Arts & Entertainment
6 min

Justin Vivian Bond’s Dendrophile

In conversation with gender-queer artist

Justin Vivian Bond. Credit: Photo by Michael Doucette
Described by the The New Yorker as “a bar of gold in the new depression,” the glamorous and multitalented Justin Vivian Bond (V) is the recipient of Obie, Bessie and Ethyl Eichelberger awards and was nominated for a Tony. Mx Bond appeared in the film Shortbus and starred on Broadway as one half of the duo Kiki and Herb. Bond’s extraordinary new album, Dendrophile, embraces V’s ’70s folk, pop and jazz influences.
 
Carole Pope: Let’s talk about your new record, Dendrophile. Tell me about the track “American Wedding.”
 
Justin Vivian Bond: That is a poem by Essex Hemple, which resonates to me because I’m so conflicted with the whole marriage idea. I grew up thinking it was impossible. Now that the assimilationist gays and lesbians have hijacked the whole marriage movement, I’m all for it. Let’s get over it and move on to other things. I like the fuck-you attitude of that poem.
 
CP: “The New Economy” has a Velvet Underground feel.
 
JVB: I started that song in Tennessee during the panic when the stock market was collapsing and everyone was freaking out. I thought, What do I have to lose? I don’t have a 401(k), I don’t have health insurance, I’m living hand to mouth and I’m happy. So what the fuck are these people freaking out about? You can all join me.
 
CP: Welcome to the life of an artist. What inspired the Genet track?
 
JVB: I was angry with my boyfriend. I thought we were breaking up. We were having a long-distance relationship. I was thinking about the movie Mademoiselle. Jeanne Moreau was obsessed with a lumberjack and she makes love to a shadow. 
 
CP: How did you come up with the new title, Mx Bond?
 
JVB: There’s Mr, Ms, there’s Mrs, Miss; it sounds like the word. As someone who’s transgender, it sounds like an abbreviation of the word mix.
 
CP: I love that you get an erotic charge from nature. How does it affect you?
 
JVB: The only times I could be alone when I was a kid was to go into the wood across the street. My parents were always up in my business, gender-policing me if you will. I used to climb trees. I’m sure I enjoyed moments of self-love in the trees. I built a tree house with some neighbour kids and lost my virginity in a tree. So when I’m around nature it makes me feel grounded and sexy.
 
CP: You recently changed you gender identity to V. What was the reason?
 
JVB: I just changed the language. My identity has always been trans. I grew up in the ’70s, where you were either a man, a woman or a man trapped in a woman’s body or a woman trapped in a man’s body. I didn’t feel like I was trapped in anyone’s body. I didn’t feel like people didn’t understand the transness of my identity. I feel like I can articulate it now to people, but it was difficult when I was young. I started estrogen therapy and decided to be very aggressive about my transness so that I have a physical, medical and historical record of being a trans person. So it can’t be ignored when I’m not able to assert it.
 
CP: How far are you going to go?
 
JVB: I don’t feel I need snow cones on my chest.
 
CP: You’re not going to cut off your bits and pieces?
 
JVB: I like estrogen because it’s softening. People exercise and take vitamins because they want their bodies to look a certain way, and that’s not seen as weird. I like the aesthetic thing and the way it makes me feel and look. I’d be more likely to have a face lift than have my penis chopped off.
 
CP: You seem to be having fun with your penis.
 
JVB: I am. I enjoy it.
 
CP: Do you think society does everything it can to kill the sacred feminine?
 
JVB: Yes. I think it’s shocking. I don’t want to seem like I’m blaming women, but it bothers me that women don’t step up to the plate and take action about it. I see someone like Sarah Palin and I think she’s a parody of womanhood as a way to empower her [as a] feminist. It’s fascistic.
 
CP: We used to worship the goddess and Christianity crushed all that.
 
JVB: Anyone who puts ideology ahead of common sense…
 
CP: Why do you think the straight world is resistant to the blurring of sexual identity? It starts when you’re born, the pink and blue baby colour-coding.
 
JVB: Because they’re lazy. Because it makes things easy. Because they don’t want to be challenged. That’s their way of asserting their power and privilege. I think it’s just silly.