The Official Justin Bond
By Mike Albo
Justin Vivian Bond—artist, songwriter, chanteuse—comes down from her East Village apartment to meet me. He is wearing a casual black ensemble and her soft hair is done in a
reddish tinted bob.
Him? Her? He? She? I've known Bond for nearly two decades, and have never felt like I had to classify her as one gender. But I have never written about him. Now here I am, assigned to profile the magnetic performer during the release of her debut album, Dendrophile, and suddenly the English language seems really narrow-minded. Fortunately, a note on Bond's website provides a guide:
GENDER: TRANS OR T
FULL NAME: MX JUSTIN VIVIAN BOND
Defining Justin Bond's gender is no less difficult than figuring out what makes the 47-year-old performer's cabaret act so compelling. It can be hilarious, heart-wrenching, vulnerable, sardonic, Wiccan, and world-weary all at the same time.
Whether singing about the ancient gender-variant priests, the Galli, as Bond did in the 2010 show Re:Galli Blonde (A Sissy Fix), or performing as Kiki DuRane alongside Kenny Mellman's Herb as the tragic, washed-up lounge act Kiki and Herb, which launched them both into international notoriety, there is something powerfully both about the performer: masculine/feminine, mordant/fabulous, comic/tragic.
It's this energy that John Cameron Mitchell harnessed in his groundbreaking 2006 film Shortbus, in which Bond, playing Vself, made an appearance to sing 'In The End,' expressing in just one scene that heightened sense of simultaneous hope and despair in post'9/11 downtown New York City. A soft, acoustic reworking of the song appears on Dendrophile. Now there's a word that seems appropriate for describing Bond. 'It means a person who gets an erotic charge out of nature,' the artist explains, smoking, as we sit on mismatched furniture in the living room of V's worn-in, old-school East Village apartment on Second Avenue. Much of the art hanging on the walls is from friends, including the photographer Mr. Means, the artist Grant Shaffer, and the painter John Byrne, the husband of Bond's good friend Tilda Swinton.
Next to me a Joan Baez songbook rests on a scuffed-up piano that Bond bought, in a rush, one rainy night for $210. A bumper sticker taped up near the kitchen reads, NOBODY KNOWS I AM A TRANSSEXUAL. Nearby is a framed, autographed album, All the Sad Young Men by Anita O'Day, one of Bond's musical heroines. A sequined sign hanging on the front door reads house of whimsy in felt letters.
Nathan Carrera, a musician Bond describes as a 'traveling companion,' is slouched on the couch, quietly working on a set list for a guest DJ gig at the monthly queer night Mattachine later that month, and Nicholas Gorham, Bond's roommate, is reading in a chair. Their cat, Pearl, is poised on a stool in one of those Elizabethan collars. 'She has a hotspot on her stomach that she can't stop licking,' says Bond. 'She is obsessed with overgrooming. I don't know where she gets that from.'
Dendrophile, which was recorded in Brooklyn and Manhattan and produced by Bond's frequent music director, Thomas Bartlett, has a minimalist quality that highlights Bond's cello-warm voice, and includes covers of notable songs like Joni Mitchell's 'Court and Spark,' obscurities like Bambi Lake's 'The Golden Age of Hustlers,' and some striking, soul-baring originals like 'Equipoise.'
It's a long-overdue collection that, paradoxically, couldn't have been produced until now, a record of personal transformation—from callow youth growing up in suburban Maryland to dynamic performer, from self-confusion to self-acceptance, from unawareness to understanding.
Tilda Swinton recalls introducing 'a longhaired, nail-varnished, impeccable, treacle-voiced Justin,' to her 4-year-old daughter. 'My daughter asked me, 'Is Justin a man or a lady?' Before I could speak, she answered herself, 'Oh, it doesn't matter.' '