From 1991 through 1994 I worked for fashion designer Sylvia Heisel, cutting fabric for her silk dresses and helping with PR. Her studio was in Soho and artists, musicians and actors were constantly dropping by. The studio was on Broadway, with windows facing Crosby Street.
22 June 1994
Latest high: Thurston Moore left a message on my answering machine today. “Hi Glennda, my name is Thurston and I’m in a band called Sonic Youth….and I’m a really big fan of your TV show.” He assumed I wouldn’t know who he was! Meanwhile, I’ve been a huge Sonic Youth fan since the early ‘80s! So I called him back while I was at work, in Sylvia’s studio. He answered and explained that he wanted to use a photo of Glennda for the cover of Sonic Youth’s new DVD single, Self-Obsessed and Sexxee. I told him he could come over to my apartment and look at some photos that were taken during the filming of my show on the streets of NYC. When he told me he lived on Crosby Street, I told him I was facing Crosby St right at that moment and we both stuck half our bodies out of our windows and waved to each other. We decided to meet as soon as I was off work. I called Vaginal Davis, who is staying with me now, to let her know we were coming over. (Thurston told me he had just read the interview that Vag did about her band Black Fag that was published in SPIN, where Vag proclaimed, “I hate Kim Gordon and everything she stands for.” Thurston told me he thought it was funny.)
I met Thurston on the street as he was saying goodbye to Kim, who was on her way to an appointment. “Kim…THIS is Glennda Orgasm!” he gestured toward me. “The guy with the cable show!” She cracked a Mona Lisa smile and I thought, “OMG I made Kim Gordon smile!” Thurston and I took a cab to my apartment and when I opened the door, we were greeted to a barrage of loud grunting, groaning and “fuck yeah!” noises. Vag was spread out on my futon on the floor watching hardcore Black gay porn on my VCR. “This is brothers loving brothers!” she announced to no one in particular. Thurston’s face broke into a giddy, nervous smile. I turned off the VCR and while Thurston and Vag were chatting about the West Coast punk scene, I pulled out some boxes of 8 x 10” glossies of me as Glennda. Thurston crouched down on the floor and began poring over the photos, exclaiming “I can’t believe I’m in Glennda Orgasm’s apartment!” I was dying inside, thinking “I can’t believe Thurston Moore is in my bedroom!” but I remained cool and acted like it was no big deal. After a few moments, Thurston chose a photo of Glennda wearing a pink slip, eating a hot dog in front of a fountain in Rockefeller Center, the day we shot the show with Linda Simpson.
We hung out for a while, the three of us sitting on my futon chatting, and when Thurston got up to leave, Vaginal stood in my kitchen and barred him from leaving. She then launched into an impromptu performance where she must have sung every single song in Judy Garland’s catalog, with a few Liza numbers thrown in for good measure. Thurston was over the moon.
21 April 1996
Last nite was a hoot – Michael Schmidt took me to John Waters’ 50th birthday party. Debbie Harry picked me up in her “big, white car” (her answer to my query “what kind of car is this?”). As we cruised past CBGB’s, she remarked, “I can’t believe that smelly dump is still open.” When we parked in Soho, she opened the trunk and hauled out a pair of 7” stilettos which she deftly changed into and grabbed a mass of messy bubble-wrap that barely concealed a haphazardly rolled up picture of her from that album cover with all the nails going through her face–she must really like that picture because she also has a painting of it hanging in her living room.
When I stupidly asked her if that was the present, she shot back “What are you–some kind of wise-ass? It’s garbage that I brought with me to dump off on the corner!” We walked 1/2 a block and when she realized we were two blocks away from the party (a new bar called Pravda) she pulled a Judy Garland. “It’s too far! Back to the car!” We drove around in vain for another 15 minutes, past a line of limos that were ostensibly parked in front of Pravda (they were really there for a party at the Puck Building, altho I’m sure at least one of ‘em belonged to Martin Scorsese who was at the Waters’ feté) we parked, again, two blocks from the party and Michael and I crawled down the street as Ms. Stiletto tried to catch up–clomp! clomp! clomp! clomp!
When we finally entered the party I felt immediately out of place–everyone was mostly wearing dark suit jackets. (That included Debbie, but did not include Patty Hearst who was adorned in white lace) and I, of course, was wearing my neon chartreuse racing jacket, which was, I believe, the cause of Fran Lebowitz’s whiplash as she double-taked me during her chat with Ms. Hearst. As I tried to overcome my social awkwardness after wishing Mr. Waters a happy b-day, I spotted Debbie sitting alone at the bar, so I sidled up to her, perhaps to give her another chance of liking me.
Between bites of baby potatoes with caviar, we chatted about Michael’s new apartment and then I asked her about the book she’s writing and she said, “What?” with mild annoyance. Luckily Nick Zedd walked by and rescued me from Beneath the Valley of the Ultra-Blondie and we chatted about film and politics with input from Richard Kern and Todd Phillips from the NY Underground Film Fest. Scorsese was holding court at a table in the far corner and Illeana Douglas was seated near him. She looked great–I haven’t talked to her in over a year, but I was too embarrassed to go over and talk to her because X-Teen and I never finished the film she was in.
Later, while I was waiting in line for the bathroom, Ricki Lake cut in front of me. “I really have to piss!!” she slurred. It’s obvious she’s still reeling from all the bad reviews she got from that Shirley MacLaine movie. She was wearing a really awful hausfrau dress and sporting a short dykey haircut. Also in attendance were Mink Stole, Paul Morrissey and Dueling Bankhead David Ilku.
In June 1996 I was invited to the MIX Gay & Lesbian Film Festival in Milan to show my short film “Glennda and Camille Do Downtown” which was screened before a Wigstock documentary directed by L.A. filmmaker Barry Shils. Actor and drag performer Alexis Arquette, who appears in the Wigstock film, flew to Milan with Barry. In exchange for my flight and hotel, I agreed to perform as Glennda Orgasm (impersonating Donatella Versace) at Club Plastico. Little did I know that Alexis, who was also scheduled to perform in his drag persona of Eva Destruction (misspelled on the party invite as “Eva Distraction”) had decided to invent a rivalry between us, for the purposes of show-biz drama, I suppose….(Alexis was not exclusively using the “she” pronoun yet, so I used “he” and “she” interchangeably here at the time of writing.)
2 July 1996
Back from Italy and finally have time to document that crazy trip. So, on that Saturday night at Plastico, Ms. Distraction came storming into the club donned in a Dr. Who Robots of Death Battle Mask designed to throw fear into her opponent (namely me) and stormed up onstage to do her number, despite the fact that we had agreed that I would go on first. He sang “Whatever Lola Wants…” but predictably changed “Lola” to “Eva.” His whole drag look and demeanor telegraphed pure Hollywood Evil. After he left the stage, the club’s DJ, Lady Stretch, introduced me. The stage was frightening—pitch black with a bright, white spotlight shining directly in my face. The mic was so powerful, I jumped at the sound of my own voice. I began my schtick, “Glennda Orgasmo could not be here tonight – I am Donatella Versace!!” The crowd went crazy. Now, the thing with the Versaces is that they’re extremely controversial amongst Italian gays. First of all, Gianna and Dona vote fascist and D. exchanges fashion tips with Benito Mussolini’s granddaughter Alessandra. (“Even better,” Bruce LaBruce deadpanned over dinner at Molto the night before, as an Italian gay activist explained all of this to us.)
So I worked this angle into my stage act. “I know you don’t like me because I’m a fascista, but I have come to make peace—pace—with the gays and lesbicos. It breaks my heart that you don’t like me.” And then I broke into my rendition of Pat Benatar’s “Heartbreaker.” After my comedy act and song, I left the stage and a delightfully punky, drunky Italian drag queen did a number, spilling her drink all over the stage as she sang. Then Alexis/Eva returned and began taunting me from the stage: “Where is that queen from New York?! I can’t even remember her name – Glennda WHOREGASM?!” And then, as if I were pulling a Samantha Stevens, when Alexis was pacing back and forth across the stage he SLIPPED on the spilled gin and tonic and FELL on his ass! (I later found out that she sprained her finger!) Can you say ‘instant karma’? She then managed to make it through a warbled version of “Macho Man” by the Village People.
Then, still angry from her embarrassing slip ‘n’ fall, he began taunting the audience and tried to get the men to come up on the stage and take off their shirts. No one did. Out of sheer frustration—and in a last ditch effort to pull out all the stops in order to upstage me—she tore off her Playmates of Hollywood couture and swung his limp, boa constrictor-like dick back and forth like a clock/cock pendulum that was ticking away the final moments of his quasi-fame. I turned away from this atrocity exhibition and pushed my way through the crowd which greeted me with either warm praise or lukewarm indifference. When I went to the DJ booth to retrieve my tape, Nikola (the guy who owns both Molto and Plastico) informed me that Alexis had taken it down to the dressing room. As I rushed downstairs to rescue it from the impending crush of Madame Destruction’s Frederick’s of Hollywood stiletto, I ran into Boozy LaBruce who chirped, “I LOVED it when Alexis fell!” When I reached the dressing room, Alexis’ drag was at half-mast.
“Did you hurt yourself when you fell?” I asked with faux-concern.
“No—as much as you would have liked me to break my kneecaps.”
Fearing a Helen Lawson/Neely O’Hara wig-pulling cliché drama, I backed down and delivered an unexpected compliment.
“You’re a good singer.”
“And you’re a heartbreaker,” he grinned.
The Next Day, Departing the Milan Train Station:
Alexis and I sat side-by-side on a train to Bologna, making awkward conversation. I tried to ease the tension by making several cracks about his big fall. I promised I would show the video on my cable show over and over in slow-motion. When we pulled into the station in Bologna, Alexis decided he wasn’t getting enough attention, so he whipped a red wig out of his suitcase, plopped it on his head and started yowling, “Ciao, Bologna!” I refused to ride in the same taxi as him. But by dinnertime, after our rehearsal at Il Cassero (Bologna’s gay community center that doubles as a dance club, housed in an old castle), I started feeling a sense of camaraderie between us. (He began referring to me as his “sister.”)
That night was our big performance, outdoors on the roof of the castle, at a party for the opening of Bologna’s gay film festival (which was screening a retrospective of my Glennda videos). Alexis wore a stunning acid-orange spaghetti-strap gown with a long red wig and I was all dolled up as Donatella Versace again. He let me go out on stage first and I did my Donatella routine and then introduced Alexis and he sang “Lola” (“Eva”). Then I sang “Heartbreaker” and Alexis sang backup for me (!) and it was so hysterical because the sound system sounded like it was falling apart and was full of abrasive feedback and electronic belches. We then did a Sonny and Cher-like comedy routine (which went over the crowd’s head) before launching into a duet of “Disco Inferno.” The sound system was so bad at this point, that we sounded like a pair of drag robots with The Jesus and Mary Chain as our backup band.
Afterwards, we roamed through the club and tried to pick up guys (still in drag) but they were afraid of us. (The boys in Bologna were really shy.) Then we went out for pizza at a kitschy Americana cowboy joint. I really like Alexis now. Once I got past all the phony Hollyweird B.S., I found him to be a sweet guy. The next morning, I saw him and Barry off on the train to Rome. I stayed behind in Bologna for my retrospective screening, which took place that night and was boycotted by Bologna’s lesbian separatist community. They screened Glennda and Camille Do Downtown, Glennda and Camille Do Fashion Avenue [both co-star feminist provocateur Camille Paglia] and A Case for the Closet [which co-stars Bruce LaBruce]. I sat in the back of the theater with Daniella, one of the organizers of the festival, and listened to the Italian translation on headphones which made me laugh because some of it, from what I could tell, was badly translated. Closet got the best reaction—everyone was laughing, which I didn’t expect because the humor is so New York.
Excerpted from the Diaries of Glennda Orgasm
Glenn Belverio is a writer based in New York City. His drag queen activist video series from the 1990s was recently digitized and preserved by Video Data Bank. He is currently enjoying Immodest Acts: The Life of a Lesbian Nun in Renaissance Italy by Judith C. Brown.