Arnell Alvion Davenport: Modern Day Woman & Diva Extraordinaire

When I think of a drag queen, the first person that comes to mind is Alvion Arnell Davenport. Not only because she was the host at my first drag show, but because she is as much kind and wise as she is an entertainer and diva. Many people consider drag a way to embody a different persona, and to be more free and open to say what you want to say. For Alvion, she is the same person either way. 

“I’ll curse you out with the makeup on or without it on. We’ll laugh together with the makeup on, or with it off. I’m not different, but a lot of people do use it as a release or a self-esteem boost or that kind of thing," said Alvion. 

Ordinarily, on her days off she likes to play bingo, is deathly afraid of needles and loves the color purple. Extraordinarily, she is the cast director at Godfrey’s, is a national title-holder (which we'll get into below) and among one of the most reconginizable drag queens in Richmond. A Richmond local at its finest, Alvion sat down to give Her Campus an exclusive on how she started getting into drag, dating and what its like to be a national title holder.

Many people are often confused as to whether or not they should call someone dressed in drag a “he” or a “she.”  Why it’s an issue could partly be due to the fact that our society has an obsession for labels. One thing that Alvion made clear was her disdain for labels.

“I HATE labels!” she said. “I hate categorizing people, like here are the gays and these are the straights and these are the women and these are the men. We’re just people. Everybody’s different in their own way, everybody’s a person and they’re entitled to their own way of living.”

If someone is dressed up as a woman - hair, makeup, wig, glitter and all - calling them a "he" can be considered rude.

“If I’m dressed as a woman, then call me a woman,” said Alvion.

The beginnings:

Alvion is a Richmond native to the core. Not only was she born and raised in Richmond, but she had her start in Richmond.  Alvion grew up in Northside and went to John Marshall High School. At the time, John Marshall had a contest called the Mr. and Ms. Justice competition that she waited until her senior year to compete in, only for it to be shut down by the new, conservative principal. The new principle did not believe in males competing in pageants.  As a result, she shut down the “Mr.” portion of the pageant which kept Alvion from competing althoug they still continued the "Ms." portion of the pageant.  While this would have been her drag debut, it wasn’t until the night of her senior prom at Godfrey’s that she was presented with another opportunity. After hearing about a pageant that Godfrey’s was hosting, Alvion was dared by her friends to compete.

That following year in February, she competed and won. That was 10 years ago.

Now she is the cast director at Godfrey's, a local celebrity and an important part of the LGBT community.

With any lifestyle that is not considered mainstream, there is pushback. So how did her family react to this budding diva?

“I had zero problems with my family,” Alvion said.

She talked openly about her family’s support, how they opened up to her, and their continuous support to this day (you may even catch them at a Sunday brunch). While her family was and always has been supportive of her, the hardest conflict was her relationship with the younger children in her family. She has always been careful not to confuse the younger children in her family so that they could grow and become their own person. "I just tried to make sure that I maintained myself around the little ones so in the event that one of them does grow up to be gay, they wont say “oh well, he saw you being gay all the time"…I try myself to be positive and not be too over the top of the young ones." 

I asked Alvion how her faith, the church and the LGBT all mesh together.  Many of the people I have come across in today’s society feel that you can’t be a part of LGBT community and part of the church. This is her response: 

“But they feel like you can have kids out of wedlock and be a part of the church, or they feel that you can curse your mama out tomorrow and then go to church on Sundays…?” said Alvion.

Faith is and always has been a large part of Alvion’s life. If you take a look at her Facebook page or even her farewell "Miss Wessland Grand Empress" video, faith is one asset that shines through.  When I asked if she has received any criticism, she responded simply, but poignantly.

“I have not received any criticism, because I don’t allow myself to be criticized,” she said. If there is ever a negative situation, she addresses it before they do – head on.

“I don’t judge you, there’s no need to judge me” she said.

On relationships & dating:

While hosting comes au naturel, the dating scene isn’t as easy.

In the community she has found it difficult finding a guy who accepts that fact that you are a woman four out of seven days in a week and have two personas. "There is a lot that a man would have to deal with when dating a drag queen. A lot of people want a masculine [man] and this wig and stuff—not so manly. So that’s that”  

“Drag for me is more of my job,” said Alvion.  When not at Godfrey’s, she’s not in drag. If you had to label her sexuality, you can consider her a gay male, but she is actually more bisexual. 

“Over the past years I have been dating gay masculine females, so studs is what you would call them. It's so crazy that it's right because I’m genetically a male and she’s genetically a female.” 

The Godfrey’s story:

In the drag world, there is a rigid system of seniority.

“In order to move up the ladder, someone literally has to die or retire or something of that nature, because it's one of those things that people normally stay in forever," said Alvion (at Godfrey’s there are some queens who are over 60!). The show director prior to Alvion, India Spaulding, made the decision to retire. But in the years before her retirement, she hired Alvion as her assistant show director. Alvion was already very good with people, and keeping books which proved to work to her advantage. Over a span of about a year and a half, she built on her talents, and with the help of India Spaulding, was molded and shown the ropes of being a show director . She has now been the show director for about five years.

On her inspirations:

“To be totally honest, I found my early inspiration mostly from real celebrities like Whitney Houston and people like that. Especially Whitney, because no matter how many times the world or the tabloids tried to make her out to be this crazy person, -- which she kinda was. She always seemed to bounce back from it. She always seemed to always come out, cracked out or not, with her head held high like nothing was ever wrong. She never just backed in to a corner, she was just always confident about her and her gift and I feel like I am just very confident about myself and my gifts so I pull a lot of inspiration from that. Now if I would have to say another entertainer, that inspires me or has inspires me, I would have to say in all honesty, I am mostly inspired by queens like Victoria Snow and Kerri Blake. Some of the older queens who have been through all of the changes in our community and all of the different eras of times and they’ve had the guts and the motivation and the drive to constantly and continuously do what they wanted to do. The two that I just mentioned are still queens of today, up and pumping . The ones that came before me are most inspiring."

The family dynamic:

When Alvion came out, she was inducted into a gay family that helped mold her and teach her the ropes of drag. Nowadays, because of the many different shows and opportunities for people to jump into drag, the family dynamic is not as imperative. Being a part of the community is something that she takes very seriously and realizes that when you first start, it can be terrifying. There are big wigs, big costumes and a lot of things that a young queen wouldn’t know.

Not only is she a part of a gay family, but she also has a drag daughter -- only one. Like any family, jealousy among siblings is something that is hard to avoid which is one of the main reasons she decided to only adopt one. They both grew up in the same neighborhood and around the same people. Her drag daughter actually used to come out to shows and when she decided she wanted to do drag, asked for Alvion’s help. Alvion agreed, marking the beginning of their mother/daughter relationship.   

Her advice:

When you're young and looking to find your way in the gay community, it can be difficult. Her advice is to make sure that you consider everyone else’s opinion that matters.

“I would want to say, 'be you and f*** what everyone else says, be yourself.' But in the same sense I would want to do that and then the person being themselves gets them put out of the house or in some crazy predicament,” Alvion said.

While she is sticking to her guns about being yourself, there is a certain amount of respect that is required if you aren’t completely on your own.

“If  you live in your mom's house and she doesn’t agree with you wearing wigs, then you may want to do that outside of her house…until you are able to provide and do for your own, you really can’t call those shots,” she said. Everyone’s situation is different and requires one to be conscious of his or her surroundings.

Future plans:

Alvion won the Miss Wessland Grand Empress pageant in 2012, making it her first national title. Winning took her 9 out of the 14 places she had wanted to travel.

“It changed my life and career for the better,” she said. While she has not recently competed in any pageants, she does plan to venture back into the national arena, hopefully next year, to possibly compete in Gay USofA At Large.

In five years, she sees herself with a husband, five kids and retired.

No, not really.

She actually wants to be a mortician. Yes, one of the people who prepares dead bodies to be buried. While no one in her family runs a funeral home or is a mortician, mortology has always been an interest of hers.  Mortician school will take about 18 months, and then you are required to practice two years as an apprentice. Within five years she hopes to have all of that completed.

Words to live by:

"Stay true to yourself and the things that you stand for. Stand for nothing, you’ll fall for anything."

 

Visit www.godfreysva.com to find out which days and times of the week you can catch Alvion at Godfrey's! 

 

*All photos by Megan Goss