Remembering Alexis Arquette, L.A. Club Kid Turned Trans Activist

Arquette at PAPER's Beautiful People party in 2010
Arquette at PAPER's Beautiful People party in 2010
Star Foreman

On Sunday, the first news of the passing of actor/performer/L.A. nightlife icon Alexis Arquette came from Arquette’s brother Richmond on Facebook, describing the death not as an end but as the beginning of an exciting new journey.

"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."

Not surprisingly, Arquette left the world in much the same way she lived in it: dramatically, artfully and exactly how (s)he wanted it to be. I will use both gender pronouns here because the Arquette family has been doing so apparently, per Alexis’ request. In recent years, Alexis had said on a few occasions that (s)he no longer identified as transgender. Her/his reasons were vague, but anyone who knew her/him wasn’t really surprised; a vivacious, opinionated and fierce human like Alexis could never really be pinned down by a label, even one that (s)he became an advocate and ultimately a figurehead for.

Gender fluidity is a buzzword these days, but Alexis was living it all her/his life. For those of us who knew him as Robert back in the early club days, this makes it easier to sort of connect with our memories, which also makes the loss more painful. As an L.A. native, I remember knowing who Robert Arquette was in my tweens. We had mutual friends and frequented the bi-curious teen-club circuit that included long-gone underage dance clubs such as the Odyssey, Phases, The Network and 321. Back then, everyone knew he had a famous sister (who not only had a song written about her but also starred in a movie with the queen herself, Madonna). But that was actually pretty irrelevant. People always liked Robert just for himself, and why wouldn’t they? He was a beautiful boy, desired by guys and gals, rocking fashionable new wave get-ups and guyliner like nobody else could. When Robert entered the clubs, it was like Tony Manero in Saturday Night Fever: Everyone wanted to bask in his audacious, androgynous, effortless cool.

’Years later, I reconnected with Robert, who’d renamed himself Alexis but also went by the drag stage name Eva Destruction, during the glam rock resurgence of the late ’90s and early 2000s. Dragstrip 66, Club Cherry, Club Makeup and the Pretty Ugly Club were the main hubs for pansexual partying back then, and I had by this time been writing about them all for the Weekly for a while. Long before RuPaul’s Drag Race made it all the rage, the queen scene in L.A. was my favorite wonderland to escape to and chronicle, and Alexis/Eva was, of course, right in the middle of it, serving great face, hot frocks and, for her friends, uncensored commentary that’d make you laugh, think and often blush. She was smart and quick, and this made her a great emcee.

I have many fuzzy recollections of admittedly ridiculous conversations with Alexis (and her then-cohort, Candyass), drunken debates about music and fashion and whatnot. And, yeah, there was hot gossip about others on the scene at the time, too. We knew where the bodies were buried, so to speak (though I never, ever wrote about that).

We were young and hot, glittered and glossed club kids who strove to define ourselves with decadence and defiance, because we loved the aesthetics and the bold expression of provocateurs from earlier eras such as David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Grace Jones, Madonna, et al. And Alexis was the boldest. (S)he put her money where her mouth was many times as an actor, performer and hostess, and (s)he left us with so much in the process, from unforgettable turns onscreen (The Wedding Singer, Pulp Fiction, Bride of Chucky, Last Exit to Brooklyn) to L.A. stage performances (YouTube has a bunch). She also was on the forefront of reality TV as a cast member of VH1’s The Surreal Life, and she’ll be remembered as one of the realest figures ever on that or any reality show, in my opinion. By that time, she (and we, her peers) were sort of growing up, figuring out who we wanted to be outside of club life. Some of us were getting sober. Some moving away from “the scene.”

Alexis was clearly dealing with even bigger questions about her gender and how (s)he wanted to present herself and share it. She even made a documentary, She’s My Brother, about her sex-reassignment surgery. Though the film got mixed reviews for intentionally ending ambiguously, Alexis was unflinchingly honest about her conflicted feelings and what (s)he was willing to reveal. Regardless, (s)he seemed to have the support and love of her siblings David, Patricia, Rosanna and Richmond as (s)he navigated the transition. If (s)he ever struggled in their shadows, you never saw it. 

Throughout her life (s)he always kept it real (well, real to her). If you were on her shitlist — and I was once, for something I can’t even remember writing — God help you. But that’s the thing about people who live life on their own terms, people who are always true to who they are deep inside. Not everybody’s gonna get it or like it. And no matter your relationship with them at the time, it deserves respect.

Alexis Arquette has moved onto another dimension, surely alongside Bowie, Prince and so many others who lived their lives in the same bold, unapologetic way. But we hope (s)he can look down and know just how much respect and admiration (s)he had and still has, right here, right now, in this one.


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