Wednesday Reads: Farewell Goddess Chablis and Goddess ArquettePosted: September 14, 2016
2007’s Alexis Arquette: She’s My Brother. In an outtake posted to YouTube, Arquette declared “No one in my life or on the streets can say or do anything that’s going to persuade me from becoming … who I am.”
In fact, the only label she ever truly embraced was the one she gave herself – The Lady Chablis. “I just try to be who I am without all the labels people try to put on you,” she told the reporter at Savannah Magazine.
“The legacy that she wanted to leave was one of ‘believe in who you are and never let the world change who you are,'” [her sister Cynthia]Ponder said. “Love yourself first and respect yourself first and others will love and respect you.”
The leaves are starting to change their colors here in the mountains. That normal process that creates a marvelous paint of brilliant transformation has begun. Same trees…same hills…same mountains. Whatever nature has planned, that innate process that happens when the leaves change from green to vivid hues of crimson and gold, radiant orange and fire…colors that you could describe with names that sound more like MAC lipstick color hues…than the shade of leaves hanging from the trees. Which seems appropriate, because this post is a tribute to two ladies who gave glam to transgender before hashtags and tweets.
I think the best way to start the ball rolling is with this article from The Guardian.
The two transgender women were activists and entertainers who dared to be themselves – and set the tone for future generations
In the last week, America lost two pioneering transgender women entertainers:Alexis Arquette and The Lady Chablis. Both died relatively young, Arquette at 47 and Chablis at 59. Then again, perhaps that’s actually rather old, given the world they were born into: although there’s no good data on life expectancies for trans and gender non-conforming people in the United States, the statistics we do havesuggest that they face greater health concerns with fewer resources than their cisgender counterparts, and that they are therefore more likely to die younger as well. Yet both Arquette and Chablis lived outsized lives despite their short durations, and along the way, they managed to break barriers for transgender artists everywhere.
In the 1990s, if you wanted to see a trans actor on the big screen, you had remarkably few options. Despite a plethora of films with large transgender roles, ranging from the deplorable (Ace Ventura Pet Detective), to the complicated (The Crying Game), to the tragic (Boys Don’t Cry), trans actors were almost entirely sidelined from major productions. Today, a small handful are gaining traction in mainstream film and television projects, such as Laverne Cox, Tom Phelan, Mya Taylor, Jamie Clayton and Trace Lysette. And if a cisgender actor does play a transgender character, there’s bound to be some uproar, as there was when it was recently announced that Michelle Rodriguez would play a transgender assassin in the new Walter Hill film, (Re)Assignment.
But that wasn’t even a conversation in the 90s, when Arquette and Chablis became two of the first trans actors to play trans roles in major mainstream films – Arquette as the gender non-conforming George (based on Boy George) in Adam Sandlers’s The Wedding Singer (1998), and Chablis as herself in the 1997 docu-thriller, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.
Both women had nuanced, complicated and shifting understandings of their own genders. Perhaps reflecting the time in which they grew up, over the course of their lives both used (or had applied to them) a wide variety of labels, from “drag queen” and “female impersonator”, to “transgendered” and “gender suspicious”. Yet no matter what words they used, both were always vocal advocates for trans people, rights and representation.
Arquette came to movie work early in her career, thanks in part to her famous family. The Lady Chablis, on the other hand, was a well-known performer in her hometown of Savannah, Georgia, but it wasn’t until the publication of the true-crime book Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (in 1994), that she gained wider notoriety. After spending over 200 weeks on the New York Times’s bestseller list, the book was made into a film starring Kevin Spacey and a young Jude Law. Chablis was shocked when they asked her to audition for the role of herself. In an interview with NPR, Chad Darnell, the film’s casting director, recalls that she informed him “there’s nobody else who can play me but me”. When he suggested Whitney Houston, she slapped him so hard she drew blood – and got the role.
Like the leaves on the trees, both The Lady and Arquette lived life being who they truly are…as nature intended. Here are some quotes from articles over the past few days that will be good to read.
The Lady Chablis, the transgender performer featured in the 1994 best seller “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” and in the film version, died on Thursday in Savannah, Ga. She was 59 and had been working until about a month ago.
The cause was pneumonia, said Cale Hall, a longtime friend and an owner of Club One, where she had performed for three decades.
Ms. Chablis was a standout character in the book, in which the author, John Berendt, introduced the world to Savannah and the sometimes eccentric people who live there.
“She was The Lady Chablis from morning to night,” Mr. Berendt said in an interview on Thursday. “She had a great repartee,” he said, “and she had a way with words. She was creative.”
They first met when Ms. Chablis, who had just received her biweekly estrogen shots, insinuated herself into Mr. Berendt’s car for a ride home.
“She had both hands on her hips and a sassy half-smile on her face as if she had been waiting for me,” he wrote.
She would become the book’s most popular character, Mr. Berendt said. She was also his favorite.
“It’s not as if she died without knowing,” he added. “She knew. And she also knew she was everybody’s favorite.”
After the book came out, Ms. Chablis appeared on “Good Morning America” and “Oprah.” Readers from around the country went to see her at Club One. She published an autobiography, “Hiding My Candy,” in 1996 and the next year played herself in Clint Eastwood’s film adaptation of the Berendt book.
She was born Benjamin Edward Knox in Quincy, Fla., on March 11, 1957, and never finished high school. She took the name Chablis as a teenager. As she recalled in Mr. Berendt’s book, her mother, inspired by a wine bottle label, had intended the name for a younger sister but had had a miscarriage. Ms. Chablis immediately expressed interest in the name.
“I said, ‘Ooooo, Chablis. That’s nice. I like that name,’ ” she was quoted as saying in the book. “And Mama said, ‘Then take it, baby. Just call yourself Chablis from now on.’ So ever since then, I’ve been Chablis.” She had her name legally changed to The Lady Chablis.
Over twenty years ago, Chablis was written in as a character in John Berendt’s non-fiction narrative, Midnight in The Garden of Good and Evil. The story centralizes around Jim Williams, a noted Savannah socialite and antiques dealer who was found guilty of murdering a local male prostitute named Danny Hansford. Berendt wrote Chablis into the book as one of the many eccentric true-life characters and he uses her to better paint the picture of queer nightlife in Savannah. In both the book and the film, Chablis acts as a light-hearted contrast to the more serious themes of the story, with memorable one-liners such as “two tears in a bucket, motherfuck it” and “yes, I am a bitch, and proud of it, honey”. Her performance both on the page and on screen established her as an icon within the drag world, however, Chablis has contributed more to the community than just her work with Kevin Spacey.
In 1996, a year before she graced Clint Eastwood’s rendition of Midnight, Chablis published an autobiography entitled Hiding My Candy: The Autobiography of the Grand Empress of Savannah. In her book, Chablis spills the T on her upbringings in drag, beginning with her introduction to Miss Tina Devore in a Tallahassee nightclub. Devore would go on to become Chablis’s drag mother and in Midnight, Chablis remarks that she got her drag name from Devore, saying “my mama got the name Chablis off a wine bottle. She didn’t think it up for me though. It was supposed to be for my sister”. While in Atlanta, Chablis began her transition towards becoming a transgender woman, taking hormones and legally changing her name to Brenda Dale Knox, all while still developing a budding drag career. In his book, Berendt remarks that he meet Chablis at a doctor’s office after a routine estrogen injection, writing that “her big eyes sparkled. Her skin glowed. A broken incisor tooth punctuated her smile and gave her a naughty look”. But it wasn’t just Berendt who was captivated by the queen because after the film’s release she went on to guest on Good Morning America and the Oprah Winfrey Show. Despite her growing fame, Chablis stuck true to her roots throughout the 2000s, headlining Savannah Pride and hosting the Miss Gay Pride Pageant. In 2013, she made an appearance on The Real Housewives of Atlanta, reading the wives to filth before a live audience.
Many have commented on the drag icon’s passing, including the book’s author John Berendt. “She’ll be remembered for her outrageous profanity-laced spontaneity and for being one of the first up-front transsexual personalities to be accepted by a wide audience.” Today we see many transgender actors and actresses beloved by millions on the big screen, however, Chablis and her role in Midnight made her a legend and a role model for others who have followed in her footsteps. And while Chablis was loved by audiences for her role on screen as well as by those who had the chance to watch her perform, the road to stardom wasn’t easy for Chablis. In her autobiography, Chablis explains that performing in Atlanta taught her about the realities of prejudice and she was even arrested for falsification of identification. “They took my purse and my gowns and they took The Doll to jail, honey…”, Chablis writes and she shows readers that performing in drag and living as a pre-operative transgender female was not as accepted at the time as it is today.
Chablis continued to perform at Club One in Savannah up until she was hospitalized on August 6th 2016. On social media, Club One paid tribute to their resident queen, sharing that “just as The Book shined the spotlight on Savannah, so too did Chablis shine the spotlight on the gay scene, and especially on Club One. She was Club One’s very first entertainer, officiating our grand opening in 1988, and paving the way for female impersonation in Savannah. No one, however, could outshine the Grand Empress herself.” And while Chablis may no longer be performing on the main stage at Club One, her legacy as a drag performer and transgender pioneer will live on for many generations to come.
I’ve always been fascinated with The Doll…something about her way of expressing herself made me feel like she was an old friend.
As for Alexis….The Arquette family has issued this statement:
“Our brother Robert, who became our brother Alexis, who became our sister Alexis, who became our brother Alexis, passed this morning September 11, at 12:32 am,” Richmond wrote. “He was surrounded by all of his brothers and sisters, one of his nieces and several other loved ones. We were playing music for him and he passed during David Bowie’s Starman. As per his wishes, we cheered at the moment that he transitioned to another dimension.”
The Arquette family have paid tribute to their daughter Alexis Arquette and commended her fight for the “understanding and acceptance” of the transgender community.
The Arquette family have requested privacy and asked for donations be made to organisations which support the LGBTQ community in her honour.
Her sibling’s statement in full:
“Our sister, Alexis Arquette, passed away this morning, September 11th, 2016.
“Alexis was a brilliant artist and painter, a singer, an entertainer and an actor. She starred in movies like ‘Last Exit to Brooklyn’, ‘Pulp Fiction’, ‘Jumpin’ at the Boneyard’, ‘Of Mice and Men’, ‘The Wedding Singer’, and ‘The Bride of Chucky’. Her career was cut short, not by her passing, but by her decision to live her truth and her life as a transgender woman. Despite the fact that there are few parts for trans actors, she refused to play roles that were demeaning or stereotypical. She was a vanguard in the fight for understanding and acceptance for all trans people.
“She fiercely lived her reality in a world where it is dangerous to be a trans person — a world largely unready to accept differences among human beings, and where there is still the ugliness of violence and hostility towards people that we may not understand.
“Alexis was born as Robert, our brother. We loved him the moment he arrived. But he came in as more than a sibling — he came as our great teacher. As Alexis transitioned into being a woman, she taught us tolerance and acceptance. As she moved through her process, she became our sister, teaching us what real love is.
“We learned what real bravery is through watching her journey of living as a trans woman. We came to discover the one truth — that love is everything.
“In the days leading to her death, she told us she was already visiting the other side, and that where she was going, there was only one gender. That on the other side, we are free from all of the things that separate us in this life, and that we are all one.
“She passed away surrounded by love. We held her and sang her David Bowie’s ‘Starman’ as she punched through the veil to the other side. We washed her body in rose petals and surrounded her with flowers.
“Alexis always had to do everything first. She left before we were ready to let her go. We are all heartbroken that she is no longer with us, but we are grateful for the grace and kindness we were all shown during this difficult time. We are comforted by the fact that Alexis came into our family and was our brother and then our sister, and that she gave us so much love. We will love you always, Alexis. We know we were the lucky ones.
“The family asks that in lieu of flowers or gifts, donations please be sent to organizations that support the LGBTQ community in honour of Alexis Arquette.
“Please respect our privacy during this time of grieving.”
Actress and transgender activist Alexis Arquette transitioned to a woman in her late thirties, so why did her brother, Richard, and ex-boyfriend, Ryan Black, refer to her with male pronouns? It’s especially confusing for some, considering sister Patricia referred to Alexis with all female pronouns in the family’s press release about Alexis’ death Sunday.
GLAAD, formerly the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, encourages the media to becautious of “pronoun confusion”: “Ideally a story will not use pronouns associated with a person’s birth sex when referring to the person’s life prior to transition. Try to write transgender people’s stories from the present day, instead of narrating them from some point in the past, thus avoiding confusion and potentially disrespectful use of incorrect pronouns.”
The Associated Press Stylebook writes reporters should: “use the pronoun preferred by the individuals who have acquired the physical characteristics of the opposite sex or present themselves in a way that does not correspond with their sex at birth. If that preference is not expressed, use the pronoun consistent with the way the individuals live publicly.”
So if Alexis transitioned to a female more than a decade ago, why is there confusion about her gender? Lesser known to the public, Alexis became more fluid about her gender later in life. In fact, she said she was “not transgender anymore” when Caitlyn Jenner came out last year.
“She was like, ‘Yeah, sometimes I’ll be a man, sometimes I’ll be a woman. I like to refer to myself as gender suspicious,’” her brother, David Arquette, said on “Kocktails with Khloé” in February.
David was confused. “I said, ‘You’re my sister and brother?’” he recalled asking. “[Alexis] said, ‘It depends on how I’m dressed.’”
Alexis believed there was only one gender after death. “In the days leading to her death, she told us she was already visiting the other side, and that where she was going, there was only one gender,” Patricia wrote in the family’s press release. “That on the other side, we are free from all of the things that separate us in this life, and that we are all one.”
Arquette remained fiercely private about her health struggles and obstinate about seeking treatments, ignoring her friends’ and family’s entreaties to take the life-saving AIDS drugs that were emerging every year. In recent weeks, the battle became a losing one: Arquette, 47, had developed an infection in her liver that spread throughout her body.
She was pronounced dead at 12:32 a.m. on Sunday, Sept. 11. The news was first shared in a Facebook post from her eldest brother, Richmond Arquette, 53, perhaps the least-known member of a powerhouse acting family that includes Rosanna, 57, Patricia, 48, and David, 45. “Our brother Robert, who became our brother Alexis, who became our sister Alexis, who became our brother Alexis [has] passed,” began his announcement.
Alexis had left specific instructions for her death: David Bowie’s “Starman” was to play as her final moments approached. (Glam rock had always been her favorite genre of music, followed by new wave and punk.) And when the final breath passed her lips, she asked that everyone cheer “the moment that [s]he transitioned to another dimension.”
A few other links:
Whether or not AIDS complications played a role in either woman’s death, they can still teach us a lot about the health inequality of transgender life.
This week has seen the death of two famous transgender women. First was Lady Chablis, the 59-year-old African-American performer made famous by the best-selling book and later Clint Eastwood film Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. Chablis spent much of her life as an elegant and attractive cabaret performer at nightclubs in Savannah, Ga., and Columbia, S.C. Her death from pneumonia did little to diminish her star power which had grown from her role in Midnight (she played herself) to appearances on The Real Housewives of Atlanta and Bizarre Foods America: Savannah. According to The Advocate’s Neal Broverman, she continued her club performances, wrote an autobiography, and “used her fame for good, raising money for diabetes and LGBT causes. She remained beloved in Savannah, even though she lived in South Carolina.”
Lady Chamblis (above) made Savannah a destination
In her obituary, pneumonia was listed as the cause of Chablis’s death. Pneumonia, literally an infection in one or both lungs, affects 1 million people a year in the U.S. and kills about 50,000. There’s a vaccine, but it’s usually only recommended for people over 65 or those with immune system issues like HIV.
Pneumonia, just like what Hilary Clinton has, is common and can be caused by bacteria or viruses from things like the flu, whooping cough, and chicken pox. People who have HIV are more susceptible, as are those who smoke, or have diabetes, asthma, or heart disease. When people in the HIV world hear someone died of pneumonia, and they are otherwise in decent health, we can’t help but wonder if it that pneumonia was a complication of their HIV.
Chablis died, at 59, just days before actress-turned-artist Alexis Arquette did so as well.
Arquette, 47 at her death, was the second youngest of a Hollywood dynasty that began with her grandfather Cliff Arquette, a man who dressed as both Mrs. Butterworth (replete with falsetto and mustache) and a character, Charlie Weaver, that became so famous and ubiquitous he occupied the Hollywood Squares in character longer than most other stars of the time. (Cliff, in fact, was rarely seen in public without playing the Charlie Weaver character.)
The family bloodline traces back to Meriwether Lewis (half of for the the 1800s era Lewis and Clark Expedition) for whom Alexis’s own father was named. (He was on The Waltons.)
Arquette’s siblings — Rosanna, Richmond, Patricia, and David Arquette — were reportedly by her side at the end, and supportive throughout her tabloid-ridden life. But if People magazine, ex-boyfriend Robert DuPont, and “anonymous sources” are to be believed, Arquette died of complications from AIDS — an inoperable cancerous tumor and some sort of infection — at Cedars Sinai hospital, as her family played David Bowie’s “Starman.” These same “sources” reported that Arquette had been living in a West Hollywood, Calif. Actors Fund home for people with HIV, rather than with her wealthy siblings, out of a need for independence.
Here the thing about all this, and about the attendant reports debating over whether Arquette’s transition a decade ago was still relevant, whether she was misgendered by family members in death or whether she now identified as “gender suspicious” and thus open to pronouns of any sort — the thing here is that nothing about Arquette’s health or death has been confirmed by those closest to her, by her family or by her doctors, and until then we can’t say she had HIV at all. That won’t stop the tabloids though, which requires us, too, to comment.
The same can be said for Lady Chablis.
What we do know is that when we hear about transgender women dying in their 40s and 50s, and the cause isn’t violence, we know that complications from AIDS is a very real possibility. That’s because HIV disproportionately impacts transgender women, especially those, like Chablis, who are women of color. We know that the life expectancy for a a black trans woman it’s extremely low and often unlikely to be from old-age natural causes and far more likely to be violence or AIDS complications.
And, those of us in the world of HIV healthcare and activism know that for years, pneumonia and cancer have been code words for AIDS complications.
Go to the link to read the rest of that post…which also touches on the Hillary conspiracy.
This is an open thread. Please post links to whatever you like in the comments below. I just would like to end with this last bit from the very first article I discussed in this post. It phrases my thoughts and feelings:
Today, we are a little further down that road to equality thanks to pioneers like The Lady Chablis and Alexis Arquette, but our world is also a little dimmer without their light. The roles they won might seem small or stereotypical by today’s standards, but they were exceptional 20 years ago. Rest in power, Goddess Chablis and Goddess Arquette.
Rest in power is right…and may the glam be with you!