In the opening line of her new book, Doll Parts, Amanda Lepore introduces herself as "the most expensive body on Earth." And yes, on the surface, the model, muse, performance artist, nightlife queen, and transgender icon is the work of many masterful plastic surgery sessions— all meant to make her look like some amalgamation of her top three icons: Marilyn Monroe, Jessica Rabbit, and Barbie.
But by the end of the book, readers learn that Amanda Lepore is so much more than just an expensive body; rather, she's the embodiment of a life much lived.
"I hope this book shows you there are as many different ways to be transgender as there are to be a woman," she writes. "Which is what I am."
Growing up in New York City, I've seen and heard about Lepore from afar. Of course, she is unmistakeable, but I've also seen her adopt into her nightlife crew both my childhood neighbor, Kyle Farmery, and my high school best friend. Over the years on Facebook, I've watched the two of them blossom into the stunning, bold, and confident people I always knew them to be despite a mainstream culture that didn't until recently tolerate let alone celebrate them. Today, Lepore is showing a future generation of misfits how to find and nurture the most fabulous parts of themselves.
"Amanda is always teaching others to find the positive in any situation, and how to stay true to themselves and their success without hurting others," Farmery, who has been Lepore's protégé since he was 12, wrote me at 5 a.m. after "tucking Amanda into bed" following her book launch party at The Top of The Standard on Tuesday night. He added: "She always wants to make sure that anyone who took the time to come out and support her, leaves with a special little magical memory."
The party, and the book signing at Bookmarc earlier that day, had been classic Lepore. Original club kids and other critters of the night like Susanne Bartsch and Richie Rich rubbed shoulders with the next generation of movers and shakers—most of whom grew up on RuPaul's Drag Race and Lady Gaga. There were numerous performances as well as a man who, um, well, paints with his you-know-what. Lepore, who entered like a queen on the shoulders of two scantily-clad man servants in leopard-print skivvies, watched over it all with the benevolence of a regal matriarch who is not only among the most beloved fixtures of New York nightlife, but also one of its longest lasting.
"People stop going out at a certain age, so you have to have the next generation," Lepore told me over lunch at L'Express just weeks before her big party. She wore a skin-tight red velvet dress with rhinestone trimmings that she made herself, and was even more perfect-looking in person. Her skin had the translucence and texture of a newborn, not a plastic doll, and her breasts ballooned over her top like perfectly groomed hills.
"I’m still here," she said, with a laugh.
But how, exactly, did Amanda Lepore get here? She's never spoken much about her upbringing, as it wasn't exactly glamorous and she's never one to be negative. She's even claimed that her birth certificate was burned in a fire. (Wikipedia says she's 50.) But now, thanks to Doll Parts, Amanda Lepore is truly an open book.
Born Armand Lepore in Cedar Grove, New Jersey, Lepore's family unit included an aloof older brother, a father who punished her for playing with dolls, and a mother with paranoid schizophrenia.
Through all this, Lepore remained steadfast about who she was and what she wanted. "I was a girl," she writes. "It was a fact. It wasn’t a conscious decision."
Looking back, Lepore now realizes that it was her mother's condition that first planted the idea in her head that beauty was happiness, and vise versa. “Even though I know it’s not always the case, I associate dressing up with mental stability," she writes. "If I’m dressed down, I’m sad. If I’m really done up, I feel happy and mentally well.”
As a high schooler, Lepore was bullied often and received the nickname "Leper Lepore." She was brave enough to venture beyond her community though, and eventually found her way to a go-go dancer named Bambi, who traded her hormone pills for Lepore's hand-made, bedazzled bikini tops and G-strings.
When Lepore started developing breasts, she decided to go to school dressed as a girl from head-to-toe. And while her classmates found this somehow easier to wrap their heads around, the administration said that if she was going to dress as such, that she had to be tutored from home. So, that's what she did.
At the age of 17, Lepore finally found a man who wanted to support her sex change, but it was actually his father who offered to not only pay for it, but also become her legal guardian so that she could do the paperwork. This same man would later make sexual advances towards Lepore, meanwhile his son would abuse her and force her to stay at home as a housewife—all before the age of 20. But as Lepore says, she had all she ever wanted in life, which was a "perfect pussy."
In the early '90s, Lepore would leave her first husband and flee to New York City, where she first worked at a nail salon and as a dominatrix. She also later got a job as a cosmetics salesgirl for Patricia Field, who would become the costume designer for Sex and the City. But Lepore quickly found a permanent home in popular New York clubs like The Limelight and Key, dancing in a cage suspended above the dance floor.
From her vantage point, Lepore was able to watch culture ebb and flow from the ground up. She saw trends come and go, from coke to ecstasy and glam to grunge. (She is quick to point out that she doesn't drink or do drugs, which may explain her longevity.) But she also saw generations, and friends, pass through the clubs' doors. The promoter Michael Alig, for example, would be arrested for manslaughter in 1996, and Lepore would later have a notorious "feud" with Sophia Lamar, another transgender nightlife fixture and former compatriot.
"In the aftermath of the murder, the Club Kids scattered to the wind," writes Amanda. "Jenny Talia got clean, Armen Ra became a world-famous thereminist, James St. James rode high on the success of his book, Richie Rich started the massively successful fashion line Heatherette, Kenny Kenny continued to reign as the top doorman in NYC, and Sophia Lamar and I kept dancing together and moved forward with the next wave of New York nightlife."
Bowery Bar and Plaid became the new Key and Limelight, and Lepore also took her act on the road, from downtown in the Financial District district to Dallas, Texas. She would spend the next few years scraping together odd jobs, until one day, the famous photographer David LaChapelle came knocking.
After Lepore became LaChapelle's muse, her image was no longer confined to the walls of a boîte. She started finding herself at swanky parties, in fashion magazine spreads from French Playboy to Visionaire, on the runway for Heatherette, and was even flown to Milan for a Giorgio Armani show.
By the Aughts, Lepore's circle included a sprinkling of celebrities, from Kelly Osbourne to Miley Cyrus, who once said she "hates everyone but Amanda Lepore." (The feeling is mutual but Lepore admits partying with famous people is never very fun.) To this day, Lepore still cultivates a rumor that she hooked up with a rapper, although she refuses to say his name. Her only hint: "When he got married I couldn’t help but think that his wife had a similar body type to me."
In 2017, it seems the world has changed around Amanda Lepore, with more acceptance for transgender people than ever before, even if some of the old stigmas remain. Trans models are on the runways and in major fashion campaigns, the first male CoverGirl was signed, and Bruce Jenner came out as Caitlyn Jenner. But all the while, Lepore has been watching, and changed along with the world while still remaining true to herself. When conversing with her about everything from sex to social media, she feels like your ageless best friend. The only time she dated herself in our conversation was when she said she listened to Pandora's "Liberace Radio."
“Getting older doesn’t scare me because I think that I look better than I did 20 years ago,” she said matter-of-factly.
In the past, Lepore never used to leave the house without a getup, but now she'll go to Yoga For the People in just lipstick and sunglasses. In her spare time, she watches Feud and still bedazzles all her own clothes. Her favorite emojis are the lipstick, heart, and kiss. And she's up on politics: “Trump is wack and his wife has terrible wigs," she said with a laugh. "His hair is also terrible. They need more gays in their life.”
As for social media, Lepore has over 214,000 followers on Instagram and 56,000 on Twitter. She's also been on Tinder for the past few years, and prefers it to OKCupid, where guys apparently weren't as forthcoming about their height. “The guys I've dated from Tinder were definitely better guys than I would have met in real life," she said. One sent her a $4,500 pair of Louboutins and another man in Italy, whom she had plans to meet in Rome the following week, said he'd been jerking off to her since she was 16. Now, that's commitment!
With the help of social media, Lepore has also developed a younger and more global fanbase far beyond New York. "I think Instagram is great, especially for kids, because you can be anything and still find a role model," she said. She also mentions the merits of YouTube and Google, where unlike when she was going up, you can ask anything without fear of retribution.
It may seem counterintuitive for a woman of such expensive body parts to feel so real, but it is precisely because she's been through so much that she's always had to know exactly who she is and what she wants. She is not a doll part but rather a pillar, as well as something money can't buy: An ageless soul.
Before parting ways, I ask if she would like to live forever if she could. By the end of our conversation, she made Benjamin Button-ing look not only plausible, but also way better than Brad Pitt.
“Probably, yeah," she said. "If I could look cute.”
Long live Amanda Lepore!
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