Of Mx. Justin Vivian Bond’s achievements — performing at Carnegie Hall, earning a Tony nomination, starring in John Cameron Mitchell’s Shortbus — it’s vs contribution to the ever-evolving nature of language whose effects may prove the most pronounced. Bond, born Stanley Huffman Bond III, has seen a variety of looks and identities (most famously as Kiki DuRane, an octogenarian drag queen and one half of the duo Kiki and Herb); it was in 2010 that the performer began hormone treatment, chose the middle name Vivian, and eschewed gender-specific pronouns (preferring v for he or she, vs versus his or her, etc.) and prefixes (v chose Mx — pronounced “mix” — as a title more representative of vs transgender status). To talk — or write — about Mx. Justin Vivian Bond requires patience, forethought, and courtesy; one can’t easily ramble off words about v without stopping mid-sentence to use the correct pronoun. But Bond is hardly an ordinary person, and the consideration required when speaking of v is fitting to vs extraordinary persona.
Bond didn’t intend for the special treatment when coming up with a way to identify vself within a particularly limiting lexicon. “I was trying to keep it as simple as possible, frankly,” v told me as we sat in vs East Village apartment on a balmy May afternoon. Simplicity seems to be a foundation of Bond’s life; the apartment is a modest one that’s surprisingly sparsely decorated. Its major features are a piano, where Bond writes and plays songs, and a gilded vanity that takes up a prime location in the living area. Bond has lived in the East Village for most of the 19 years since v has been in New York, and v calls the apartment “my dream dressing room bungalow,” slipping into an Old Hollywood affectation.
It’s not what I expected, frankly, when I entered the space. I’m much more used to the glamorous side of Justin Vivian Bond. In the last few months I’ve caught vs performances at 54 Below and Joe’s Pub, and at both cabaret venues v sported some form of evening wear. At home Bond is casual, dressed in a blousy denim shirt and black pants. It’s hardly loungewear, of course, and the outfit seems to fall into Bond’s self-professed identity as an “aspirational white woman of elegance.” The notion, of course, is not just a casual joke — like most of Bond’s humor, there’s an added layer that speaks to the idea of identity in general. “I’m not a white woman of elegance,” v admits, “but that looks like an appealing way to live! Why shouldn’t I be? But what does that entail, and why is that something you’d want to achieve?”
That identity is an aesthetic one. In terms of gender, Bond does not subscribe to the notion of there being a binary — Bond vself has never felt comfortable picking either male or female, an idea that many people have trouble wrapping their minds around. It’s why Bond also does not fit in with the most commonly accepted ideas of transgender. He did not become a she. On vs website, v provides a frank explanation for why v began hormone treatment: “I want my body to be a declaration and physical manifestation of my transgendered spirit. When I was younger I used to refer to myself as a ‘non-op transsexual,’ meaning I was a transsexual who didn’t need to have surgery to assert what I was. But I was wrong because without assertions people can only make assumptions and I no longer wish to indulge or refute the assumptions or labels other people choose to place on me, I simply want to inhabit my very clear vision of myself.”
It’s that notion of individuality that is equally refreshing and maddening to those expecting Bond to be a poster person for the marginalized trans community. “I, for many years, said I was a drag queen, because I would feel like I was betraying my drag queen sisters by saying, ‘I’m not a drag queen,’” Bond says. “I don’t have a problem with the word ‘tranny.’ I can understand why trans people are upset by it, but I know that ‘tranny’ came from trannies themselves. Kate Bornstein once said, ‘They don’t like the word because they don’t want to be like us.’ That might be trans people or gay people — they don’t want to be what others think what that is to be.” Ultimately, Bond had to decide how to identify vself without worrying about others’ reactions. “Instead of coming out and saying what I wasn’t, [I had to be] real specific,” v says. “I guess you could say it’s… what’s the word? Not treatise, but manifesto! My tranifesto!”