On a recent night out in New York City, I encountered the reincarnation of an ancient Greek philosopher. Diogenes of Sinope — a founding figure in the school of philosophy known as Cynicism — was born again as Lady Bunny, legendary drag queen and founder of the drag festival Wigstock. Cynics were known for their rejection of societal norms, which they viewed as illusions, and for their critique of wealth and power. Diogenes himself would roam around Athens shouting obscenities, masturbating in public and dispensing his aphoristic teachings. In her new show “Trans-Jester,” Lady Bunny, the self-described “pig in a wig,” performs in much the same spirit.
This Cynic in heels was working the stage of a booze-soaked upper room in the historic Stonewall Inn, the symbolic birthplace of the Gay Rights movement. Lady Bunny was wearing several blond wigs and a dress that was, as she herself noted, far too short for someone her age. While Diogenes dispensed his biting wisdom in aphorisms, Bunny’s chosen tools of cultural critique were hilarious one-liners, deviant monologues and parody songs.
Lady Bunny said she created “Trans-Jester” in response to the growing tediousness of “political correctness” activists. She recalled the controversy over the use of words like “Tranny” and “She-male” in the Drag Queen community. These words, affectionately used by Drag Queens, have come under fire from politically correct activists, who argue that they are intrinsically bigoted and violent.
As her show continued on, Bunny made one crude, tasteless joke and clever song parody after another. She lit into every politically correct golden cow you could imagine, from trigger warnings to safe spaces. Every taboo was fair game for Bunny, and I mean everything. Throughout the entire show she mercilessly lampooned herself and her promiscuous adventures on Craigslist with a dizzying array of Latino gentlemen. More often than not, Bunny is the punch line of her own jests. The packed bar was in stitches the entire night. Some especially raunchy jokes induced audible groans, but they were always accompanied by laughter.
On the midnight train back to New Haven, I couldn’t stop repeating Bunny’s jokes to myself and laughing out loud. It felt so liberating to laugh at all the shibboleths that so predominate my social circle. As the train moved along the tracks, I came to the realization that a show like Bunny’s would probably not fly in the place I was returning to. At Yale, we pride ourselves on the rigorous critique of societal norms, and yet we ironically construct taboos and codes within our own community. We criticize the superstitions of yesterday only to erect the sacred taboos of tomorrow.
For Bunny, like Diogenes, nothing is sacred. All of our most cherished beliefs become laughable when filtered through the painted lips of a big old drag queen, especially when this drag queen is an ardent left-winger with a history of being on the frontline of social justice causes. Bunny’s “demented humor” reminded me that there is something freeing about not taking everything so seriously. Maybe fighting over language is not the most pressing issue at hand. Diogenes thought virtue manifested in action more than words; I wonder if Bunny might agree. Does being liberal or leftist mean that one ought to be humorless?
Words and ideas can “hurt” or offend, but why should life be completely free of such things? The fact of the matter is that life does hurt, and linguistically numbing ourselves to this reality will not change it. Is the word the problem, or is it our reaction to the word? I am thankful for a Diogenes-like drag queen in the form of Lady Bunny. Her humor works to undercut all of those illusions of normality, politeness and correctness that we so often idolize and hold dear. Emil Cioran, an heir of the cynical tradition, writes, “To think is to stop venerating.” Lady Bunny’s reverence for the irreverent, her unwillingness to venerate, much like Diogenes, invites us to laugh, question and think. These cynical and humorous voices should make us consider the illusions we live by.
Hunter Dudkiewicz is a student at Yale Divinity School graduating in 2016. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .