The trans celebrity doesn't want labels on anything but her clothing.
Vivacious, interesting, and just a whole lot of fun is the best way to describe YouTube celebrity Lina Bradford: the girl with the Magic Eight Ball.
I was really excited to talk to her, and truth be told, I had never heard of her show “In the Doll House with Lina Bradford” before. I finally looked it up to prepare for our talk session, and ended up binging on the entire first season.
Season two premiered last month with a stellar lineup of A-List celebrities.
Although she is a trans woman, Lina is quick to point out she doesn’t want that to be the focus of her career, “I've never done labels. I've only worn them,” she laughs.
Lina conducts her interviews against a backdrop of dolls. These aren’t just any dolls; these are ones she’s collected throughout the years from her childhood in New York and well into her adult life.
They represent a history of pop culture in a way; epitomizing past trends from fashion to gadgetry.
The inaugural collection of “Dollhouse” interviews includes among other celebs: performer Vivian Bond, TV personality Bevy Smith and reality star Carson Kressley.
That first block of shows was the primer she needed to make some adjustments and updates going into the second season.
“I wanted to make certain, you know, that I did season one on my own and get everything under my belt because it was a new direction for me,” she said. “I wanted to make certain what needed to be done.”
A part of her show’s charm is that she goes retro, a sort of school yard visual encyclopedia of culture that includes everything from children’s origami games to make-up and clothing.
Her references are mostly extracted from the 70’s and 80’s which are like comfort foods for a starving memory. Nowadays kids have plenty of babysitting electronics, but in an era where the term “latch key kid” was born, children had to find ways to entertain themselves usually cross-legged on the floor and fun within arm’s reach.
That small circle could be filled with anything from Hot Wheels to trading cards to Barbie Dolls, it was a time of criss-cross applesauce curiosity.
“You remember it, that’s how amazing it was,” she says, “The branding really got in your head. Like you remember ‘We wear short-shorts,’ you remember those jingles: they were just so genius, they stuck in my head forever.”
It’s this charm that permeates the host's interview style. A freestyle rap session which renders the guests comfortable and nostalgic.
“I love seeing people smile and laugh through my intellect and my goofiness and it’s literally carried me through my whole life and in my career,” Lina said. “You know I couldn’t have one without the other; it’s like my period dot com.”
A social butterfly throughout her life beginning in New York, Lina says her grandmother was a huge influence even taking her to Studio 54 for the first time.
And that sort of socialization gave her an edge. A way to identify with people before they sit down beside her. With connections to the past and her hand on the pulse of the present Lina can draw out the most interesting anecdotes from her guests.
She feels this love of life began when she left home, armed with lessons about being inclusive and extracting from people their truest nature, not what they put forth to the eyes of a scrutinizing public.
“I always knew that no class, no color, no anything had anything to do with us just being humanitarians," she told me, "and just being able to speak to anyone and everyone as an equal. And regardless of what you look like, or whatever your situation is, we really all are the same people who want love and respect. I’ll be in an elevator and if no one’s talking, I’ll just say ‘hi,’ and I’ll just start up a conversation. That’s my validation every moment of my life; just having people recognize it and just seeing that it is genuine. Some people get a little taken aback, like ‘why are you saying hi?’ And I’m just like well, ‘why not?’”
This ability to personalize an encounter translates into more online followers, but that doesn’t really matter to Lina, she is motivated by her vision not the viewer bottom line.
“You know what’s so funny?” she asks seriously. “I’ve never been one of those people who looks for other people to give me validation. I do things because it speaks to me within my heart and it doesn’t matter if it’s one or two people. I’m an old-school girl, and you know, I’ve modernized myself as I always do and I think that any person who wears many hats can do that. But I don’t like to follow up on having followers be a validation of my creativity. So, I don’t even look to tell you the truth. I have other people that have to deal with that and it’s great, but I do it because I love to make people happy.”
One of her signature styles is to try and remove a guest from a comfort zone they are used to; get them from concentrating on their field of expertise to enjoy chatting about other things.
“For instance, my girlfriend Janet Mock,” she explains, “You know people just know her as being a very serious journalist and a writer so it’s fun for me to take people out of the place that other people know them as you know?”
Whoopi Goldberg also makes a visit to the Dollhouse this season, and despite their relationship off-camera, Lina makes sure that the star opens up whether it be through a game involving influential LPs or an inside joke, “it was really, really fun and interesting.”
Despite Lina just being Lina and ripping out labels, she is an icon in the trans community whether she agrees with that statement or not.
Knowing that the majority of people are always curious about things they don’t understand, Lina says they need to approach their attitudes from a different perspective especially with her. She says she is an enigma and really owes no one any explanations.
“I came from a bi-racial family so therefore my eyes are different -- my eyes and my experiences to people are different, and that is a testament to how I have been my whole life, but everyone who I ever dated or messed around with before I was in my relationship now has been a complete rainbow of diversity. Because at the end of the day, it’s what you give me mentally not what’s between your legs.”
Lina is preparing for season three of “In the Dollhouse with Lina,” and it seems her focus is clear: To allow people an opportunity to connect with her guests as much as she does. She wants viewers to get to know more about people vicariously through her while stepping back in time just for a brief glimpse what made them who they are today.
After all, it is their past is the beginning of their timeline. Lina is the cartographer of character and marks milestones along her guest’s journey with Patti LaBelle, Rose Milk lotion and Walking Barbie and New Baby Sister Krissy.
It’s a tactic that brings the things we treasure from the not-so-distant past into the consciousness we haven’t thought about in years; a connection that bridges not only our childhood, but the childhood of others, a linear path adorned with a interest in things.
“I know that is it what I am supposed to be doing. I’m supposed to be making people happy at whatever it is I’ve done and whatever it is I continue to keep doing. I’m happy every moment that I can get up and make people happy.”
Borrowing from a bygone era, I think Lina can be best compared to the Donna Summer song "MacArthur Park," both in lyric and length, No, not the three-minute radio edit but the 17-minute suite which, like her, gathers momentum by incorporating a collection of feelings that culminate into a delicious recipe of disco gold.
And as one of the songs in that electricity charged montage goes, "You're one of a kind, you've got magic.."
Timothy Rawles is Community Editor of SDGLN. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, @reporter66 on Twitter, or by calling toll-free to 888-442-9639, ext. 713.