Lina Bradford is really busy right now. The born and bred Manhattanite shuttles between her native New York and Los Angeles for her successful DJ career, is hosting the upcoming third season of her talk show In the Dollhouse with Lina, will spin at the opening ceremony for World Pride 2019 at Barclays Center in late June, and is releasing her debut mini-doc Linish with QueerX on June 1. She also has an eclectic doll collection of about 700 dolls and counting.
Lina, formerly the iconic performer Girlina has been ruling New York along with her glam bestie Candis Cayne for over three decades. Her DJ career began as a “Pepsi challenge” when her DJ peers including Frankie Knuckles, Steve Travolta, and T-Pro dared her to spin, and she rocked Nine Inch Nails and Funky Green Dogs on her first night at former nineties hotspot Life on Bleecker Street. Now two decades in, Lina’s DJ career has fully blossomed and led her to London, Paris, St. Tropez, Sardinia, and the world over. Many know her from her decade-long Fire Island era, as the resident diva DJ extraordinaire at Lina’s Lounge and Twirlina.
Lina was born across the street from Carnegie Hall, sparking her lifelong connection with the performing arts at an early age. She began studying modern ballet, tap, and jazz with several dance companies in New York. An only child and biracial kid who is half-Jewish, she was anchored by her compassionate mother and grandmother who very early supported her gender identity. She brings this same fire in mentoring trans and queer youth as a Global Ambassador for HMI and as a chair member for GMHC. Lina’s legacy is so monumental, and there is so much more to come. So, pay attention kids because you’re about to get schooled.
The history of the LGBTQ+ community is very important to you and this year marks the 50th anniversary of Stonewall. Can you reflect on the trans pioneer, Marsha P. Johnson?
Growing up in Manhattan you don’t have a choice, not to be, one, pro-active, and to be an activist, you just are naturally. Because all of the things that come at you, and also what makes us so strong and so resilient as New Yorkers. Still the people who come from all over the world, they add to that whole fiber. Back in the day, you were just doing this to survive, you didn’t have a choice. It’s wonderful to see the younger generation realizing and not liking what the government is doing. The brothers and sisters before them, we all had to do that. We actually handed them a plate that didn’t have so much on it, we cleared most of it, because we were out there doing it all. It’s nice to see that they’re taking it to a different level, with the whole social media thing, which we obviously didn’t have, but we did a really great job with ACT UP, and getting in their face. I think Marsha P. Johnson and so many other girls whose names we do not speak were so important, and for a long time the LGBT community, well mostly the gay community, really kind of ostracized the trans community. It’s just up until recently, they’re finally starting to see us. It used to get heated. They didn’t want to give the homage to the girls for making all of that happen. I sit side-eyed sometimes, listening to this, you’re ready to relinquish this over to us right? Because it was such a struggle before. A lot of, especially, Caucasian gay men never wanted to be associated with anyone else who was not like them, because they felt like it made their community look too fluffy. But what are they doing on Halloween? Getting dressed up in drag. It’s so hypocritical, and we try to present a united front to everyone but we can’t do all of that if we’re not fixing our own backyard.
You’re a pioneer yourself as a DJ, activist, and performer. Can you talk about your own legacy connected to the Stonewall 50th anniversary?
My mother and my grandmother always instilled in me, ‘if you do not love what you’re doing then you’re not living’. So, I’ve been fortunate enough from the get-go, from dance, to everything that it is that I did, I loved, and most importantly, love people. And being an only child. Bringing people together and seeing them happy is what it’s all about. Knowing what my brother and sisters had to go through before I was around, and my grandmother was very adamant about me knowing the history. That’s what I love about my grandmother. My grandmother has been a part of the S & M contingency for Gay Pride since the seventies. She was taking me out. I got a really good early schooling of all of that, from going to Paradise Garage, The Saint, and Studio 54, and knowing all of these colorful, wonderful people. And just knowing that you have to treat everyone equal. You can never think that you’re better than anyone else, that’s when you stop learning. That’s when you literally stop learning and you die.
"If you don’t travel and you don’t see the world you’re missing culture."
In past interviews you’ve talked about the trans community always existing, and how the world is finally catching up. What are specific issues about the trans community that are important right now?
Well I just think that visibility is huge. If you’re a Caucasian man or woman living in the world, and thinking that it’s all about you, there’s nobody else, no Black people, no Latinos, no Asians, or to think that they have to live your life, is very absent-minded. If you don’t travel and you don’t see the world you’re missing culture. This world is larger than yourself. We have the beautiful ability to live in his gorgeous city, that is so metropolitan and so cosmopolitan, with so many different cultures that make up what New York really is. New York is not just one way. We have to remember when we accept this person we accept their culture.
Growing up in New York and knowing about both of them, I always was like wow, what both of these organizations do are stupendous, I wish one day that I could be a part, and fast forward, I’m like ‘oooh shit, I’m actually a part of this, this is crazy.' [laughs] I don’t take anything for granted, I’m a very humble person. I never remember or think about all the things that it is that I’m doing; I do them because I’m passionate about them. Whatever the situation is, it calls out for me, because it knows that I have a big heart, that I care, and that it will be done with love and light. GMHC had to shift the pendulum, it was just about gay men, now it’s so much more broad. It was really beautiful when they reached out to me; that was saying such a huge thing to ask me to become a board member. Just seeing that, I automatically knew they wanted to walk in a new path. I was just like bravo to you guys. With HMI, growing up, and knowing that there could be an opportunity for young kids to be in a school and not feel ostracized, or worry about walking down the street, or the way that they look, the school embodied that and had your back. I’ve been spinning their events for years, when they asked me to be Global Ambassador, and asked me to be on the board, I was just over the moon. I’d go in and speak with the kids, do classes, let them ask anything they want, and bring in amazing people that I’ve been blessed to work with throughout the years. It’s so much bigger than just a school, you know, it really gets these kids prepared to go out there and turn it out.
Your DJ residencies at Fire Island are a monumental part of your DJing career. Why is Fire Island so significant to you?
It’s funny I had gone there from the seventies
up until the early 2000s. It was never a place I would stay at; I would come in
for something and leave. The Blue Whale, they had started in 2004, and they had
reached out to me, and they were like, ‘we’d really love to have you come
out here.’ At the time, it was a lot different back then, it was very, very gay
white man, if you didn’t fit that aesthetic, you were not embraced. You would
go over to Cherry Grove, and the ladies would be over there, and you’d find a
little more color. There was so much drug activity and AIDS, and everything, it
was a different time out there, it was very dark. My agency is in Paris,
and in the summers, I would be in St. Tropez and Sardinia, when they reached
out I said to my agent ‘you know what I think I might do this, why not? If I
don’t like it, I can always go back to Europe in the summer, big whoop.’ If
they’re asking me, and I love a Pepsi challenge, so bring it to me, I love
something new. You don’t ever want to feel like you’re flatlining. That’s not
living. I’m always shift-shaping. So, I took it and I did it. They had reached
out about doing a Saturday, it was so popular. By the second week, there was a
line down the boardwalk. By the third, fourth week, I’m now doing Low Tea and
Lina’s Lounge, up on the deck, which never had a DJ, it was just cassette
player. Next thing I know, within in a month, I moved out there full time, I’m
doing Low Tea, Lina’s Lounge and late night at the Pavillion, all three, the
whole weekend. For my ten-year anniversary, I was like, ‘you know what, I
think I’m done, I wasn’t even supposed to be here this long.’ It was a magical
place because I lived there for seven months of the year, from April to
October. You really get a chance to learn about yourself living on the island
full-time. If you’re a spiritual person, man that place is a fucking satellite dish for loveliness. It really prepared me for everything that I’m doing now.
Who would’ve ever thought that, you know, a mixed-breed girl could go out
there, give them soulful music, and be a trans woman. What? That’s fucking crazy.
I love how you school the children, especially millennial and now Gen Z queer kids with your hashtag #nyclinashistorylesson.
Growing up that’s what I was all about; finding out about my brothers and sisters and predecessors before me. I was like ‘you know what baby, I have to start documenting this stuff.’ I’m doing it on many levels, especially with the photos, because I’m an archivist. I have videos and photos, and fashion for you, I touch everything, like I’m that girl. You have to realize there’s a whole bunch of the community that knows me before Fire Island, for everything that I did in the late eighties and the nineties. Then there’s a whole contingency of children that only know me from the ten years I spent on Fire Island, and then there’s a whole new contingency of children who know me now from when I left the island four years ago, between now and L.A. and New York. I’ve had so many incarnations, so for me that hashtag was very important. Because guess what darling if you don’t know where you came from you don’t know where you’re going. So, it’s all about schooling for me.
You are a native New Yorker, a Manhattanite at that, talk to me about New York City in 2019. Does it still drive you and inspire you?
For me whenever I would go to L.A., which I used to call Hellasia back in the day, I hated it, I was like these people they don’t have people skills, they’re always in cars. It’s very cliquey, that was old school Hellasia. Then I would go and visit my sister Candis in L.A. and stay with her for a month in October and fly back to London, where I was living at the time. Throughout the last four years I was like, oh my God I’m actually liking this place, then I started to call it Lavoug’ie, cause I loved it. Now I have an apartment there and I’m there three weeks out of the month and I’m in New York two weeks out of the month. I just fell out of love with my city. I love my city and I’ve also given so much to my city. Before I made my transition to the West, I felt like my city was pushing me away, because I looked around and it reminded me of a Dorian Gray. All the edge was gone. Every place that was a huge part of my life was being disregarded or tore down. All the people were gone or in hibernation, because no one can afford to be an artist. That was something that was huge in New York, artists would come from all over the world and the U.S. with fifty dollars or five hundred dollars in their pocket and make their dream happen. Now, if you don’t have a trust fund, you don’t come from coins, you gotta live all the way out in east bubba fuck and then do a commute, and then guess what, you’re still not promised your piece of apple pie. We live in suburbia now, New York is now a suburb.
I love this quote from you, “I’ve been grand prize since the womb,” it exudes such self-confidence. What advice do you have for young trans kids that are finding themselves?
First of all, if you don’t have that core background, like my mom, grandmother and my family, that’s where all my strength and everything came from; them embracing me, and helping me understand me, making me the strong woman I am today. If you don’t have that, guess what, we have the ability to make our own family. My family, not my blood, are my everything. You will find those ones, and they’ll find you too. When you least expect it, there’s the relationship that supposed to be in your life. When you close yourself down, you’re blocking the blessing. So, all these young queens and children coming up, thinking it’s about being fierce and snapping your fingers and acting shady. It’s not cute. You look foolish. Talk nicely to people. Don’t give shade and attitude. That’s not what being fierce is. And you don’t need to tell somebody you’re fierce if you’re fierce.