Pole-dancing aliens, twerking astronauts, and intergalactic divas from across the galaxy touched down on the Black Cat’s dance floor over the past year for SAFESPACE, a cleverly named queer outer space-themed dance party. You can thank Bumper, a D.C.-based performer and producer, for this addition to the city’s queer nightlife. And haus of bambi is doing just that. On Sept. 20, the queer production house will give Bumper their flowers by awarding them with the third annual HAUS AWARD for their contributions to the city’s performance scene.
Helmed by local artist and changemaker Bambi, haus of bambi aims to “produce queer joy through art and participation in the nation’s capital,” according to the team’s femifesto. Bambi’s HAUS AWARD, which previously recognized performance artist Greg David in 2021 and drag performer King Molasses in 2022, honors visionary queer perspectives and artistic contributions to the D.C. community with a $1,000 cash prize and a large-scale awards ceremony-style performance. Bumper, the self-described “pole dancing alien superstar and producer,” is excited to join the previous winners’ ranks.
“My community has truly made me feel like a superstar,” Bumper tells City Paper when asked about winning this year’s award.
Bumper, who draws their name from the iconic Grace Jones song “Pull Up to the Bumper,” is already a legend in the making just three years into their performance career. The performing artist has spent the past year launching and growing SAFESPACE and gracing stages across the country—in August, Bumper was part of the opening night lineup for the massive 2023 Honcho Campout.
“It felt 1,000 percent like the most important performance of my career thus far,” Bumper says of Honcho Campout. The annual gathering in the Pennsylvania woods unites queer creatives and spacemakers from across the country for five days of celebration and exploration of community building and creating queer spaces. Honcho credits these folks for doing the “heavy lifting” in their local LGBTQIA communities.
And Bumper has certainly been doing some heavy lifting in the D.C. scene since moving here two years ago. Bumper, who describes their performance approach as “captivatingly sexy with a little camp, a little sass, and a lot of ass,” has worked the stages and dance floors of the 9:30 Club, the Kennedy Center, Echostage, TRADE, Dance Place, the Nail Salon, and Flower Factory since their arrival. Their brainchild SAFESPACE has given local queer and trans folks another unique, utopian space to let loose in. In recent years, as the city has emerged from the COVID-19 lockdown, the drag community, and more broadly, the queer community has worked hard to create new spaces and events to gather in. Both Bumper’s work and haus of bambi’s growth across the city is evidence of that.
Born and raised in Orlando, Bumper lived in New York and Austin before making their way to D.C. in May 2021. Their performance style is a culmination of the distinct queer scenes they came up and learned in. As a teenager Bumper waited tables at an Orlando drag bar, an experience that has stuck with them. “Orlando was this insane mecca of drag and I haven’t seen anything like that since. Orlando queens are graceful, grateful, and professional to everyone. I didn’t realize how lucky I was until I left,” Bumper says.
When Bumper was living in Austin years later, they realized they didn’t need to wait tables—they could perform in these venues, too. It was in Texas, shortly before the pandemic began, that Bumper took up pole dancing. They then spent the next year and a half of lockdown perfecting their craft in the comfort of their own home and felt ready to show D.C. what they were made of upon arrival.
“My first D.C. gig was at the REACH at the Kennedy Center. I got in drag and brought a pole to the Kennedy Center,” Bumper remembers. “My second gig was on the mainstage of the 9:30 Club as a solo performer.” Since then, Bumper has performed across the District, gaining recognition from both fans and peers in the queer community. Through SAFESPACE and miscellaneous performances, Bumper quickly made a name for themself in D.C. Bumper credits the inclusive and supportive nature of the D.C. drag scene for why they were able to hit the ground running so quickly upon moving here. “D.C. has been this launchpad for me,” says Bumper. “I feel so seen. Seen not only by people who love my art but to be seen by my peers, people who are in my community working just as hard as myself.”
At the recent Honcho Campout, Bumper was able to perform in front of drag artists, queer creatives, and musicians whose work they have admired for years. They’ll get to do the same next week at the Haus Coming ceremony when they join past HAUS AWARD winners David and King Molasses onstage in celebration. The show also serves as the opening of haus of bambi’s third season.
In the past year, the production house hosted more than 50 events across D.C. and New York, and has worked with more than 100 individual artists; their website, hausofbambi.com, has been archived by the Library of Congress in a collection of queer art makers. With a new season on the horizon, haus of bambi hopes to continue building its impressive community of queer artists across the city—many of whom will gather together at Haus Coming.
When asked what they have in store for their Haus Coming performance, Bumper told City Paper to expect a Super Bowl halftime show-esque performance. “I think I’m doing the hits. I want to leave no crumbs on the stage and remind you why I’m here doing this.”
Just a week out from their 30th birthday, Bumper says haus of bambi’s recognition comes at a pivotal moment for them. It’s been a year since their grandmother died, forcing them to slow down their busy performance schedule to grieve, regroup, and rebuild their life. Now, after taking some time to recover from that loss, Bumper plans on taking D.C. by storm in 2024 and the years to come. SAFESPACE is tentatively returning and they’re already beginning to think of potential plans for 2025 WorldPride happening in D.C. Bumper attended this summer’s WorldPride in Sydney, Australia, and says seeing the Progress Pride Flag projected across the Sydney Opera House made them even more excited to see how D.C. will put its unique spin on the global celebration: “I want to see D.C. stand out.”
As a spacemaker, Bumper sees an untapped potential within the city’s drag culture. “I’m excited to help throw D.C. on the map more like artists like King Molasses and Bambi are doing,” they explain. “My goal is to get as many eyes on Bumper as possible.”
And with their newly minted HAUS AWARD in their back pocket, they’re already well on their way.
Haus Coming starts at 8 p.m. on Sept. 20 at Dance Place. danceplace.org. $10–$30.