Mistress, Misstress: Michael Formika Jones Gives the Orders
Misstress Formika Jones is a formidable player who I have had the pleasure and pain of working with for many years. She pushes the envelope and the limits of those around her. This is basically what a dominatrix is paid for, so the name is kind of perfect. There are few out there in nightlife pushing limits — few see the need. In the last six months there has been a burst of envelope-pushing parties, and nightlife — for so long buried under the ashes of persecution — is sprouting once again. The scene has spread from the megaclubs to hundreds of undiscovered little joints around town. While I sit here, a trial is taking place for the survival of one of the last remaining mega-clubs. Pacha is fighting for its life in a courtroom where reason and logic must prevail, or else we are all moving to LA. It seems strange that Pacha exists in 25 cities worldwide, yet New York can’t handle it. Misstress Formika Jones is one of the last remaining links to a happier more creative and inclusive time, and I celebrate her.
I’m sitting with Misstress Formika or …? Michael Formika Jones, also known in my past as Misstress Formika. And yes — Misstress is four S’s instead of three, because I always told people that was my name not my occupation.
That’s very interesting because “Mistress” in the circles we travel in can have another meaning; most of nightlife is an extremely sexual business. Extremely. That’s why I love it — it’s sexy and fun.
It’s sexy, that’s why I got into it. Some of our friends are S&M mistresses, and they’re worshipped by people. Sure, the whole drag name came up because we were looking at pictures and I was dressed very much like a dominatrix in my drag; you know, tight pants, high-heeled boots, fishnets, etc. And my friend that I was working with that day (I was 21 or 22 at that point) said, “You look like a dominatrix,” so we sort of started to fool around with names, and that night I happened to be going by Mika, as my drag name. I went to Palladium on Halloween, and that’s where I first met Olympia and Bunny and all those queens, and I was like, this is fun …
Was it my Palladium? Yeah. And when I went to work the next day, we were looking at the photos, and they said, “You look like a mistress,” and I was like “Oh!” That’s funny, maybe I should be Mistress For-Mika, the dominatrix of my own life, dominating my own life, teaching others to dominate theirs. Because my name is Mistress Formika, everybody assumed I was a dominatrix, and so I learned very quickly — at 22 years old — what the S&M scene was all about, because I did get approached by a bunch of mistresses and submissives and people like that. So your name is Misstress Formika, and now you call yourself Michael Formika Jones? Right. Years later I ended up legally changing my name to Michael Formika Jones. I put Jones on the end of it because there is another Michael Formika in New York that is a designer, so I didn’t want to be confused with him.
Well you’re very hard to confuse with anybody; you’re very much a unique person, and you and I have clashed heads over the years. I think all strong personalities do clash in any business, whether nightlife or corporate or even if you run a flower shop.
There’s always going to be a clash between two strongminded personalities with their own visions. Now you’re Michael Jones — right now, you’re not in drag — you pass in the real world if you will. What is the difference between MF and MJ? What is the difference between these two people? Are there two people or just one dressed up? Friends tell me I’m a different person when I’m in drag. I think as I got older they became more one person, but there are differences. Michael Formika Jones is probably a little more laid back, a little more stand in the shadows and be fine with it. Misstress Formika is more out there, more willing to say what Michael won’t say sometimes. When you have a wig on it’s like you’re all mighty and powerful and you can tell someone to go fuck themselves or tell someone, “Bend over I’m gonna fuck you in the bathroom,” and they’ll do it. When you’re out of drag, people don’t tend to pay too much attention to your outrageousness. The outcome of anything when you’re in drag and you’re being outrageous is that no matter if it’s a racial slur or something offensive, people can laugh it off a little bit easier. So it’s almost like the drag is sort of a get-out-of-jail-free card, and I think that’s why I enjoyed it so much. When I started doing it after moving to New York City, I was a very shy boy. I came up here to sort of find myself, and putting on that dress gave me free reign to do whatever the fuck I wanted to, and people loved me for it. It definitely was a catalyst to get me in touch with my sexuality — the first seven years were discovering my sexuality — I never slept with a gay boy, I only slept with straight boys.
Does Michael whisper in Misstress’ ear sometimes, “I can’t believe you said that”? I get home sometimes and I’m thinking: I hope no one hates me because I said that while on stage and I was in drag. But at the moment, just like when we’ve had any sort of interaction which was positive or negative, we said what we felt — and when I do nightlife or I perform, nothing is scripted for me, everything that comes out of my mouth is what I experienced in the real world, so if I say something that offends somebody, then, guess what? I say it because I experienced it, I’m not saying it out of ignorance, and if your experience was different, feel free to express yours.
Every year on Halloween I dress up as Elvis — I have a great Elvis costume with a wig and gold chains and everything-– and I have to tell you, when I put on that Elvis costume for the first time I was a completely different person. All of a sudden I was channeling him, I started to talk like him, I became bolder, and I even sang on the subway once; I sang “Blue Suede Shoes” and got applause. And tips?
I actually gave money out to people for listening. But it was a completely different person. I was able to be not Steve Lewis … That’s why I love nightlife. Nightlife was like the one place in New York — it’s a little bit harder now — I don’t know what your experience has been, but mine, for the past three or four years, it’s been so hard to really do something outrageous and fun where people can let loose, because it feels like you’re under the eye by the city for so many things. Whether it’s paper towels behind the bar or someone doing a bump in the bathroom, the whole span of harassment you get now in nightlife just makes it so much more difficult to give people a venue when they walk into and anything can possibly happen.
Well, I think the smoking law was the turning point. That was the beginning
Because even though I hate smoking, and smelling it, and washing it out of my hair, there was this control thing that It signaled that you weren’t free anymore. I mean, when were you ever in a club where security was inside? It wasn’t until right around then that it all started, where security went from being outside the club and you would say, “Security, please, inside, we have a fight, security, please, someone’s hurt themselves.” Now, security walks around like they run the clubs and parties, and it’s changed maybe the vibe of nightlife. I think a lot of nightclubs and places now are starting to feel, like, OK, our security guards are great and we love them, but let’s keep them at the door, let’s keep them where people don’t really feel their presence, because it almost feels like when you go out now Big Brother is watching.
He is — but he’s watching everywhere; there’s cameras everywhere. So tell me about the party you’re throwing now. I’m doing Santos’ Party House, I do a party called “The F-Word.” I’m trying to do more of a mixed night, like you used to do. I want it to be gay and straight and drag and tranny and anything goes, kind of like what I experienced when I moved to New York and I started to go to clubs.
Well, you were a gay man sleeping with straight men back in the day, because those two sexual preferences mixed freely in the old days. In the old days it was fine too … in the old days it wasn’t weird, it wasn’t considered strange. I think we’re really conservative now in New York.
There is some truth to that — the Meatpacking District, with hookers and pimps, was a rough place but it was a lot more fun I’m not saying I want people to live life under drugs or being forced to prostitute themselves; I’m not saying I want that back. I’m saying I want the idea that anything at any given moment could happen, you know? People talk about how New York was so scary and so hard to live in because you were so afraid of crime — I never was afraid of crime, and I was 20-something years old, 130 pounds, in 7-inch stilettos and a wig walking down the street at 4:35am through the ghetto of Alphabet City back in the day when it was all heroin, and never once did I feel like I was in danger. In fact, I was more worried about like, oh my god, I wish these guys would stop honking at me, I wish these guys would stop following me home and trying to hump me, I just want to go home and order a burger and go to bed, you know? It was never like somebody was going to rob me mug me or rape me … and now they’ve kind of used that to make New York City a day place. I like the day too, but there’s a huge gap in New York nighttime, I believe.
Do you consider yourself a drag queen? Or are you a performance artist? I think I’ve been it all — I’ve been a drag queen who lip syncs, I’ve been a drag queen who does performance art, I’ve been a drag queen who sings in a rock band. There were no limits for me, I wasn’t a drag queen like Bunny or some of the girls that are out there now that have “a look,” like the big blonde hair. When I did drag, you never knew what color my hair was going to be or what outfit I was going to wear. I used it as a creative outlet for myself.
Do you drag now? I do drag now, about once or twice a year for special events, like if they throw a big party and they want Misstress Formika to host, or there’s something special going on … I will throw a dress on.
You did it for the Club Awards, right — were you in drag that night? I did it at the Squeeze Box Documentary, the night we hosted with Debbie and the Toilet Boys and all that madness. And I did it at a couple of Motherfucker parties. I did a few of those for them, on their anniversaries, but I don’t really do it that much. I try to incorporate it with my parties — I really do love the drag queens, and I feel like drag queens now are either working at themed restaurants for horrible bachelorette parties — right, the L-word — or they’re working at a neighborhood bar doing their weekly whatever bingo thing or something. When I moved here in the 90s, there were parties like the “Pyramid Party,” with Linda Simpson and the Boy Bar — there were bars you went where there was amazing drag queen performances, which was almost like going to a Broadway show sometimes.
They are not as accepted as much today by straight society. Has it been that they’ve been overexposed to it since Ru Paul broke out into mainstream America? Let’s face it, Ru Paul worked for us all, and with us all — and she breaks out and does a couple of hit records, and all of the sudden the whole worlds sees her, she’s on TV shows, Oprah’s saying hello to her, and now it’s so exposed that it’s no longer shocking or relevant. And that was nightlife.
Now we’re so exposed. TV, Twitter, Facebook and everything like that, the shock value of all these things — they have less value because it has less “shock value.” Is that what’s happened? My whole thing on internet and Twittering and all that is that technology has become the new closet. People hide behind their computers, they hide behind their technology, whereas when we were young, when I came here — computers, What? If you wanted to freakin’ meet someone who wore a dress, you had to seek out that party or that neighborhood to find those people to meet them, so you were constantly on an adventure. Now you just put on Craigslist, “Looking for guys in suits that wear skirts that are straight that like to go out on Friday nights to Chelsea” — and you find someone, you know?
I think that in the last six months, that there’s been a resurgence of underground parties. I think that there is more going on right now than has been happening in many years. People are finally over it . They are finally over not having anything to do. But at the same time, even though it’s starting, you can feel the tension with nightlife — you can feel tension with the bar owners and the club owners, because they are letting people get a little more wild, but at the same time they’re like, “Ahh, should we allow this? This is so crazy.” I mean, at the F-Word, we have an open-door policy before 12am. We don’t make that much money … we make enough to pay the people who work there, we do cheap drinks or free drinks or open bars, we do stuff to get people to come in and we encourage people to dress up, we do the “Fierce Look” contest, we do drag competitions, we do all kinds of hired queens that dress crazy, all the things we’ve done for ever.
What’s your goal with the party? We want it to cross over. I get the gay boys who come to my parties, and my door person Thomas, who has done all the good parties, tells me “Oh this group of fags just left because there were too many girls,” or “Oh this group of straights left, they said it was tooo gay.” When I did Squeeze Box with Michael Schmidt, that was a very mixed party — anything went there, gay, straight, transgender, whatever. When I left that and a few years later started Area, that was a total gay party; when too many girls came we would try to water it down. Now that I’m moving forward with F-Word, and I’m older now, my friends are so mixed from gay to straight to whatever. I was having trouble at my last gay party because my straight friends never wanted to come hang out with me at my party. I don’t go out six nights a week anymore now that I’m older. I go work my parties, and then I go visit friends occasionally at their parties. So if I can’t see my friends at my parties, chances are I’m not gonna hang out with them that much. So I want them at my parties so we can hang out — so at the F-Word I decided, I don’t care.
How do you try and include everyone? I want people to start doing their own thing. I guess I want to hire the Amanda Lepores and the Kenny Kennys, but I want the new kids, I want to find you. If you are a new kid out there, come to F-Word dressed up and come and look for me and meet me. I want the new kids to dress up, I want to see their show, I want to see their interpretation of performance art, their interpretation of a drag show … I want to see them! I’m sick of these fucking kids online! I’m sick of it. Get off your computers and do something creative!
The problem is the void left by Michael Alig. After Michael destructed, there was a backlash and there wasn’t another generation educated and encouraged to be creative in the clubs, and people were turned off, they left, it was a complete purge … It was a dark moment. All of a sudden, nightlife people went from saying, “Oh my god, nightclubs in New York are so amazing,” to people being like, “Oh, I’ve seen nothing good comes out of that.”
That’s why I support James Coppola. He’s one of the few kids that’s out there hanging out with the freaky kids.
Right, and his crowd is mixed. The strange thing about James Coppola’s party is that it’s a gay party, but 40-50 percent of it are women who are just trying to dress fabulous. We used to call them fag hags, but they’re beyond that now, and it’s a fashion party — but it’s very, very unique. So what is the F-Word? Is it Formika? Is it fuck, is it freedom, is it fun? You know what, that’s why we named it the F-Word, because I think everybody in life lives their own F-Word.