Lady Bunny– From RuPaul’s Roommate to Drag Legend | In episode 70 of Light Culture Podcast, Paper Magazine founder David Hershkovits sits down with iconic drag queen Lady Bunny.
Along with bandmate RuPaul, Lady Bunny found a home at the Pyramid Club and went on to change cultural history. Aside from her incredible performances on stage, she can barrage us with off-color jokes, get us dancing to an eclectic mix of music to die for, provoke us with her political punditry and entertain us in everything from movies to TV shows. The founder of Wigstock, Lady Bunny joins us on Light Culture Podcast to talk about what drag means to her, defend the white male, takes pokes at Biden-Harris, call RuPaul corny, and talk about the history of the culture now popularized by RuPaul’s Drag Race.Read Transcript
What’s not to like about the Emmy-award winning superstar who’s put drag on the map. Lady Bunny has been a presence on the downtown New York drag and nightlife scene since the mid-80s, arriving along with RuPaul and Larry Tee from Atlanta. She found a home at the Pyramid Club, a legendary venue that redefined the conventional concept of the gay bar. It was punk, it was glam, it was inclusive to straight guys, like myself, who spent many a night entertained by the plays, bands, DJs, and go-go dancers that attracted a who’s who of the now legendary scene that germinated in the East Village hotspot. A destination for both gays and straights, it paved the way for a new generation of performance art, and launched careers that are still challenging the definition of what it means to be gay and drag and, most of all, talented in ways that don’t quite fit into perceived norms. Over the years, Lady Bunny has proven to be a resourceful and talented member of that original troupe. She can barrage us with off-color jokes, get us dancing to her eclectic mix of music to die for, provoke us with her political punditry, and entertain us in everything from movies to TV shows to her own Hateful Hags network talk show that launches this week. Hi, Bunny. Sounds like you did quite a bit in your years.
Lady Bunny: [00:01:30]
Well it certainly does. I mean, wow. Uh.
Lady Bunny: [00:01:33]
Yeah. Well, thank you. It’s good to be here. It’s good to be with you. I’m glad that, you felt that the Pyramid was inclusive.
Lady Bunny: [00:01:44]
Because I, as a member of the left and as someone who is, you know, sometimes targeted by the politically correct, uh, community, when this pandemic happened, the only people that I was dealing with were men, who were giving me deliveries. I wasn’t brave enough to go out and get them. And how I love chatting with them, just as I love chatting with men who are cab drivers. And I think one issue that the left has is that they’ve actually turned on men. And I hate to see it. Like you said about the Pyramid. We didn’t care if you were straight. You were there to enjoy what we were putting down and, keeping us in business, buying a drink I’m sure- sure you never paid a cover charge, David.
Well I did. [laughs]
Lady Bunny: [00:02:40]
Because I go back to when Paper Magazine was a foldout. Um. You know, and so anyway, but yeah, it’s funny, because I even had this discussion with a trans activist friend, Peppermint. And, you know… you know, I said, “Look, call men out on whenever they’re toxic. Call them out on it. You know- hold their feet to the fire. But listen, we can support non-binary and trans and gay and what not without shitting on straight men all the time.” Did you know that in this election, white men actually went more for Biden. That’s one of the statistics that’s coming in. Since 2016, we’ve been demonizing the, uh, the swing State, uh, blue collar, white voter. And this election has shown, hey, maybe we should say, “I would like to persuade you.” Rather than, “I hate you.” [laughs]
Wow. You’re so Progressive, Bunny. Even defending the straight white male.
Lady Bunny: [00:04:00]
Listen, what chance does any movement have if you’re going to bash, roughly, half of the population?
[laughs] Yeah. Right.
Lady Bunny: [00:04:13]
Yeah, I don’t wanna bash men. I may not always understand them. But I want to try. [laughs] Just as I ask them to understand me.
Well this is, uh, something that’s come up since the election. So let’s go there, since we’ve already opened a door. You know, with regard to who do we have to thank, and what the future is gonna look like as a result of that. So are we just gonna revert back to politics as usual? Democrats in office now, instead of a Republican. Or are we gonna go, in a more Progressive direction and challenge some of- of these presuppositions about who people really want. Is it a Bernie? Which I know you supported originally, right?
Lady Bunny: [00:05:09]
Yes. Oh, yes. In 2016 and 2020.
And now we see AOC going out also, like trying to make the case for the Progressive as the ones who brought us over the finish line here. That we should pay more attention to their needs, as opposed to, you know, the white male, let’s say.
Lady Bunny: [00:05:28]
Well, the white male has- has those needs too. [laughs] Um. I think, uh, one of the takeaways from the election, uh, I was kind of gagged to see a Fox News exit poll, saying that seventy percent of all American voters said in exit polls that they wanted Medicare For All. Okay? So… Now, I’m sure Fox News, which no pundit on there supports Medicare For All, even the token Democrat, Donna Brazile, does not support Medicare For All. That’s fascinating to me, because that’s seventy percent of all voters, which is- I think it boils down to a small majority of GOP voters supporting it. But eighty percent-plus Democrats support Medicare For All. We’re in a pandemic. Let me ask you something. How do we have a choice between two presidents who do not support Medicare For All, which seventy percent of all voters support, and over eighty percent of Democrats. Because the truth is Joe Biden won, and I’m glad to be rid of Trump, but how can you have majority support for something like that? We don’t have majority support on any issue. So Joe Biden could’ve easily, with a snap of his fingers, said, “I support Medicare For All.” And united his own party. Kamala Harris is ranting about how Joe Biden is the candidate of unity. Well, no. He could have united the Progressives and the centrists in his own party with such a huge support for Medicare For All by supporting it. The fact is he is corrupted by insurance and pharmaceutical donors exactly the way that Obama was. Which is why we have a lackluster ACA. You wanna hear the joke? The Affordable Care Act, it’s not affordable.
Lady Bunny: [00:07:52]
So if we are looking at things like, “Oh. Oh, I’m so glad that we got rid of that awful Trump, and now we can return to decorum.” No. Decorum doesn’t pay my rent. Decorum doesn’t make my insurance costs go up or down. Everyone knows that this needs to happen, even Donald Trump. Didn’t come through with it, but in 2016 campaigned on cheaper drugs. He did nothing of the kind. But my insurance is one half of my rent.
Right. No, it’s true.
Lady Bunny: [00:08:27]
How can I afford enough to save? You know, how can I afford to save money, with paying half of my rent on insurance. The Affordable Care Act is not affordable. I’m not saying that Joe Biden is a crook, in that this corruption is illegal. You know, campaign donations are legal. We now have something called open secrets dot org, where you can look in any year, in any candidate, and see who gave who what. I don’t think it’s disputed. The reason that we can’t have Medicare For All is that Joe Biden is bought by insurance and pharmaceuticals. So I’m glad we got rid of Trump, but, there’s a meme that sums up my feelings, that was like a black- a young black guy, smiling, saying, “We got rid of Trump.” Then the next picture is with Joe Biden, and he’s frowning. [laughs]
Lady Bunny: [00:09:26]
Because, I mean, Joe Biden has said nothing will fundamentally change. And, we’re in the middle of several crises. Uh. From the pandemic to Black Lives Matter, three States burning up, losing millions of acres. We’re in the middle of a lot of crazy stuff. Income inequality has gone downhill under both Democratic and, Republican presidents over forty years. And the pundits are on the news- The pundits that were wrong about Hillary, the same pundits who we did not reject after they were so wrong are on the news right now, that they were saying that Joe was gonna win big. He did not. He eked out a victory. And Trump got more Republican support than he got in 2016. That’s insane. So-
Right. There’s a lot to reflect on given what happened with this election as we look back. And, yeah, the media has a big part. They’ve been complicit in this whole thing, this Trump era, as much as anybody else. Except they were just playing the other side of the same coin.
Lady Bunny: [00:11:03]
There was one interesting thing that happened in 2016 where, Ed Schultz, who was fired after this, he was a Progressive anchor on MSNBC. They got rid of him because Bernie was peaking and Ed was about to cover it. MSNBC cut to an empty podium where Trump was about to speak. This shows you what MSNBC is really all about. They’re about getting ratings by howling over Trump. “Oh, he did this. Oh, he did that.” Babe, when are you gonna stop being shocked over it?
Lady Bunny: [00:11:45]
Because when you come down the escalator saying Mexicans are. Drug dealers and rapists. Well, first of all, I use drugs and I’m kind of horny, so I don’t like what’s, you know, [laughs] that didn’t scare me off. I’m glad Trump is out, but- Biden is not, uh, any- anyone who I trust.
Most people right now are feeling like, “Okay, let’s give this guy a few minutes.” Hopefully he’ll get into office. One of the areas that I think maybe you could agree has made some progress, or maybe you don’t. LGBTQ having its place in the conversation now. The words that have been uttered by- by Biden and by Kamala Harris.
Lady Bunny: [00:14:50]
I’m not interested in uttering words, or tokenism, or symbols. Um. You know, you can say, “Ooh woo woo! Kamala Harris first, you know, VP of color.” Well, um, Barack Obama was the first president of color, ask people of color if their lives improved under his eight years. They didn’t. This is tokenism. I mean, I was just watching Krystal Ball and Sagar’s show on Rising- the, uh, Rising on The Hill dot com. And they were saying that the Democrats had been going so heavy with this political correctness and tokenism. So, I mean, I, as a friend of many, many trans people, inspired by a trans woman of color in Chattanooga, Tennessee – where I grew up – to start performing, who I’m still in contact with. It doesn’t help them one bit to utter their name. That’s tokenism. I even say, you know, when the Black Live- Okay. Here’s an example. So there is this movement that says, “To honor the trans women of color who have died, say their names.” And they’ve been doing this for several years to show respect, and if that is someone that you knew or, you know, and you want to grieve for just because you’re a nice person. That’s great. But how many years are you gonna say their names, and what is that going to achieve? You are not talking about the situations under which these trans women of color or any other color are dying under. And you are not saying who is killing them. That is the answer to a problem. Not throwing a word out there.
But you do believe in the power of words? That’s what you do. You go out and perform.
Lady Bunny: [00:16:50]
Not if it’s just words. No. Not if it’s just words. I say, you know, “Okay. If y’all need to grieve, then you grieve over the trans women of color. And when you wanna start moving and talk about why they’re getting killed, and who is killing them. Please come and get me. I will be in that movement, just as I’ve been very vocal about my support for Black Lives Matter.” But, um, I can’t tell people of color what needs, you know, what should offend them, or what does or does not offend them. But when you want to go from George Floyd and a knee on his neck to a nationwide discussion of a model on a syrup bottle… I’m sorry, like I say, as a white person, I can’t say what Aunt Jemima made black people feel. But, to me, I would love to be part of the stop police, uh, whether it’s defunding them or, teaching them, or enforcing the body camera rules, or just prosecuting them when they kill people of color. But catch me later on the syrup bottle changing movement. That is- never gonna be something that I’m involved in. [laughs]
The cultural stuff is what bothers you more than the political stuff it sounds like? The-
Lady Bunny: [00:18:20]
No. It’s the opposite.
Oh, you say the opposite. Okay. But the political stuff bothers you in the sense that it’s real police out of control, we need to do something. But the culture in the sense of Aunt Jemima, which I believe is what you’re referring to people getting their knickers in a twist.
Lady Bunny: [00:18:45]
Well they were very upset. And like I say, I will never have the right to tell people of color what to get upset about that involved their history, but the amount of work that they put into researching the model who was Aunt Jemima, I mean, my lord. If they had researched Joe Biden’s ’94 Crime Bill, which locked up tens of thousands of mainly black men, if they had researched Kamala Harris’ terrible record of locking people up in California when she was Attorney General. Do you remember that first debate when Tulsi Gabbard just mentioned several of the things that she’d done as Attorney General, and then the entire crowd gasped? Keeping prisoners in longer to work one dollar a day to fight California forest fires? Laughing about using marijuana herself, but locking up a lot of people of color who use marijuana. This was the ultimate cruel joke to me. It’s like during Black Lives Matter, all of my woke friends were saying – And they think they’re woke. I say they’re aslowke. Um. Because they were saying, “Oh, well, you know, Biden was nobody’s first choice, but he needs to pick a black woman as his VP. And that will excite people and bring some kind of racial justice.” Well not if you’ve been a harsh cop like Kamala has in California. [laughs] That was unbelievably tone deaf.
Yeah. Well we could go on here talking about politics and I’m sure. [laughter] But I’d love to segue a little bit off that-
Lady Bunny: [00:20:47]
Let’s do it.
Into some, uh, some other stuff which is very interesting to me, As I mentioned, I was at the Pyramid, I really appreciated all the talent and the creativity there, which is what, I wanted from the Pyramid. And the free drinks, of course. Let’s not forget that.
Lady Bunny: [00:21:08]
But at the time, as well, it was like such a different, um, idea of what drag is. And that’s something I want to get to here. This whole idea of what is drag before this Pyramid era came on, where it was about traditional lip syncing, trying to look like Marylin Monroe, and trying to pull off, you know, these looks in a certain perfect way was not really the vibe at the Pyramid.
Lady Bunny: [00:21:42]
No. The Pyramid was, which billed itself as a drag queen owned and operated venue. It wasn’t actually drag queen owned, but it was managed by drag queens. It was also- [laughs] a heroin den, and it may have been a cocaine den, but I didn’t really know what cocaine was when I arrived at the tender age of twenty-two or something like that. So, the thing that struck me about the Pyramid- Well, first of all, they hired me. So I’d never gotten paid, you know, in any of RuPaul’s free reviews or in Atlanta, or any of The Now Explosion, which you mentioned Larry Tee, uh, Lahoma Van Zandt and all that crew. So, um, you know, we came up to do a show and I stayed. Because, I just had never seen drag like it. Now I love traditional drag, and many of my best friends are like old school, traditional lip sync pageant drag. But I had just seen enough of the drag queens in butterfly sequin ’80s tops, lip syncing to heartfelt ballads. Melissa Manchester [laughs] or, um, I mean, you know, I had just seen enough of the… Tina Turner and, uh, you know, Cher, and whatnot.
So coming to the Pyramid where people were impersonating Joni Michell, or Janice Joplin, just creating their own characters. That’s what’s been the hallmark of New York drag. A lot of major cities have an impersonation venue where there is, you know, like the whole show is celebrity impersonation. Those have rarely ever taken off in New York. And it’s because artists, like Joey Arias, Kevin Aviance, Lipsinka, you know, and so many more create their own character that’s not a celebrity. What is Joey Arias? He is a Billie Holiday singing, Betty Paige drag wearing a Fred Flinstone face- No, just kidding. [laughter]
Keep going. [laughs]
Lady Bunny: [00:24:19]
You know, I mean, but- but he’s otherworldly. He’s never going to be the type that’s gonna step out and try to be like a glitzy pageant winner. You know, in the same way that, lipsync is a rarified choice of old recordings and elevating lip syncing to, uh, an art form with theatrical presentations with intricate, trust me, very intricate lighting and costuming and, you know, precision lip syncing.
Well, I mean, what kept me at the Pyramid is the free drinks, like you. But also to get to work there and, uh, and to be part of that. And seeing that kind of drag, which I thought was more interesting than what I had loved, but had grown up with and gotten a little bit tired of. It was interesting to see people like Tanya Ransom, you know, have a drag poetry night. She also sang original songs with a band, or she would also have some insane thing called the June Taylor Dancers, which would just come on to like 1950s music. She was the reigning diva when I arrived at the Pyramid. Of course there was Ethyl Eichelberger, who was dancing on the bar with us, and she put on many, you know, plays that she had written, some musicals. And, was dancing on the bar for fifty bucks right beside me, and then getting reviewed in the New York Times. You know, for her plays. So it just showed me that drag doesn’t have to be limited to lip sync, it doesn’t have to be limited to, really, anything. And that’s why I wanted to do Wigstock, because I wanted to showcase- I thought that the kind of drag that I saw at the Pyramid would interest more people than could fit inside that two hundred capacity club. And-
Well, Wigstock just to, uh, enlighten some of our listeners who may not be familiar with it, was a- an outdoor, like, Woodstock for the Wigstock generation, right?
Lady Bunny: [00:26:40]
The idea you just brought out all these fantastic performers to a larger- It started in Tompkins Square Park. It was outdoors. It was free.
Lady Bunny: [00:26:49]
Yes. And it grew and grew and grew, and pretty much, I guess became my claim to fame. I mean, it grew until, I could not believe it, when Michael Schmidt, the designer who does stuff for Cher [laughs] and Tina Turner had told me that Debbie Harry, an idol of mine, was coming to perform. Nor could I really believe it when Louie Vega and La India, who is now a big salsa star, but at that point was Louie Vega’s either girlfriend or wife. And,the song that we all dropped our coats and ran to the dance floor was I Can’t Get No Sleep, a Masters at Work production. When I was backstage and I knew that they had been confirmed, you know, by someone else that had ties to the music industry. But, honey, that was some Nuyorican royalty, you know, coming up to miss Chattanooga, Tennessee’s event, you know, in Tompkins Square Park. Those were magic moments for me. Cause, you know, as we both know, New York was so hot at that time.
Lady Bunny: [00:28:06]
When the producers that were making, dance music filled dance floors all over the world were our in house DJs at our, Wednesday night Sound Factory Bar, you know, functions.
So you got your wish came true. You did Wigstock. It became a movie. It’s still shown quite a bit. You’ve been in other movies, Wigs. And now-
Lady Bunny: [00:28:34]
It actually became a movie called Wig that may still be playing on HBO. It’s been on there for about a year.
Okay. People could check that out. But then your roommate, earlier, aforementioned RuPaul.Look at him now. Right? He’s a star, and has won many Emmys. He’s doing commercials now. I just saw him in a TV commercial for something.
Lady Bunny: [00:28:59]
Oh, for Old Navy.
Yes. For Old Navy.
Lady Bunny: [00:29:04]
I- I’m a little heavier that Ru and I was offered a commercial for Old Gravy. [laughter] Another thing that Ru is doing is fracking. On his Wyoming ranch, which was a bit of a scandal recently. So, um, I guess there’s some, uh, some awful sides of fame too. [laughs]
Do you like what’s happened to drag becoming such a big popular thing? I mean, there’s TV shows now- You’re starting one and there are others, as well.
Lady Bunny: [00:29:44]
I’m not starting one. The Hateful Hags Network is just a one-off comedy thing that just kind of goofs on the RuPaul Drag Race and, you know, his show AJ and the Queen, and whatnot. Bianca Del Rio is the winner of season six and she is known for her caustic insult humor. [laughs] It’s debuting on November twelfth on Vimeo. It’s just a one-off one hour, uh, thing. But, hey, maybe we’ll do it- There’s no news to it. It’s really just dishing the dirt on queens, cause we felt people might’ve had enough of politics.
Of politics. Okay.
Lady Bunny: [00:30:25]
But, I mean, the question, what do I think of drag today? Well, as I’ve said, I was fond of interesting drag that I found at the Pyramid. Now there seems to be a formula for drag, and it is very, um… dare we say elitist? Like, uh, lace-front wigs cost thousands of dollars. And, uh, you’re considered a nobody unless you wear a lace-front wig, and have spent hours on precision makeup with contouring and white stripes down your nose.
Well it’s the perfection of that look, right? It’s, you know, whereas, thinking back to the Pyramid, you know, people could be sloppy, their makeup could be, you know, going. But that was part of the fun. Somebody could be more perfect. It just was an individual thing.
Lady Bunny: [00:31:28]
But now it’s- it’s a thing that you have to have if you’re on that show.
Lady Bunny: [00:31:33]
And it’s something which, if you have incredible looks and you’re just like turning it out everyday, then you’ll have tons of fans on Instagram. And let’s face it, Instagram followers, in our empty soulless world, are how people are selected for gigs. You know, I’m the beneficiary of it sometimes. But that is just the way that it is now. And I love to see beautifully, uh, imaginatively dressed up queens. I mean, when they’re all about like, “Oh, there’s certain rules for padding your hips to look like a woman. There are rules for- must have this lace-front that costs thousands of dollars. You know, you must have this, uh, you know, if RuPaul puts a rose or an ornament in the side of his hair- [laughs] you know, the way Donna Summer did, then everyone’s got to do it.” But all that’s great. You look great. You’re much thinner and you’re much younger and prettier than me, and you’re expertly made up. But what do you do when you get on the stage?
Lady Bunny: [00:32:47]
That’s what I’m concerned with. I’d rather see a busted booger with drugstore makeup on come out and rip the shit out of a dance number, or go totally offbeat and just do something crazy and unexpected. New York City lost a drag great named Sugga Pie Koko, who would come out and perform, it was kind of a lip sync, but half of the time she would just look at the audience resentfully to Rhianna’s Umbrella ella ella ay ay song. [laughs] And she had a bag with like ten different umbrellas. And so, you know, she would keep pulling them out. I mean, to me, it was like Marcel Marceau kind of level stuff. But every umbrella was broken. And, you know, it was just a fun idea. And often she would look at the audience as if she really hated them and hated that she had to be up there with broken umbrellas. But, you know, it turned the party.
I remember, speaking of, you know, what is drag. That years ago, I was walking in the East Village and someone called my name as I was walking, and I looked closer. And it was RuPaul and his sister, I believe, you know, sitting on the stoops, smoking a joint. And I said, “Oh, I didn’t recognize you.” Cause he was just wearing khaki pants and white shirt or something, you know, very normal. So I said, “Well I didn’t, you know, couldn’t- Almost didn’t recognize you out of drag.” He says, “Well I am in drag. I’m wearing my Gap drag.” So the question being, is everyone in drag? That was kind of his point. Is that drag is not just something that he does, but everybody does drag. But it may not, you know, look as good.
Lady Bunny: [00:34:49]
I think his quote is, we’re born naked and the rest is drag. So yeah.
Well we choose things that we put on, whether it’s a uniform for school or well they don’t choose school uniforms. But, you know, whatever profession you pursue. You either wear a police outfit or you wear what a female hooker would wear, which is sexy. We do choose through our grooming and clothing selections. I don’t know if I would go so far as to call it drag, because most people aren’t, you know, they’re not- Drag is wearing the clothing of the opposite sex, and I don’t think that that’s what most doing. But, you know, hey, if a drag queen can’t exaggerate- [laughs] who can?
I understand you don’t like to appear in public out of drag, right?
Lady Bunny: [00:35:54]
Whereas RuPaul now has been able to split those two personalities, at least, so he can be RuPaul, like as RuPaul not in drag, and then he can be RuPaul in drag at the same time.
Lady Bunny: [00:36:08]
Yeah. I mean, I’m pretty sure that almost everyone would rather see him in drag. But when you attain a level of stardom like that, you can call the shots. I personally find it puzzling that you would go on a late night talk show, you know, as RuPaul the man. But, hey, she gets away with it. I’ve never been interested in appearing out of drag. I feel like that would be appearing, without my armor, with the look not finished. Since Nan Goldin had such famous and successful photographs of, you know, photographing Pyramid artists in the dressing room, getting ready, with like makeup on and their wigs off and their shirts off. I’m more of a woman than them. [laughs] I mean, if a photographer ran in you know, to a dressing room and I had my shirt off, I would shriek and put my hands over my, what I call, boobs. Just like a woman would. You would never ever see me in a tank top, because I don’t- Listen-
Oh, yeah. Well I’ve seen you. [laughs]
Lady Bunny: [00:37:33]
I’ve seen you in the past.
Lady Bunny: [00:37:36]
Not in a tank top.
Maybe not a tank top. A t-shirt.
Lady Bunny: [00:37:39]
People are very involved in defining their gender identity, you know, down to like fifty, sixty different names for it. I don’t really try to press the people on what my gender identity is, I just be it and I don’t really feel the need to talk about it, or to categorize it, or to speak, I’m not gonna walk on eggshells in my own community, which loves to police language.
I would not present the male side of myself, um, because- in the same reason- in the same way that Charo wouldn’t. [laughter] No, I’m not outing her as a trans woman. I mean- That’s her schtick.
Lady Bunny: [00:38:31]
You know, the ponytail and the- the glittery outfit, and the legs, and the heels, and the accent. I would not consider myself an entertainer, uh, without my schtick. People love those Nelson Sullivan videos, and he was my roommate, and we had an agreement – Filming anything I do onstage. Because that’s why I’m in this costume. To me… It’s kind of a vanity thing that you assume that people are gonna be interested in you without your bag of tricks on. I mean, you know? [laughs] We go through a lot to look the way that we look, so I don’t know why people are fascinated with the raw ingredients. Well, I do know, and that is because of drag race. And they show the queens in and out of drag.
Lady Bunny: [00:39:32]
The number one Google search for Lady Bunny is Lady Bunny out of drag. I mean, because they see it, they see the queens in and out of drag on Drag Race.
Lady Bunny: [00:39:44]
They cannot understand why there aren’t more photos of me, uh, floating around. [laughs]
Could I ask you also about the acceptance of drag in the gay community. That has evolved as well, right? As I believe, in the early days, our early days at least, there were the clones from the West Village and- and do you remember, there were these stencils you would see, “Clones Get Out.” You know, the gay man with the- with the typical like bomber jacket, mustache, jeans.
Lady Bunny: [00:40:20]
Who would be- who would be putting the “Clones Out” signs up?
You don’t remember?
Lady Bunny: [00:40:25]
I don’t remember those.
Lady Bunny: [00:40:27]
Who wanted them out?
Uh. I think Keith Haring was actually doing one of those. Uh…
Lady Bunny: [00:40:34]
Huh. Well, I mean, listen, there’s different types of gays. Uh. [laughs] You know-
But the question being about the respect for the drags. Was it something that was, you know, the respectable gays looked down on it, or has that changed? Or is it always the same?
Lady Bunny: [00:40:52]
It’s an interesting thing, because gay men put drag queens on a pedestal. And this is true before Drag Race. I mean, they were idolized for winning pageants or for just being good performers, even if they didn’t enter pageants. But the stigma with drag queens, I’m not sure about that clones thing. With drag queens is that most gay men like masculine gay men for sex. So when they see a drag queen, they’re not really sexually attracted to it, and some of the more conservative ones did not really understand what it was all about. And it kind of gave them the creeps. But you also have to realize that when you’re out at a club and you’re looking for a prospective sex hookups, and you want masculine men, or at least not totally over the top drag queens, you may like the drag queens or you may not. And sometimes the clones did not like the drag queens. The clones were replaced by the East Village clones, who I’m sure you will remember, who liked The Smiths and, uh, and the- The Communards. [singing] Tell me why! [laughter] I’m sure you remember that.
A little bit. Yeah.
Lady Bunny: [00:42:35]
An unforgettable sound. They wore overalls with the cutoff under the knee with Doc Marten combat boots, and they shave their heads and stuff like that. And then after that it was the Chelsea clones who were on steroids, and often the clone thing, kind of the drugs change with the clones. And now the predominant, gay groups are the older bears who are heavier and who don’t primp and pluck in an anal sort of way. And then the younger twinks who kind of take that they like to be shallow. They like Broadway and martinis in Hell’s Kitchen, and it’s almost like a himbo – male bimbo – kind of thing. Where it’s like, “Whatever.” Like, Mean Girls is their Bible. [laughs] And The Spice Girls.
Do you watch the, uh, RuPaul’s show? I guess you do. You’ve been on it, and you’re sort of like a little, you know, have a satellite connection to that show these days or any-
Lady Bunny: [00:43:56]
I don’t. I don’t watch it.
Lady Bunny: [00:43:58]
I’m too old to understand reality TV’s appeal. That’s not really a criticism of Drag Race, in particular. But I don’t understand, the appeal of reality TV. I like a script. [laughs] I’m an actress.
They are scripted though, aren’t they? I mean, they’re, you know, they’re not really reality, like, anyway.
Lady Bunny: [00:44:26]
Well, honey, if they’re scripted, they might want to get a better writer.
Oh yeah. That’s probably true.
Lady Bunny: [00:44:30]
And it ain’t just Drag Race. No. I- I- I… Listen. I’ll tell you one interesting thing that happened to me. I mean, my TV hasn’t been hooked up for a year and half.
Lady Bunny: [00:44:44]
But I got a Netflix trial. [laughs] And I watched Pose. I’d only seen one episode of Pose, which of course is about the ballroom culture and, I mean, they actually cast trans people in trans roles and stuff. And, you know, of course I was not part of the ball scene in Harlem culture, but was friends with Willi Ninja and, Carmen Xtravaganza, and all those people. We worked together in the clubs. I do like Billy Porter, the star of it, and I saw one episode and cried my eyes out because he sang Home, which is Stephanie Mills song from The Wiz and it’s incredibly beautiful, uh, song. Also a lip sync classic. Even though I was never a part of that scene, I think that people who worship Paris Is Burning, like I do. We were protective of that very unique scene, and we didn’t want to see Ryan Murphy, who had produced Glee and made unfortunate decisions, like having an actual woman, uh, play Frankenfurter singing Sweet Transvestite. I mean, please. That’s the darndest thing on Earth. But, you know, Ryan did not shy away. He didn’t shy away from the drug use, the prostitution, the stealing of designer things to compete in balls, or the AIDS. And so here I was watching Pose in the second pandemic that I’m trying to survive, and I was fucking balling my eyes out. Because seeing scenes of them going to visit friends with AIDS in the hospital, who they knew had no chance of surviving, it took me back to those same scenes. It took me back to the shame that because Tom Rubnitz’s AIDS progressed to such a point. He was a video director who I worked with, and who was a Paper person for sure.
Lady Bunny: [00:47:27]
I got freaked out, because I was afraid that I might have AIDS. So I did not visit Tom as much as I should have, and I can never rewind that and visit him more. So I was literally balling. But what I noticed about Pose, when the tears subsided, is that I’d lost faith in gay storytelling until I saw Pose. Because fifteen, twenty years ago, we were seeing Armistead Maupin Tales of the City, which, you know, I never really got into but I could see that it was quality. However, now we’re seeing, you know, on Drag Race, they literally play like a cheesy chord to let you know that here comes a sob story from one of the contestants. So Pose was a refreshing move away from the cheap sentiment, and it was sentiment that actually got to me in like a big way. Because, honey, Imma tell you something, maybe it took the pandemic to make me reflect on this, but getting in touch with loss is mighty powerful. And, you know, the [laughs] the older you get, the more you lose. I mean, you hopefully gain some wisdom. You know, sometimes I pull back from social media, and I’m like, “You know what? Okay, this is the anniversary of your pet’s death. I can’t go there with you. I know that pets are gay people’s kids, but I can’t hit like on the anniversary of your pet’s death.” [laughs] I mean, if it just died, maybe.
It’s tough. The way people share so many personal experiences. You know, especially of loss on social media.
Lady Bunny: [00:49:34]
They’ve got time on their hands. The experience that I had with watching Pose was, I felt that loss. Cried over it. Recognize, even if it’s a loss of stuff like, you know, artists can’t afford to move to New York City anymore. That’s a huge loss. It’s a huge loss that gay bars no longer play good music. They play top forty. That’s a tremendous loss. To know that straight DJs would come to see what records DJs from the disco era to Frankie Knuckles to whoever were breaking so that they would include those records in their set, because we knew the tunes. And, honey, we didn’t need, you know, pop princesses with images of Madonna, Kylie Minogue, or whatever. If they were a big heavy black gal that could sing she may not even have the artist development to put her on the cover of her own record. But we were out in that club singing, and dancing, and carrying on to every word of that song that we knew. I don’t think young people understand that we used to arrive at a club, throw off our coats, and go to the dance floor. Our friends got us drinks. And we stayed on the dance floor.
Lady Bunny: [00:51:04]
I mean, soaking wet. This was not, “Ooh. Stop and give a trout pout selfie every five minutes.” You know? And it’s funny, I DJ at the Monster on Sunday nights for like an early disco tea dance. There was a sixty-year-oldish guy there. Very nice looking. You know, obviously he was working a look with a kilt and whatever. And I said, you know, may I take your photo. He said, “Sure.” He didn’t stop dancing. And I thought that was so intriguing. It was like, “Yeah, I don’t mind if you take my picture. But I’m dancing.” [laughter] It was my music, so I could barely get offended. But I was like, you know, anyone under thirty would be ready with their model pose. [laughs]
Totally. Well I know you’re always ready with the pose. And-
Lady Bunny: [00:51:49]
David. Is that- [laughter] Oh. Oh, I thought you were about to proposition me.
Well we’re running out time, I’m afraid to say. So- [laughs]
Lady Bunny: [00:51:56]
Well I am too. [laughter]
Yeah. We’ll have to pick this up at another time. I can’t wait.
Lady Bunny: [00:52:03]
Pick it up? Are you calling me an ant?
[laughs] I can’t wait to see you again and run into you somewhere.
Lady Bunny: [00:52:08]
That’s grandphobic. That’s transphobic. [laughs]
Oh no. Don’t go there, please. That’s another hour.
Lady Bunny: [00:52:13]
Well you can still visit my Only Grands account.
Okay. Where is it?
Lady Bunny: [00:52:18]
I’m not on Only Fans, but I’m on Only Grands.
Lady Bunny: [00:52:22]
I know. I know. You’re playing the age card on me.
Lady Bunny: [00:52:26]
[laughs] I think that’s a card we can play together.
Yeah. We can play together. Thank you so much for being on my show.
Lady Bunny: [00:52:36]
My pleasure, David.
Lady Bunny, an astute political observer, who I have the pleasure of following and hearing what you’re saying. And I totally respect your point of view, even though I may not agree with all of it.
Lady Bunny: [00:52:48]
[laughter] And, just everything else that you’ve done for me, for the city of New York, for just, uh, everyone in general. Much appreciated.
Lady Bunny: [00:52:58]
Well I’m doing it cause I love it, and it’s great to catch up.