Justin Vivian Bond showed what Pride truly means amidst the Trump Presidency
From the moment I first saw Justin Vivian Bond perform live, I’ve taken up the mantle of being v’s groupie, and thankfully v hasn’t shooed me away. Needless to say, when Mx. Bond performed twice at (le) Poisson Rouge during Pride weekend I was in attendance for both shows.
Justin Vivian Bond’s work is always inexorably political, for instance a central topic in v’s last Christmas show was the condemnation of rape culture, thus utilizing the platform to shine light on pertinent social issues. Mx. Bond continued this tradition by highlighting radical empathy. V asserted the imperative that queer people must do everything in their power to support other marginalized groups that the Trump administration is dead set on dehumanizing, particularly immigrants, refugees, people of color, and sex-workers.
V began the show with an invocation to those we have to thank for our existence in the here and now, both calling out to trancestors who paved the way for us as Queer people, and the indigenous people and people of color who were brutalized and died in order for “America” to exist. As the band began to play Nocturn by Kate Bush v took out v’s phone and read The New Colossus by Emma Lazarus:
“Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me: I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”
V then devoted much of the show to sex work in solidarity to those affected by SESTA/FOSTA legislation. The first song v sang was Viking Dan, sweet wholesome song about queer love between sex workers written by the brilliant transgender songwriter Bambi Lake. The song begins, “Viking Dan was occasionally arrested for soliciting on market street” thus setting up the danger inherent in the profession due to inane criminalization laws that put people at risk. Viking Dan continues with the speaker of the song extolling her love for the titular character and her own transition. If this world were fair, not only would sex work be safe and legal, but Bambi Lake would be recognized as one of the most skillful lyricists ever, but thankfully v recognizes her as a national treasure and works to amplify her voice and broaden her audience.
During the second show, v told the story of an interaction v had with a transphobe at the supermarket. This person kept sizing v up and down, ostensibly attempting to decipher v’s anatomy, and then purposely left his cart in the checkout line blockading v and the other grocery-store patrons. Mx. Bond’s response was to forcibly make eye contact with the transphobe and slam v’s cart into the one he left, clearing the way for other customers while making a point to the transphobe that v is a force to be reckoned with. To me, that incident is indicative of Justin Vivian Bond’s method of activism; brazen and confrontational to those who attempt to oppress, while using v’s power to metaphorically clean up after others and make things better for everyone. The same aggressive bravado was present in v’s portrayal of the American Music Club song Patriot’s Heart, which has been in v’s repertoire for over a decade.
The song about a nihilistic stripper is dark and melancholy, written about the Reagan administration amidst the AIDS epidemic, thus to feel this song resonate so thoroughly in our current political climate is far from comforting. V leaned in to this collective cultural anxiety that queer people have due to echoes of Reagan’s presidency seen in Trump’s behavior. V got in the audience’s face, snarling and seducing all within the same breath, “give me all your money but don’t tell me what you’re thinking / I’m the past you wasted, I’m the future you’re obliterating / Oh, c’mon grandpa, remind me what you’re celebrating / That your heart finally dried up, or that it finally stopped working?” V casts the audience (often a cis white man) as the politicians deserving of scorn and strikes with tenacity and fervor until the last note of the song.
In v’s own words, the show was meant to celebrate “the outsider children [Judy Garland’s] legacy has come to represent- immigrants, sex workers, witches, and queers.” V spoke of how mythologizing the Stonewall Riot as a result of Judy Garland’s death erases the trans people of color who were instrumental in the uprising at Stonewall. Nevertheless, v embraced Judy Garland as a symbol to speak about the desire for belonging that binds marginalized peoples.
A running concept throughout the show was dedicating songs to the children: those who had been separated from their families, subjugated, locked in cages, and conveniently misplaced by the US government. V spoke of these children and their families striving for a better place where they can be free. Justin Vivian Bond drew parallels to LGBTQ+ people migrating from unsafe living situations to cities and communities where they can strive towards a life they want to live, made up of people who love them. After v illustrated the similarities, v spoke of The Wizard of Oz and how the crux of Somewhere Over The Rainbow applies to immigrants and refugees as much as it applies to the LGBTQ+ community, v sang the legendary song with the utmost sincerity dedicated to the children who deserve so much better.
The final, most poignant song of the show was v’s cover of the David Bowie song Rock n Roll Suicide. V admitted that this song was v’s outlet to work through v’s own sadness and anger and it showed. V imbued it with both desperation and empowerment, crying out for connection, fearlessly and shamelessly crying onstage as v pleaded to the audience with arms outstretched, “Give me your hands”.
This conclusion mirrors how the show began and synthesizes what Pride means in this tumultuous political storm, calling to the suffering and subjugated and welcoming them in as our family.
“I’ve had my share, I’ll help you with the pain- You’re not alone!”