“You know what a house is? I’ll tell you what a house is. A house is a gay street gang.” That quote from Paris Is Burning is the only line in the “about” section of the House of Avalon Facebook Page.
Having spent some time at the shared East Hollywood home of House of Avalon members Hunter Wade Crenshaw, Mark Samuel Monroe, Grant Vanderbilt and Caleb Feeney, I came to realize there really is no other description needed. These guys are just that: a gay street gang, full of color and vibrancy and excitement. Gay in the most outrageous, glamorous and gorgeous way possible.
They’re four queer kids who grew up in Little Rock, Arkansas, and in the face of an ultra-conservative, Christian and often homophobic environment, they created what would become a massively successful queer party in their hometown called Glitterrock.
Hunter: It was really just about us wanting to express ourselves and give people a little taste of it. Things are so stagnant in the South, and if you were born and raised anywhere else you just don’t get the experience.
We were sitting in their living room, which is a mix of pop culture museum and super casual and comfortable queer frat house, with enough new age imagery thrown in to add some depth.
Hunter: The parties were just a part of the community we wanted to create. It was like we almost had to live in a new place.
Grant: So we started Glitterrock!
Hunter: Glitterrock was everything to us. It was where we could be crazy and let go of all the bullshit that existed in Little Rock. For us those parties represented the perfect place. Our place.
Caleb: Those parties were so much fun! [as he throws his legs up into the air and sighs deeply]
Hunter: I think the coolest thing was to see all the little queer babies from all over the damn state come and party.
Grant and Hunter went to high school together in a town called Bald Knob.
Hunter: We lived separate lives back then. Grant’s mom was a teacher, and my family were straight-up trailer trash — and proud of that, by the way.” [He laughs]
Grant: We met at a church lock-in.
Hunter: A lock-in is this wild thing where the church takes the youth and keeps them for 24 hours. They took us to a water park from 9 p.m. to 8 a.m. It was wild.
Grant: It was a trashy little water park. Hunter and I started talking about America’s Next Top Model and our love of Catwoman — the Michelle Pfeiffer incarnation only. We became friends instantly and spent every waking moment that summer with each other.
Hunter: He was my first gay friend and has been there ever since. [He smiles at Grant.] I came out to my mom with him.
Mark: I met Grant in a college drawing class. I was playing some kind of sad girl indie music and he walked straight over and put on Britney Spears. We’ve been friends ever since. Grant insisted I meet Hunter. We [Mark and Hunter] met for the first time at a Sonic in Bald Knob and have literally been together as boyfriends ever since then.
Caleb: I came to the first house party that Mark, Hunter and Grant threw in Little Rock. [He’s clearly the baby brother of the crew.] The party was called Madonnarama, an entire night dedicated to the Queen. I pretty much moved in with Mark and Hunter right then and have been part of the House ever since. It was a learning curve to have a chosen family. I really don’t stay in touch with my family — all Trump supporters — so the three of them are really like my family.
Hunter: We have been a crazy dysfunctional family ever since and probably will be into our 90s.
Hunter puts his arm around Caleb.
Caleb: We have defiantly adopted that sense of family aspect.
Hunter: Growing up in Arkansas was rewarding in some ways, but it was also a really tough experience. I think that for all the hardships, bullies and bullshit I had to put up with I learned a valuable lesson — that we were strong, together and individually, and we were never going to be afraid of the risks of being completely open and as queer as possible anywhere, and everywhere. Growing up in Bald Knob with a drug-addicted dad and a somewhat stable mom added this terrible layer to my experience, but I was able to almost fly under the radar. I was obsessed with Dorothy Gale and Catwoman, and no one really batted an eye. It wasn’t until my dad was murdered that the kids at school blessed me with the title “faggot witch,” which, thanks to Grant for making me take that label back. I have it tattooed on my ass.
Hunter laughs, but something somber moves through the room.
Hunter: I think I can speak for all of us that our childhoods were not that pleasant.
Mark: Yeah, taking all that bullshit as a kid, I think it really made the step to throw queer as fuck parities the next obvious step. [Everyone nods their heads, the mood lightening again.] We would really contextualize the space with huge props and décor. We always strive to provide a complete sensory overload and to make the space seem like this whole new world.
Grant: Like one of the main things we said at the beginning was if someone doesn’t leave the party and ask themselves “What the fuck?” in a good or bad way, then we weren’t doing our job. It’s about making people think, opening them up to new ideas.
Hunter: The parties were so silly and insane.
Grant: One of my favorite moments was at our party called GawdDaughter, where literally anything would go. We had this one local queen named Reprobabe strapped onto an exercise bike surrounded by parking cones while eating orange sherbet with her hands, all while lip-synching a Hillary Duff song. Amazing!
Huner laughs, clapping his hands at the memory.
Hunter: Nothing and everything made sense!
The decision for the House of Avalon to move to Los Angeles seemed like the next obvious step.
I first met the House of Avalon when a friend DJ’d their party Snap Out of It! at Micky’s in West Hollywood. What impressed me most was the way these guys took the club and made it their own. Grant walked around the bar with a microphone saying whatever the fuck he wanted, calling people out, telling jokes, commenting on anything and everything. There was a “We don’t give a fuck and we will do whatever we want … because why not?” attitude that instantly rang true and fierce.
It was that “We don’t give AF” attitude that really sets the House of Avalon apart for me. You could just tell they had fought to get where they were, and this was just the beginning.
Hunter: L.A. is an odd one because the gay center, West Hollywood, tends to have so many stereotypes and really is most of the time “masc-for-masc” centered. For us that’s usually not where we like to party, but the opportunity came about to throw Snap Out of It! at Micky’s. People were actually shocked because we were throwing a party in West Hollywood! But we knew this was where we needed to be. We are playing against the stereotype and proving it’s possible.
Grant: I think it just makes sense for us. We have always been where we weren’t supposed to be, and it has always worked out. I think it’s really cool that here we are, these super queer kids throwing a party at Micky’s, and we can really do whatever we want. At the second Snap Out of It! the amazing Ridge Gallagher brought a slave and whipped his ass and stapled her tips to his body on this bed we had set up. It was incredible.
Caleb: When was the last time you’ve seen that on the WeHo strip?
Hunter: It’s once again us trying to go as far as possible, bringing the irreverent to the forefront every time.
Mark: For Snap Out of It! we built an actual trailer for the dancers to dance in front of. Just a symbol of where we came from. And also to really just take the piss out of everything. Pretentiousness is our literal biggest enemy, and if we can do anything to make someone feel at home who usually would not in WeHo, once again we have done our job.
Caleb: Don’t forget our signature pickles and cheese puffs in the VIP area! [He laughs]
Hunter: It’s so funny to see someone stick their hands into the pickle jar to get a pickle in the middle of WeHo. It’s honestly like breaking the fourth wall. I think right now, personally, we are all having a difficult time adjusting to a new life, but I know this is where we are supposed to be. I have always learned that you have to work hard at what you want, and we work pretty damn hard.
Hunter: House of Avalon has a line of clothes and pieces we do every year for DragCon, and we’ve gotten to fulfill some of our wildest dreams since being here. I think for me it’s about continuing to do what we are doing. Making our party bigger and better, being ourselves and, most importantly to me, we never lose that Southern sensibility. I am no celebrity and no crazy role model, but I know what it’s like to be that lonely rural queer kid, and I can only hope that through social media or whatever means other queer kids out there can see us and know that this life, as big and crazy as it can get, is possible for them too.
Mark: Right now I’m constantly having to pinch myself. Since moving to L.A. I’ve had way more opportunities provided to me. It’s so crazy, this town really is full of magic and all these little dreams. I’m excited to share our new clothing line, which launches in May. Clothes have always been the easiest way to express ourselves, and I cannot wait to translate that core part of the House of Avalon into this new collection.
Caleb: I think that being here is so important to me, because it’s a dream we all envisioned for so long. It was a big jump for us that was really scary at first. We really had no idea how it would go, and where it would take us. Having this family, this support system, is what we owe all our success to, and we keep each other in check at all times. To me, what matters most is that we keep living our lives unapologetically, and as long as we can continue to inspire people to showcase queer individuality and its power, I think that we’ve done our job. That’s what I want to keep doing.
Grant: I am living the fantasy, honey. I get to be the person I always dreamed of being. I get to wear fabulous gowns and tease my hair. I just want to keep pushing ourselves to be more wild and free. I want to throw bigger and crazier parties with no hangups and no inhibitions! I wanna be larger than life!