Sitting Down for a Chat with AMANDA LEPORE, The #1 Transsexual in the World
By Darian Darling
Amanda Lepore is the self-proclaimed “#1 transsexual in the world,” and I wouldn’t even begin to argue with that. Arriving as a vision of timeless blonde glamour in the club kid insanity of early 90s NYC, she has maintained a level of visibility which none of her contemporaries were able to match. A jet-setting nightlife personality and model/muse to photographer David LaChapelle, her legendary face has been emblazoned on everything from T-shirts and Swatch watches. Her hourglass form has been replicated as a limited edition fashion doll, designed by Jason Wu, and she even launched her own fragrance! Amanda Lepore is an icon, a brand, an unintentional cutting edge rebel and also one of the sweetest people I have ever met. Her ability to stay sweet and sane in the debaucherous world of NYC nightlife is unparalleled.
I met Amanda about 8 years ago when we bonded over our mutual love of blonde glamour, tons of makeup and Marilyn Monroe, and we’ve been friends ever since. I couldn’t be more delighted to interview her for PMc Mag. When I met up with her for our conversation, inside her leopard print boudoir, I found her feverishly gluing hundreds of rhinestones on a pair of pasties.
DD: You’re such an icon in NYC nightlife. When did you first start going out?
AL: I used to go to rock clubs a lot when I was 15 with my brother’s girlfriend and her twin sister. They were really fun and girlie and were the first ones who helped me bleach my hair and tweeze my eyebrows.
DD: Oh, so you’re indebted?
AL: Yeah! They really loved dressing me up and were fascinated by it. Then they told me I should go out, and that I could probably meet a really masculine guy. So they took me to a gay club! Of course, she thought she was doing it right, but we went to the gay club and all the lesbians were coming on to me! None of the guys were interested in me because by then I was extremely girlie and people always thought I was a girl. So then they decided to take me to rock clubs and all the guys loved me! I became quite popular.
DD: But wait, didn’t you get married at some point? How did that happen?
AL: This girl I met at hairdressing school was really fascinated that I was transgendered and introduced me to her boyfriend’s best friend. That was the guy I eventually married. He had no idea at all and ended up introducing me to his parents. My mother was schizophrenic and was hospitalized a lot so I spent a lot of time at their house. I would wear jeans and a girdle to make sure he couldn’t find “anything.” We were hot and heavy, but we would never have sex. After about three months, his parents became really friendly with me because I was spending so much time over there. Finally he told me that he just wanted to see me naked and that he wouldn’t touch me. He just kept pressuring me and pressuring me, so I told him and he put his fist through the wall. He kicked me out. I wasn’t allowed back into the house, and I became really depressed. The father felt really bad and ended up taking me to the doctor, got me on hormones, and said the family would pay for my sex change!
DD: Girl, what a win! How did your parents react to that?
AL: My mother didn’t want me to do it until I was 21. She thought I would regret it and she didn’t want to be responsible for that so his father legally adopted me. I had it right away. Then I was allowed back in the house again. Ha!
DD: Ha! That’s so crazy.
AL: He completely thought the way I did, you know, that I was a girl. We had really great times but I think it started to play with his head. He started not letting me go out of the house.
DD: Really?! Were you just as glamorous and fabulous as you are now?
AL: Yes, the glamour got worse because I didn’t have anything to do all day so I did my nails myself and everything else. I got made fun of in high school a lot so I didn’t want to look like girls that were contemporary or anything like what other people did. So I would imitate Marilyn Monroe or all these movies that I would see on TV. The parents bought me a sewing machine, fabric, and makeup and hair products so I really became a do-it-yourself blonde. And it just got worse because I had all that free time to just watch movies and got so good at doing everything myself. I would do lot’s of at home aerobics and had a really cute body. I went to hairdressing school , but he didn’t want me to go get my license because he didn’t want me to work. But I learned how to do hair sets. I would make all my own clothes.
DD: Did you want to be a hairstylist?
AL: I really wanted to work at a makeup counter because there was a mall by my house. I thought I was really good at it and I loved makeup. I really wanted to do that but we would fight about it.
DD: Did you ever get out of the house?
AL: He loved the way I looked and coming home to me looking so sexy. But when I would go out to the supermarket or to the fabric store all these guys would flirt with me and he became increasingly jealous. It got to the point where I couldn’t go shopping alone and had to be escorted by his parents or him. It got pretty bad, but I sort of liked it too (because I felt like I was like Lana Turner in an old Hollywood movie with a mobster husband). It turned me on, in a way, because I felt like a blonde damsel-in-distress.
DD: So you were a kept woman! Wow! So how did escape and get to New York?
AL: I met this gay guy at the doctors office and he would always invite me out to shows or clubs, but I told him: “My husband won’t let me out of the house.” He said, “That’ s horrible! If you ever need a place to stay, you can stay with me in New York.” So it played on my mind. I started really wanting to get away from my husband, but I was scared. I thought maybe I could do hair, but I still didn’t have my license. I definitely thought I could do nails so that became my solution. I started hiding money that my husband gave me to shop in a suitcase and pawned a lot of my jewelry. I ended up with about $3,000 saved. I hid the suitcase in some bushes, then later went down to the taxi stand and told them that my husband was abusing me and to please please go get my suitcase in the bushes. I left, and I moved in with that gay guy in New York.
DD: Wow! That’s so intense, Mandy! So how did you end up in nightlife? What attracted you to it?
AL: I never really had any goals to work in the clubs or anything. I really just wanted to be a pretty girl and do makeup. Some friends took me to Disco 2000 on my birthday. Michael Alig saw me and was like “OMG!” because by then I was just full tilt glamour! He immediately hired me to go-go dance at Disco 2000 and this place called The Building. I was working as a dominatrix at the time, but I liked go-go dancing better so I just kept doing that and never really stopped. Then I became “Girl of the Minute.” The club owners didn’t know that I was transsexual and they really couldn’t figure out if I was transsexual or a drag queen or like one of those girls like Dianne Brill. At the time it was really trendy for girls to dress really over the top like a drag queen so when they hired me they thought I was like that. Everyone was really confused. Michael ended up seeing that I had a pussy and he asked me about it. I told him that I had had a sex change. That ended up making me even more popular. And that was so great because when I was with my husband, he made me hide. When I was a dominatrix, they told me to lie and say I had a daughter and was in college. They told me not to say I was transsexual even if they asked. I was constantly hiding, hiding, hiding, and the game was not to let anyone know. So when people liked me for it, that was one of the reasons I never left nightlife, because I found other people that were rejected in childhood too, and I really felt like I belonged. It was a family of outcasts and assorted nuts. Ha!
DD: What happened to your husband? Did he ever find out you became an NYC icon?
AL: I heard that he married a dental assistant. I think I would be his worst nightmare because I became what he didn’t want, you know? “The #1 Transsexual in the World!” Haha! That’s exactly what he was afraid of–which is so funny.
DD: Would you have ever dreamed in a million years that this is what would have happened to you? Jet-setting transgender icon, muse to David LaChapelle, with your own fragrance and Barbie doll?
AL: No! If I looked into a crystal ball, I never would have believed it. I was always really humble and just wanted basic things in life: to work at a makeup counter, a boyfriend that liked me and accepted me…and a pussy! And I never looked for any of this. It was all sort of cards I was given. I mean it was very slow as well. Nothing came fast for me. Everything was slow, but it kept going up.
DD: How did you avoid all the drugs that were so prevalent in the 90s club kid heyday?
AL: It’s funny because Michael Alig and everyone would always laugh and make fun of me because I only ever wanted a white wine spritzer. It was never because I was a prude or anti-drugs or anything. I always had a rock-n-roll sensibility. I never did any of the drugs because they warned me that the hormones wouldn’t work. So that really scared me. Plus, I was in high heels and frail and extremely prissy so I didn’t want to get really drunk or dirty or anything. I always wanted to be composed and very lady-like. And, you know, Michael Alig thought that was really funny. It actually attracted more attention to me not doing anything than if I had tried to act nuts.
DD: What do you think of NY nightlife these days? How much do you think it’s changed over the years?
AL: Well, I think it bounced around. After that murder with Michael happened, it wasn’t cool to dress up, and then 9/11 happened. There was a lot less people dressing up after that. It was a depression, people didn’t have money, and people were reminded of the club kid thing, and it became stale because of the murder and was really looked down upon. There was still drugs going on. I mean I worked at Twilo and that was drug central, but it was more like a rave and anti-dressing-up. And then the hipsters came, and that was anti-dressing-up too in a way. They considered it a costume and everyone had to have black hair in your face and you couldn’t do your hair or anything because “if it looks like a wig then it is a wig” to them. But you could still find certain people that were giving a look. I would see you and Lady Starlight when she looked like David Bowie, and there would be these people that would still be dressed all the time. But it became very different then from what I was used to because I would work at Cain and it was all bottle service and bankers. Everyone that had a look would get hired so it didn’t even matter to invite all your friends because they all ended up working there anyway. Then when Lady GaGa came out and became the biggest pop star in the world, all these younger kids started coming out to the clubs. Now it’s come back to that old school club kid look with a teapot on your head. Anything goes now which is great. It all really reminds me of that. Sharon Needles winning Drag Race, I mean I felt like I was back at Disco 2000–just her sensibility and what she likes and why she likes me. It’s all just a throwback to that era and why I became popular in the first place.
DD: You’ve traveled all over the world to make appearances at clubs. Besides NYC, what city has the best nightlife scene?
AL: Ibiza is really insane. I mean the parties do not stop. I could be leaving at 5am and people would just be coming in “Are you leaving already, Amanda?” Ha! It’s a 24-hour-party there and I’ve never seen anything quite like it. There’s big nightlife everywhere, for different reasons, like in London, and all the big cites, of course. Paris is great during fashion week.
DD: Do you think NYC is still cutting edge as far as nightlife goes?
AL: I feel like NYC is very segregated. Here there is a “club kid club” like Vandam, then the hipsters are in Brooklyn. I go to Germany and it’s straight and gay and everything at once. I prefer that–where all the scenes are together and they embrace everything and nobody gives a fuck. It’s like that in Barcelona too. That’s the only thing I miss about “the good old days in NY,” that it wasn’t as segregated. When I worked at Disco 2000, it was very mixed: girls, straight guys, everyone got along, it was more interesting. Now I either work at a gay club, or a twink club, or whatever. I think that’s why tourists used to go so crazy here because it was so wild.
DD: I know you recently came out with an album. Are you still promo-ing it?
AL: Yeah, I’m really enjoying that. I definitely like performing a lot now. I was always working in nightlife and was always asked to go away but I never really did anything, so now it gives me a new project. It keeps me much more busy. I always had an interest in music as a kid, but had to deal with changing my sex instead. It was definitely something I had to work at, but I really feel like I own it now. I feel like I’m good at it. The songs are good. Even if you don’t like me, you can’t say that the music isn’t good. That feels really good. Cazwell really helped me a lot, encouraged me, and helped me learn all the lyrics and get singing lessons.
DD: What’s your favorite song to sing?
AL: I love “Champagne,” only because the last part I belt out and actually sing. I can rap really well. I do a lot of tongue twisters on the songs. I really like “Marilyn” too because I feel like I sing more on that.
DD: It was just all over the news that Tom Gabel, who is the frontman for punk rock band Against Me! comes out in new issue of Rolling Stone that he’s going to transition and have a sex change. I think it’s so brave for someone who is already in the public eye and famous to come out and do that. What do you think?
AL: That great. That’s really amazing! I think it’s kinda sad when people don’t transition when they want to because of a job or what society thinks. Life is too short. When you hear about these people that transition at 40 and never put a dress on and now want to do all these things I get sad.
DD: It is sad. And especially for you, since you did it so young, that’s what makes you so cutting edge and arguably the most famous transsexual. I think for so long people who were transgendered didn’t want to be open about it.
AL: That’s why David LaChapelle told me to call myself “The #1 Transsexual in the World,” because I think I really became that. He said “Michael Jackson called himself ‘The King of Pop’ so you should call yourself that.” Nobody else wanted it because most of the other girls didn’t want people to know. It was a dirty secret. So when I said it, nobody argued with me because it was like: “Girl, you can have it! I want to blend in at the supermarket!” Haha!
Amanda Lepore is an American model, nightlife and fashion icon, performance artist, recording artist and transgender public figure. She is the self-proclaimed #1 Transsexual in the World.
Amanda Lepore interviewed by Darian Darling
Written by Darian Darling
Photography by Leandro Justen
Photographer Assisted by Stephanie Gross
Design by Marie Havens
Amanda Lepore at the Patrick McMullan Studio, NYC, April 2012, Photography by Leandro Justen