You might not believe it, but Amanda Lepore has only recently started to really put herself out there.
She's always been out there, of course. For one, Lepore has been upfront and honest about being a male-to-female transsexual as early as high school, when the New Jersey native -- born Armand -- had a sex-change operation. ''That's the first thing that I wanted to do,'' explains Lepore, ''before breast implants or anything: I just wanted to have a vagina.''
She also didn't become the ''No. 1 Transsexual in the World'' just by coining the title herself. She made it ring true by becoming an indelible part of New York's avant-garde scene in the 1990s. She befriended and worked for influential scenesters, including Warhol-influenced visual artist David LaChapelle and former club promoter Michael Alig.
But only in the past few years has Lepore worked to transform herself from just being a cult celebrity known for looking fierce, but making little sound -- and never taking center stage. ''I never really talked or anything,'' she says. ''I was really shy. All through the years and everything I just danced in cages and just really relied on my looks.
''It was weird,'' she adds, chuckling a bit at the memory. ''I wouldn't really do anything but take pictures with people.''
Now Lepore's ready to pop her cork as a bona fide performer, singing her own songs, mostly written by gay-rapper Cazwell, who's one of her closer friends. She's finishing work on a debut album, tentatively titled Brand New Woman and due later in the year. She's also making available a ''teaser'' EP with remixes of several popular club tunes, including ''My Pussy (Is Famous),'' ''My Hair Looks Fierce'' and ''Champagne.'' She even has plans to try her hand at acting, as well as getting more directly involved in fashion and possibly (no joke) champagne-scented cosmetics.
''It feels good to actually do something,'' Lepore laughs. And something, most immediately, includes a rare stop in D.C. next Saturday, Feb. 23, at BeBar.
''Amanda Lepore is an icon, a great example of someone overcoming a lot of obstacles and just being true to herself,'' says Mike Watson, the BeBar co-owner who picked Lepore as featured performer for his own ''birthday party extravaganza.'' Watson, who laughs off giving out his age, adds that ''Amanda is the perfect performer for this,'' noting she'll be there for the monthly Be:Playboy party, complete with clothes check. ''Naughty boys and girls'' who strip down to their underwear or lingerie are offered ''complimentary'' admission.
Besides Lepore, Watson says to ''expect a host of other surprises.'' He plans to give away, ''Oprah-style,'' what he's calling ''Mike's Favorite Things.'' And he's even created a MySpace-based contest for customers to win one of his favorite things: Level 1 Vodka bottle service for the night.
Like Watson, Lepore also playfully deflects a question about her age, saying only, ''an adult, over 21.'' She thinks her being out and proud as a transsexual sends a helpful message to a younger generation, be they fellow adults or not: ''You know, you don't have to hide or be a hooker. You can do other things. If I can do it, then you can certainly do it!''
Amanda Lepore will perform next Saturday, Feb. 23, at BeBar, 1318 Ninth St. NW. No cover before 10 p.m. or if you strip to your skivvies; $5 otherwise. For more info,