My Tribute Talk to Mx. Justin ViVian Bond

Being More or Less What I Said About Justin ViVian Bond
at a P.S. 122 TributeNew York City, April 25, 2011

I’m wearing the top hat I wore twenty years ago, in a play I wrote, called Hidden: A Gender. It was November 1991 when Mx Justin ViVian Bond and I made our New York debut together on the downstairs stage of PS 122. Lori E. Seid brought us to New York, and produced the show. Mark Russell, PS 122 Artistic Director, welcomed us to town. Thank you Lori and Mark. 

Justin ViVian Bond is fond of saying how I discovered him so many years ago, and gave him his start in queer showbiz. Well, that’s true. But I want to tell you what Mx Justin ViVian Bond has given to me over all these years. I write cool books on postmodern gender theory. Well, Justin ViVian, you have been my muse all this time. You’ve always led me from theory into practical, and I’m so grateful to you for that.

I first met Justin Bond in San Francisco, 1989—a few months before the big earthquake. I was casting Hidden: A Gender. Stage director, Noreen V. Barnes, and I were looking for an actor to play the role of Herculine Barbin, a real-life 19th Century French hermaphrodite. The actor would have to play Herculine in Act I as a happy, vibrant young girl growing up from ages 12 to 18… and later in Act II, the same young woman is forced to live as a young man—and in his mid-20s, he ultimately kill himself out of despair. We couldn’t find anyone skilled in both acting and gender-bending to take on that role. Then I saw Justin.

I first spotted him onstage in a mediocre musical based on the life of gay King Friedrich of Prussia. Justin was the romantic leading man. Imagine that. I saw the girl in him. I offered him the part immediately. He—for he most certainly was a he in those early days—he was at once thrilled and terrified of playing Herculine. He wasn’t sure how his gay male friends would react. On top of that, he wasn’t sure he could pull off being girl. Imagine that. I knew he could work magic with his gender. And now the world knows that, too. 

Mx Bond asked me to tell you about the evening I stood up to his mom. We were on a road tour of Hidden: A Gender, and we made a stop in Maryland to meet Justin’s family. Halfway through dinner, Justin’s mom began to berate him, making Justin feel small about being… fabulous. Well—I thought to myself—fuck that! No one talks like that about my beloved. So I told Justin’s mom just how talented Justin was, what a generous and kind person he was. I told her that she had every reason to be proud of her son, who was saving lives with his art. Ah, if looks could kill, both me and Justin’s mom would have died on the spot.

A few months ago, Mx V paid a visit to v’s parents. V mentioned that v and I were in touch and doing more work together. V’s mother raised an eyebrow and without missing a beat, said: “Kate Bornstein? What, she’s still alive?” 

Yes I am, Mrs. Bond, and so is your beautiful, talented, earth-shaking child. V is so much more than a distant role model for fabulous gender fuckery. Yes, yes… I stood up for Justin all those years ago. Well, in art and life, V stands up for people who don’t get stood up for. V opens doors for emerging artists—at PS 122 and around the world. V is fierce in the face of homophobia, transphobia, and enforced heteronormativity.

Justin ViVian, when you first walked onto the stages of New York, and far beyond… the world was not ready for you. Now… it’s precisely because of all the work you’ve done, all the lives you’ve saved by your shining example, and all the love and fierce strength you bring to your art… it’s because of all this, that the world is finally ready for you, my darling. Here’s to decades more of well-deserved awards and recognition.