Lady Bunny, wigging out before her Dallas appearance
When you’re a drag queen — especially one like Lady Bunny, a mega-bouffanted comedian closer to camp than to impersonation — you probably expect most people will treat you as entertaining more than intellectual. And that would be a mistake.
“It takes a lot of money to look this cheap,” Dolly Parton is fond of saying, and that could apply to Bunny as well, with a revision: “It takes a lot of smarts to seem this silly.”
The drag goddess best known for her pioneering drag festival Wigstock and her appearances on RuPaul’s Drag Race (and as “dean of drag” on the spinoff makeover show Drag U) also has a lot of opinions: About trans issues, politics and gay rights. You dismiss her at your peril. Sure, her Bunny blog has humorous observations and viral videos, but look at it more closely: It’s the HuffPo of the drag world.
“I try to trick people,” Bunny admits from her home in New York. “I throw a lot of humorous stuff up so they will be drawn to the page, then I hit them with the one-two punch of serious stuff. I was not into politics when I was young — and I don’t think it’s normal to be — but when you get older and you find your place in the world, you find what isn’t jibing and what isn’t good and how you can make it better.”
That approach feeds Bunny’s passions, and she’s not afraid to let them come out. Consider these balls-to-the-walls positions she takes during our interview:
• “I get so frustrated with gays, because if they could apply half of the passion they have for a Drag Race challenge into [securing] their own civil rights, we’d have all of our rights and everyone else’s too!”
• “I don’t understand how we lost our fire. Whole generations of gays don’t even know how to get involved. The hatred of gays isn’t gone just because Ellen and RuPaul have shows on TV. Russia’s anti-gay stance and the horrible things happening to gays over there [need to stop] as well as the ‘kill-the-gays’ legislation in Uganda and the anti-gay legislation in Nigeria.”
• “I think the national gay movement is extremely conservative. Gay marriage is a conservative goal, except when it’s about property transfer. And getting to serve in the military is a very conservative goal. If bullying is no good, let’s not put on a uniform and go bully people in Iraq who had no interest in attacking us.”
She even assails Obama as a poor leader: “I was gung-ho for Obama, [but his administration is proof] that good ol’ boys come in all colors. It was a bitter pill to swallow.
I don’t think he’s a leader, and that’s what we need if we want to usher in a new civil rights era. And Hilary is worse!”
If these comments get you fired up … well, good. That’s basically her point. Not all Bunnies are soft and cuddly; some have fangs. (Even she, though, can find a funny way of making a point: “Opponents of gay marriage are like fans of The Beach Boys — they are literally dying out.”)
If it sounds like Lady Bunny is all dour predictions and political fist-waving, you haven’t seen her perform live, especially as a DJ, where her beats gets the twinks, the bears and the ladies up on their feet.
But hey, even if she is outspoken, you have to respect her for her hard-won right to have an opinion. Lady Bunny came of age in New York during the AIDS crisis, and was an active, out person bringing alternative culture to the mainstream. What Wigstock did wasn’t really new — it had been going on in the clubs for decades — she was just the one to move it from a 250-person venue in the East Village to the vast audiences of Union Square Park.
“My goal was to show this multifaceted side of drag,” she says. “I got the permits, but everything you saw was already happening — just not in the daytime, and not outdoors … unless we stayed up all night, which we did back then.”
She’ll be up late again this weekend, appearance along side Glee alums for Caven’s Carnivale party at Station 4 on Saturday. It’s something of a homecoming for her.
“I had a wonderful time at the Rose Room when I worked with the wonderful [late] Erica Andrews and Krystal Summers, who I’m still in touch with.”
Bunny worked her way up to her star status starting in Atlanta (with best pal RuPaul), but her wide-ranging interest in all manner of performance whisked her to New York City, where she helped redefine what a drag queen is.
“I love Southern drag — it’s always been the best drag — but it was lip-synching to Melissa Manchester ballads in sequined tops,” she says. “I wanted to do standup comedy and have dance troupes — lip-synching, but like Lypsinka did, getting rave reviews from the New York Times.”
That drive started Bunny on a career path that has included acting, hosting, organizing, standup, blogging, DJing and even singing. It’s one of the reasons she stepped away from Wigstock.
“I wanted to do my own thing,” she says. “Once you prove you can do something, you get it out of your system.” Two years ago, her one-woman show, That Ain’t No Lady, got great reviews and spurred her on to mount another one (it will start later this spring).
Calling it a “one-woman show” raises a question: How does Lady Bunny identify herself in the LGBTQmmunity?
“Do you think I really go to the supermarket with this giant wedding cake wig like I stepped off the set of Laugh-In?” she asks. “That’s a credit to my illusion, I guess, but I don’t live in drag … though unlike Ru, who is bald, I do have hair that is about shoulder length. And when I’m not in drag I’m not exactly the butchest thing in life — and I don’t want to be. Whether that’s transgender or just swishy, I don’t know. There are a lot of issues. Everyone calls me Bunny. People usually call me ma’am at a check-in counter — it’s not by accident that people see I’m kind of mixing the two genders. But I’m not on hormones, and I’m not getting surgery,” then adds, “… though I wouldn’t mind liposuction.”
However she identifies, Bunny is destined to continually reinvent herself — and she’s doing it in silk gloves, even if they cover iron fists.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 28, 2014.