Big Titty Bee Girl

2.6.2008

By Jason Lamphier

In the last decade or so, Baby Dee has been a church organist, a YMCA lifeguard, a topless dancer at New York City queer nightclub Pyramid, a tricycle-riding accordionist, and the owner of a tree-trimming business in Cleveland. The self-proclaimed "dime-a-dozen tranny" -- who used to pedal on her trike through the streets of lower Manhattan in the mid '90s, impersonating Shirley Temple while plucking her harp -- has released a new album, Safe Inside the Day, a spare piano-and-string-driven collection of boozy blues and tavern ditties. She may be a bit more introspective and grounded now, but Dee still has a wicked sense of humor, as demonstrated by the album's bawdy vaudevillian sing-along "Big Titty Bee Girl." Out caught up with the eccentric chanteuse to chat about the afterlife, crowbar obsessions, and X-rated puppet shows.

You just got back from Valencia, where you were performing with Marc Almond (formerly of Soft Cell).
Yeah, he does two kinds of shows these days: one with a rock band, where he shakes his hips, and then a show that's all torch songs and ballads, more like a dark cabaret. He likes me for those shows. He covers some of my songs. At the Royal Albert Hall, I started his show with a couple of my songs, and then on my third song, 'Safe Inside the Day,' he came out and sang with me. It was our first time singing it together. It was like a dream.

I had an interesting introduction to you. I caught some YouTube clips on Brainwashed where you described a Christmas Eve performance at the Pyramid with an obese woman in a diaper, playing baby Jesus. She was covered in chocolate cake. It's a great summary of how crazy you are.
This was '95 or '96. It was a set of performances started with this woman named Otter, but then she went to Amsterdam, and a tranny named Gloria Hole took it over. She's the person who named me 'Baby Dee.' She was a nightclub performer and an astrologer.

What was your attraction to the tricycle and Shirley Temple costume you used to wear when you performed?
Well, I had a whole career as an organist in a church, which is probably a large percentage of your readership [laughing], but not too many of those organists are trannies, so I had to change jobs. It was a Catholic church in the south Bronx, so I left and started dancing topless at the Pyramid. [When you want to transition], you have to hold down a job for a year as a woman before you can do the surgery. So I was a lifeguard at a YMCA in Chelsea. I'd be on the bar dancing at night, and then I'd come home from the pool in the morning. One of those mornings, I was sitting up there watching people swim up and down, and I had this idea of having a big tricycle that I could carry my harp around on. The tricycle would have to be really tall -- I wanted to be up very high -- and I wanted to be a cat. I was completely broke, but I had a harp. I borrowed the money from my mother and had designer George Bliss create it. It was better than my vision -- it was one of the most beautiful things I'd ever seen. People just loved it.

You called yourself a hermaphrodite...
I wasn't born a hermaphrodite. That was a whole sideshow bit, but you never tell anyone who's not a sideshow person the truth about anything. I felt obliged to stick to the rules, so I told people I was a hermaphrodite. I don't have to tell that lie anymore. I wasn't a real hermaphrodite, just a dime-a-dozen tranny.

When did you have the surgery?
That would have been the early nineties.

And what about Shirley Temple?
I just love her. I have this friend Victoria Roberts, who's a cartoonist for The New Yorker, and she wanted to do a Shirley Temple show. This was back when Jackie 60 [in New York] was the coolest nightclub that ever existed. There was this wonderful weekly show called 'Biography,' which was brilliantly fun. Victoria couldn't do it, so I did it myself. Very fabulous people were in it, like Antony [of Antony and the Johnsons] and Amanda Lepore. I got crazy for Shirley Temple and got an outfit made. I found a dress the size to fit a baby, then I found a doll, then I sawed the doll's head off. I felt kinda strange. Then I tied the doll around my neck and had black behind me, so it was my head with a puppet -- it was a puppet show. Then I had a larger version of the dress made to fit me. The big finale of the show was particularly wonderful. Shirley Temple became a politician -- a right wing, scary one. One time she ran for office. She gave a speech during the Vietnam War, and it culminated in the phrase 'Bomb Hanoi!' She was too scary, even for right wing California voters. So I had this idea to have this Vietnamese go-go dancer -- who was a very good tap dancer -- dressed in fake napalm. At the end, I was Shirley Temple giving the speech 'Bomb Hanoi,' then bombs started, and a napalm-singed naked girl -- well, naked except for the tap shoes -- joined hands with me and we sang 'Be optimistic.' It was a great end to the show.

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