Meet Linda Simpson; journalist, writer, emcee and part of the NYC "in" crowd.
Linda Simpson is petite, pretty and larger than life. The little girl from Minnesota has been a huge influence on the T-Scene in the biggest city on earth and is a more impressive tourist attraction on the New York City landscape than Lady Liberty.
She’s as elegant as Hepburn but tough as Tyson - and always ready to knock you out with her style… or her sharp tongue. When Simpson hits the scene, she IS the scene. Confident, brash, and brassy, Linda is firing on all cylinders before her lipstick dries. Eyes follow her and ears can’t get away from her as she lobs hilarious jokes and even funnier insults at anyone brave enough to cross her path.
On a recent night out clubbing in Manhattan, Velvet Ropes parted for Le Simpson like the Red Velvet Sea. She was greeted at the current hot T-Club, Area 10018 at Shelter, by night scene icon Kenny-Kenny like Mother Teresa in spiked heels and a fur stole.
Linda and her big personality helped define the exciting and groundbreaking New York drag scene of the ‘80s and ‘90s by becoming one of the driving forces behind Wigstock and other cultural phenomena that made the face of the city a whole lot prettier… and wittier. Along with such drag icons as Lady Bunny and RuPaul, Linda helped create a beautiful landscape for T-Girls to play in all over the big town.
More recently, she has lent her loveliness to such important projects as the launch of My Comrade (www.mycomrade.com) - which she describes as a “revolutionary gay magazine.” The site pulls together a fabulous mix of humor, politics, social issues and pretty faces into an educational and entertaining ensemble.
An accomplished journalist, Linda formerly wrote a column for Out Magazine modestly titled “Star Chat With Linda Simpson” and has been a regular contributor to Time Out New York Magazine, directing readers to the sexiest places in the city.
Linda took us under her fur-caped wing and helped us navigate the bright lights in the big city recently, telling TG LIFE how the tranny scene has changed since the outrageous ‘80s, how she’s helped make drag a fun way of life in Manhattan and how a T-Girl can enjoy being pretty in the city.
Meet Linda Simpson
Holly Summer: I know that your alter ego Les is a Minnesota boy, but where was Linda born?
Linda Simpson: I started doing drag as part of the East Village scene mostly at the Pyramid Club in the late ‘80s. It was down and dirty - a new school of drag. The West Village was Old School. They would lip sync to Judy Garland in gowns. East Village drag queens were dressing in outfits that cost only $10 dollars. They made themselves into pop TV stars by inventing their own personalities.
LS: What pulled you into the drag scene?
LS: The Pyramid Club was drag central at that point. I became friends with many of the performers. There was a star system there. It looked like fun so I just wanted to join in the entertainment. It was peer pressure. I just wanted to be a part of it.
HS: What was the drag scene in New York like in the ‘80s?
LS: There were so many fun nights. In the early ‘90s, I tore it up the town. The scene was wild. There were lots of places to go. The club phenomena was in full force. The drag scene was in full force. New York nightlife was wild and decadent. Those years were special to me. But beyond that, all the wild stuff, it was just a great time of creativity. I met a lot of super interesting people.
HS: Why do you think it took off in such a big way?
LS: It became larger than life because there were so many talented people who did it, at that time. So many personalities that came out of that. Taboo, Happy Face, Sister Dimension and Billy Beyond as they all performed at clubs like Palladium and Area. But it was mostly centered around the Pyramid and a place called The Boy Bar.
HS: Do you remember your first night in drag on the scene? Was it something that will stay with you forever?
LS: There was no one first night that stands out for me. It was all those first nights. Just getting into drag, it was so fun and liberating and so enticing that I knew I wanted to do it more and more. Now look at me?
HS Happily! Are there many similarities between Les and Linda—or do you guys fight a lot?
LS: I’m not that different when I’m dressed or not. I mean, I’m an effeminate boy, so it’s not like I go from a macho man to ultra girl, but there are definite areas where I become a lot more confident in drag. I think a lot of that has to do with kind of having a confidence about flirting and a kind of a sexual energy. Not that I’m a monk when I’m not dressed. I just feel prettier in drag. That brings more confident energy.
HS: Do you dress when you’re not performing? For example, do you find yourself relaxing around the house as a woman?
LS: Drag for me is an out of the house experience. More of a social experience. It’s not something that I do alone. It goes with the whole persona of dressing up and feeling sexy. Looking in the mirror and looking good can be a bit of a turn on. But I need to get out.
HS: That said, do you ever venture out in the mainstream as a woman? Is that ever exciting for you?
LS: I’ve been out in the public in lots of different situations. I do find it somewhat of a thrill sometimes to navigate in so-called real life while dressed up. I’m obviously and exaggeration of a woman, so it’s not like I pass, but under the right circumstances I can. But I’m almost always dressed up to the extreme.
HS: What’s the most unexpected place that Linda has ever shown up?
LS: I went to a museum opening once in drag. I went to the Guggenheim and I kind of regretted it. The people that were there were quite sophisticated. I just felt a little bit out of place. I felt like I had gotten into the drag moment a little too much. I didn’t regret being there, but the out world can be a little conservative and I felt like I was causing too much of a spectacle of myself.
HS: Bet you haven’t said that often! What revelations or lessons have you learned from your dressing experiences?
LS: I learned a lot. A lot of it was in presenting myself. A lot of it was in learning boundaries of where you could go safely. Some of it was in entertaining. Some of it was the dynamics between myself and other drag queens. For the most part it was very good! I think the competitive aspect of drag is overplayed. It’s almost like a stereotype. A lot of it is just on stage. I find a great deal of camaraderie among drag queens and transgender people in general. I’m always more prone to gravitate towards the drag queen in the room than anyone else, you know?
HS: What’s been your worst experience while dressed?
LS: The worst experience I had was unfortunately a violent one. I was walking home from the Pyramid one night with friends and we were attacked violently. No one was really hurt, but we could have been. I learned a valuable lesson. It didn’t stop me from being drag, but it made me more careful. To this day, I don’t like wandering the streets of New York. It just causes too much commotion. You never know what kind of nut, you’ll run into. A friend said to me “You’re a queen. Queens don’t walk the streets.”
HS: Did you have a drag mother to guide you through your early experiences?
LS: I learned a lot from a lot of different queens, but I didn’t have a drag mother, per se. I think it would have been beneficial to seek out one person that could have given me advice. I would recommend finding someone who can fill that role for young or new-to-the-scene, T-girls.
HS: Do you fill that role for anyone else today?
LS:I have younger drag friends. But I don’t really help them with makeup instruction or where to buy stuff. It’s more of being a role model of someone who’s done drag for many years. I think they appreciate that.
HS: Tell us about your magazine, My Comrade.
LS: It started in the late ‘80s as kind of a zine. It grew more and more over the years. It stopped publishing in 1994. Then I revived it last year. It was kind of a gay underground magazine. Not just drag, but it went hand in hand with the drag experience. At that point there was a homophobic backlash so there was a sense of militancy and camaraderie that went along with it.
HS: Do you cover celebrities in your own way in the mag?
LS: I had Lady Bunny write something for us in the last issue. We had Amanda LePore profiled. They are celebrities to me. We’re not necessarily focused on writing about celebrities that you can read about in a million other magazines, because we don’t need to. Our goal is to concentrate on people that are stars in another universe.
HS: What impact do you think RuPaul had on bringing T-Girls to the pop culture mainstream?
LS: She more than anybody was responsible for the mainstreaming of drag. She proved you could make a lot of money at it. She did really well for herself. In some ways the entertainment industry said “Well, we’ve got one queen and that’s enough.” But in many other ways, Ru’s success was responsible for the entertainment industry being much more open-minded about drag personalities
HS: What are your goals as a T-Girl personality and journalist?
LS: I want to get My Comrade out there on a more professional level. I want to make a real go of it with a big partner. I’d also like to travel more with my journalistic credentials; be a tranny travel writer.
HS: What about other forms of media?
LS: I’ve done a TV show on Manhattan Public Access and we covered all kinds of entertainment in New York and I would interview people on air. I loved it. I loved being on television and I would love to do it again. I haven’t pursued it that much but TV and I agree with each other. I’ve also written a couple of plays that were very successful that ran off-Broadway. I’ll be doing more than that.
HS: You’re a girl for all seasons
LS: And appropriately dressed for each!