Amanda Lepore is a trans icon, party hostess, photographers' muse and now a book. The New Jersey-born answer to Marilyn Monroe, Lepore is the subject of Doll Parts (written with Thomas Flannery, Jr.), in which she shares her life story, beauty tips and glamour photos. Amanda once told me that at age 11, she saw a TV show about transgender people and promptly woke up her parents to tell them she wanted to transition. She eventually got hormones from a friend in exchange for outfits, and she was also helped by an encouraging shrink. And her first husband's dad paid for her operation, though hubby had no idea of her "secret" at first. Many surgeries later, Amanda is a long running nightclub chanteuse and presence--and an author. I chatted with her to get a feel for the doll.
Hi, Amanda. Do you read a lot of books?
I don't read so much. I'm one of those people who like pictures more. Stuff on Marilyn or other glamorous women from the 1950s will always catch my eye.
Have you read the bible?
No. I've seen them in the hotel once in a while.
Did you ever steal one?
No, but I did used to steal Barbie clothes when I was a little kid, at a 5-and-10 store. When there were Halloween costumes, I'd put all kinds of junk I wanted into the box. I got caught stealing with a friend. Her mother was really sweet, and she was really mad when we got caught, so I stopped.
What's your top beauty tip?
Staying out of the sun and protecting yourself with sunscreen. Besides makeup and glamour, I also like to take care of my skin. I was in a car accident and I had needles done to reduce scars. It seems like a craze. I watched a YouTube thing and bought it myself. I've been doing my whole body. It's a roller with needles on it. Your skin gets used to it so, even though you're red and look sunburnt the night you do it, you're fine the next day. And the skin products will work 80% more. That's really exciting and sort of primitive and weird, but it works. They discovered it from people getting tattoos--needling without the ink works, and it produces collagen.
Do you feel like a doll?
Are you a Barbie doll or an inflatable doll?
I'm inflated in the right places. I think I look better than a blow-up doll. I do have that blow-up doll thing with the boobs and the big round lips and the long hair. My boobs and lips and ass and hips are inflated. My head a little bit, too. (laughs)
Is there any surgery you wanted that the doctors wouldn't do?
No, but I recently got my eyes done and I was really happy with them. They're now much more doll like. I'm glad I waited because I went to a Korean doctor, and they know how to make Japanese eyes into white eyes. I wanted my eyes bigger. I think I look a lot more proportionate. It makes everything else look natural because everything else is fake, so I have matching eyes now. I know I said I wasn't going to do any surgery and I was happy, but who can resist bigger doll eyes?
That actually makes perfect sense to me. You sometimes come off a little ditzy, but that's just a shtick, right? Or are you really a ditz?
A little bit of both. Sometimes I'm not faking with my dizzy thing--I really am--but it works for me. I just be myself and it's great, either being a dumbbell or smart. It surprises people both ways!
Did you ever have a date with a celebrity?
Yes. It's in the book.
I know, but let's keep people guessing.
I think they worded it so I won't get in trouble.
I know he's black.
One of them is.
In the book, it says, "He was a very famous rapper, they were playing his new song in the clubs constantly. I never saw him again after that, but when he got married, I couldn't help but think that his wife had a similar body type to me." Anyway, you were so ahead of the curve--or the curves--as a trans icon. Do you feel it has become a trend?
In some ways, it's good. In all different ways. Thanks to the Internet and Instagram, you can follow people that you admire, which is so important for kids. I go away and entertain--I went to Little Rock, Arkansas, which is mentioned in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes--and they have an amazing trans scene of supporting themselves. It's really important with transsexuals. And there's the YouTube thing. I know dilating wasn't really talked about much for post operative transsexuals. Now you can look it up on YouTube and all these people talk about it and demonstrate. I wish I had all that when I was younger. I'd hear about the transsexuals of the moment. There was one every 10 years, I think. (laughs) Now there's a lot. They all have different experiences, so people can relate to it more. Parents can see it. When I was transitioning, I had a home tutor. They didn't want me in school while I was transitioning. I was going to go because I didn't know better. Now parents are supportive with transsexual or transgender kids.
Your thoughts on Caitlyn and her politics?
It's kind of disappointing that she's a Trump supporter. It's weird and a slap in the face. That's really odd. I did believe that she was transgender. I think that gets lost when you like women. Because when I was young, I just liked guys and was a bottom, so it's easy to transition. But if you like women, you go into a relationship with women, getting a vagina would get in the way.
But with or without a vagina, you can be a lesbian.
Yes, but when you're in a situation dating someone who doesn't know [you're female] and they're attracted. That's probably why she waited so long. It must be harder. I don't think that openly being a lesbian would have made it easier. She was in a marriage where she was Bruce Jenner. I knew trans girls who one day would be beautiful and take hormones and the next day they'd meet a guy on the subway and change back to a boy to please them. I think it's something like that. Being who you don't want to be for your partner.
But now Caitlyn is liberated.
She wanted to be with that person, but on the other hand, she wanted to be a woman. If she came out transgender and an honest lesbian, it would be easy, but because of the relationship she chose, it must have been hard. That's the only way I could have compassion.
But you don't change your sexuality, just your physical gender.
Right. But she was in that relationship and wasn't being honest with that, so that screws you up.
But now you'd say Caitlyn's a lesbian?
Oh yeah, lesbian all the way, right.
The father of your husband (at the time) paid for your vagina. How much was it?
I don't know. Most of my surgeries I didn't pay for myself. I'm sure I spend more money on shoes than my vagina was. Some of the shoes are $4,000 a pop.
At the peak of your surgeries, what's the most work you had done in a year?
When I went with [trans former friend] Sophia Lamar to Mexico, I did liposuction, had my ribs broken in the back, which made my waist smaller, and got my boobs much bigger.
Did you get tired of spending so much time recuperating?
I have a really good immune system. I heal really well, fortunately. Even the eyes I just got done. I had them done on Thursday and they took out the stitches on Monday. I try to take good care of myself.
You don't do drugs?
No. I don't really drink. Once in a while I'll have shots of tequila, but I never finish it. When you're in high heels and all that stuff, I wouldn't want to be out of control. Plus I was told that the hormones don't work as much when you drink. [Scandalous club kid promoter] Michael Alig used to always force drinks on me. I'd pour out the drink and he caught me and said, "If you're not gonna drink it, don't get it." He'd make fun of me when I would have wine spritzers.
Another female icon, Whoopi Goldberg, threw an event at Chef's Club last week for SAGE (Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders), promoting the May 18 "SAGE Table" happening where people will host dinners bridging the gap between young and old. At this event, I chatted with Lisa Kron (Tony winner for writing the book of Fun Home) about the difficulty older gays face because we don't always have people to take care of us the way we took care of our parents. "My partner Madeline says she'll go into the forest, eat a Cadbury cream egg and then shoot herself," said Kron, with a wry smile.
And then Whoopi arrived--a little late--and told the crowd, "I fell asleep. I can't lie. I'm such an old person." Sitting at my SAGE table, Whoopi explained that she'd been watching Feud and dozed off. "If you were a gay man, you never would have fallen asleep watching Feud," I told her, and she laughed. Whoopi is quite serious about helping SAGE's mission to help mature LGBTQ people. She's also livid about the indignities being perpetrated by President Trump and said she sometimes wants to scream "What the fuck is going on?" when she's on The View, but she bites her tongue.
Other conversational topics were given to us in clever brochures, including our secret drag names, so I decided Whoopi could be Eileen Sideways and I'd be Beth Israel. (Or maybe we can both be Lois Commondenominator). We were also asked to discuss our favorite childhood foods, upon which Whoopi said she was so poor growing up that her mother mostly boiled bok choy--the cheapest thing you could get--in large quantities. When a tablemate chirped that he'd gone to Harvard, Whoopi said she'd been honored with that school's Hasty Pudding Woman of the Year award and loved it even more than the Oscar because "I didn't go to high school or college and all these smart people were honoring me!" That's how I felt on this night of nights--though the prevalence of ageism shone through with regards to one suggested conversational gambit that everyone at my table ignored: "Tell everyone your age." We need SAGE more than ever.
BROADWAY CASTING GOSSIP
Aging straight people are at the center of Marvin's Room, the Scott McPherson play about a family wracked by health emergencies, which is being revived this June at the Roundabout. Well, I'm hearing buzz on some casting names who seem to be involved: Celia Weston, Lili Taylor and Janeane Garofalo. Sounds like a Room worth inhabiting.
A REAL SMART ALEC IN DIAPERS & A SUIT
Alec Baldwin turns out to be perfect casting for the lead role in The Boss Baby, about a bossy child who's actually a suit-wearing secret agent involved in some international puppy shenanigans. In their review of the animated film (which focuses on the bonding between the baby and his brother), the Hollywood Reporter wrote that Baldwin "seems to have cornered the market when it comes to playing conceited man-babies." And his work ethic is obviously very secure. "Alec self directs," said director Tom McGrath after a special screening last week. "He says, 'I think we got it.' I say, 'Can we try one more?' He'll stare at you and then say 'yes.'" But McGrath added that Baldwin happens to be comically inventive and a total pro. Unlike the guy he impersonates on SNL.
Worker unrest that partly led to Trump's America is at the core of Lynn Nottage's Sweat, which is mostly set in a Reading, Pennsylvania bar in 2000 (with some scenes eight years later), where steel plant workers gather to drink, bond, and betray. We already see some of the effects of this lifestyle; the bartender (James Colby) was hurt in an accident at the plant, and Brucie (John Earl Jelks) was shut out of his job, along with fellow union members, at another mill, and he hasn't handled it well. As management lowers the boom on jobs, while offering to promote someone from the working class ranks, things get complicated, especially since a Colombian American bar back (Carlo Alban) admits to feeling invisible--until he's bitterly called a "scab" as tensions flare (along with racial issues).
Under Kate Whoriskey's direction, this is pulled off with a lot of energy and surprising humor--the characters don't seem to have a lot of introspective time--and a game cast gives it extra heft. Best of all are the three lead women--Michelle Wilson, Johanna Day, and Alison Wright--as figures in an embattled landscape, navigating through it while trying to survive. Nottage won the Pulitzer for Ruined, and with this, her first Broadway play, she's achieved something earnest but worthwhile.
MUSICAL DRAMA WITH SAIGON SAUCE
Finally, a revival that doesn't skimp on the budget, while assuring us that the "reinvention" breathes new life into material that used to allegedly be overblown. The new revival of Miss Saigon--the souped-up Boublil/Maltby Jr./Schonberg's answer to Madame Butterfly--is lavishly produced, from the throngs of crotch bumping prosties to the whirring helicopter that's come back to give Phantom's chandelier a run for its chutzpah.
And I must have really gotten old because I enjoyed it a lot more than in '91, when I found it screechingly cheesy. This time, there are still some clunky lyrics and also people belting songs while writhing in melodramatic anguish. But the story grabbed me, as teenage Kim works in a sex club run by a raunchy character known as the Engineer, falling for an American GI, Chris, who feels she deserves better. It's no secret that later on, Chris doesn't know Kim's given birth to his son, and Kim's wife has no idea that he was with Kim (though she's starting to suspect as much).
As the dramas unfurl, Laurence Connor's direction keeps things swirling, with some dazzling set pieces, including Jon Jon Brione's brilliant turn as the Engineer, gleefully--and sleazily--singing about the glories of "The American Dream" as dancers cavort around him and a gleaming car emerges to give the helicopter a contest. (The character beams about an America where you can regularly grab for big bucks and fake tits, slaying the audience as he topically exclaims "Let's make it great again!") Jonathan Pryce won a Tony for the original production, amid cries that they should have cast an Asian. This time, they did so, proving the talent is out there if you just look for it. Eva Noblezada sings chirpily as Kim, Alistair Brammer emotes elaborately as Chris, and Katie Rose Clarke is terrific as his searching wife. A show with references to "chicks with dicks" and Vietnamese history? To 'hos and Ho Chi Minh? I love it (and so would Amanda Lepore).
ONE MORE THING...
A long-time drag performer is on the warpath against his ex-boyfriend, who's currently making a career leap. Drag Queen 1 says Drag Queen 2 is a scarily shady Eve Harrington-type who stole way more than his heart. Helleaux!