ask a sane person

Justin Vivian Bond on the Inevitability of Assholes

By
Illustrations by Ruben Baghdasaryan

Published September 17, 2020

Usually the status of “New York City living legend” is reserved for the over-60 crowd, but I think we can all generationally agree that Justin Vivian Bond is one of the few younger city lights who merits the honor. Mx. Bond, the soul and larynx and wit behind the punk cabaret act Kiki & Herb, has also blazed trails as an actor, writer, artist, performer, musician, and outspoken activist. We might assume that Bond has spent the summer awash in friends and alcohol at their secluded House of Whimsy, but in fact, they’ve been quite creatively industrious. An exhibit of Bond’s exquisite watercolors of famous eyes (called “69 Witch Eyes”) is currently on view in Provincetown and runs through October. The Public Theater will screen a new edit of the reunion show, “Kiki and Herb: Seeking Asylum,” at Joe’s Pub on September 24 to kick off their virtual season. Bond has also been working on a collaborative project with the opera singer Anthony Roth Costanzo, and promises further episodes of their live-streaming series “Your Auntie Glam’s Happy Hour” just in time to knock a few back before the election. Did Mx. Bond happily agree to do this questionnaire? You bet! Does that mean they enjoyed every second of filling it out? Not exactly.

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INTERVIEW: Where are you and how long have you been isolating?

JUSTIN VIVIAN BOND: I’m at The House of Whimsy near Hudson, New York. I began isolating on March 11 and didn’t really leave the house except to shop for food and BOOZE until I joined some of the Black Lives Matter protests here and in the city. I was really heartened that so many people were willing to risk their first steps out of the house to stand up for racial justice. That was a good sign and gave me some hope.

INTERVIEW: What has this pandemic confirmed or reinforced about your view of society?

BOND: I guess it’s obvious but people really do not like to stop and think. I mean, whoa… it’s scary.

INTERVIEW: What has this pandemic altered about your view of society?

BOND: Not much.

INTERVIEW: What is the worst-case scenario for the future?

BOND: That we here in the U.S. will be forced by a minority of voters and a handful of delegates to live under authoritarian rule and be trapped in an intolerant, white hetero-patriarchal nightmare. Bigger picture? Maybe you’ve heard of global warming? Evidently it’s real and it’s coming for your children.

INTERVIEW: What good can come out of this lockdown? Are there any reasons to hope?

BOND: I guess there is always a reason to hope, but more importantly I think we are finding out that there are a lot of things we can live without, and that’s going to be important if we’re going to deal with threats such as climate change.

INTERVIEW: What has been your daily routine during this time?

BOND: I’m an artist so I’ve been working pretty much nonstop unless my family or a friend needs me. Occasionally, I drop everything and hit the streets. Lots of benefit performances on Zoom. Being at home and working without a lot of distractions is a gift and I’ve taken as much advantage of it as I can. Agreeing to answer all these questions was a miscalculation, to be honest.

INTERVIEW: Describe the current state of your hair?

BOND: My hair looks gorgeous! I went into the city and had a cut and then they threw in some highlights yesterday. Thanks for asking.

INTERVIEW: On a scale of 1 to 10, what is your level of panic about the current state of the world?

BOND: Zero, I’m too lazy to panic.

INTERVIEW: Do you think there is hope for true racial equality in the United States? What do you think is the first step in that goal?

BOND: I think there is racial equality. We are all equal. For many of us, that’s a given. Do I think people are going to miraculously stop acting like assholes one day? No, not likely.

INTERVIEW: How can America work to ensure more equality and justice on a day-to-day level?

BOND: I think people who are isolated, people who never venture out to meet and spend time with anyone unlike themselves, are more likely to have fear-based reactions to difference. I don’t know how to change that. It would seem like all of this social distancing would only make it worse. Hopefully not. It would be nice to have leadership that was willing to set a more positive tone and try to bring people together.

INTERVIEW: Do you think protests are effective tools for changing the system? How does it make a difference in the long term?

BOND: I don’t think that protests alone are going to do that. But I do think it’s important for people to be responsive to cries of anguish from other human beings, and that’s what protests generally are. It’s a declaration of a major problem, and it would behoove all of us to work together and form a higher level of understanding of each other’s needs and try to help make our culture safer and easier for everyone to thrive in. We have to share this world, so it’s up to us to strive to make it more egalitarian for everyone. That’s not a losing proposition, but people are so incredibly selfish it’s hard to budge them sometimes. No one wants to give up their privileges, but that’s not really what needs to happen anyway. Ultimately, we should all have the same privileges.

INTERVIEW: How do you personally channel your anger? Do you find anger to be a useful emotion?

BOND: Anger often keeps me from sinking into a state of depression. It helps me to trannel my rage into the songs I sing, and to speak very loudly in front of paying audiences. I used to do it in performance venues, but now I do it on IG Live @mxviv when I have the urge.

INTERVIEW: Which young leaders of the moment inspire you?

BOND: I’m inspired by Ceyenne Doroshow, Cecilia Gentili, Rio Sofia, and Tourmaline—intersectional trans artists and activists of color with brilliant minds and generous hearts who are leading by example. They are the future. I’m inspired by my friend Elizabeth Koke who is the creative director at Housing Works. She’s an incredible organizer. Jackie Rudin of Rise and Resist is tireless and incredibly young. My friends from the Fierce Pussy collective. Gays Against Guns.

INTERVIEW: What’s the next step after protests in the streets? Where does the righteous rage go?

BOND: The first stop should be the voting booth. Hopefully we’ll get more responsive and humane leadership. Then we can start to cherry pick our battles. Our first priority should be to make it so that people of color feel safe and loved in this country. Economic and social justice are going to have to come from the people because The Federalist Society, Mitch McConnell, and President Trump have packed the courts with ultra-conservative judges. Those retrograde judges aren’t going to go away even when the idiots who are currently in charge do. So to think the government is going to be able to handle this without We The People is delusional.

INTERVIEW: Do you work best alone or in a group? Can you protest from home?

BOND: For the most part, I’m a solitary practitioner. I’m comfortable in front of groups but not in them. I don’t like to be in crowds, but even so, I feel a responsibility to add my body to the numbers of people who are going out and fighting for human rights. That’s literally the very least we can do if we’re physically capable, in my opinion.

INTERVIEW: Americans tend to find the topic of race uncomfortable. How do we start the conversation and address it directly?

BOND: The conversation is already in progress! As a white person, I think it’s my responsibility to listen and, when it seems appropriate, amplify the many serious, thoughtful people of color who are so generously trying to educate us right now. I’m learning so much every day. I think it’s important to be supportive, stay present without getting in the way, try not to be defensive, and get to work! There is so much each of us can do.

INTERVIEW: What thinker have you taken comfort in of late and why?

BOND: I really took a lot of inspiration and comfort from Olivia Laing’s book of essays Funny Weather: Art in an Emergency. This isn’t my first pandemic. As a queer person coming of age during the AIDS crisis with Reagan as president, it became very clear to me that a lot of people in this country took great delight at the thought of people like me dying. So the ignorance of people—even in my own family—never shocks me and I never underestimate it. I was also on the streets during the racial unrest ignited by the brutal beating Rodney King received at the hands of vicious, racist, and corrupt policemen in 1990. None of this is new. We have to keep fighting and never give up. Making art saved me then, and it’s saving me now. The ridiculous thing about it is, we’re fighting for the haters, too. They’re just too blind to realize it.

INTERVIEW: If 2020 were a song, which song would it be?

BOND: My theme song this year has been Marianne Faithfull’s “Love More or Less.”

INTERVIEW: Which (admittedly totally unqualified) celebrity would you trust with the planet’s future?

BOND: Christeene!

INTERVIEW: If you could stop time at one particular moment in your life, which moment would it be?

BOND: I would have stopped physically aging at 28 and let the rest play out as it has done. I live in the moment, but I always enjoy the moment more if I think I look good. As Bette Davis said, “Aging isn’t for sissies.”

INTERVIEW: What’s one skill we should all learn while in quarantine?

BOND: How to be more intellectually curious.

INTERVIEW: What does our future as a nation look like?

BOND: I have no idea. I’m too busy living in the moment to begin to consider that. If today is any indication, it’s pretty bleak. But the sun keeps rising, people can be very funny, and I’m sure there’s still some very good dick out there, so I have to believe there is much more fun to be had.

INTERVIEW: What prevents you from giving up hope in the human race?

BOND: Cocktails. Honestly, I don’t have hope for the human race. Why should I? People are gonna do what they’re gonna do. I can’t control it and I wouldn’t want to. Ultimately, whether the human race goes on or not doesn’t matter to me. We’re all going to die, and I’m definitely going to die way before the human race is wiped out, so fuck it, I will have a nice little drinkie and wait and see what happens. I do take comfort in the fact that once we’re gone, the earth will most likely regenerate itself. The world is so beautiful, isn’t it? Even when it’s on fire.

INTERVIEW: Who should be the next president of the United States?

BOND: My answer to that question is always Sharon Stone. I don’t know why. I just like the idea. But I’m voting for Joe Biden—and everyone else should, too.