Prizm News / November 13, 2018 / By Staley Munroe
On the eve of their Columbus debut, the cabaret performer talks about their career, identity and where they find inspiration.
By Staley Munroe
Mx Justin Vivian Bond makes their Columbus debut Thursday at 8 p.m. at the Southern Theatre, on special invite of the queer art collective fierce pussy, whose work is on view through March at the Columbus College of Art & Design’s Beeler Gallery.
Bond spoke with Prizm…
Tell our readers how your connection with fierce pussy came about.
I was a fan of FP for a long time, as I was an activist in San Francisco with Queer Nation. When I moved to New York City and met them in person I was drawn to their cause and we were like kindred spirits.
Then I did a solo art exhibition and got to meet Joy Episalla, who interviewed me for a magazine covering the show. Then we were on a panel together, so we became art fans and friends of each other, sharing a similar world view.
So when they were asked to do this new exhibition at the Beeler, they invited me to collaborate with them and be a part of their season there.
You’ve been described as a Cabaret and performance artist. What does cabaret mean to you? Is it different from “performance art?”
I don’t see much difference except I think of cabaret as a specific art form. I love Cabaret because it started out as a subversive art, formed to bring politics into performance in the early 20th century, and I still consider it to be such.
It’s in the moment and reflective of the community that you’re performing for; speaking to a live audience, unscripted, so you get to say what you want to say and have a perspective that’s unique to you as an artist, and that’s rare!
It’s so empowering, a vital art form.
What sort of artistic preparation goes into your process gearing up for such layered, relevant, culturally challenging collaborations?
Well, you must be engaged with the world, first off, and not afraid to cast a critical eye and use critical skills when you’re putting together your thoughts. I choose songs that resonate with me personally, and how I see the world changing.
Then I filter my thoughts between the songs and form an outline of points I want to make, then I rift.
The whole thing to me is kind of like jazz. I apply my skills to the work as they happen in the moment. I have a good sense of humor, too, which helps! I can filter it all through a jaundiced, gin-soaked eye!
Would you share with our readers how your pronouns came to be, and how you landed on your gender expression within such a wide spectrum?
In the early 90’s I worked with Kate Bornstein, who was and is a groundbreaking person, and I was fortunate to work with her first play, “Hidden Agender,” and I got to explore my own gender identity a lot.
There wasn’t much language around nonbinary expression at that point, so I called myself a “non-opt transsexual.” I didn’t really know that I wanted to alter my body just to indicate to people who and what I am.
I struggled for a long time and felt invisible as a trans person but eventually decided to take hormones and sort of publicly declare myself to be trans, mainly because I wanted a medical record as being trans.
When I was young, I had no voice. So when I got older, I wanted something to assert my trans identity in my older age. I didn’t want to be lumped in with old men in my old age and be forced back into the closet. As time went by there came a new generation of people who created language around being nonbinary.
I initially chose the pronoun “V” because it was two equal sides that met in the middle. Then it became more of a consensus that “they/their/them” worked and were accepted. I find “they” and “them” to be great because even when people say, “That’s plural and grammatically incorrect,” I respond that if it represents a body that contains plural genders, then it IS accurate!
The struggle now is about how to politely tell people that those are your pronouns. My whole mantra is, “I am fierce and gracious as fuck.” So I’m not afraid to directly tell people what my pronouns are.
Especially in my role as a public figure, I often have to set an example. There’s a time to kick somebody and there is a time to stroke somebody, and whatever is going to get the desired result is what you need to do.”
This will be your debut in Columbus. What sort of notions do you have of the city, and what are you most excited to present to us or do on your visit?
I don’t know too much about what to expect! I played in Ohio on tour with Sister Spit, radical queer writers that came from San Fran with another art school, interestingly enough!
I’m excited for the concert. The theater is so beautiful! I’m looking forward to seeing what the people there are all about! I have a house upstate in a red county, so it’s interesting for me to be with blue people in red areas.
What key piece of advice would you give to CCAD students and other creatives following behind you?
I guess that’s hard because everyone is an individual with their own path, and I don’t expect people to follow mine. I suppose to just be honest and true to yourself, and always remember that if it doesn’t bring you joy or excite your passions, then you shouldn’t be doing it.
Also remember that it’s still very hard, even when you love what you’re doing!
I wonder because we spend so much time presenting the best part of ourselves, victories and triumphs, for people to see, it sets up an idea that’s hard to live up to.
Remember that it’s just in your mind, this picture-perfect idea of someone else’s life, but you’re not seeing their struggles. So don’t set up unrealistic ideas for people or yourself. Inspire people to do things by being a “possibilities” model.
I love the youth who are possibility examples for ME! There are things they are achieving now that I never thought possible.
What direct wisdom would you impart to queer youth in Columbus at large?
I grew up in a small town in Maryland and finally just had to leave. In fact, I left two days after graduation. When I starred on Broadway in 2006, the week the show opened, the local newspaper in my hometown did a story on me. Even though they wrongly called me a “drag queen,” the article was meant to be celebratory of my success.
At the same time, the mayor had just forbidden the local community from having a drag pageant. The piece was lovely, but the hypocrisy was still there.
Now, while these things are seemingly contradictory, I learned then you cannot take for granted the impact you may have on the future. My success in some small way opened the world up to my hometown.
I’m not saying I want to move back, but it’s neat to see the progress made. Even my mother, who never thought my career would lead to anything positive, is now recognized by queer fans, even in small towns.
So we have to keep fighting and never feel like our efforts lead to nothing, because it all adds up to something eventually.
What could possibly be next for you, and how can we support it?
I’ve got my Christmas show in New York, which opens Dec. 13 and runs to the 22nd. So come see me!
The next big thing? You never know with me. I never stop working, so every week is another “big thing.” I just focus on today. Next year I’m making my opera debut in Austria at the Vienna State Opera House in 2019! That’s going to be big!
Public tickets to Mx Justin Vivian Bond’s Southern Theatre performance start at $25 and can be purchased via Ticketmaster.
In addition, a conversation between Mx Justin Vivian Bond and fierce pussy artist Joy Episalla will take place in the Columbus College of Art & Design Canzani Center Auditorium (60 Cleveland Ave.) on Friday, Nov. 16 at 2 p.m. Admission is free and open to the public.