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Justin Bond on Transgender Politics, Tilda Swinton, and How He Stays Focused in Bathhouses

Billy Tompkins / Retna

A bedazzled version of himself in Lustre: A Midwinter Trans-Fest at P.S. 122, Justin Bond, the performer best-known as Kiki of Kiki and Herb, sings and chats about Joan Didion, falling in love with a slightly retarded man, and the differences between Genet and JonBenet. The Tony-nominated downtown icon plays emcee to a hand-selected ensemble of trans- and queer-identified artists, from a stunning pianist named Our Lady J to a tap-dancing, stripping, and defiantly un-skinny drag king named Frank Anne. Bond spoke to Vulture about transgender politics, Tilda Swinton, and his fight with D’Angelo at Madonna’s birthday party.

You and Tilda Swinton are buddies. How’d you meet?
I was playing at Fez, and my publicist brought her in the dressing room. It was immediate: We both discovered our spiritual twins, burst into tears, and starting hugging each other. I went out to her home in Scotland and spent the winter solstice before Christmas with her and her family. We see each other as much as we can.

In the show, you gave some alarming statistics about a national rise in violence against transgender people — like the 15-year-old Lawrence King, who was shot and killed in a high-school classroom two weeks ago. What accounts for that in this day and age?
The people that run organizations like the Human Rights Campaign are privileged white people. In all honesty, they’re out for themselves and getting what they can get. When they have power, they’ll look out for those who they consider to be less powerful or less important than they are. They don’t represent me. They represent their own selfish interests as bourgeois white people who really are angry that they’re looked down upon. I think they’re disgusting sell-out pigs. But, hey, that’s always been the split in the gay community: “Why don’t you just put on some pants and be a man and go and get your rights, faggot!”

Downtown performance venues are dropping like flies. Are you worried?
Let’s face it — we live in a city that clearly values commerce over culture. Today at brunch, I found out that the Barnes & Noble at 21st and Sixth Avenue is closing because the rents are going up so high. If Barnes & Noble can’t afford the rent, who the fuck can? How the hell can the arts survive? It’s very difficult to be a performer in the U.S. I spend a lot of time traveling over that ocean to be paid to perform in other countries. I’m not making a cent off this P.S. 122 show … it ain’t for paying the rent, that’s for sure!

I heard you’re returning to perform at Banya, which is a gay bathhouse party. Is it hard to focus on your performance at a venue like that? I mean, it’s hot and wet, and stuff is clearly going on in dark corners…
I don’t think it will be a problem. I was at Foxy all those years at the Cock when it was on 12th Street — that was when they still had a back room. So, you know, people were two feet away from me, fucking and blowing each other, and I didn’t really get distracted by them. I’m just immune to it all, I’m very jaded.

So, you performed at Madonna’s 39th-birthday party, right?

I read that you got into a fight with D’Angelo. What happened?
Well, first of all, let’s ask, where is he now? And if you can find him, go ask him. —Justin Ravitz

Justin Bond on Transgender Politics, Tilda Swinton, and How He Stays Focused in Bathhouses