TRUTH DARE or
Madonna leads the charge in her signature fearless fashion.
That is a catchphrase that’s often associated with me. I made a documentary film with this title, and it has stuck to me like flypaper ever since. It’s a fun game to play if you’re in the mood to take risks, and usually I am. However, you have to play with a clever group of people. Otherwise you’ll find yourself French-kissing everyone in the room or giving blow jobs to Evian bottles! People usually choose “truth” when it’s their turn because you can tell a lie about yourself and no one will be the wiser, but when you are dared to do something, you have to actually do it. And doing something daring is a rather scary proposition for most people. Yet for some strange reason, it has become my raison d’être.
If I can’t be daring in my work or the way I live my life, then I don’t really see the point of being on this planet.
That may sound rather extremist, but growing up in a suburb in the Midwest was all I needed to understand that the world was divided into two categories: people who followed the status quo and played it safe, and people who threw convention out the window and danced to the beat of a different drum. I hurled myself into the second category, and soon discovered that being a rebel and not conforming doesn’t make you very popular. In fact, it does the opposite. You are viewed as a suspicious character. A troublemaker. Someone dangerous.
When you’re 15, this can feel a little uncomfortable. Teenagers want to fit in on one hand and be rebellious on the other. Drinking beer and smoking weed in the parking lot of my high school was not my idea of being rebellious, because that’s what everybody did. And I never wanted to do what everybody did. I thought it was cooler to not shave my legs or under my arms. I mean, why did God give us hair there anyways? Why didn’t guys have to shave there? Why was it accepted in Europe but not in America? No one could answer my questions in a satisfactory manner, so I pushed the envelope even further. I refused to wear make-up and tied scarves around my head like a Russian peasant. I did the opposite of what all the other girls were doing, and I turned myself into a real man repeller. I dared people to like me and my nonconformity.
That didn’t go very well. Most people thought I was strange. I didn’t have many friends; I might not have had any friends. But it all turned out good in the end, because when you aren’t popular and you don’t have a social life, it gives you more time to focus on your future. And for me, that was going to New York to become a real artist. To be able to express myself in a city of nonconformists. To revel and shimmy and shake in a world and be surrounded by daring people.
New York wasn’t everything I thought it would be. It did not welcome me with open arms. The first year, I was held up at gunpoint. Raped on the roof of a building I was dragged up to with a knife in my back, and had my apartment broken into three times. I don’t know why; I had nothing of value after they took my radio the first time.
The tall buildings and the massive scale of New York took my breath away. The sizzling-hot sidewalks and the noise of the traffic and the electricity of the people rushing by me on the streets was a shock to my neurotransmitters. I felt like I had plugged into another universe. I felt like a warrior plunging my way through the crowds to survive. Blood pumping through my veins, I was poised for survival. I felt alive. But I was also scared shitless and freaked out by the smell of piss and vomit everywhere, especially in the entryway of my third-floor walk-up. And all the homeless people on the street. This wasn’t anything I prepared for in Rochester, Michigan. Trying to be a professional dancer, paying my rent by posing nude for art classes, staring at people staring at me naked. Daring them to think of me as anything but a form they were trying to capture with their pencils and charcoal. I was defiant. Hell-bent on surviving. On making it. But it was hard and it was lonely, and I had to dare myself every day to keep going. Sometimes I would play the victim and cry in my shoe box of a bedroom with a window that faced a wall, watching the pigeons shit on my windowsill. And I wondered if it was all worth it, but then I would pull myself