“Fine-boned and willowy, [Michael Quattlebaum Jr, better known by his rap alias, Mykki Blanco] didn’t grow facial hair until he was 24. He has dressed as a woman in public off and on since he was 16. The first time, during a summer spent as a runaway in New York, he says he put on a pair of bell-bottoms, lipstick, and a silk headscarf and walked down St. Marks Place. A group of gay men whispered, ‘Is that a girl?’ A lesbian security guard catcalled him. ‘And I remember thinking, Wow, she really does not know.’
“‘I had no idea that sexuality was so fluid,’ he says. Dressed as a woman, he became aware, both from the reactions that he elicited from men on the street and from Craigslist’s hookup pages, that gender could be fluid: both very real and very artificial. ‘Even though I was gay, the world to me was still so black-and-white,’ he says. ‘I had no idea that people were so sexually ambiguous. I had no idea that the Tom, Dick, and Harry that I saw every day in their business suits could also have this interest in something that was so completely not the norm.’
“He tried painting, and then turned to photography — a selection of his photos was published online by Nicola Formichetti, the stylist, Lady Gaga collaborator, and creative director of Dazed & Confused magazine — but ultimately didn’t take to either. An internship at Team Gallery left him burnt out on what he calls ‘the snobbery, and cattiness, and cutthroat-ness, and the faux-academicism’ of the art world.
“‘New York became very swallowed by Purple magazine—that Dash Snow socialite bad-boy thing,’ he sighs. ‘It’s like, I’m sorry, but the excess of Terence Koh is not interesting.’
“Quattlebaum once dressed as a woman so consistently that friends and family thought he might come out as transgender. “I started to realize that all of that shit, all of that theory, all of that stuff about makeup, all that stuff that you pick up in books or in college about ‘the creation of the woman’ — that is real,’ he says. ‘It’s real. And a little pretty boy can put on the same thing and then become that. That was the mindfuck. That was the huge mindfuck.’ Gender was a performance, perhaps the performance. And Quattlebaum was born to perform.
“He says: ‘There is a very safe gay attitude toward entertainment, which is: Make noise! But not too much noise. Make waves! But don’t offend the wrong people. And if you want to really be accepted, you’re going to have to tailor your image a little bit to a homogenized, heterosexual mainstream. I am not willing to do any of those things. I’m not going to be some sort of gay political dress-up doll.’
“Mykki Blanco is not a statement, in other words. And while she is something more than a creation for the stage, she’s by no means an Identity. Quattlebaum is not, as some have described him, a ‘trans rapper;’ he is a gay man who sometimes dresses as a woman, which is quite a different thing. ‘I’m not not aware of the advantages that I have that someone who actually is fully transgender does not have,’ he says, carefully. ‘I don’t want to ever seem as if I am trivializing the transgender community. If I was really living the trans lifestyle that some of the girls that I know in New York have to deal with every day, I would not have the time to be Mykki Blanco. Because every day would be about my survival.’
“Quattlebaum isn’t interested in traditional activism. He says he hates the word ‘queer’ — ‘I use it only because it exists’ — and the field of queer studies along with it. ‘I have a lot of problems with the academic queer community because it’s a community that exists completely removed from reality,’ he says. ‘Those kids who are selling their bodies on the West Side Highway, on Christopher Street, they don’t even know what the fuck queer theory is.’”
Read Jenna Sauers’ entire interview here. It’s brilliant. He’s brilliant. And WILDLY compelling.