‘Just her being did so much,’ enthuses Amanda Lepore of Marsha P. Johnson, the trans activist/icon who was involved in the first night of rioting at Stonewall.
We’re discussing LGBTI activism ahead of the Riots’ 50-year anniversary; Amanda’s new music video – a cover of David Bowie’s Jean Genie – was filmed at the Inn where the sexual equality movement was in part ignited in 1969.
‘It’s a tribute to David Bowie, but Stonewall as well,’ she explains, advising those unfamiliar with this key moment queer history to ‘do research. Find out what happened, how people fought for their rights and equality.’
While Amanda, a pop culture icon who rose to fame in the 90s as celeb photographer David LaChapelle’s muse, isn’t verbose on politics, she knows there’s a power in living life unapologetically. ‘There’s an activism to it, unconsciously,’ she says of her larger-than-life existence.
Last year, the star – who identifies as transsexual – inadvertently made headlines after being removed from Travis Scott’s LaChapelle-shot Astroworld album cover; the debacle, which led to calls of transphobia on Scott’s part, is something she isn’t allowed to discuss today.
One thing she is happy discussing, however, is her famous figure – one she flaunted happily on that original LP sleeve.
For this glamorous 51-year-old, authenticity exists within a context of inauthenticity. Known for her love of plastic surgery and for having ‘the most expensive body on earth’, she last year told us of a cosmetic tourism trip to Guadalajara: ‘I had my boobs bigger and that waist thing, where they break the bottom rib.’
‘I kind of like everything,’ she says of her body today, without a hint of arrogance. ‘There’s not a part I don’t like.’
‘You have to do some things money can’t buy’
In a culture where women’s bodies, and especially trans women’s bodies, are dissected and judged at every turn, Amanda powerfully subverts such a gaze. She’s turned her body into a work of art.
It’s not all about modification, either. ‘You have to do some things money can’t buy’ she says of her under-discussed love of ‘diet and exercise: the things you can control.’
‘I do yoga, go to the gym. I do a lot of weights, a little cardio, lots of squats, lower body stuff. I’ve had a trainer over the years, that helped get a routine. I eat healthy. I’m vegetarian, […] it increases your metabolism. I’ll eat fish, but only once in a while.’
Ask what her gym kit’s like, and you get a typical Amanda answer. ’Ballet slippers – I don’t wear sneakers. I always wear low cut tops with some cleavage. And really tight leggings, so that you get a camel toe. I like to show things off…’
‘I was always very body-conscious,’ she later adds. ‘Especially when I was transitioning, taking hormones and things. I noticed that I would gain weight quicker. So I would exercise and diet, so everything was how I’d like to look.’
Amanda began taking hormones at ’13, 14’. What would her advice be to her younger self?
‘I think “your mind is really strong”. I’ve always had that. It got more extreme with hormones and transitioning, because it was closer to what I wanted, and I didn’t really develop masculine characteristics before I took the hormones – I was very feminine and passable with nothing. I don’t know what would’ve happened if I didn’t do the hormones so young.’
‘I mean, I see people…’
Fast forward to 2019, and this New Yorker sounds pretty busy living her full, authentic life.
When she’s not releasing music, traveling the world performing (Montreal’s Wiggle Fest on 18 May; Vienna’s Life Ball on 8 June) or watching Drag Race (‘I don’t have a favourite. The one that was a mermaid when she was supposed to be a monster – it’s strange when they do a challenge and don’t really do that look…’), does she have time for a boyfriend?
‘I don’t really have a serious relationship at the moment,’ she says. ‘Friends of course. I haven’t really had a boyfriend for a few years. But, I mean, I see people… Dating sites. Lovers I guess, and a little bit of friendship, but nothing serious.’
She’s open to a relationship though (‘of course’), and currently on Bumble, describing her type thusly: ‘Someone successful, tall and slim. Someone who likes to work out and do things I like to, so I don’t have to change what I do. I tend towards nerdy guys who are businesspeople, because it’s so different to me. Boyfriends I had before dating sites – aspiring models who go to clubs; bartenders, go-go dancers – they’re not really my type!’