Justin Vivian Bond is a singer, a songwriter, a pagan, a performance artist, a dendrophile, a Radical Faerie, an author, a Wiccan, and a member of the trans gentry in this country – ladies and gents alike – who gracefully assert their right to be part of humanity’s vastly pollinated family tree. Anyone who has ever seen v perform – Justin prefers the non-gender, all-encompassing pronoun of“v” – can attest to v’s talent which borders on the alchemistic as v takes a lyric and lunges for its throat with v’s own throaty voice as if to throttle it and, at the same time, resurrect it by imbuing it with a reimagined, revivifying life all its own – much like Justin Vivian Bondhas reimagined, revivified and resurrected v’s truest self. Here is v’s website to keep you updated on JVB’s performance schedule and appearances.
Writer, actor, director and fellow Radical Faerie John Cameron Mitchell cast Bond as “Justin Vivian Bond” in his 2006 film Shortbus.Bond played the host(ess) of the fictional Brooklyn art/social/sexual salonfor which the film was titled.Cameron also created and performed the character of the East German transgender rock singer Hedwig in the musical he co-wrote with composer Stephen Trask, Hedwig and the Angry Inch. He received an Obie award for the 1998 off-Broadway production and was nominated for a Golden Globe for his performance in the 2001 film version, which he also directed and for which he received the Best Director award at that year’s Sundance Film Festival. Mitchell also directed Nicole Kidman in the 2010 film adaptation of David Lindsay-Abaire’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play, Rabbit Hole. He got his start on Broadway playing Huck Finn in the musical of Big River and creating the role of Dickon in the musical of The Secret Garden.He also won an Obie in 1992 for portraying a version of the young Larry Kramer in Kramer’s autobiographical play, The Destiny of Me. He had the recurring role of e-book editor David Pressler-Goings in Lena Dunham’s HBO series Girls in A 2014 Broadway revival of Hedwig and the Angry Inch, directed by Michael Mayer, starred Neil Patrick Harris. Others who played the title role during the revival’s run were Taye Diggs, Michael C. Hall, Andrew Rannells, Darren Criss, and, yes, John Cameron Mitchell. He is a series cast member in Hulu’s Shrill starring Aidy Bryant based on Lindy West’s memoir, and is now touring in his The Origin of Love: The Songs and Stories of Hedwig, which features the songs of Trask. He recently released his new musical, co-written with Bryan Weller, as a fictional podcast series entitled Anthem: Homunculus. It stars John, along with Glenn Close, Patti LuPone, Cynthia Erivo, Denis O’Hare, Nakhane, Laurie Anderson, Aland Mandell, Marion Cotillard, Ben Foster, and Madeline Brewer. It is presented by the Luminary Podcast Network. Click here to discover Season One.
They chatted in JVB’s apartment in New York City.
JUSTIN VIVIAN BOND:Well, here we are.Justin Vivian Bond and John Cameron Mitchell.Two queens with three names.
JOHN CAMERON MITCHELL: Do you mind if we talk about Kiki?[Bond created the character Kiki DuRane, an old alcoholic lounge singer who performed an act with her accompanist Herb, portrayed by Kenny Mellman. From 1989 to 2008“Kiki and Herb” went from playing clubs in San Francisco and New Yorkto performing in a Tony nominated production on Broadway and giving a“farewell performance” at Carnegie Hall to a comeback tour across America and in Europe.]That was such an interesting time for you.I saw you do “Kiki” starting at Cowgirl Hall of Fame in New York – which is kind of the lesbian Applebee’s – and then you went to Flamingo East which was a bar.
JVB:But it had a great room upstairs that had a salon-y feel to it.
JCM:It was like a cabaret room.It had a great balcony that the poet Shannon Hamann once almost threw me off of after one of your shows.
JCM:He’s passed away.
JVB:Oh, he has?
JCM:Do you remember him?He was a very talented writer, but was very self-destructive.
JVB: Yeah. Very self-destructive.But I didn’t know he passed away.
JCM: Remember when he was run over by a speedboat in Mexico?That didn’t kill him, but he had to reconstruct his face.He really was brilliant, but he was difficult.Years later, he paid me the ultimate compliment, which was, “Oh, John, you’re so beautiful.I should have fucked you back then.”
JVB:When he still had a face?
JCM:He was one of the few people I know who was quite comfortably gay but who later in his adulthood, in his 30s converted to Catholicism.Apparently, that was a thing in the early 20th Century with some British writers, too.I think maybe Oscar Wilde and …
JVB:Tony Blair converted to Catholicism late in his adulthood.
JCM:He does seem kind of gay.
JVB:Not that there’s anything wrong with that.But what’s the old joke – gay or British?
JCM:I grew up Catholic.It is a pretty gay religion.
JVB:Well, yes, it is.
JCM: My mom is still disappointed I left the church.I guess I could have become a self-hating priest.
JVB:Well, in a way you are – except for the self-hating part.
JCM:That’s true.Did you think of yourself as a priestess before you hung out with the Radical Faeries?
JVB:Well, I had two uncles who were ministers, so I was raised in the church and always felt perfectly comfortable entertaining in the church. It was the Church for the Brethren of Protestant Pacifist Church.
JVB:Not particularly.But simple.For instance, when my church first started in the community where I lived, they would spend the first hour of the ceremonies sitting on benches staring at the mountain contemplating nature.So I think that kind of view has affected me.
JCM:That’s beautiful. And church is a great place to nurture your need for attention.
JVB:Well, I never had that much need for attention.I always felt I had too much attention.Being known as a “faggot” since I was 11 years old, I had a lot of attention I didn’t necessarily want.So I learned as I got older to control how I was perceived.It’s about controlling how the attention is paid.I spend a lot of time alone. So, no, I don’t have to have attention … The first time I performed though I was 18 months old because I started speaking very young.I had a speaking part in the Christmas show at my church and I sang.I said, “I can wish you – though I am small – Merry Christmas one and all.”Evidently, it was very well received.
JCM:I was the Virgin Mary …
JCM:.. in boarding school when I was ten.
JVB:And were you at virgin?
JCM:I was unfortunately.It was a Scottish boarding school and yet no one tried to interfere with me.
JCM:I did have a priest kind of like that one in Doubt – you know, who did fuck with one kid but is he fucking with this kid? They don’t know he just seems to be taking care of that second kid.I had one of those priests who kind of looked out for me because I was real sad and lonely and the only American.He would cook me stuff because I couldn’t eat the food.I mean, it was Scotland in the 1970s.Later I heard he had interfered with some boys.
JVB:I love that expression: interfered.I always wish I had been interfered with, but I wasn’t.
JCM:I’m glad I dodged that bullet at that age.
JVB:Looking back on it, of course, I think it’s probably best that I wasn’t either.But I did have a lover.
JCM:At what age was that?
JVB:From the time I was 11 until the time I was … well … I’m going to save all that for my next book.Speaking of virgins though, when I was in sixth grade this kid asked me if I were a virgin and I said no because I thought if you had become pregnant by God then you were a virgin.
JCM:That was a special category, Justin.
JVB:But I kept saying I had never gotten pregnant by God therefore I was not a virgin.I got a lot of grief for that.
JCM:It really is fascinating going back to all this Catholic stuff that I took such issue with when I turned gay.If I weren’t gay, I probably would have been a priest.
JVB:Because you would get lots of attention.
JCM:Yeah, but it also has to do with the whole having a flock aspect of it.I do like that.I love a flock.I mean Mattachine, the dance club I do in New York with Amber Martin and Angela Di Carlo at Julius in the West Village is kind of like our little revival tent in some ways.We bring in interesting people from the neighborhood – queer-ish, whatever – and get them off their phones and get them to dancing.
JVB:You’re like a shepherd.You have flock.Flocks aren’t so much for me.
JCM:You’re more of a witch.
JVB:Well, yeah, I am a witch.But I am also – what’s the word? – a facilitator.I like facilitating. I like to be the person who is sort of directing the conversation and helping people communicate better with each other.I used to facilitate Queer Nation meetings in San Francisco and I just loved it.I was good at it.I could really direct the convo and what was happening without asserting directly what I thought what I had to say but I really felt like I could ….
JCM: .. influence …
JVB:.. what was happening simply by the way I was able to get people to pay attention to each other.I liked Queer Nation.I loved the whole umbrella term as a trans person and as a not-very-masculine person.I felt there was a broadening of the conversation, a larger group of people.I never felt particularly comfortable in a group of mostly guys.
JCM:We are both the same age – 56 – and came of age sexually right when AIDS hit, which saved us probably.People a few years older than we are were dying.Those who were younger than we are were aware of safe sex.
JVB:You know, when you think about it, there aren’t that many people our age who are gay.
JCM:No.And people right around 55- 65 and older – that whole decade of people was decimated.
JVB:And that’s why we’re forced to sleep with people so much younger than we are.
JCM:It’s true!We have to!If only to teach them what sex is like before internet porn.My god!I have had sex with some younger people and they are imitating exactly what they see in porn – you know, how they can fast forward to the good bits.They’re fast-forwarding sex.I’m like – can’t we just slow down and not worry about it.We’re not filming this.Let the hard-ons come and go during sex – especially at my age.I mean, it’s weird.It’s put me off sex a bit.
JVB:It’s not so much a compulsion any more.
JCM:And it’s the scariness and the actual messiness and unpredictability they don’t understand.With internet hook-up culture it’s what-are-you-into, here’s-what-I’m-into, this-is-my-list.Be no taller than 5’7”.Let your hair be on your asshole only.Who can conform to exactly what a tiny affinity group in a porn chat wants?
JVB:Wait.Let your hair be on your asshole only?
JCM:I met someone like that.That’s why I brought it up.
JVB:I did a personal ad on Twitter, but no one responded.
JCM:Is that a common thing?
JVB:No, I don’t think so, but that’s where I have the most followers.
JCM:How many followers do you have?
JVB: Not that many. Around 19,000.
JCM:Wow.I am scared of all that.
JVB:My personal ad said, “Lackluster top seeks listless bottom for long-term resignation.”Doesn’t that sound ideal?
JCM:In addition to our affinity with the Faeries and our generation being on the verge of experiencing a plague, we also had the opportunity to understand the hippie culture versus the punk culture versus whatever synthesis you and I like to make of it.Our own pre-internet youth was kind of hippie-ish.
JVB:We are old enough to know those movements are basically an exercise in style.
JCM:Yes, an exercise in style and community at best.
JVB:Where are all the people who were punks in the ‘70s?Dead now?Where are they?Are they off being punks somewhere in some building?
JCM:Now you and I are Radical Faeries, which people are confused about when I mention them.They are like, “Is it a club?Do you have to join?”How would you describe it to someone reading this who had never heard of Radical Faeries?
JVB:I would say it’s a way of thinking.
JCM:It’s a loose confederation of queer people who reject a mainstream – what? – capitalisticpoint of view and try to connect more with the earth in terms of how they live.
JVB:I guess so.Yeah.
JCM:When you say“queer hippies,” that’s the short term.
JVB: But it’s not really “queer hippies.”I don’t think of myself as a hippie.I am definitely a pagan.I think it’s people who are interested at looking at patriarchal values and consumer values with a critical eye.I think that there are people who are Faeries who are very anti-capitalistic, but then there are also people who operate within a capitalist system who …
JCM:… are making “Short Mountain” moonshine.
JVB:It is about the community though.It is definitely about looking for alternative ways of being together and sustaining each other in intergenerational ways.The Radical Faeries take care of their elders somewhat – much more than the usual gay culture.The way they interact with their elders is respectful.I love getting older.I’m comfortable with it.My best friend growing up – the person I was closest to – was my grandmother.She was so wise and so interesting.I don’t feel with age you become diminished.
JCM:Being in my 50s has been kind of a relief.
JVB: I feel that, too.
JCM:But it’s also the time when people can start to die on you.
JVB:People have been dying on me since my 20s.
JCM:Me too.Me too.I had a boyfriend who passed away.I had a brother who died.Death has always been there in my life as a kind of strange companion.Learning to love death – I don’t know if “love” is the right word …
JVB:Ha!I just love death, don’t you?
JCM:Well, not to be interfered by it as if it were a molester. But it’s there as a companion.We’ve been to the same parties, so to speak, death and I. Without it some memories would be less beautiful in a poetic sense.Things that don’t die are less beautiful.When you grow up with death in your family, with your friends having died from AIDS, you have an understanding at a very early age the depth of hatred, but also the depth of love that death can bring up.I told someone the other day who was young and gay and who had not experienced AIDS and was into ‘80s nostalgia, “Yeah, I guess the clothes were cool for a minute.But you guys weren’t there.Half your friends didn’t die.”I said, “There were times where I had to – at key moments in my life – say, ‘Am I ready to die?’”
JVB:Oh, I say that all the time.Plus, I feel that, if anything, itis sort of a positive thing I can take away from having lived through the ‘80s and ‘90s and The Plague Years.I saw how people chose to die.How people dealt with itI feel so blessed.I had friends who died with such grace and who approached their deaths and the consciousness that surrounded their deaths with such beautiful courage and with this beautiful, as I said, grace.So I am hopeful when my time comes I will carry all that with me because I saw how beautiful it could be.My friend Kitty – she had dementia – and yet she knew she was dying.She had AIDS.It was really hard.But she was fully prepared to die.She talked to people about it. She had instructions for people.She wanted her memory to be kept alive in certain ways. That’s her right there on my wall actually.That’s her self-portrait. I will always have that with me.
JCM:That’s such a beautiful self-portrait.It’s almost like a Picasso – sort of a woman with breasts and a dick and stimulating herself.
JVB:Not a woman.She called me her “hermaphrodite spirit sister.”
JCM:How do you feel, by the way, after your last few years of taking estrogen?
JVB:I feel good.It’s an interesting journey.I am still trying to get the right balance.I am lucky because I have a great doctor who is really progressive in the way that she approaches it and she lets you call the shots.I think in many instances the medication and the hormones and the estrogen are a pathway to transitioning surgically.I am definitely not interested in that.That is how Kitty pictured herself and how I picture myself.I am fortunate that I get to be it.It makes me feel like myself.Whether people get freaked out by it or not is really easy for me to deal with more than people not even acknowledging it or even knowing what I am or who I am.They can easily gloss over it.Call you “girl” or “she.”Call you “he.”That’s one of the ways I am made to feel invisible.The world is changing though.I am not the only person.It’s becoming more and more in the consciousness of people.They just had in Australia the other day the acknowledgment there are more than two genders and are placing X’s on passports so you can opt for non-specific.I think it’s great.Little by little that sort of thing is working its way in.If people start to think there are more than two genders that is great.It’s easier to just exist … God is not gendered.People are surprised sometime to hear me say I believe in God.But I sang at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine for a Queer Spirit celebration.God is inside of all of us.The soul is the God within us.I have read lots of religious texts and they all seem pretty similar.I am not going to argue with someone whether God is Allah or Buddha or Krishna.They are all the same thing to me.It is unfortunate that some people think they own the copyright on God.
JCM:You know Hedwig’s lover Tommy Gnosis?His name comes from the Gnostic Gospels which were considered heretical.
JVB:RightThe Gospel of Thomas.
JCM:Thomas is the great one.I have put little quotes in the published Hedwig text from the Gospel of Thomas.There are some beautiful ones like “what you bring forth from yourself will save you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.”I am paraphrasing.But there’s another one that goes something like, “When you make the two into one, when you make the male like the female and the female like the male, when you make the inside like the outsideand the outside like the inside, you will enter the Kingdom …”
JVB:Girl, I am right up in that Kingdom.But let’s call it a Thingdom.I don’t want a Kingdom or a Queendom.I want a Thingdom.I don’t want to be a Father. I don’t want to be a Mother.I want be a Nother.
JCM:There were some other good quotes from the Gospel of Thomas that are Hedwig oriented.One was, “And the disciples said to Jesus, ‘Is circumcision a good idea?’ and he said ‘If it were, we would have been born circumcised.Rather it is the circumcision of the spirit that is profitable.’”Hedwig was in a way over-circumcised. Her story is what became of her because of that.But circumcision of the spirit?What is that?Getting rid of a part of yourself? It’s a fascinating metaphor – which made me think there probably was a Jesus who did say some fabulous things.
JVB:I’m sure there was.
JCM:There must have been because it’s allso specific.No group of writers could write one guy like that unless they were working together.
JVB:Unless you had Woody Allen, Mel Brooks and Germaine Greer.
JCM:And Lena Dunham.I put Lena Dunham right in there.
JVB:Yeah, put Lena Dunham in there because she put you on the TV.
JCM:She’s like a little priestess to me.I think she’s the shit.I love what’s she’s doing.I can’t wait to see what she does when she’s older too.I think she’s going to go deeper.Stronger.Bitchier.This is the final quote I will recite from the Gospel of Thomas.Periodically, people will say, “Jesus must have been gay because he hung out with all those disciples and he never got married…” la-la-la-la-la … But in Thomas it is written, “Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Do not fret from morning until evening and from evening until morning about what you will wear.’”Isn’t that weird?
JVB:That is weird.
JCM: You would never subscribe to that.
JVB:Well, I don’t fret about it now that I have my ADD medication.I just get dressed!
JCM:Isn’t it weird though that that was in there?
JVB:It is.Though what does that have to do with Jesus being gay?You think if Jesus was really gay he would have said, “Fret, girl!”
JCM: Well, I think he was surrounded by gays whether he was himself gay or not.And he was like, “Don’t worry about it.Just wear what feels right.” In the Hedwig sequel I’m working on, all the Tommy Gnostic stuff comes to the foreground.It’s all about motherhood and Hedwig actually becomes a mother.In the first one Hedwig identifies with Eve who was, of course, the ultimate punk rocker who wanted to know shit.She took that apple.We should all be Eve-ists.
JVB:Eve-iscerate the patriarchy!Tommy, meet your daughter – Eve Iscerate.
JCM:Oh, that’s a good one.You want to know my favorite drag name I’ve heard recently?
JCM: Helluva Bottom Carter.
JVB:That’s a good one.
JVB:Sounds not quite listless enough for me though.