“It might trigger an education!” quips Lady Bunny in her ongoing one-drag queen show Trans-Jester at Stonewall. While a punchline addressing the eye roll-inducing demand for trigger warnings in college classes (What book do you start with–Grapes of Wrath? That ending does deserve some sort of warning), Bunny could be referencing her entire show, which takes aim at our contemporary politically correct, easily offended culture.
If I have to explain to you, dearest readers, who Lady Bunny is then, what are you doing on Filthy Dreams? You must have taken a wrong turn somewhere, but no matter. We, here at Filthy Dreams, have always been fans of Bunny from her early appearances in Nelson Sullivan’s videos to her Christmas classic Santa Claus Is Cumming To Town and her political rants on her blog. We think Bunny should run for office–we’d vote for her.
So naturally, I jumped at the chance to attend Trans-Jester. Now word of warning: the show is billed as having a two drink minimum but no maximum since, as the press release noted, “Bunny’s singing will drive anyone to drink.” Well, I took that to heart so some of the memories of the show are a little…well…fuzzy but don’t blame me! Blame Stonewall and the other bars that came both before and after.
Anyway now that’s settled, let’s move on to the show, which was recently extended until November 15 (tickets here). In Trans-Jester, Bunny inserts some political criticism between her singing, dancing and potshots at our friend Linda Simpson.
Yes, there is still all the campy shock humor from Bunny that you’ve come to expect and adore. But now, there’s a sly political critique in her drive to make audience members clutch their pearls. As Divine would say, “Filth are my politics, Filth is my life!” Bunny is no different. There is even a disclaimer in the description of the show:
“Please note: This show is raunchy. Not politically correct by definition–that’s the whole point. So if that’s not your cup of tea, you should honestly skip it. Or prepare to grab a drink and laugh, cheer and possibly even be challenged by a salty old kook who isn’t afraid to express herself from a viewpoint which is often unique.”
And she lives up to this warning. Throughout the show, she talks about getting hearing AIDS, a doctor’s confusion about her sex change request (“from what into what?!?”) and her asshole makes its unforgettable singing debut with a cover of Adele’s “Hello.” With numerous song parodies and one-liners, Bunny even has a version of Sound of Music’s “Favorite Things” as sung by Caitlyn Jenner.
Of course, Bunny is not your average shock comic with her impossibly short swinging 60’s-style sequined dress, heavy eye makeup and enormous platinum hair. (Disclaimer: I love most of those straight white male offensive comics. I never claimed to be unproblematic.) Joan Rivers herself is raised from the dead to make a posthumous appearance via video, providing a clear and strong link between the two’s love of bawdy humor.
However, the most striking moments in Trans-Jester are perhaps when Bunny sits and levels with the crowd about our current culture. Sure, she’s not completely serious, but there’s a kernel of truth in her observations about the ridiculous infighting and political correctness of the queer community.
For example, how many letters do we have to tack on to LGBTQIA? As Bunny sighs, “A is for Asexuals…why do we get them?!” She chides Caitlyn Jenner for supporting Republicans who seek to take away rights of trans people. She also has words for all the shaming (fat, slut, etc) and trans vs. tranny arguments, which seemingly divide communities in the name of political correctness.
Granted, especially this week with Donald Trump gobbling up Tic Tacs and grabbing pussies, it does seem like PC culture may have finally kicked the bucket and lost the battle. But talk to any one in a queer studies program–or in the queer community generally–and you’ll find some serious policing around language and belonging, as well as a general ignorance about history.
One of the main impetuses for Lady Bunny’s show was the outrage lobbed at RuPaul (Bunny’s former NYC roommate) and the rest of Drag Race over the word “tranny.” While solidified as an offensive word now by whoever decides these things, “tranny” in the 1980s and 1990s was often used a badge of pride just like “queer”–a reappropriation and recontextualization of a disparaging word. Not only did the angry Interwebs go after Ru, but they also yelled at trans foremother Jayne County and San Francisco’s well-known Trannyshack club, which eventually changed its name to appease activists. Yet ironically, all of these figures are–at the very least, partially–responsible for the freedom and visibility of trans and queer activists today.
This isn’t relegated to pop culture alone, but also appears quite frequently in academia. In his 2012 essay “Queer and Then?” in the Journal of Higher Education, theorist Michael Warner also decried this battle of the queers. He writes, “The differences have often enough become bitter, sometimes occasioning the kind of queerer-than-thou competitiveness that is the telltale sign of scarcity in resources and recognition. That impulse can be seen, for example, in the title of a special issue of Social Text called “What’s Queer About Queer Studies Now?” And given queer theory’s strong suspicion of any politics of purity, it is ironic that queer theorists can often strike postures of righteous purity in denouncing one another.”
Trust me, I know what he’s talking about. Nowhere was this more apparent than in some of my queer theory grad school classes with students getting red in the face screaming about privilege, homonormativity, lesbian farm communes, capitalism and antisocial queer theory. Well, as you can imagine dearest readers, all Marion and I wanted to do was party.
All this spells a problem in the queer community–particularly when, as seen with the Orlando shootings, the bathroom laws in states like North Carolina, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and a possible Trump/Pence presidency, there are very real issues of violence, phobia and hate that still threaten queer individuals. And here’s where Lady Bunny decided to step in. Thank god.
She concludes her show with a rousing rendition of “I’m Still Here” from Stephen Sondheim’s Follies. Yes, rejoice theater queens! Bunny is actually doing some show tunes in Trans-Jester, along with her pop song parodies.
Emerging from a curtain with a wig so big she needed an assistant to hold up the back, Bunny croons, “Been called tranny, she-male, fag and queer. I’m sorry if that’s too much for your sensitive ears. But none of those words killed me after all of these years. Now the word-police wished I disappeared.” Well, thankfully for all of us, Bunny is still here, Stonewall is now a landmark and the PC police should be on notice.