You can call me madam, but do not call Amanda Lepore a drag queen. The Downtown diva was labeled as such by one of the daily papers, so she promptly sent them a Polaroid of herself naked and giving them the finger. “I’m a transsexual!” she exclaims. “I have a vagina!”
And now that we know what Amanda Lepore is, it behooves me to explain just who she is. She’s an omnipresent party girl with beet-red hair, bulbous lips, and the winningly woozy demeanor of an inflatable doll who only comes to life when a camera’s in the room. Floating from soiree to soiree with a silicone smile, Amanda causes a stir without saying— or wearing— much, exuding a good-natured alien appeal, like a top-heavy escapee from a sci-fi porn comedy. As Amanda’s mentor, photographer David LaChapelle, explains it, “She has no interest in being a girl. She wants to be a drawing of a girl, a cartoon like Jessica Rabbit. When I told her that silicone is dangerous, she said, ‘I don’t care, as long as I look beautiful in the coffin.’ There’s something kind of profound in that, that she’s creating this moment of beauty for herself and is willing to make the ultimate sacrifice.”
Now that concepts of beauty have been pushed to kooky new limits, the time seems right for Amanda’s intergalactic glamour to catch on beyond 14th Street. LaChapelle recently used her in an Armani TV commercial, and when the designer sent the two of them to Milan, Amanda ate nothing but diet pills and was dubbed La Silicona by the press. On another jaunt, to L.A.’s Chateau Marmont, LaChapelle introduced her to a transfixed Quentin Tarantino, but the blank-faced Amanda had not one clue as to who the auteur director was. “She lives in a complete bubble,” LaChapelle says. “Her whole day could be spent combing out hair weaves and massaging her silicone. She doesn’t have time for anything else!”
Mercifully enough, she had time to tell me her rather vivid life story. Amanda grew up in Cedar Grove, New Jersey, quite possibly affixed with the name Manny (this is the only tidbit Amanda wouldn’t confirm). “I was always really feminine, with the hands on the hips,” she revealed. “My parents would say, ‘Stop doing that,’ and I’d do it more— and here I am!”
At 11, she saw a TV show about sex changes and woke up her horrified parents to tell them she wanted one. But she didn’t sign up for the gender guillotine just yet. After unsuccessfully trying to pass as a boy, she went to school as a girl and that immediately won her the attention of a guidance counselor and
a personal tutor. During this time, Amanda was getting hormones from an underage transsexual outcast friend, in exchange for outfits she’d make for the trannie. “All of a sudden, I had breasts,” Amanda relates. “My mother noticed them, so I said, ‘I don’t know what happened, they just grew!’ The tutor started noticing too, and recommended I go to a psychiatrist. Well, the shrink diagnosed me as a transsexual, told my parents, and helped me get the hormones!” That’s how things seem to happen for this little lady— she always manages to turn dogshit into champagne.
Fortune fell into her constantly morphing lap once again when she dated a plastic surgeon who gave her a free nose job. And later on, Amanda hooked up with a bookstore-owner beau, though she had to keep spurning his attempts to go all the way. “The Jerry Springer Show wasn’t on then,” says Amanda. “It was a lot easier to fool people.” Finally, she told the guy her saucy secret, and he freaked— though, naturally, he eventually paid for the sex change and married her. Once again— champagne! (Though things turned shitty, Amanda says, when hubby wouldn’t let her leave the house, and even she got bored, prompting a bitter breakup.)
But what about that operation— in Yonkers, by the way? Did she like her first glimpse of her spanking new vagina? “I didn’t know what one looked like,” she says. “I was just happy there wasn’t anything down there. But at first, it looked pretty bad. It was swollen— like a cow pussy or something.” Of course, the swelling eventually went down, and now Amanda says the change was the best thing she’s ever done. She go-go dances at clubs, has modeled for CD covers and beer ads, and works the Patricia Field makeup counter, where her cute boyfriend, Victor, first spotted her (though he’s yet to pay for any surgery). Amanda has it all. So everyone— chop off your dicks and become fabulous!
In the world of plain old drag queens, local favorites Jackie Beat and Sherry Vine recently made their own career breakthrough when they did a pilot for MTV called Asphalt Beach. “We play teenage girls in a Catholic reform school,” Jackie told me. “It’s very The Facts of Life meets women-in-prison movies.” Someone call the guidance counselor quick!
On the Broadway dragstrip, where everything old is old again, Night Must Fall is a creaky thriller being given a zing- less revival that comes off more like Curtain Must Fall. In this production, the supposedly vulnerable old lady looks formidable enough to knock out Matthew Broderick with one fell swat, especially since Broderick fails to convince as a baby-faced errand boy with a psychological hang-up and a dead dame’s head in a bowling bag. At least when he breaks into a few bars of “Life Is Just a Bowl of Cherries,” it’s pleasing to note that Fosse isn’t the only scary show in town that features that song.
The Roundabout revival of The Lion in Winter became extra terrifying the night I saw it, when a dim-witted audience member’s cell phone kept ringing— an all-too-perfect twist for a play that tries to bring historical drama down to a contemporary level. As the offender was being dragged out, Laurence Fishburne finally broke character, yelling, “You wanna turn that fuckin’ phone off?” before going back to the scripted pleas and histrionics. Actually, I blame myself for this mishap— I’m clearly some kind of theatrical bad omen, since I happened to have been center orchestra when Death of a Salesman‘s scenery got stuck, when Little Me was interrupted by a health emergency, when Speed-the-Plow was slowed by a Madonna stalker, and when the curtain for Moose Murders went up.
I wasn’t there when Z100 spread juicy gossip about Ben Affleck last week, but fortunately, folks who still own radios could tell me about it. What they heard was one of the station’s morning-show jocks spreading a rumor that Ben actually broke up with Gwyneth Paltrow because he’s gay! A Z100 PR rep confirmed that the female DJ said this, but added, “She doesn’t want to make a big deal out of it because, though she trusts her source, she isn’t completely sure the info is true.” Affleck’s publicist, waiting on a transcript of what was said, didn’t have a response by deadline. Meanwhile, I’ve been good willie hunting.
Finally, TV watchers have been calling to balk that the latest commercials for talking Teletubby dolls mysteriously don’t feature Tinky Winky! Is this blatant homophobia or were they simply unable to decide if the doll should say, “Oh, no, we’re both bottoms! Do you have a two-way strap-on?” or “Take it to the toilet, missy! I am not into water sports!”?
You can e-mail Michael Musto at email@example.com.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on March 16, 1999