When she returned to Chattanooga two years later, she reluctantly enrolled at her father’s university, but by then her worldview was too wide. Restless, she transferred to Georgia State University, where she was less interested in class than in the burgeoning drag scene in Atlanta, which she called “the mecca of the gay South.”
There, she met RuPaul Charles, an ambitious glamour puss two years her senior. They became go-go dancers for a local new wave band, the Now Explosion, dressing themselves in thrift-store exotica.
“We were frequently evicted, occasionally working at Popeyes chicken — you know, street kids, essentially,” Bunny said. “At one point, Ru and I were homeless together, and we went with whoever would take us in after the club night was over. We were flashy trash.”
In 1983, she followed RuPaul to New York City, where for a time they shared an apartment in the still ungentrified meatpacking district. The epicenter of East Village drag was the Pyramid Club on Avenue A, and RuPaul and Lady Bunny (as she now called herself) became in-house queens, go-go dancing for $40 a night.
Her first time performing, she said, “I did a rousing lip-sync of ‘I Will Survive’ and fell halfway through it, lost my wig, and lost a shoe. But there’s that little lull in the music right before the end, and somehow I got up, got my wig back on and finished the number with one shoe.”
One night after the club closed, Bunny and some fellow revelers sauntered into nearby Tompkins Square Park. “We started clowning on the stage in front of a few homeless people who were sick of our yelling and trying to sleep at 5 a.m.,” she said. “And we just came up with the idea to parody Woodstock and do it as Wigstock. I’m sure the idea would have died with the next day’s hangover, but I actually said, ‘I’m going to apply for a permit.’”