Lady Bunny is the founder of Wigstock and an inspiration to many men who have donned a dress. Now she brings her knowledge to Drag U to school some new students.
WCT: (Windy City Times) Hi, Bunion. I just discovered you’re from Tennessee!
LB: (Lady Bunny) I am. I grew up in Chattanooga.
WCT: Wow. I grew up in Hendersonville.
LB: Well, at least we made it out!
WCT: I think when I first moved to Chicago, I saw you at a bar named Foxy’s—which is now called Spin Nightclub—doing an Yma Sumac song.
LB: Yes, that was, uh, several, decades and waist sizes ago. Or shall I say girdle sizes…
WCT: So I just watched the first episode of Drag U. That looked like a blast to make. How was that?
LB: Oh, filming it was a hoot. The celebrity guests were people like Chaka Khan … and I loved all of the special guests, but Chaka Khan is special to me, so getting to work and hang out with her was magic. I have to say I’m not really the biggest reality TV fan, but I’ve changed. I think the one thing it was missing was me! And, Jerry, the other thing I’ve learned that it was slightly different from Drag Race because there’s still an element of competition, but the drag queens, as you know, are making over real women. Some of them have lost touch with their inner diva because of personal tragedy.
Getting to know these women’s stories, I have to say, I have a new respect for women. Because these women sacrifice everything … I mean, gay men and drag queens, we often live alone, we’re not scrimping and saving and working two jobs to put our kids through school. These gals really go through a lot. It’s easy to see how someone may not have the time or inclination to worry about their appearance.
WCT: And sometimes gay men have bad self-esteem, and we can relate to these women.
LB: Well, yeah, but I don’t think most gay men are familiar with what an average woman’s life is like. We’re pretty self-centered. We’re not nurturing like a mom who is constantly making sacrifices.
WCT: How did you get involved with the show? Did RuPaul call you?
LB: Well, Ru is my old roommate from Atlanta, Ga., and in New York. She had called me to appear on Drag Race, and I said, “Ru … you’re Black, I’m white. Why do you always have to drag-race into everything? Just get over it”—and I hung up on him. Then I realized it was a real show. So I’m glad he was able to throw his old drag daughter from Atlanta a bone and ask me to be a judge on this show.
WCT: Too funny. I’ve heard filming takes a long time. Raven [from RuPaul’s Drag Race] told me that some of the finals took 14 hours to film.
LB: Raven was bitching?!? That must not be the Raven I know. I really can’t believe that.
WCT: [Laughs] Did you have a favorite moment?
LB: Well, in the finale, the women that the queens make over are celebrities. And I’m not supposed to say who they are, but two of them were my all-time favorite television characters. So meeting them was a joy.
WCT: Do you ever get starstruck? You’ve met a lot of famous people.
LB: I did get starstruck with Patti LaBelle, Carol Channing [and] Charo, and very starstruck with Diana Ross. The thing you have to remember is that if you’re with a star, or meet a star who means a lot to you, if you just gush over how much you love them, they’re immediately going to put in the category of this is a superfan, and we’re not going to have a conversation because they are so affected by my work. So I think it’s smarter or what works for me is to just be myself.
Now I was peeking out of my room to see Chaka arrive and I was nervous, but we hit it off really well and then I waited until the end of our meeting to say Rufus was the first album I ever bought. And by that point, I felt we had connected and I didn’t mind being a fan for a sec.
WCT: Who had bigger hair—you or her?
LB: Ha! Me. I had bigger hair than anyone on the show. I can’t imagine what show—maybe Valley of the Dolls—[where] I would have smaller hair.
WCT: On the preview, what are you talking about with the watermelon?
LB: Toward the end of the show, on the final episode, they got me to do a little coaching on lip sync, and whether it’s lip sync or singing. (I actually know this from someone who was in the chorus in the opera.) When you don’t actually know the words, you mouth the word “watermelon,” and it makes the mouth position hit all of the vowels, and so it’s just a good way to fake it. An even better one is to stretch out your arms and fling your head up to the sky so you can’t actually see what the mouth is doing. [Laughs hysterically] No one will ever be able to tell, then.
WCT: Good advice!
LB: In terms of the tips, the interesting thing about the makeover is drag queens start off as men and are able to transform themselves, using tricks, into glamorous-looking creatures. So if you’re starting off with the raw material of an actual woman—who doesn’t have broad shoulders and (most of the times) doesn’t have a hairy chest and has actual boobs already there—the transformation is a lot easier. So these women just love to play in drag, it’s like a kid in a candy store. That’s why Drag U was created, because RuPaul received so many letters from women asking how we can do such a transformation. And I would just want to say to them, “Women, we’re happy to share those tricks with you, and now would you do us a favor, go out and teach your sons and teach your husbands not to beat us and not to kill us. Don’t just take our tips and then preach that hatred.” Because even though it’s the straight males that are doing the gay-bashing, there are the mamas that are bringing them up.
WCT: When are you coming back to Chicago?
LB: I’m not sure. There was talk of me doing something around Market Days, but I don’t think anything’s been confirmed.
WCT: And you have your website LadyBunny.net, where readers can go to your site and purchase your DVD or music.
LB: Yes, Ru and I recorded a duet on his last album called “Throw Ya Hands Up,” which is on iTunes from Ru’s last album, Champion. We kind of reconnected on the set of Another Gay Sequel: Gays Gone Wild. We were in Florida for a week together and bonded again.
WCT: Would you ever do Wigstock again—would there ever be a reunion or an anniversary?
LB: I can’t control the weather and for two years it rained, two years in a row. And we lost a fortune. So until I can control the weather, I’m not making any plans. Nobody wants to see a soggy drag queen. And when it’s an outdoor event, you check the forecast before you buy a ticket. I have to say, for those two years we were shocked by the number of people that did come out in the rain. It’s a little disappointing when you finish your number and don’t hear any applause, and you look out and say, “Ohhh, they can’t clap because they’re holding umbrellas.” I guess there were standing ovations, although they didn’t have any seats, either.
WCT: Do you go out as a man and nobody recognizes you?
LB: I don’t go out to clubs out of drag because it’s so much more fun for me in drag. Now there may be some people I may have had sex with and they’ll come up to me when I’m in drag and want an autograph, and I’m just kind of snickering inside. I have to shut my mouth because they do tend to recognize the voice.
WCT: Well let me know if you come to town for Market Days and we’ll hang out!
LB: I sure will, honey!
RuPaul’s Drag U runs Mondays on the Logo channel. LogoTV.com streams every episode. You can use Dragulator.com and start your own transformation.