The New York Times

Friday September 3, 1999 - The Metro Section

Public Lives

The Lady Bunny at the forefront of Wigstock
Flamboyant? Certainly, From Head to Heels


There are those who favor dressing down on Labor Day weekend, but this is not how it goes at Wigstock, the Village drag queen festival, which will be upon us like a too-tight cat suit on Sunday.

Five-inch heels, pink Dynel wigs, anything goes as long as it is in outrageous taste, and you need not be into cross-dressing to attend. Families - and dogs in wigs - have been spotted in recent years. Even politicians have been sighted.

We have a very loving relationship with the Manhattan Borough President's office, Lady Bunny, the organizer of the festival, is saying at a friend's studio in Chelsea, in a green and yellow Pucci-having-a-really-bad-day kind of number. Ruth Messinger really went to bat for us. She would come every year in her Birkenstocks and you could tell she did not view it as a campaign stop. She got into the spirit of it, which Liz Holtzman and other politicians did not. Once she said, Bunn's dress shows her obvious commitment to recycling.

A dramatic pause, which drag queens take almost as frequently as a breath, then a campy reading. Bitch.

You think you shouldn't stare at Lady Bunny?

At 5 feet 11 inches tall, plus 6-inch plastic heels and a 12-inch-high wig - she is a lot to pretend not to notice. And anyway, that would be rude.

Lady Bunny, who makes her living as a female impersonator and will be starring in Sunday's show on Pier 54, near 12th Street, has gone to a lot of trouble to look this way.

The higher the hair, the closer to God, says Lady Bunny, who took her name from a fashion model in a comic book.

She will not permit a visitor to see her without her wig and one suspects it is a concession for her to reveal her given name and age, but she does: Jon Ingle, 37.

Another thing about Lady Bunny: her shtick is somewhat like that of Milton Berle, another famous cross-dresser. Very Burlesque.

Lady Bunny, we know you were born as other than what you strive to be, so do we refer to you as Mr., Ms. or Mrs.?
"Well, I'm not married, still lookin'," Lady Bunny says in her Tennessee drawl, "which is one of the few authentic things on her. I saw an ideal husband." Pause. "The movie."

Off stage, you're not in drag. Who are you then?

"That's my brother. I send him out to run errands. He's kind of a flunky to do my bidding. He's not interested in the way he looks. I'm just so much more fascinating. He's dull."

Speaking of dull, may Lady Bunny tell you about her hometown, Chattanooga, Tenn.? At 5 P.M., she says, the buses stopped running. Her father, a history professor at the University of Tennessee, Chattanooga, and mother, "kind of a social worker," were progressive. Lady Bunny, then known as Jon, claims that as a child he drew flip hair-do's on his stick figures. As for gay, which she is, Lady Bunny had always known.

"I asked for a Barbie doll at 6 and my mother told me a few years ago they didn't know if they should give it to me, because they were afraid it would make me gay. I told her if I was asking, I was already gay."

Jon acted in amateur theater, and attended high school at Boothan, a Quaker school in York, England, in the late 70's, a time that lent itself to androgynous and highly made-up punk. At the University of Tennessee, where Jon pursued theater for a year, came the catharsis.

I'm playing a bit part in Our Town - a very dull play - and I realize I've been pretending all my life. I know I’m a big queen and I have to pass myself off as a straight baseball player and I'm just not getting any joy from that. I thought: I don't want to be a straight male. I've done that my whole life. I want to be - the drag queen credo in a word coming up here - "flamboyant".

You know what would be nice here? A Busby Berkeley-esque montage of tapping feet, feathered boas, tottering, preening, glittering persons in drag: Lady Bunny arriving in New York in '84 and working as a go-go dancer at the Pyramid Club in the East Village.

One evening the gang is goofing around the band shell in Tompkins Square Park, singing and dancing, and the idea for Wigstock is born. Originally it was a free party in Tompkins Square Park. These days, it costs $20 to get in and there is a corporation, of which Lady Bunny is president, and half of the net proceeds go to Gay Men’s Health Crisis and other charities. In '97, the net was $60,000. Last year, it was a disappointing $10,000. Lady Bunny earned $6,500 last year for her work but this year will pay herself less. She lives in a studio in the West Village and makes about $40,000 a year. Like many New Yorkers, she sees a shrink.


A moment of uncharacteristic restraint. "I don't know if I need to bare the innermost secrets of my therapy sessions" Lady Bunny says, curled up in the not-Pucci. Then: "I'd like to make the most of my potential. I'd like to have a relationship."

This dressing up in women's clothing thing, then, has never been considered a problem?


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