Justin Vivian Bond is a cabaret artist and author who has performed all over the world. Bond’s new album is called “Dendrophile,” and v is currently on tour performing songs from it on the East Coast. Bond’s first book, Tango, which will be published later this year through the Feminist Press, chronicles the experience of growing up queer in suburban America in the 1970s.
In the short memoir, Bond, who is trans and uses the prefix “Mx” (pronounced “mix”),writes about the sexual relationship Bond had with a neighbor, a boy v hated but was attracted to all the same. The story begins with the news that the boy, now a man, has been arrested under the code name “Tango” and with v’s diagnosis, as an adult, with ADD. It’s a complex story of childhood sexuality, queer identity and suburban suffocation, as well as a musing on mental illness and cultural ideas about gender. If you’re in the US, take a look at Bond’s book tour schedule to see if v is coming to your town.
Check out this great video of Bond performing v’s songs and talking about performing gender.
And now, without further ado, the Feministing Five, with Mx. Justin Vivian Bond.
Chloe Angyal: Why did you decide to write this book, and why did you choose to focus solely on your childhood?
Justin Vivian Bond: I hadn’t really intended to write a book, but about two years or so, Amy Shoulder and I met for a drink just around the same time that I had been diagnosed with ADD and a boy that I knew when was younger had been arrested for impersonating a DEA officer. And I was telling her the story over drinks, and she said, “Oh, you should write this story.” So I just wrote it, thinking it would be a short story, and I sent to Amy. She liked it, and she asked me a few questions. I answered those questions, and that ended up adding about ten thousand words to it. She asked me a couple more questions, and I answered them. And she said, “Alright, I think we have a book,” much to my surprise. That’s really how it came about.
I chose to end the story with high school because it was really about my relationship with that boy. It was easy to write, because it had a beginning, a middle and an end. It wasn’t like I had to plot it out – it was just telling this specific story of two children who have this complicated relationship with each other, and a complicated relationship with being sexual as a child and being in a world of people who didn’t want to acknowledge or talk about sexuality. We were in a place where we had no support to deal with these issues. Obviously, I wanted to talk about the issue of child sexuality, and about looking at the world one way as opposed to another. Now, children are diagnosed with mental health issues a lot young and lots more readily. Whether that’s good or bad, I don’t know. But I think that both of us exhibited signs of what we would be diagnosed with later in life when we were very young. So I sort of went back, because it was something that I was doing anyway, and reexamined it all.
CA: Who is your favorite fictional heroine, and who are your heroines in real life?
JVB: Maria Wyeth, from Play It As It Lays. I don’t think she’s someone to emulate, but that book is one that has had a profound effect on me. It was written by Joan Didion, and there’s something about Joan Didion’s writing that inspires me even though I don’t think it’s necessarily the best thing to be completely nihilistic in your worldview. I think it’s nice to read her book, and I love her fictional characters, because they have this way of trying to make sense of everything that I really enjoy. I first read Didion when I was really young, and it really stuck with me.
Kate Bornstein is one of my heroines in real life. It was pretty amazing to have her blurb my book. The people who blurbed my book are my heroes – I would never have asked Yoko to blurb my book, but she did, and she wrote that wonderful thing. Kate is one of them, and Yoko, and my grandmother was a hero. Tilda Swinton is one of them.
CA: What recent news story made you want to scream?
JVB: There are so many. I’m sort of amazed by everything that’s happening in England right now. I was just there two weeks ago, and I lived in England for a couple of years, and I just found the energy to be so horrible. I really hated it – the violence, and the culture of public drunkenness. These riots are really shocking. And I think part of it is that there’s plenty for everybody, but it’s being hoarded by the few, and now all this violence is happening, and what’s tragic is that the violence is being directed against innocent people that are struggling anyway. And that makes me want to hang my head against a wall.
CA: What, in your opinion, is the greatest challenge facing feminism today?
JVB: I think it’s the same challenge it’s always been. I think the challenge is and has always been to eradicate hierarchies of gender. Which means that not only do women have to find a rigor about their ways of discussing gender and educating themselves and their children, but also, I think they have to re-think what gender is in order for feminism to be effective. Because it becomes a kind of “us versus them” mentality that has gotten into the culture over the years, when it should be about strategies that work to maximize the potential of the individual and the culture. So I think the biggest challenge is to find ways of not finding commonalities between the genders but to not have hierarchies within them. And to end gender binaries.
CA: You’re going to a desert island, and you’re allowed to take one food, one drink and one feminist. What do you pick?
JVB: Peanut brittle, bourbon and Kathleen Hanna. She’s from Maryland, too, and she’s pretty crafty. And she’s smart and she’s funny, and we could sing together.