Gay Times November 08 - Issue 362
The trans-fabulous Justin Bond talks to GT about the split of his legendary cabaret duo Kiki & Herb, gay marriage, growing up trans and his plans for the future
It’s 4pm, Saturday, and a subdued Justin Bond curls sleepy-eyed with GT on the sofa of a friend’s house in the East End. He is in London presenting some work-in-progress shows at Bethnal Green’s celebrated queer avant-cabaret venue, Bistroteque.
More from Gay Times November 08 - Issue 362
In the flesh, Justin is softer than his fierce on-stage persona would have you expect. Measured, witty and thoughtful, dressed in a black lace top with a blonde flop of hair framing his face, he is seductively androgynous. I suspect he has just woken up.
As one half of Kiki & Herb, Justin became both the darling of Broadway – twice playing Carnegie Hall and once nominated for a prestigious Tony award – and The Underground, winning an Obie award from the Village Voice newspaper.
Now Kiki & Herb have wound down, Justin is working on bringing a reworked version of his show, Lustre, to London’s Soho Theatre, developing a solo album (“It’ll be neo-pagan revolutionary cabaret music… Jake Shears has been very encouraging, and there’s a chance we might work on some stuff together”), preparing for a Panto with The Tiger Lillies (with whom he shares management) and getting geared up for a festive gig, where he will perform the Carpenters’ Close To You album in its entirety. It’s a heady workload.
But will we see Kiki & Herb perform together again? “I would never say never, but we don’t have plans right now,” he says. “After 15 years, I thought, ‘What else is there for us to do?’ The last show at Carnegie Hall was so amazing, I thought, ‘What else is there we can do to top that?’ Do I really just want to continue touring the world doing the same thing non-stop, year after year?”
The new show at the Soho Theatre will be “basically the same set up as the New York show, which celebrates everything trans. It’s about writing your own story; creating your own narrative and legend. I talk about how I feel.” This is particularly important for transsexual people, says Justin. “Trannies aren’t any one thing. They’re not either/ or – they’re both. They’re forced to address at an early age issues that most never have to. They are born into families that make assumptions based on their genders that many never question… they have to make a choice about how they’re going to be in the world. They have to make a choice about not only their sexual identity, but also have to confront their gender identity in order to seek their own truth.”
It is this truth-seeking that marks Justin’s work as special, a quest that began at a very early age. “When I was seven or eight years old, someone said to me, ‘You walk like a girl,’ and I said, ‘I don’t walk like a girl, I walk like myself.’ I wasn’t thinking about how I walked, so obviously I was always androgynous and always confused people.”
It’s galling to Justin to note that the ‘T’ often gets left out of gay campaigning organisations acronyms, with groups often preferring the more respectable LGB around which to rally change, yet it is the trans community that faces more violence and stigma than most other sexual dissident groups. They also forget that at the Stonewall bar, it was the drag queens who rioted. “You know, the queens of Stonewall were being attacked. They had no choice but to fight back. Basically, once the outsiders have opened the door and kicked down the barricades they [mainstream gay groups] say, ‘Oh, OK, we can take over from here – and thanks – and just try and, y’know, keep yourself out of the way so we can get our rights and privileges without making a scene, because that’s not going to get us anywhere.’
“Basically (particularly in the States), the whole gay rights or queer rights or transgender rights movement has been highjacked by a bunch of bourgeois white people whose only concern is their tax break. For the last 15 years, the only battle – the most ridiculous and inconsequential battle that anyone has been fighting – is for gay marriage, which really is the most ridiculous thing. I mean, they need to be fighting for healthcare and equality for everyone, but they already have healthcare because they’re white and middle-class, so they take the ‘T’ off LGBT because they’re more likely to get their piece of the pie without it.”
It wasn’t always so, claims Justin. “In ancient times, transgendered people were looked at as sort of spiritual leaders. They were brought in for a high holy event because they have some sort of – I’m not saying I do – vision or some way of saying things that are different.” He pauses and laughs. “OK, it’s true. I’m a high holy priestess of the trans-witch experience. Lording above everyone else.”
Catch Justin Bond at the Soho Theatre, Oct 7-Nov 11th
Words: Joseph Galliano
Photo: Liz Liguori