Fifty-something classically- trained musician, Baby Dee - who just began releasing albums this decade - has an eclectic resume (including stints as go-go girl and circus freak), and an equally colorful collection of friends including the ālegendary strip club geniusā from the East Villageās notorious Pyramid Club, who once set the stage on fire by shooting flames from her, uh lady-parts.
āAll that stuff about my life - the oddities and stupidities of it, I find incredibly boring,ā insists Dee now. āWhich is not too say that I donāt love all the wonderful people Iāve known and loved - like Otter, the fire lady; or Jen, the bearded lady; or Eak, the strong man; or John Kamikaz, the prince.ā
During those heady days of the 1990s, Dee gained her own celebrated status as a transgender street legend.
āI certainly donāt go around calling myself a legend. I guess it refers to my street act in Manhattan. Actually that act was kind of legendary. A concert harp on a high-rise tricycle, ridden by an oversexed, gender dysphoric cat is not something most peopleā¦see on a regular basis. For me it was just a great job.ā
The one-time elevator operator and professional roofer also toured Europe with her tricycle, playing harp, while dressed as cat or bumblebee. Before that, she performed as a ābilateral hermaphroditeā at Coney Islandās Midway.
āIt was lovely there,ā she recalls of the latter. āI [recently] played a showā¦with Jennifer Miller of Circus Amok. Jen was the bearded lady at Coney Island. That whole venture was about turning the tables on people. Iād been living in that transitional hell of being gawked at in public. The sideshow taught me that when youāre on stage - or up high on a tricycle - you can get away with things that could get you killed anywhere else.ā
āAt first,ā Dee acknowledges about her carnival act, āI really, really hated havingā¦half my body be perceived as male. But after the first week I got to enjoy it. Iād catch a manās eye as a girl and then whirl aroundā¦and Iād be the guy and say, āWhat the fuck are you looking at, you fucking faggot?ā It was great fun!ā
āI always wanted to write music,ā says the life-long musician who only began writing and recording songs eight years ago. ā[I] tried and tried and failed and failed for years and years. Itās a great blessing, a great victory that I [am] able to write songs and have a life singing them.ā
āI seem to have sort of a split personality,ā Dee says in an attempt to describe her music. āThereās clearly two sides and one of them is very vaudeville-y, circus-y and the other is quite serious.ā
Her fourth album, Safe Inside the Day, was released by Drag City earlier this year and lauded by Britainās The Daily Telegraph as āthe most remarkable record of the year so far.ā
āItās actually a pretty terrific album,ā Dee agrees. āItās the first thing Iāve ever done that I can say that about - because itās not just me. It was collaboration with a lot of great people - who made the album great in spite of me.ā
Deeās Cleveland childhood still infuses each note. āIāmā¦imprisoned in my childhood. There are too many things Iām just not willing to let go of, things I refuse to forget.ā
Thatās not all bad. In the song, āThe Dance of Diminishing Possibilities,ā Dee recalls discovering a piano set out by the curb. Sanitation workers refused to haul it away (until it could fit in garbage cans), and four-year-old Dee joined neighbors in wrecking it. When the dust settled, she was delighted to discover that strings and soundboard remained, unbreakable. āThereās a harp in that piano,ā Dee sings now. āAnd thereās a girl inside that boy.ā
Trans author Jacob Anderson-Minshall is co-hosting Portlandās queer reading series, QLiterati!, which premiers June 11th at the Q Center. For more info contact firstname.lastname@example.org.