the former Presidential candidates or Republican presidents went to the Republican National Convention, because he’s the nominee. While he got the votes of the Republican voters to make him the nominee, the Republican establishment hates him because he’s a loose cannon, and they can’t control him.
He’s in it for his ego I presume. He’s a psycho narcissist. I mean, why would he want to be President? It’s a pay cut for him.
He is a drag queen’s dream target for jokes… but there’s actually a reality that he could potentially become President.
Yes. I mean it is, it is scary. One of the reasons that Trump is doing well is that there’s a deep distrust of Hillary Clinton. Everyone is fed up with the DC political establishment of both parties.
People voting for Trump are hating the system. This is the interesting thing I saw someone talking about the Brexit on the news.
She was saying, “You can call supporters of the Brexit racist, but you can not discount their economic woes, and you do so at your own peril.” (It’s) the same as here. With Hillary, and even with Obama, the Democrats are the party of war and Wall Street.
Neither candidate is offering a path to peace. Gays here do not like it when I say this because they are very much bound to Hillary as their queen, but the best thing Hillary has going for her is that she’s running against Trump. She is not trustworthy, and she represents war and corporations. It really is the lesser of two evils.
The common wisdom is Trump is insane, so even though Hillary is not trustworthy, hold your nose and vote for Hillary because she is the lesser of two evils, but as we run from the Trump monster we may be running into the arms of another monster named Hillary Clinton. Her policies have caused the economic woes.
Hillary was not a leader on gay rights. Everyone knows Hillary is a flip flopper. She does what’s politically expedient. She licks her finger and sticks it up in the air, and sees which way the wind is blowing and has an attitude of, “You tell me where you want to go and I’ll lead you.”
That’s the worst kind of leader.
Well exactly. She could not even come out for gay marriage until like 2013 when it was already legal in at least 7 states. I mean, she is not a leader on gay anything, and you know, listen, the Republicans, they bash gays and abortion because that gets them the evangelical vote.
The Democrats say that they support abortion rights and gay rights so that they can be voted in, but both parties still funnel all the new money to the one per cent because our government is controlled by corporations.
The bizarre thing about Trump is that he has found the Democrat’s Achilles heel in the TPP trade deal, which Obama is pushing in secret. Hillary’s husband Bill passed NAFTA, a trade deal which killed a million jobs in manufacturing and sent them overseas because Capitalists want what? Cheaper labour.
American workers can’t, it’s the same thing that’s going on there in Britain.
Listen, I didn’t say his (Trump’s) supporters were smart, but they know what this trade deal represents. Hillary claims to oppose it now, but she spoke out publicly for it as Secretary of State 45 times and said that she hoped it would be the gold standard of trade agreements, so no one believes her when she says she opposes it. You have Sander, Clinton, and Trump opposing this trade deal and Obama is pushing it? He’s pushing the trade deal with only support from Republicans in congress.
Everyone who is blue collar, you know, they know that it killed their entire way of life when one guy could work at a factory, make a decent enough wage for his wife to stay home and maybe send a kid or two to college. That’s dead. That whole way of life. Yes, people’s dreams are dashed. This is my fear that people know that Hillary, like Obama, is a corporate Democrat, and this TPP trade deal serves corporations. Not the 99% of us, so you know, it is insane to me that Trump can have the shtick of, “Oh, I’m a rich man. I make deals.” And actually make people believe, “Oh, him rich. Him going to make me rich. Him going to run country like business.”
Even though his own businesses have failed, and gone bankrupt, but it’s the TPP that really hurts them.
Working class people are the ones whose kids get sent to war. When we’re in these wars that we were lied into, which Hillary voted for, they don’t want their kids to die for nothing, but now they’ve created a situation where the only job you can get is fighting in the military, so it’s difficult to even speak out against war in this country. We’re a war-like country. We’re the only country in the world that has military bases all over the world, and honey they’re not handing out lollipops, you know. This is all very bizarre to me because Trump is not a traditional Republican, and Hillary is bordering on Republican.
So what’s the answer – not building walls I take it?
Income equality. This is why I say, personally as a slut, I am more concerned with income equality than I am marriage equality for gays because honey, why do I need another broke husband. I mean, they bashed Bernie Sanders because they say he was boring because they said, “Oh, he’s a single issue candidate because his main issue is income inequality.” Well that’s kind of central to everything. Isn’t it?
While it may not be, you may not be able to make a quick decision, are you for abortion? Against it? For gay rights? Against it? Do you want immigrants to be deported or not? Those are easier to understand, but understanding how someone like Clinton chopped welfare that made the poor people even poorer, or her husband had these trade deals that decimated a whole way of life. Listen, if I want to work more in a city, I can drive an Uber. I can work part-time wrapping gifts at Christmas. If you’re out in the middle of nowhere, honey, there is no opportunity. This is what I’m saying. There is despair. That’s not getting onto the news. You can talk about equality, and all this, and all that, but if the wolf is at people’s door, the knives come out. And they come for each other. You blame the immigrants. You blame the gays. You blame anybody. You’re bitter because your bills aren’t paid and your future is dashed.
Dark times. I didn’t see this interview going here.
Listen, honey, I’m going to tell you the truth. I don’t have much in common with millennials. I don’t like their music. I’m not on Snapchat, and don’t even know how to log into my Instagram account. I did have a camera installed in my toilet, so now you can follow me on Shitter. I love that the millennials are disregarding our traditional news sources, and digging around online. The independent reporting has lifted a veil just as cell phone footage of black people being killed by the police is now enabling white people to see what black people have been claiming has gone on since forever.
I personally have a problem with the intrusion of cell phones everywhere, but I’m glad that things like cell phones, video, and Wiki Leaks are exposing what our people in positions of power are doing. We don’t pay the police to kill us. We pay them to protect us.
How can I be a gay person and ask you for my equal rights when my black brothers and sisters are being killed?
Do you remember the very first thing you wore as a drag queen?
I remember the wig because it was someone’s cast off, short, old lady, frosted wig. I went out on Halloween just as a woman and my best friend was my husband. We went out as a married couple. My parents did not frown on it. It was like, “Okay. There’s that queen
again, at least she’s finally gotten in drag. We knew it was coming.”
How important is the wig to a drag artist’s brand? I’m thinking specifically of a couple of queens who are very famous for their wig. I see pictures of you and you’ve always got huge blonde locks, and I’m wondering if that’s something that’s done on purpose. For the ‘Lady Bunny’ brand.
I realise that big blonde wigs work for me because I’m not petite. It balances out broad shoulders and a host of other figure flaws. Or a big head. I like to wear bangs to cover my eyes because I don’t even pluck my eyebrows. I grew up in the 60s when big hair was in. Those were my first impressions of glamour girls. That was when every woman had either wigs or falls in their collection at home.
You’ve got the Wig Stock cruise happening. Do you think something like that could be worldwide? Do you think it could travel?
I would like that. We’re kind of just getting our feet wet with this after not doing an event for ages. I would like to see the event come back as an outdoor festival. Large clubs are closing and I don’t know whether it’s because of Grindr, or because people sit on social media all day and post pictures of their food, rather than go have dinner with each other, but people do still want to get together.
What’s replaced the clubs are ‘one-offs’. I call them destination events, like gay pride, or circuit party, or a drag race tour, or a cruise. You know, you kind of invest your time in it and say, “Okay. I’m going to work out extra before this circuit party.” You buy a ticket. You buy a plane ticket and you say, “I’m setting aside this time to have a blast.”
You’ve had a career that’s kind of spanned music, television and obviously live performances. What is your favourite part?
I actually love it all, and by doing different things it keeps me from being bored.
We can’t believe that Lady Bunny is ever bored…
I love my job and I love doing it all the time. Listen, I’ve never once been bored in New York. Never.
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This interview was taken from Issue 23. Subscribe now for free and never miss another issue.