Candis Cayne is coming back home for a night! More about that in a second. First, let me remind you that Candis is the leggy, talented trans performer who's been Caitlyn Jenner's friend and tour guide on the surprisingly good I Am Cait. The Hawaii-born star had a regular role as a trans woman in the 2007 prime-time drama Dirty Sexy Money, and now she's highly visible all over again, as she advises Caitlyn on her personal progress and her ensembles, and even urges her to get out into the world and date a little. Candis is extremely prevalent on the show, and always well spoken to the point where this nouveau Laverne and Shirley have become TV's most watchable duo.
And Candis is ready to pay back some people who helped her! On October 18, she--along with drag performers Sherry Vine and Jackie Beat -- will head back to the once-reigning gay nabe Chelsea and perform at Barracuda Lounge's 20th anniversary bash. The bar -- opened in 1995 by Bob Pontarelli and the late Stephen Heighton -- has long been a haven for frolicking, drag shows, and celeb drop-ins, staying alive even as Hell's Kitchen took over as the city's premiere cruise center. Onstage at Barracuda, I interviewed Eartha Kitt, who was skittish, Tonya Harding, who was scary, and Martha Wash, who's legendary. All three times, the gays came out and cheered. And Candis will never forget her time performing there in the '90s, not to mention the benefit they had there for her to get a new nose and breasts!
I just talked to her about her career trajectory and her fabulous roots.
Michael Musto: Hi, Candis. I first knew you as the cigarette girl at [the long running '90s NYC club] the Roxy.
Candis Cayne: I was a kiddie girl. It was the first real club gig where I did drag, then I did Boy Bar and Crowbar, and then the guys from Crowbar opened Barracuda and gave me my own night. That was around '95-'96.
At the Roxy, I thought of you as a boy. I guess I was a bit slow on the subject.
I was doing drag. Yeah. I hadn't started my transition then. There was no word for it. I didn't know about it.
When did you realize you were a woman and start transitioning?
Probably around the same time I started working at Barracuda. I had a home there for, like, 10 years. It was always a great place to go. I had so much fun performing there. The '90s were such a magical place in New York City. There was so much going on, so many clubs to go to, and I knew I always had Barracuda. It was always my home, my bread and butter. I transitioned when I was working at Barracuda and I told everybody, and they [and the Palladium] would have benefits for surgeries which I couldn't afford on a showgirl's salary.
Your act wasn't mean and bitchy, as I recall; it was more playful and about show-womanship.
My act was more like dancing and laughing and having fun telling stories about what was going on in my life. To be mean isn't my kind of MO.
Did those Barracuda years bond you with people that helped you evolve?
In the gay community, there wasn't a real acceptance of trans women. There might not have been a dialogue people had. They didn't really identify with us as part of the community. I got to transition and go onstage every week, and through my comedy and dance and my talk, it opened up a lot of people's minds about that side of our community.
When you were on Dirty Sexy Money, I wrote that it sounded like you'd been dubbed with a male voice, presumably because they were afraid tocompletelyportray an actual transsexual woman.
It was my voice that they digitally lowered. They did that with the first episode and everybody was like, "Eww." But then they changed it back.
Candis Cayne at Barracuda | Photo by Jeff Eason
Did you get the Caitlyn gig partly based on that show, or maybe your more recent appearance on Drag Race as a dance instructor?
They had heard of me because of my work on Dirty Sexy Money and other television shows I'd done and invited me to a dinner party that Cait was having, just to meet her and to film a dinner party, basically. They liked our connection, and then it went from there.
You're basically a tour guide for Cait.
[Laughs] Of the ins and outs of trandom.
You mentioned on a recent episode that you're having trouble dating. Really?
It's not that I can't go out and find somebody. It's just finding the right person -- the real relationship with legs and growth and longevity. When you factor a little bit of celebrity in there and add the trans thing...it's nearly impossible.
Well, I'm sure "nearly" is the key word there. You also mentioned on that episode that your ex was abusive?
I meant more like the relationship was not a healthy one. Towards the end, there was verbal abuse and anger. It wasn't like I was a battered woman. It was a relationship that should have ended earlier, but it was magical when it was magical.
How do you feel about Caitlyn being a Republican?
We're living in a world where we have to try to get along with everyone and make the world a better place. It opens up a dialogue, I think. It's not much what I believe in, so I have to make concessions-- and maybe it'll be good for the Republican party to have some diversity in it, and maybe they'll learn about the future and looking forward in a new kind of way without being so stifled.
Have you ever sat Caitlyn down and said, "It's not the best idea for you to back a party that doesn't necessarily support your rights"?
We have debates, but we haven't talked about that.
I think the show is nicely done, and I loved when you went to the camp for trans youth.
It was so magical that day. It was so inspiring me, it moved me. We've been going to these amazing places and shedding light to the world about these issues.
Would your parents have been supportive if you'd told them as a kid that you wanted to transition? I honestly think they would have been, but when I was a kid, there was no word for that. But I dressed up and was never told by them to never do it, so I just thought it was normal.
You're gorgeous, let's not pretend you aren't. But if you looked like, say, a librarian, would it all have not been as easy?
I'm a performer. I know how to do my hair and high kick, so I can't imagine. It's a hard question. I'm sure it's more difficult for people who aren't as glamorous, sure.
I'm not saying it was easy for you, mind you.
Right. Everyone has to cope in different ways.
See you at Barracuda!
THE PRINTS AND THE SHOWGIRL
Candis Cayne isn't the only LGBT diva who's become the object of mass adulation. It turns out impressionist extraordinaire Jimmy James is getting licked in Africa! Jimmy was startled (yet bemused) to learn that an image of Marilyn Monroe on a relatively new African stamp is actually himself in drag and glasses, from an old L.A. Eyeworks ad. Jimmy told me:
"They are sanctioned government stamps of Marilyn Monroe, with one interesting twist--I'm included! They're all artist's renditions of Marilyn on the stamp, so the artist (perhaps accidentally) paired me next to the real Marilyn! I'll let you comment on the irony, given the homophobic climate in Africa. But given this fact, this could be one of my proudest moments -- a gay man in drag on one of Africa's Republic stamps!"