Lady Bunny Has a Bee in Her Bonnet
January 19, 2018
Lady Bunny

An interview with drag legend Lady Bunny, performing her new piece Trans-Jester! at OBERON January 25-26, 2018. 
Limited availability — Click here for tickets.

Where did the idea for Trans-Jester! come from?

The piece got started when I noticed a rift which seems to have developed between the drag and trans communities. It reached a low point when “RuPaul’s Drag Race” was attacked for using “she-mail” to refer to an e-mail that the drag queen contestants would get. I think they used the word “tranny” as well.

Ru is an old roommate of mine. We lived together in our very giddy and crazy and drunken twenties, in Midtown in Atlanta and in the Meatpacking District in New York—areas where transsexual prostitution was common. We gravitated towards these trans women, knew them by name, loved to sit and talk with them, occasionally tried to steal their husbands. And I know that Ru is not in any way transphobic.

That’s what rang so false about the “Drag Race” Controversy: in my experience, drag queens and trans women are the closest out of anyone on the LGBTQ spectrum. The idea of Ru and “Drag Race” being accused of being transphobic just goes to show how far the political correctness bandwagon has gone.

As a drag performer who cut my teeth in late-night gay bars where we were encouraged to say things that were as wild and offensive as possible in order to make a name for ourselves, I think I provide a different view, compared to the current generation’s obsession with political correctness.

That’s a contentious topic. What has audience reaction to the show been like?

Well, it’s definitely struck a nerve. I meant to do the show for a month, and a year and a half later, I was still doing it in New York. Since then, it’s gone to London for two runs, Australia, Los Angeles, San Francisco.

I’m not a professor—I’m a comedian—but I’m onto something with this show. I think that I have a unique viewpoint because I am non-binary or genderqueer, or whatever they’re calling it today. Words mean different things to different people. I don’t want to stop anyone’s gender exploration—I’ve been a drag queen for thirty years. But I come from a generation where we said, “Honey, our main fear when I was growing up was ‘don’t hit me, don’t hurt me.’ I’m not going to quibble over what you call me.” 

So perhaps some of my observations will be the same: a little uncomfortable to hear since they’re different from the current climate, yet hopefully not without merit. 

You’ve employed so many different performance styles in your career—stand-up, song, dance. What forms does Trans-Jester! use to express the ideas at the heart of the piece? 

Well, while I do feel strongly that political correctness has gone overboard, the show is not a lecture. There are one-liners; there are song parodies. There are a few songs that I sing straight, plus an original song or two. And a wild mix of music from Adele to Bruno Mars, to Katy Perry, to show tunes, to ancient country tunes, to jazz. So it really is a hodgepodge. I have a bee in my bonnet about political correctness gone wild, but the truth is, most of the show is the kind of dirty parodies and jokes that I'm known for. Just with more of a message than usual.

Does the title of the show reflect your comic approach to that message? Are you asking people to treat the evolving language around gender identity as a little less sacred, or inviting them to laugh at its rapid evolution?

There are some people who didn’t want me to call the show Trans-Jester! because they had a problem with the name. And I said, “Excuse me? I am a transvestite, ok? And I am a clown, hence the jester part. You can’t tell me how to use language that applies to myself. ‘Trans,’ is a prefix which means, ‘cross,’ as in ‘transportation.” Are we banning that, too?

Currently, it seems to me like everyone thinks that they have the right to shut something down if terminology that they don’t approve of is being used. And that attitude is stifling discussions and making people afraid to get it wrong, or state their case, or clear up a misunderstanding, because we’ve got everyone walking on eggshells. If you treat everybody with respect, the labels don’t mean as much. When you have a friendship with someone, you’re much more lax on the language and the type of humor that you use.

What message or challenge does the piece offer to audiences in predominantly liberal places like Cambridge and Boston?

I want to challenge perceptions about the importance of language. And maybe to ask people to get off the internet, and out into the real world. Do not see this show if you don’t like vulgar, offensive, twisted, and non-PC entertainment. Because that’s what it is. I know that there are a lot of people who prefer more polite fare, but there are also a lot of people who love to laugh and aren’t so prissy and prudish. Maybe the title will keep the people who don’t like this kind of discussion away. But I wish they would give it a try and entertain my viewpoint.

Interview by A.R.T. Editor & Assistant Dramaturg Robert Duffley.    

Publication date:
January 19, 2018

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