Living doll, model, performer, diva, work of art and the most famous transsexual in the world!
WHEN Amanda Lepore was in Australia in November, on her first trip to the country, I went along to see her perform at the club Neverrmind. I wasn't quite sure what to make of it all.
Men climbed on speakers, on couches and on each other to catch a glimpse of the life-sized barbie doll trotting around the stage in a glittery, green, strapless mini-dress worn strategically askew to reveal one breast with a glittery, green pastie over the nipple.
They squealed as she twirled and kicked and sang shamelessly saccharine pop songs such as her latest single, Champagne, perhaps the only one with lyrics safe enough to print.
After a lengthy interval, she came out again - this time minus the mini-dress - and sang another three songs.
She was, to be frank, quite average. But even as Lepore's five-track spectacle was drawing to a close, about 200 punters were still desperately trying to get past the bare-chested doorman outside to see the world's most famous transsexual inside.
Born Armand Lepore in New Jersey more than 30 years ago (she politely declines to reveal her age, saying she's as old as ''a doll''), Amanda Lepore accepted the tag of transsexual icon in the 1990s because, she says, nobody else wanted it.
''When I grew up, transsexuals really just wanted to get married and blend in and fool guys,'' she says. ''A lot of them would say: 'Oh, I really like your hair but I would never do that because I want to go to the supermarket and blend in.' It was more important to do that than to be edgy and celebrate yourself.''
Lepore was never interested in fitting in, instead stepping out on to the New York nightclub scene in the late 1980s when Michael Alig and James St. James's Disco 2000 parties were attracting the most peculiar club kids.
She has featured in music videos for Elton John and the Dandy Warhols, in museums and galleries from New York to Antwerp, on Swatch's ''Time Tranny'' watch (the fastest-selling limited-edition Swatch to date), as the face of MAC cosmetics and as the muse of auteur celebrity photographer, surrealist and Andy Warhol protege, David LaChapelle.
While she says her latest foray, singing, is no gimmick, the truth is that for most of her life, Lepore has made a living out of being a spectacle.
From day one she knew she was a girl and at just 15 made costumes for an under-age go-go dancer in exchange for hormones. Her parents were not entirely supportive but took Lepore out of school and hired a private tutor when she began to develop breasts.
''I don't think they encouraged it, I think they just accepted it,'' she says. ''My mother was in and out of hospital [with mental illness] and my father felt bad in a way that my mother wasn't around, so no matter how crazy and feminine and girly I was, it was kinda overshadowed by her problems, so I guess that helped me in the long run.
''I had no girls to look up to, so I looked up to Marilyn Monroe and Jayne Mansfield and those blonde bombshells and I was fascinated by the fact that they were so artificial. Maybe if my parents were both there, they would have discouraged that but I think they just wanted to make sure I was OK.''
At 17, her boyfriend's father paid for a full sex-change operation. She later married the boyfriend but they split soon after - ''I loved the idea of being with a stable family more than I think I loved him,'' she says - and then ''fell into'' the nightclub scene.
Lepore's last surgery was eight years ago. She had her breasts enlarged and her ribs broken and pushed in to create an hourglass figure.
When David LaChapelle saw the plastic diva in a nightclub, he thought she was a figment of his imagination.
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