As a fledgling performer, Raven O had two roommates undergoing gender transitions, and considered following their lead. “We had a band called FDR Drive, and one day at rehearsals I realized I was standing to use the bathroom, and trans women don’t do that. I had a moment of clarity: I was doing this for the wrong reason — because I got more positive attention as a woman than as a male.”
One can expect similar candor in an upcoming memoir about Raven O’s New York adventures. “Kate Rigg, one of my hanai sisters, is writing it with me,” he said, using the Hawaiian term for friends essentially adopted as siblings; he has a bunch of them. Raven O arrived in New York at 18 and, by his account, spent most of the ’80s and early ’90s homeless.
“When it got cold, I’d find a place to sleep, usually by picking up a guy,” Raven O said, with a matter-of-fact smile. “I was a hooker, too; I sang for my supper, but if I needed money I did what I had to do. Usually it was, I’ll have sex if you let me sleep at your house and feed me and maybe give me some money.” Then drugs became a factor — crack and crystal meth. He gradually began partying less; he and Deutzman even swore off alcohol two years ago. “We just decided, we’re done,” Raven O said. “My big weakness now is sugar. And I do have a fried chicken fetish.”
There will likely be fewer personal revelations on an album Raven O recently recorded with the bassist Ben Allison, another longtime collaborator. It will be titled “Piece of Sky,” he said, after one of two original songs; the other tracks include standards and “some surprises, contemporary songs we made into jazz songs.” Painting, an old hobby that Raven O picked up again while hosting the Cirque du Soleil show “Zumanity” in Las Vegas, will provide another creative outlet. Arias had originated the Cirque part, “and Joey said, ‘If you ever give up performing, you should paint.’ I said I would never give up performing, but here we are.”
Should the stem cell therapy work well enough, Raven O wouldn’t rule out a return to the stage. “But I’d never do it as intensely,” he said. “In Hawaii, I can let nature take care of me. My older brother told me, you have to come home and let the aina — the island — heal you. And he’s a badass, too.”