The Official Justin Bond
By Mike Albo
For Swinton, Bond is the 'mutha of all muthas,' to use an appellation she coined while introducing V at Joe's Pub in New York City last year. 'It suddenly occurred to me that not only Kiki but also Justin are great mother figures to those that know them: all-embracing, all-seeing, all-knowing, unshakable, unconditionally present.'
Jake Shears, lead singer of the Scissor Sisters, agrees. 'Justin is one of the great New York performers, and has had a massive influence on downtown culture,' he says. When Shears first moved to New York it was a Kiki and Herb Christmas show that inspired him to launch his own musical career. 'This lightbulb went off in my head and really gave me a thirst for wanting to perform myself. I'll never forget that moment.' Bond would later invite the Scissor Sisters to support Kiki and Herb at New York's Knitting Factory. When the band's first album went platinum in the United Kingdom, Shears returned the favor, and Kiki and Herb supported the Sisters on their first big tour.
Bond grew up in Hagerstown, Md., on the edge of the suburbs, 'where you could walk out of the house and be in the woods.' V has a sister, four years younger. 'I hated her,' Bond says, only half joking. 'She got everything I wanted. Clothing, Barbies. She could stay with her girlfriends at sleepovers and I had to go home.'
At age 11, Bond had a sexual relationship with a neighborhood boy of the same age that lasted until they were 16. 'I didn't know we were fucking at 13—I just wanted to see if it fit in my butthole,' Bond says. 'It was not at all some kind of fantasy relationship. It was painful. We didn't like each other, but we couldn't stop. After that I realized I was never going to have sex with someone I didn't care about. Ever.' Bond is releasing a memoir in September, Tango: My Childhood Backwards and in High Heels (published by the Feminist Press).
The performer describes being 'invisible' in high school—a common survival tactic for anyone who doesn't fit into the sexual normalcy of suburban America. Ironically, it was the local church, the Church of the Brethren, that ended up being a creative outlet, where Bond sang in the youth choir and reenacted Gilda Radner routines for classmates at Sunday school.
Later, Bond joined the Potomac Play-makers community theater, performing in Brigadoon, Kiss Me Kate, and playing Kurt in The Sound of Music. V's parents were 'actually super cool about me performing,' despite being ill-equipped to understand their child's differences. They arranged for Bond's voice lessons, beginning at 13. 'I love singing. My only well-developed muscle is my voice.'
After graduation, Bond attended Adelphi University in Long Island, pursuing a theater degree, which proved to be limiting in a different way. 'That school was about getting on soap operas.' V often heard homophobic remarks, 'like 'You'll never get a job—you've got to be more butch.' '
After graduating college in 1985, Bond moved into the city. 'My first job in New York was scrubbing walls for Details magazine. I had Jack Wagner hair, Fiorucci jeans. I basically dressed like a preppy lesbian.' A friend worked at Studio 54, and Bond frequented the club, oddly avoiding the downtown queer creative scene that would eventually become home.
Bond has been living in the East Village on and off since 1994, and has been in this apartment for four years—but alas, not for much longer. The building has been bought by developers who will be razing the property and building luxury condos. 'I hope we can find someplace affordable. I don't want to leave the East Village,' Bond says with a notable absence of anger.
There are memories, talismans, signs, and miniature altars everywhere. On a shelf of treasured objects, Bond points out an old gin bottle that may have belonged to Edna St. Vincent Millay, a dog bone signed by William Burroughs, and a familiar hat that belonged to Edie Sedgwick, which inspired Bob Dylan to write the song 'Leopard-Skin Pillbox Hat.' All were given as gifts to Bond over the years.
Close by, in a small bedroom, opposite a hilariously ornate gold-painted vanity, are two photo-collage dream catchers—one of Jean Genet and the other of Joan Didion—made by the costume designer and performer Machine Dazzle. O'Day, Sedgwick, Burroughs, Millay'Bond's home is full of personalities'people who were unforgettably themselves, impossible to reproduce, all both tragic and hopeful. The environment seems like an oasis for originality. Outside is the encroaching luxury condoland; here is a house of whimsy.