Hilton Als described V as “The greatest cabaret artist of (v’s) generation” in the New Yorker magzine.
As one-half of the Performance duo Kiki and Herb, Justin Vivian has toured the world headlining at Carnegie Hall, The Sydney Opera House, London’s Queen Elizabeth Hall and has starred in a Tony nominated run on Broadway, Kiki and Herb Alive on Broadway (The Helen Hayes Theatre) and Off-Broadway Coup de Theatre(The Cherry Lane Theatre). Kiki and Herb have released two cds Do You Hear What We Hear?, Kiki and Herb Will Die For You at Carnegie Hall and a DVD Kiki and Herb Live at the Knitting Factory. Film credits include a starring role in John Cameron Mitchell’s feature Shortbus, Charles Hermann-Wurmfeld’s Fancy’s Persuasion as well as Imaginary Heroes and Jon Moritsugu’s Mod Fuck Explosion. Television appearances include Ugly Betty and Late Night With Conan O’Brian.
After reviewing their show Kiki & Herb Coup de Theatre at the Cherry Lane Theater, I had caught up with the two abckstage for an interview, and then talked one-on-one with Justin about being transgender. And though that interview is a bit dated, Justin never is, nor is the topic we chatted about.
B: On a personal note Justin, when did you realize you were neither male nor female?
Justin: About 6 year old I think. I walked into the kitchen and said, “I figured it out. I’m a boy from the waist down, and a girl from the waist up – and when I grow up I’m gonna have boobs!” They just looked at me, and said, “go to your room.”
B: When did it manifest itself?
Justin: I was in the grocery store with my dad. He couldn’t find me because I was in the next aisle where I had talked a woman into letting me try on her shoes.
B: When did you first go out in public as feminine?
Justin: I got in trouble for wearing lipstick to 1st grade. I didn’t think a lady left the house without her lipstick on. So one day my mom said, “What’s on your lips?” “I have on my lipstick,” I said. She told me, “you can’t wear lipstick,” to which I countered, “but I did for the last three days.” She sold me that I wouldn’t any more and I thought, OK, I’ll do it when you’re not looking then. Of course my parents tried to stop me, but I indulged any chance I got.
B: How old were you when they stopped resisting?
Justin: THEY LOVE ME -THEY’LL NEVER GIVE UP HOPE! (Laughing) They put up with it because they have no choice. I had to give my mom a lecture just this past fall about what unconditional love was. But, it always goes back. Every few years there is something like, “I understand you wanting to be gay, but why do you want to be a woman? “I don’t want to be a woman,” I say. “Then why do you dress like a woman,” she asks. “You such a good looking boy, you should cut your hair and get a job on the soaps, then I could see you every day.” But, deep down they know.
B: Does Kiki have any of that wisdom on gender she disperses?
Justin: No, I don’t think so. I think every person who goes through those issues are going through it in a unique, individual and personal way. That’s the difficulty, every TG person is TG’d in a different way. The fact that there’s no way to cover it, no mass media discussions, people hope that someone will say the thing that they relate to. But we are all unique. Follow your heart and try and be happy.
B: Which sounds like good advise to me.