Lailah Lancing is trans warrior, a rockabilly retro vixen, a wonderful singer, a Lucky Chengs legend and an all around sweetheart. Now a bartender and performer at Excelsior in Park Slope with a big holiday showcase coming up that she’s presenting there, Thotyssey is honored and privileged for this fun and informative chat with this amazing lady (and by the way… in case you didn’t know, it’s pronounced “LIE-lah,” not “LAY-lah”)!
Thotyssey: Hey Lailah! How was your Thanksgiving?
Lailah Lancing: It was great. It was a small thing this year – just my parents and myself – but it was nice. We’ve had our issues over the years; it was nice to just enjoy each other’s company.
That does sound nice! And it’s always great for many queer people to hear that it can get better with estranged family members over time.
Totally! My parents and I had a strained and even non-existent relationship for a very long time. We’re finally at a place where things are really good. Sometimes if you just hold on long enough, things do get better.
So where’s your hometown, and what were you into growing up?
I grew up between Jersey City and New York. I was definitely an artsy / musical child. I come from a very musical family, so it was always an escape for me. I was always different, and didn’t have a ton of friends, so music was a whole other world I could live in.
And you’re a songwriter?
I’m quite the lyricist, if I do say so myself. I have a friend and producer, Brian O’Donnell aka “Fits of Genius“ who had a studio, and he and I co-wrote my EP a few years back, Knowledge in Disguise.
And was your your look / scene always this cool ‘50s-’60s Bettie Page rockabilly pinup girl?
Rockabilly / pinup aesthetic has always been a love of mine. Vintage glamour has always been like a drug to me. I saw Bettie Page and Jayne Mansfield as a young kid and was smitten. I knew that’s what I wanted to grow up to be…a glamorous, sexy, curvy woman…it took a while to get here! Being a TransWoman and finding your identity isn’t always an easy thing.
When did it become clear to you that a TransWoman was what you are? I imagine that was probably a very long journey towards fully understanding.
I think I knew as a child, but I didn’t have the words to express that. I always knew in my head and my heart that I was female. In my early teen years I thought I was a gay boy, but as I met people and experienced nightlife in NYC and saw that being the woman I knew I was, was a reality.
It’s been a very long, tumultuous, painful journey, but it’s made me who I am today. It’s taken me ‘til my mid-40’s to really manifest who I truly am. I’m really embracing the middle-aged woman I’ve become. I own my womanhood and sexiness and confidence, and I love it!
Amanda Lepore… I began integrating myself into working at the various nightclub homes of the Club Kid era in the early 90’s: Limelight, Tunnel, Club USA, The World, Palladium, Sound Factory, Webster Hall…oh, the memories and stories….
That was certainly one of the craziest times in this city’s nightlife history… how on earth did anyone survive the 90′s club scene?
I am very lucky to be here today. So many people who built that time in NYC are no longer with us – whether it be from, drugs, the AIDS epidemic… just so many things that plagued our generation.
It was a crazy, wild, creative, loving time in NYC. We were a band of social misfits that looked out for each other. I wouldn’t change anything about that time in my life. I met so of the closest people in my life. It also was the introduction to my 13-year stint at the NYC famous original Lucky Chengs!
Tell me about your time at the original Chengs in the East Village! That was The Place To Be Seen during its early years.
It was amazing! Lucky Cheng’s was a NYC phenomenon! Some of the greatest queens ever got their start there: Jackie Beat, Shequida, Miss Understood, Mistress Formika… then later when we moved to Hell’s Kitchen: Bob the Drag Queen, Thorgy Thor, Kizha Carr…
The original Cheng’s was a veritable who’s who: Ivana Trump, Madonna, Kelly Ripa. There were crazy late nights, drag, karaoke… it was a time in New York that can never be duplicated! I met some of my closest friends and family members, girls that will be family to me forever.
I was a manager, a bartender, bar manager, hostess, reservationist, show hostess… that place was my life for 13 years.
The Hell’s Kitchen location closed shortly after owner Hayne Suthon passed away in 2014. That must have been a very sad time.
It was sad. Hayne was a crazy, funny, ball of energy. There’s currently a pop-up at Stage 48 with Hayne’s daughter Josephine at the helm. Sadly the magic of the original Cheng’s could never be replicated, but NYC in general is a different place, so it’s just a progression.
Shequida (newly married to her amazing husband Alex) and I are longtime friends, and I love that she’s the driving force to help new queens get their feet wet in the drag world!
Do you feel like the new girls have it so much easier then the queens of your generation as far as getting their look together, thanks to Drag Race and YouTube?
I think that knowledge is out there for newer queens…for those who care to use it to their advantage. I think it’s easier for the new kids to do drag, but harder to make a name because there is an over-saturation of drag. There is some great young talent out there. Two new girls, Egypt and Ivy are part of my annual Holiday Show at Excelsior!
You’ve been a resident bartender and performer at Excelsior for awhile now. They relocated to a bigger, swankier spot in Park Slope, I guess, 2 years ago?
Excelsior has been in its new home for almost 2.5 years. The owners (husbands) Mark Nayden and Richard Kennedy have cultivated a place where everyone is welcome, and has been for 18 years total in Park Slope. It’s a friendly warm, neighborhood gay bar.
[The current location is] slightly more upscale, for lack of a better word. They have two floors and a backyard patio. The second floor has a bar and a wonderful stage, with lights and amazing sound! It also doubles as a dance floor, where our proprietors man the DJ booth on the weekends. Plus, we’ve had weddings and anniversary parties there too, as well as various LGBTQ charity events.
It’s a place where people make friends and have shared friendship and holidays. It’s a bar where anyone can come in alone and meet new friends. I’ve gotten close to a lot of my bar customers. I can’t put into words how much I love my job…whether it’s slinging drinks or singin’ my heart out!
Besides you, a queen named Louvel is another great talent that performs there a lot.
I adore Louvel, she is an amazing talent. That voice is everything… plus, she’s a chameleon! I love that she plays with her look and brings big talent to the table!
She’s an amazing person I’m glad to be able to call her my friend!
Okay, so as a trans woman and bar worker… what do you think the venues in our city can do to be more inclusive towards trans people? It often seems like trans men and women are shunned (unofficially or literally) from the scene, and that of course completely goes against the point of having queer spaces.
I wish I had a great answer to give you. It’s true that a lot of venues – especially queer venues – are not very trans-inclusive. Unfortunately, the trans community is not often viewed as part of the LGBTQ community. I happen to work at a gay bar where I am extremely welcomed, and have been with open arms, since the beginning.
I think the reason a lot of the gay community have problems with trans inclusiveness is because of people who are in my position (I identify as a heterosexual woman). Some people in the gay community don’t necessarily always understand how I belong to the LGBTQ community. People really need to know their history, because if it weren’t for trans women – and people who didn’t want to conform to the gender norm of the time – we would’ve never had a gay rights movement!
At the end of the day, I think it has less to do with the queer community and more to do with the fact that there’s a huge disconnect between cisgender and transgender. I wish there was someway we could bridge it peacefully.
Well December 8th (Friday) should be a peaceful-yet-still-fierce evening there at Excelsior! you’re hosting your annual holiday show, Slay Belles, with a bunch of great up-and-coming performers: Egypt and Ivy whom we’ve mentioned, plus Jayse Vegas, Antyon Le Monte and Allegra Spread.
YES! Can’t wait for this show…it’s gonna be FUN! These are all people I’ve seen and have a deep respect for. We’ve all met in different ways, and I want to be able to give all of these performers a platform to do what they do best, and be able to bring their talents to as many new people as possible. I think they all have a different, unique, fresh perspective. I’m humbled to have them share the stage with me!
What else should the children know about Lailah?
Also, I’m getting on board with a production company called 2 Brown Girls Productions. I’m someone who suffers from alopecia (where your body attacks your hair follicles and you lose your hair), and this web series BALD [that they are producing]
is about a girl with alopecia. It’s something that needs to be brought to the public. you can check the trailer out here.
You are, as always, a fighter and a champion! Okay, to end on a festive note: what is the greatest Christmas song of all time?
Hmmmm… that’s a tough one! If you want to go for traditional, you’ve gotta love Mariah Carey’s “All I want for Christmas.” But if you really need a good laugh, there’s nothing like ”Jingle Bells” by Tammy Faye Bakker… it’s nuts! But my personal favorite is “Christmas Wrapping” by the Waitresses!
Happy Holidays, Lailah!