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Michael Musto's Icons: Murray Hill

Murray Hill Profile

Since making a splash in New York City clubs, trans performer Murray Hill — whose legal name is Busby Murray Gallagher — has been taking his act on the road, from the Club Swizzle revue in Australia to dates with stripper Dita Von Teese, as he prepares to write a memoir. Here’s our titillating man-to-man chat.

Hi, Murray. You’ve come a long way since the neo burlesque explosion in the ’90s.
There’s not a fear factor. I’m actually one-fourth as offensive as RuPaul, Jackie Beat, or Lady Bunny. Of course, with Laverne Cox and Caitlyn Jenner, all the new visibility around trans is still female-oriented. I’m still coming up the back, but the gap might be closing a little bit. 

How did your character originate?
I was in graduate school at [the School of Visual Arts, in Manhattan] and I started making appearances, but I didn’t have a name yet. I started appearing with [performer] Penelope Tuesdae and also I played a fat Elvis at a drag king night called Club Casanova. Not long after that, I came up with the Murray character. As an undergrad in Boston, I had taken photographs of drag queens, sneaking into shows and saying I was a reporter. When I got to New York, I went to the Wigstock festival and noticed that everybody was taking pictures of drag queens. I was a little kid with cheekbones and a camera. I had an epiphany. Lady Bunny was on the mic and everyone was dressed in drag, but I saw very few lesbians and trans. Sitting on the pier, I thought, “What’s on the other side of this?” 

Were you a woman doing a male character or a man doing so?
More like a tomboy — a butch femme. I was already in the middle somewhere, without the label. We didn’t have the identification then. 

When did that change for you?
It wasn’t until about six years ago that the language changed. I didn’t think about it, but Original Plumbing magazine asked me if I was transgender, and I was like, “Yeah.” I’ve never wanted to identify as a sexuality or gender. It’s like our joke at the Logo Cocktails & Classics taping the other day. I asked you if you would ever transition, and you said, “From what to what?” 

Have you done surgical things to your body?
No. I should get a tummy tuck.

I mean to transition.
To a normal-weighted person? No, I haven’t. [Laughs] No, I don’t want to take any hormones. I missed the generational boat on that. I’m already on enough antidepressants. It took me this long to get stable. 

What is Murray a spoof of?
It came out a little bit of Benny Hill and a little bit of Jack on Three’s Company — and my grandfather and uncle looked like these chubby, cute, short Italian guys. It’s a mix of a whole bunch of things.

Do you purposely try to sing off-key?
Uh…yes. I’m sticking to that.

Why did you choose the name Busby Murray Gallagher?
My nickname since college is Buzz. That’s a gender-ambiguous name. 

So “Betsey Gallagher” didn’t sit well with you?
It never did. I always went by different names since I was a kid. The first memory I have of drag was a show in preschool. I couldn’t understand why I couldn’t be Bingo the Farmer. Well, I flipped out and got the part! Then, in high school, we had Opposite Sex Day. I dressed up like Murray, basically. The teacher pulled me aside and said, “You look much better as a man.” I thought, “What does that mean?” There was no Internet. People called each other dykes and fags, but we didn’t know what it meant. I went to the library, and there were two books on it—about how to be straight. Of course everybody in the library was gay.

Speaking of Bingo, did you have a falling out with your bingo ex-co-host, drag performer Linda Simpson?
Yes, the second I met her. All we do is argue when we do bingo. People loved it—they never knew if it was real or fake when she was yelling at me, but it was real. Once I started touring and missing some shows, the club fired us. I think Linda and I should do a bingo reunion now that my meds are adjusted.

How did you end up MC’ing Dita Von Teese’s shows?
Her management saw me in a very tiny upstairs club in SoHo. Her management was very L.A. They were like, “What the hell is this?” But I was told, “You’re going to hear from her.” Well, they called and booked me on a trial run in Seattle. Dita hadn’t seen me yet. She was in her dressing room and heard the audience cracking up.

So she fired you?
You’re killing me, Michael. No, that’s when I got booked. She was having trouble finding hosts that were respectful to women and could adapt to different audiences. She and I are both old-school showbiz, but current.

Tell me about your recent appearance on Long Island Medium.
Theresa Caputo [the medium] wanted to trick some clients to get a reading. To get her dressed as a man, we did her hair, I gave her a mustache, and I said, “Don’t look at people in the eye when you speak, and talk loudly.” According to the episode, they didn’t recognize her.

What are the dumbest things people have said to you about your identity?
The most funny shit comes from the airlines and cabs, because when I travel, I wear a tracksuit, glasses, and a hat, like an undercover, mid-level Tony Soprano. A stewardess every single time goes, “Sir? Madam?” So that’s my DJ name now—DJ Sir Madam. I was having breakfast with a woman one day, and the waiter said, “Hey, ladies.” I was like, “Who are you calling a lady?” His jaw dropped. He said, “Ma’am?” I said, “It’s 2016. Do I look like a ma’am?” He asked, “What are you, then?” I said, “DJ Half and Half.” That’s my other name.

Do you want “sir”?
It’s better than ma’am. In airports, if there’s a line in the women’s room, I go to the men’s room. I’m old-school. But I don’t call myself a drag king anymore. Now it’s just Murray. I’m like Justin Vivian Bond, who had a huge character but wasn’t that different offstage—especially after a couple of drinks. I also come from the camp and comedy world, where you don’t mention you’re trans. Instead, you tell a funny joke about it. I’ll pick out a man in the audience and say, “I’m reading your mind, sir. You’re thinking, Is it a man or a woman? Sir, the answer is no.” 

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