PGN: OK, I just finished watching you and your mother on YouTube recreating a scene from “The Bad Girls Club.” You were pulling her hair and she was calling you names, but she couldn’t stop laughing. It was so funny and sweet!
LA: My mom is great. She had renal kidney failure and two years ago she got a new kidney. There are stories you hear about people taking the personalities of their donors and in my mom’s case it was completely true. The donor was 19 years old and very outgoing. After [my mom] got the transplant, she turned into the biggest kid ever. She pulls pranks and makes jokes and watches crappy reality shows with me. She’s just awesome. So we were watching “Bad Girls” that day and decided to recreate it on film.
PGN: I cracked up when she called you “wretched” in the video.
LA: [Laughs.] That’s her new favorite word!
PGN: So tell me a little about yourself.
LA: I was born in Puerto Rico but the family moved to the States when I was 2. They brought us to Philadelphia to try to make a better life for us.
PGN: How many kids in the family?
LA: There were 10 of us but three have passed away.
PGN: What kind of kid were you?
LA: Very inventive and creative. My mom said I would always put on shows and write scripts. I would write stories and try to sell them to family members. I had a pair of white shoes that I would wear and pretend that I was Pee Wee Herman.
PGN: That’s a riot. I wrote scripts too but never thought to sell them to people. I guess I wasn’t the entrepreneur you are!
LA: But I was also very romantic: I would have candlelit dinners for all the girls in the family.
PGN: Awwww. What did your parents do?
LA: My mom was a dialysis technician and my dad was a musician and he also did landscaping.
PGN: Who was your best friend in school?
LA: I didn’t really have friends. I think everyone thought I was weird so I was kind of a loner. I didn’t make close friends until I was in high school.
PGN: What was your first script about?
LA: Oh man. It was a horror movie about a serial killer who would chop people’s heads off and hide them under lettuce heads in the garden. [Laughs.] I think I was about 7 when I wrote that! I had a very wild imagination.
PGN: [Laughs.] And you wonder why people thought you were weird! How did you even know about serial killers at that age?
LA: I loved horror films. I could watch anything without fear. They didn’t bother me at all.
PGN: Yikes. I still can’t watch anything gory.
LA: Yeah, it’s funny. I’m more afraid to watch them now than I was as a kid!
PGN: What was your favorite game as a kid?
LA: There was a guessing game that we used to play where you had a picture on a deck of cards and then people had to give you clues so you could guess who they were.
PGN: What was a toy that you loved?
LA: It wasn’t a toy but I had a small radio that I carried everywhere. My dad was a drummer and music has always been a comfort to me. It was a form of therapy whenever I got upset. Even now, music is what I go to for solace and that’s what led me to dance.
PGN: Do you remember the first CD you purchased?
LA: I do. Christina Aguilera’s single “Genie in a Bottle.” But before that I used to steal my sister’s cassette tapes. The first one I remember was Madonna’s “La Isla Bonita.”
PGN: What’s a great family memory?
LA: Growing up, there were a lot of issues with my parents, a lot of fighting. And when we moved to the States, my dad got involved with drugs and disappeared. One of my best memories was when he came back. He’d gone to rehab and was a completely different person. It was a pivotal moment for me because I realized that anything was possible if you really put your mind and heart into it. He’d destroyed his marriage and his life, his reputation, but he came back strong and turned things around. It was admirable and inspiring.
LA: I was a theater major for a while.
PGN: Worst job?
LA: I worked at the Dollar Tree as a cashier. It was awful, people would just destroy that store, and we had really bad management. It was disgusting. Corporate had to come in and clean house. They got rid of almost everyone!
PGN: And what are you doing now?
LA: I do mostly choreography. I’ve worked with the cast of “The Doll House,” including Mimi Imfurst of RuPaul’s “Drag Race.” I worked with Omyra Lynn helping her build her career in the drag world, I dance with Vicious Delicious and teach a group of girls ages 9-11 called the China Dolls hip-hop choreo. I do parties and Sweet 16s, etc., and I also manage a tattoo shop.
PGN: Describe three of your tattoos.
LA: I have a geisha: My mom loves Japanese art so I got that one for her. It says “Miala,” which in English means “my soul.” My mom is my best friend, she’s my soul — my angel. I also have a portrait of Beyoncé, who is my artistic inspiration. My love for her goes beyond her music: It’s more about her work ethic and ability to balance her public and private life. I also have a picture of a guitar giving birth to a baby, which represents being born through music.
PGN: What’s Vicious Delicious?
LA: I met Omyra Lynn in high school and we became friends; we had another friend who liked to dance and so we decided to form a group. It’s different in that we mix both masculine and feminine qualities, vicious for the male and delicious for the female. We performed in local clubs and bars and one of the DJs at Sisters, Trish, aka DJ Goddess, saw us and we got to do a performance at Sisters and it blossomed from there. We competed in [Philly’s] “Circus of the Stars” as well. We do our own things but always come back together at some point.
PGN: You’ve stated it makes you feel powerful.
LA: Yes, there’s something special about creating this creature that combines the feminine and masculine, molding a visual being that can do anything. I bask in that fearlessness of the character. I’m not shy in that moment: I’m outgoing and strong, completely different from my personality.
PGN: What was your worst clothing disaster?
LA: We performed for the homecoming celebration at the William Way Center. It was really hot. I don’t know if the air wasn’t on or it just was too hot to make a difference. I had on a body-shaper corset and stockings, a hairpiece and costume. I was doing a high-energy samba and I was so hot I almost fainted as soon as I got off the stage. It was horrible! I just wanted to rip that corset off!
PGN: It makes you realize why women had the “vapors” and were always fainting in the old days.
LA: [Laughs.] Yes, but they looked great!
PGN: You’ve stated that you’re your own worst critic; how does that help or hurt you?
LA: It helps because it makes you strive to do better. I’ll look at a tape and think, “We should have nailed that pose” or “We should have done that better.” We need to work harder and practice longer. It inspires me to take it to the next level. It’s bad because I don’t ever bask in and enjoy my accomplishments. I never think it’s good enough and second-guess myself a lot. It can mess with your confidence when you do that.
PGN: What’s a song that always makes you smile?
LA: It’s a Michael Jackson remake of an old song, “Smile.” The lyrics are “Smile, though your heart is aching. Smile, even though it’s breaking. When there are clouds in the sky, you’ll get by if you smile.”
PGN: That’s nice but kind of sad. What should I know about Lu?
LA: Lu is an alter ego. When he’s out, he’s actually very shy, very quiet and to himself. But once I’m on stage, I turn into a completely different person. A lot of people think that when they meet me after seeing me on stage that I’m going to be this big over-the-top personality, a jerk. [Laughs.] But then they meet me and they’re like, “Wow, you’re kind of boring.”
PGN: And is Lu your given name?
LA: My real name is Edwin Claudio, but Lu Antone is my alter ego and what people know me by. My middle name is Antonio.
PGN: I noticed you do a lot of personal video blogging.
LA: I try to! But it’s hard because I’m so shy. It’s hard to open up to anyone, let alone a camera.
PGN: And yet you do a very personal talk to your viewers.
LA: I think it forces me to open up. I just turn on the camera and talk and since there isn’t anyone there with me, I can be free. I don’t know: There’s something about it that lets you be completely honest. The hardest thing is to hit the “post” button!
PGN: What are some of the reactions you’ve received?
LA: Well, it’s funny. Since people aren’t used to me opening up, when I did a video about the struggle within, trying to become a better artist and wondering if you were good enough, people were calling me to see if I was OK! The whole thing got over-dramatic. I was like, ‘Yes, I’m fine! Every artist has a moment when they question themselves.’
PGN: It’s funny how your thoughts can have such an impact.
LA: Yes, I was just ranting about the difficulties of being an artist, and because I don’t usually talk like that privately, people were shocked! They thought it was a major life moment!
PGN: What was the first LGBT movie you ever saw?
LA: I was up late one night watching TV and “But I’m a Cheerleader!” came on. I was totally blindsided.
PGN: What did you get into trouble for the most when you were young?
LA: Oh boy, I used to play pranks on my mom. I’d scream “help” and then hide, leaving the front door open. My mom would run outside and into the street screaming, looking for me, and I’d be giggling until she found me. She didn’t think it was as funny, though.
PGN: What were the best and worst parts of coming out?
LA: When I was 13, there was a boy in the neighborhood that I had a crush on. I wrote him a letter and my dad found it and confronted me about it. He asked me if I was gay and I said no, it was just a joke. He said, “If you’re gay you can tell me, don’t worry about it. But don’t let it be true.” It inflicted me with so much fear that I didn’t tell him for a long time. When I was 16, I wanted to run away so I could live a “fairy-tale life” with the boy I loved. I made a phone call to my parents. My mother was very protective; she said, “No matter what, you can count on me. I’ll always have your back. We’re going to go through this together and what we don’t understand, we’ll work on it until we do.” My dad didn’t want to talk to me for a few days but then we all sat down together and talked. I explained as best I could at 16 that it wasn’t a choice, it was just who I was. He asked me some questions and after that we were fine.
PGN: That was great that he was able to ask questions and be thoughtful about it.
LA: It’s one of the reasons I’m so proud of him.
PGN: What would you most like to protest?
LA: Marriage equality. It bothers me that people don’t see love as something that conquers all. It shouldn’t be dictated by anyone else and denied because of someone’s bias about your race or gender or orientation.
PGN: A meaningful family heirloom?
LA: My dad’s drums. Even though I can’t play, it reminds me of how important music was in our household. I would want my son or daughter to have them.
PGN: What would you change about yourself?
LA: I’d like more confidence — even though I have the dual sides, and I’m proud of myself, proud of my dancing and happy with myself. I love being 6-foot and being a dancer and able to put myself out there, but I’d like the private side of me to be a little more brave.
PGN: If you could journey into the land of any book, where would you go?
LA: There was a book I read called “A Child Called ‘It’” by Dave Pelzer. It was about a kid who was abused by his mother. I was so moved and heartbroken by that book, I wanted to help everyone. If I saw a kid walking I wanted to make sure they got home safely. I would go into that book and take the kid away from his mother, become a father to him and help him see that what he went through wasn’t normal — that life isn’t supposed to be like that.
PGN: Where can we see you perform?
LA: We’re going to be performing at the [male dance party] Boys of Summer on Aug. 10 [at Voyeur, 1221 St. James St.]. It’s going to be a lot of fun! n
To suggest a community member for “Family Portrait,” write to firstname.lastname@example.org.