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. 

The 22nd Annual Latex Ball: The Olympics for the Fringe (PHOTOS INSIDE)

The 22nd Annual Latex Ball at Roseland Ballroom this past Saturday was more than it ever was. It was packed to the rafters with a mixed crowd of Ball community regulars and voyeurs for the voguers. There were strangers of all types in this strange land usually reserved for the Ball culture and LGBT community. I saw more straight women at this affair than in years past. Tourists and first-timers were everywhere. There were times in years past where I felt like I was the only straight, white guy in a room of thousands. That has changed as more and more people of different races and preferences have come to realize the importance of what is happening at the Balls. This culture is eons ahead of the world outside of it in terms of our sexual journey as well as its acceptance and celebration of differences. It lives in a reality that TV is almost ready for. The "virgins” I brought with me, one of which included photographer Lela Edgar, had a hard time believing that “she” was a “he” and they were that and such. They can be excused as realness was everywhere. Lines were certainly blurred. The thing about blurring lines and perceptions is that it makes you go with your feelings, and I have a feeling that if we could just let go of the ancient rules that suppress us and went with our feelings, we would feel a lot better about a lot of things.

No one was disappointed – except maybe those who came in 2nd or 12th place in the fiercely contested competitions. The GMHC Latex Ball serves as the Olympics for a community that has lived on the fringes for decades. It is an event and a mindset that celebrates fabulous fringes, flowers, lace, ribbons, and serious designer labels. Categories like Butch Queen Sex Siren, Women’s Face, Legendary Performance, Realness with a Twist, and 20+ other contests were fiercely competed in. Trophies and cash were awarded after a panel of judges ruled. The GMHC has thrown this bash for 22 years. It serves as an educational reminder that the epidemic is still upon us and is still killing and taking prisoners. I can’t spend time explaining the Ball culture to those who have no idea what I’m talking about except to reference the flick Paris is Burning, the song and famous video "Vogue" by Madonna, Myballroomlife.com, YouTube, Wikipedia, or links to past articles I have humbly offered.

There was an energy in the air Saturday night, a feeling I get when I look to the past for fond and warm and exciting memories. Those feelings reared their wonderful head as creativity, love, and acceptance of each other blurred all lines and screamed that there was indeed a way back to a world of relevant nightlife by going forward with what I clearly saw Saturday. It was a eureka moment, like in that silly flick Avatar, when the light is extinguished and the hero sees that the jungle itself is lit up.  When I got home at 7am, I posted this on my FB page:

"latex ball completely over the top. the need for mixed fun nightlife created and curated by creative people will soon be apparent as the boredom of black cards and bottles implodes that scene. the edge will be sought again."

The ball had me high on its energy and the fabulousness of all involved, but I believe in that statement, and tomorrow I will outline the possibly-inevitable rebirth of club culture as I know it or, more likely, a retooled version of it. I, we have been blind and accepting. There are hundreds of great nights and events all over this town which have burgeoned to include a vibrant nightlife culture outside of the moated confines of Manhattan. Bridge and tunnel is now a good thing.

Creativity on a grand scale will return to nightlife as a business decision. Creativity is hard to extinguish. It has thrived on the street and in the subways, cave walls, in prison, and in societies that have repressed it. It has reared itself at advanced ages. It has given those seemingly impaired a way to the light. It has channeled the beasts and the fears within us and brought them to survivable places. Creativity will be embraced by the bean counters because it will be useful to separate their bean machine from the others. More on this tomorrow.

Today, my throat is still sore from screaming encouragement and worship; my eyes are dry from joyful tears; and the dancing of sugar plum fairies and other mythical creatures still hold sway over my feeble mind. The 23rd GMHC Latex Ball will surely be next August and will surely be at Roseland. Congratulations to all that came, served, and carry this night and the life it represents in their slightly larger hearts. Start thinking about next year’s outfit now.