Bow Down to Princess Xtravaganza and Her Royal House of Magnifique

For over 20 years I have attended balls. The balls I attend aren’t the ones seen in old movies, with rich white ladies in gowns and rich white gentlemen in tuxes, sipping champagne and listening to the unlistenable. That’s not really me and I’m never really invited to those except when some misguided publicist thinks I might cover their charity soirèe. The balls I attend are the balls thrown by the houses sometimes referred to as the voguing houses. I was honored to be a judge at an Xtravaganza Ball a couple years back. This culture became popularized by Madonna with her song "Vogue." The world learned to pop, dip, and spin, and the balls were never the same. In reality, balls and this culture have been around for a century. I am a regular at the annual Latex Ball which is now turning 21. This ball is presented by the GMHC, now in its 30th year of helping educate and support people with AIDS. Education helps with prevention. Despite a very relaxed attitude by the general public regarding this scourge, HIV and AIDS are still killing people.

The houses play an extremely important role for people who are sometimes left out of the process we call society. They serve as a support group for people who are sometimes shunned by family and schoolmates and their surroundings. They are perceived as different, often made outcasts by a world of the straight and narrow, and more often than not – racist. The balls are an opportunity to show the community and family of like-minded souls what they have and why it is wonderful.  
 
The date of this year’s Latex Ball has not been announced, but I was told that it will be held, as is the norm, on the third Saturday in August. The August 18th bash is by far – at least for me and mine – the best party of the year. You will scream and cry and yell and laugh and protest and agree as judges of reputation and qualification award prizes to the best in 20-something categories. As we get closer to the event, I will inform you.
Princess Xtravaganza
 
I am writing about it at this early juncture because of an announcement which has shocked and awed the Lewis household…in a good way: my dear friend Princess Xtravaganza has announced the reformation of the House of Magnifique. It gets better. She is now once again Princess Magnifique and she has asked me to play a major role in this endeavor. This is a great honor and something that I had always wanted. As a straight white male, to be asked to be part of this legendary House is something I didn’t think was possible. It has left me speechless and you all know how impossible that is. 
 
Princess has asked me to be Emperor of the Royal House Of Magnifique. Chi Chi Valenti is Empress. Princess will be the Mother of the House, and  Adrien Xtravaganza will be the Father of the House. Before I was anybody except my parent’s son, I hooked up with the Ramones and, as a friend of their’s, was awarded access to the best clubs in town, including the legendary Mudd Club. There I was, able to learn the club world and meet many different types of people that my Queens upbringing had denied me. I had regularly met up with Joey Arias and Klaus Nomi at Fiorucci and on St. Marks place. They taught me to think outside the box that everyone I grew up with accepted. My head always tilted to the left of my upbringing and, until Joey and Klaus, I thought I was alone.
 
Although connected, I wasn’t connected enough to gain access to the VIP second floor of Mudd. Chi Chi Valenti was the separator, the door person. She denied me time and time again. Not deterred, I studied the crowd she embraced and came back one night in torn jeans, a Ramones t-shirt, and carried a perfect red rose. I presented the rose with my head bowed slightly for Chi Chi and she smiled and let me in. I have never left. She is to blame for my club career – an honor she may or may not embrace. Now she is the Empress of the Magnifiques and I am there.
 
This probably sounds like a bunch of hooey to many of you. I urge you to google voguing balls or The Latex Ball and such and see this world that has now honored me with acceptance. I see this as an opportunity to do some good…make a difference. Punk Rock Frankie is one of the original Magnifiques and his blessing was all-important. I asked Princess to tell us all about this happening.
 
Why are you relaunching the Royal House of Magnifique? 
We were such an amazing House, and when it started getting stronger, I forgot what really happened – why Punk Rock Frankie closed the House. But it’s been on my mind for some great time to reopen this again. I just felt it in my soul that this time is the right time to make this bigger than ever… powerful and in the name of Punk Rock Frankie.. so this is why I’m not letting this Royal House die. Point 1: This is where my roots are I’m grateful that I have Punk Rock Frankie’s blessing. I’ve got to bring this back on top. This is not a game, point blank.  
 
What is a House and what is the history of the Houses as you know it?
What is a House? Well, this House is a group of powerful, talented people that not only go to a ball, in battle for trophies. We are a performance house that travels the world, showing what Magnifique is made of. This Royal Family is of every color and background, gay and straight, boys and girls, men and women. This house was born in 1986 and now again in 2012. 
 
Who else is joining you?
You ask who else is joining… only the chosen talented, and some of the most colorful and artistic people that are powerful and fit – what I’m looking for and what Magnifique stands for. I’m holding a casting next month to requite new, fresh, talented members. 
 
You gave asked me to be Emperor of the Royal House of Magnifique. I am deeply honored but must ask this…as I am a straight white male… isn’t this a departure from the norm? Am I qualified. Am I worthy of this honor. Is it a statement that the Magnifiques are going to be traditional but unafraid to break new ground?
Yes, I ask you, Steve Lewis, to be the Emperor. It really does not matter if you are gay or straight. You have that personality to do it, so I fell you can do it. You must believe in yourself. Bring it. Chi Chi brings it all the time and she is the Empress of this Royal Family. 
 
Will there be a ball to celebrate?
Yes, of course we will be having a major ball to really announce our return. 
 
How does belonging to a house help you in your own life?
Just because you belong to a house… you can live your life as you always do, or you can also benefit from belonging to a strong talented house full of people that are talented in every known way. It really depends on what type of house you belong to. 

Party On: Ball Awards and Some Scottish Love

The Ball Awards held in the The Lab Banquet Hall on Fulton Street, Brooklyn has left me limp. (Please, no wisecracks from my ex-wives.) It was a reassuring chaotic happening. It said that the world, as I know it and love it and live for, can and does indeed exist…albeit sometimes in Bed-Stuy, and other times in those places not on the beaten-down path of nightlife. It was thousands of people gathering to hug, kiss, and scream for joy as the most limber and creative amongst them competed for prizes and status. The outsider who accompanied me was amazed, dazed, and sometimes confused, but she was not alone. I was often brought to tears by the magnificent mayhem, and the love poured at us and at everyone in attendance.

I waited with the crowds outside for the doors to finally open around 11:30pm. We were told to be there at 9:30pm, but have some experience with these affairs; nothing was going to happen until midnight. The cold air had us all huddled up and tight as the line went way down the block. Little skirmishes with line-cutters were dealt with Ball banter from attendees who sometimes looked thugish or shady on the outside, but of course were as sweet as can be once they let their masks down — not that they can’t roll if they have to. The ballroom life brings many who traveled a rough road to find acceptance. Sharp tongues managed by sharp minds gave shade like an elm tree to the misbehaviors. Someone in the crowd scolded a young transgressor, telling him he could "get Brooklyn-hurt, not Jersey-hurt" if he continued to offend. Once inside, a female staffer who could kick my ass with one hand tied behind her back, searched me good. That gal knows more about me than half the
dates I ever went with. It hurt, which means it must have been good for me. I wonder if it was good for her as well. 
 
Ball Awards
 
A 6-foot-3-inch man — who was more of a lady than most of the security who harassed her — stood her ground at the inside ropes. She wasn’t going to take the laughter or put-downs and got in their faces and demanded a manager. She got an apology. She was magnificent.The mandatory coat check was $3, but you could pay $5 and keep your outerwear. I knew I wasn’t in Manhattan anymore. Inside, people were complaining about the $10-a-glass Hennessy, reaffirming we weren’t in Manhattan anymore. The Lab is an amazing room and a brilliant choice for this affair. I have been to many Balls, but don’t remember one as fun and exciting as this. I sat with the wonderful Princess Magnifique and Punk Rock Frankie Magnifique. Frankie hadn’t been out in a while, so a lot of people came by to say hello and pay respect. The Latex Ball is coming August 18th at Roseland Ballroom, I believe. Cancel all vacations or other plans as this event; this culture must become a part of you.
 
Tonight, Mr. Mark Baker has implored me to attend "From Scotland With Love: The Tenth Anniversary Show." He refered to it as "Dressed to Kilt" and I thought that was clever. It’ll be at The Liberty Theater and starts at 7:30pm. I will, of course, be at BINGO at the Bowery Poetry Club and unable to attend, but as I am a supporter of all things Baker, I had to tell you about it. The affair benefits The Wounded Warrior Project and Cash For Kids. Kiefer Sutherland and Kevin McKidd are expected to show.