“Am I allowed to say that Justin is God?” That’s Rufus Wainwright, quoted on the back cover of Justin Vivian Bond’s new book, Tango: My Childhood, Backwards and in High Heels. (At 136 wide-spaced pages, I see why Bond called it a “slim-oir” at a recent reading.) “Guardian angel” might be a little more accurate than “God,” considering how widespread Bond's visage has become over the last decade. I remember the subway posters when Bond’s cabaret duo Kiki and Herb made it to Broadway in 2006. Then came the NC-17 polysexual romcom Shortbus, to which I obliviously brought my then-seventeen-year-old sister. And about a year ago, at a fundraiser for the theater collective 3LD, I watched as v’s gin-soaked pipes lent new poignancy to “Close to You.”
A word about that “v.” At the risk of being an overzealous straight guy, let me pass along that Bond, a transgendered person, is not a “Mr./Ms.” but an “Mx”; not a “he/she,” but a “v.” In v’s bio, Bond uses these terms only in relation to vself (?), and not as a diktat for the whole trans community. But they’re so useful and overdue that I’d be surprised if they didn’t catch on.
None of this new vocab comes up in Tango. But the story of a young Bond applying his mother’s frosted lipstick before heading off to first grade is the first of countless examples of why “he/she” just doesn’t cut it sometimes. (It also reminded me of the days I would show up to Westlake Elementary wearing one of my grandma’s clip-on earrings, in homage to Boy George, or a lacey white glove of my sister's, a la Michael Jackson.)
I like Tango, although I think Bond is sharper and funnier as a performer. See Shortbus if you haven’t already (and trust me, let your underage relatives find it on their own), or listen to Kiki & Herb’s Live at Carnegie Hallalbum—especially Kiki’s rambling, combustible monologues, e.g. “Yasaweh.” But the book, which loosely follows a childhood romance between Bond and a man who more recently was caught “impersonating a drug enforcement agent on Route 81,” is good company for an afternoon or two.
A line from its second chapter bought me back to Bond’s new trans terminology. Referencing Bea Arthur’s signature kiss-off in Maude—“God’ll get you for that, Walter”—Bond adds that the line “not only put her husband Walter in his place, but God in hers.” Hers? It occurred to me that talking about God can be as tricky as talking about transgendered people. I remembered a Bill Cosby tape I used to listen to as a kid, the one where he retells Genesis. At no point does he refer to God as a he/she.
Then I thought of Rufus Wainwright. Justin might not be God, but God might be V.
Photo: Michael Doucette / justinbond.com