The House of Xtravaganza is a publicly recognized house whose members are known for their cultural influence in community activism, nightlife, arts, dance, and so much more. In this tell-all episode, hosts Dani Behr and Tara Joseph interview the beautiful and extravagant Gisele Alicea Xtravaganza, the Mother of the House of Xtravaganza. Gisele is also a high fashion model, actress, painter, singer, event producer, and transgender activist. Today, she shares some insights into the world she lives in including the guidelines on who and how they take people into their house. From taking in LGBTQ kids ostracized from their birth families to also being a highly competitive and successful house in the Ballroom/Runway scene, Gisele talks about the different competitive categories, characters in the house, and big personalities, and the drama going on behind their doors. Listen to Gisele and immerse yourself into her colorful world.
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Behind The Doors Of The House Of Xtravaganza
With Special Guest, Gisele Alicea, House Mother From The House Of Xtravaganza
I have another amazing episode for you. We have always had amazing guests on the show. Tara, who is our guest du jour?
Our guest is quite fabulous. As House Mother at the House of Xtravaganza based out of New York, you don’t get more va-va-voom than this. Please welcome to the show the gorgeously dynamic and best mother on earth, Gisele.
We’re going bicoastal. We got some East Coast representatives. Tara and I, West Coast in it. We’re super excited you’re on the show. It’s been a long time coming, that’s for sure. Let’s start with the basic education for the average reader who has no idea what a House is and a House Mother. Take us back to the beginning of how it started? What is it? Give our readers a bit of an insight into the world that you live in.
Houses are formed from a group of individuals that join together to become a family unit that happened to be LGBT, trans, gay or lesbian. The original concept of the houses and the ballroom scene is having a mother and a father taking care of their kids. The kids that would be disowned by their parents for being gay. The Houses, the House Mother, and the House Father would take the responsibility of the mother and father and take the kids and act as if they were their kids. That’s what the houses are. It’s originally a family unit, but it also has been a competition. It’s a highly-competitive environment.
What do you mean?
When did it go from being a house of taking in ostracized kids from their natural families? Tell everyone again what ballroom is. You’re going to have to break it down for everybody.
A ballroom is a place where a whole bunch of houses gets together and they compete for categories, trophies, money and everything. These houses go to the balls to compete against each other and they’re all LGBT, trans, gay originally but there are straight people involved in the ballroom scene.
What are you doing to compete? What are you competing for?
We’re competing for who is the most fabulous bitch? It’s a competition about who can go into society and pass. Who can do a better job? Who is the one that can pass and even do a better job? It’s all competitive, but it’s all fun and it’s highly-competitive because all the houses have their member that they think is a hot one. This is the one who is going to have come out to the ball. That person is going to walk that category and she’s going to eat it. We have this other house and you have this other girl who’s even better. The other girl who’s real and it gets highly-competitive. It’s crazy.
Tell us a little bit about the different categories that you can do in the ballroom.
What are the different competitive categories? Is it the best runway walk? Is it the best outfit?
Some categories are who is the best dressed? Who is in the entire building who can come on stage and say, “I’m the best dressed one. I’m better than everybody in this entire building.” That’s a category. That’s hot too.
What categories are there? What categories do you in particular walk?
There are many categories. One of the categories is realness. That category, Femme Queen Realness, is which trans woman is the best woman to pass off in society and nobody can tell. That’s one of the categories. One of the categories that I walk that I’m known for is the runway. My category is fashion. It’s about sashaying, it’s about attitude. It’s about who is the one that can out-diva who on the floor. It’s all about outdoing each other. Whoever outdoes each other the most is the winner, or whoever walks the best. Whoever has the best attitude, whoever has the best voice, whoever has the whole look, that all comes into clarity for that category. You have other categories that are dance categories. They’re Vogue Femme. Those categories are for gay boys, which is called Butch Queen. Some of them are for gay men, some of them are for trans women, some of them are for Butch Lesbian, some of them are for lesbians. The category calls for Butch.
Some categories call for Femme Queen. Those Femme Queens are the trans women in the ballroom scene. We don’t call each other trans women. We call each other Femme Queens. That’s the language that is in the ballroom scene. Those categories are Femme Queen Vogue, Trans Women that Can Vogue. Whatever woman is the best one, that’s the hottest one. Who is the sassiest? Who has the best moves and energy? Those are the people that win. What happens is a lot of these people don’t win because other houses are there. It gets hot or the right winner doesn’t always win. That’s what makes it even hot. That makes it even hotter like, “How dare you?”
When you take people into your house, how do you determine who you take in? Do you take in people that you think are going to walk well on the runway or do you take people in who have a sentimental story that needs your support? We were speaking and you had met a whole load of youngsters to bring into the house. How do you make that decision? I know being the best house, everyone wants to be in the House of Xtravaganza.
We had a whole group of new Xtravaganzas that are coming in. How did we choose that? We had an open house, an open call for members or people that wanted to become part of the house. That happened several years ago. This is several years later that we had an open house, letting these individuals know how we decided to bring in these specific members because I brought in members a different way before. Jose had brought in members a different way as well. Grandparents and other people have suggestions. The final doers are the mother and father. We bring in kids.
What’s the age range, Gisele?
By their talent, by their looks, we want their looks. The age ranges are about honestly 15 to 30.
Where’d you find that from? When you say you put it out there as an open call, is it on Craigslist? Is it your social media? Is it word of mouth? How do people get to hear about that?
They got to hear about that through social media where the Xtravaganza House page is at. I also posted it, the father and a couple of members that are highly-known about it posted it on their social media, Facebook, Instagram. It was all over the place.
How do you become House Mother? How do you become House Father? Jose is incredibly famous within the scene. He’s been there for a long time. He taught Madonna how to Vogue. He taught Naomi how to do the catwalk. How did you two come together? How did you become House Mother and Father of this amazing Xtravaganza?
There’s a long history of that. I met Jose, I’ve heard of him. I have seen him.
Tell us for everyone who Jose is because the average reader won’t know who that is.Everybody wants power, and they don't ever want to let the women rule when the women are the best. Click To Tweet
Jose Xtravaganza is the Father of the House of Xtravaganza who also used to tour with Madonna and taught a lot of people in the industry how to do their thing.
He was one of the original Voguers, publicly. People knew him as one of the top Voguers.
He was one of the first Voguers ever to be seen in the public eye. He was the first one I have seen. How did we meet? We saw each other at Cheetah Club because I was hanging out with some of the Xtravaganza girls and we always did the nightlife. We were always in the nightlife. I met him there, I’ve heard of him and he was the sweetest person ever. He claimed me his daughter immediately. He was like, “You’re my daughter.” I was his only daughter at that time. Jose and I had been through much. We love each other. We pick kids through energy and all of that.
Do you ever bump heads? We discussed this in the past. There’s always a lot of drama in your house.
Where does the drama stem from? How does the drama rise? Is it you start getting competitive with each other in the ballroom?
It’s controlling, it’s power. Everybody wants power and they don’t ever want to let the women rule when the women are the best. I’m sorry. I’m tired of this. It’s nonsense. It’s the stuff that is benign, it is stupid. It’s ridiculous. I love him to death. It’s these trips that people go through constantly. I’m over it. This is my thing. Once you give that to me, I’m going to start giving it to you because I’m not good at dealing with people I ever meet in the ball.
As far as going back to the ballroom scene, when you start the initial house, it was more of a refuge for ostracized kids in their communities and their families. How did it go from that to being this competitive ball scene? How did that start? Was it more of a fun, playful, let’s all have a runway walk off and let’s all have a Vogue off and see who’s a Friday night get-together and then it gave them mention and became this huge big deal?
People are naturally competitive. You had these families, they were all competing. Before, if I’m not mistaken, in the ’60s it was more about the girls. It first started about feathers and beads and making your own thing. If I recall correctly from the documentary, Paris is Burning. I believe that was mentioned. It was more about feathers and beads. It was more about the girls coming out and doing the show. It was more about showgirls. That’s how it started. It grew into many different things because there was even a point where celebrities were doing their things, coming to the balls, Halston, Montana, all of those people. Those balls were different but it was almost segregated in a way. If I’m not mistaken.
The show Pose on FX and Netflix, would you say it’s realistic? Does it show the world in a real way?
I would say that Pose does touch on real-life situations, that it does give you a sense of reality, but no, it’s dramatized because it’s on TV.
With that competitiveness have the balls.
Vogue has nothing on real life.
You’ve got some of your Xtravaganza girls like Indya Moore and she is a lead role in Pose. She’s a member of your house. She’s one of your daughters. Angelica is a support cast member, isn’t she?
There’s a lot of spotlight on this.
There’s a lot of your children in the show. You must be proud of them all?
Yes, I’m proud of the whole evolution of Xtravaganza. It’s dealing with how to get there the right way.
Who’s your biggest competition with the other houses? Who are the other houses? How do you stay on top?
The other houses would be the older houses, the same ones as Xtravaganza, it would be maybe Mugler. It’s many different houses. There used to be many other old ones. There are many new houses, but Mugler, Ebony, Prodigies, all of that stuff. The House of Xtravaganza is its own entity.
No one can top you guys. You’re a league of your own.
Tell us about some of the characters in the house. We’ve met some of the children, but tell us about the ones with the big personalities. Tell us about the conflicts. Any in-house dating? I know that’s not allowed, but go on, spill the beans.
The situation that I’m dealing with is a situation with people liking each other too much in the house and that they were thinking about dating each other. This has to do with Alvarez.People will judge LGBTs because religion is the main factor of their judgments. Click To Tweet
Who does Alvarez have a crush on? Come on, girl.
I can’t say.
Are they secretly having a little rendezvous, Alvarez and whoever the crush is? They’re trying to keep it on the down-low or is it obvious everyone knows what’s up?
Did you find out or were you told? Were they caught?
One of my sons called me and he told me. I was like, “What?” I like my privacy. I don’t know how long much more that’s going to be, but because many things are going on. My son told me about Alvarez.
What’s the rule? Is it no inter-family mingling thing?
I don’t like it because it causes problems in the family and we don’t want to have a bigger problem because it has broken the family apart before. It’s like a hard divorce sometimes and then people get excited, they see everybody together and then one minute the next person’s not there. That person probably was powerful energy here and had a big impact here. You see them here no more. You wonder why. It’s because that person was involved with this one and that person. There you go.
Do you find that a lot of young trans women come to you for guidance as to the matriarch of the household?
A lot of the young girls come to me for guidance and not only a lot of the young girls, a lot of the young boys. It’s not just the girls. I have a lot of the girls and I have a lot of more boys coming to me with their problems and girls.
What’s the ratio between gay, trans, etc. within the house?
We had an open house, the ratio now is different from what it was before. I’m going to speak now from the ratio in the future. This is why I’m excited about it. We have a lot more gay men, a lot more transwomen and a lot more cisgendered women.
What’s the latter? Excuse my ignorance.
We always had straight members as well. We don’t deny anybody. Anybody who loves us and wants to be part of the family. We don’t care if you’re gay, straight, transgender, bisexual, pansexual whatever it is.
Explain to Dani what a cis woman is.
A cis woman is a term that the LGBT came up with to describe a natural-born woman. An argument is that the trans community doesn’t want to hear that because trans women feel like we were born women. Some of them. I have a different feeling when I’m speaking about other women who have this feeling. They don’t want to be referred to or they don’t want to be compared to women and say, “That’s the real woman.” The term is a cisgender woman.
The cisgender woman is somebody that was born with all the female body parts as is. As opposed to a trans woman who has the transformation. They might spiritually, mentally feel like a woman, but they physically are representing, correct?
Right, that’s the best way.
The terms are changing. Often I have to ask Tara because she’s much better versed than me with what everything is and what it means. I feel like for the first time speaking as the average person out there. This is the most spotlight that there’s ever been publicly on the trans community, which is amazing because it’s becoming the norm. Have you seen the influx and the public’s attention on it? With the TV shows and what Netflix is doing with Pose that raises a spotlight on these things. Do you feel like it’s for the better? Do you feel like it’s giving people opinion of, “This is an average person like everybody else and they’re going through that journey and you have your journey?” How does the trans community make up it with all this public attention?
It’s important because there are a lot of successful trans women that should be public to show the world that trans women are not a joke. That’s what society has led the world to believe for an eon and trans women are human beings. First, we’re human before anything, we have the same needs. We love the same, we want the same nurturing, and we want the same respect. We want the same love, this is who we are. I don’t know what it is. I can’t explain to you what it is, but all I know is that it is, and this is who I am. People will judge us because religion is the main factor in it. There’s also society and the machista, the macho world.
Anything’s slightly different out of the ordinary, people judge or observe.
Anything, if you have an extra finger or somebody’s going to judge you whatever it is, it doesn’t matter if you’re blue and orange, you’re going to go at it.
I have to say the new generation is much more open and much less brainwashed and less ignorant than our generation and our parents’ generation and beyond. My kids are at an average school and there are a couple of trans kids there. It is what it is. It’s not even a thing at all.
There are a couple of trans kids there?
Yeah. Talking about that, how do you feel? What is the consensus? Is there an age where you feel like, “Wait until you get to 18 or 21 or 25 and make sure?” What’s the consensus in the trans community of making sure this is 100% the right decision to go before the transformation?
My personal opinion would be that the age range should not be too young. This is the thing. I don’t know what to tell you. Every case should be independent, but as far as hormone therapy and all that stuff, that’s an independent thing. I can’t judge anybody. I can’t tell anybody who wants to put their child at whatever age. I don’t know what their child is going through. I can’t tell people this is what you need to do without having any information on the specific cases. Everybody needs to deal with their cases specifically and differently. Not everybody can handle the same thing. Maybe someone can allow their child to be a trans woman at five years old. That’s a little bit young for me as a trans woman, I’m being honest and I have the right to have my opinion as well. It scary because sometimes you say things like this and some other trans people might get offended. I’m also learning what the terms that are coming in this and I’m a trans woman. I’m part of the LGBT community as well. I have people that are part of the LGBT community that are like, “A lot is going on.” We’re all learning in all of this.
Have you ever come across the trans choir of LA? They’re called the Trans Chorus of LA. They are amazing. Abdullah Hall, the creative director there, is a huge fan of the House of Xtravaganza. I had lunch with him. I have to give him a shout-out because of the work that he does with the Trans Chorus of LA and with his partner in crime, Kathryn Davis, who’s a trans woman. He’s a nonbinary individual but they are huge fans of the House of Xtravaganza. I know they would be excited that I’m speaking to you. I have an interview with them coming out shortly. I wanted to shout their names out because I know that they’re huge admirers.
When are you next having your big ballroom Xtravaganza event? I would love to come and see this. Are the public allowed to come? Is it something they can go online and buy tickets for? Is it an exclusive who’s who in the situation?People will judge LGBTs because religion is the main factor of their judgments. Click To Tweet
When we have our ball we’re going to have it open to the public and our first ball is coming soon.
When is it?
I’m thinking about it. I don’t know. We’re all thinking about it. Jose is thinking about it too. I’m thinking about it more because all these new kids, you see the balls that I had before were expensive and they were affluent. Now is a better time to do those balls. I want to do something crazy. I love it. I want to do it.
When you’re not doing balls, runway, and being House Mother, what do you do Gisele? What do you do that we don’t know about?
There’s much that I shouldn’t be saying.
Go on, spill the beans. We want to know.
I do a lot of stuff. I have a free life because I don’t have a 9:00 to 5:00, but I’m working in the industry, which gives me time to myself when I’m not working.
What do you do exactly?
I make lots of music. I make lots of paintings. I also love to go out dining, eating food. I love to go out eating at the best restaurants in the world. I love traveling.
I will join the club.
Me too, we’ve got that in common. Who doesn’t love to eat in the best restaurants in town?
I like to do different things. I like everything and what I want to do is take the house on a trip but to a different country.
There are different Xtravaganzas around the world, like Japan, London, LA, and other places.
We have lots of members all over the world, but there are only one mother and one father of the House of Xtravaganza.
You’re the top dog, top mother.
Are you dating? Is there anyone special in your life?
We want the good stuff. What’s the day-to-day outfit for Gisele? You can’t see her, but she is flogging a full fur hat, which is something that I would rock in Aspen or Colorado on a slope. She’s sitting in a New York apartment in a Russian fur hat. What’s your style? What’s your getup? Gisele is a friend of DJ Lena who everybody knows is coming on La La Landed. You are both fabulous in your own ways. Lena has her style. She is the godmother of all. What’s your vibe? What’s the style that you love?
That’s the thing. I don’t have a specific style but everybody would say I’m darker.
What do you mean by that, gothy, punky?
Gothic, punky, sometimes sleek, sometimes rough. I don’t have one. I go with my mood. Sometimes I like to look at hip hop-ish. Sometimes I like to look conservative. Sometimes I like to look like a statue. Sometimes I’m going to do this, I want to play.
Who are your fashion icons? Who are your top three would you say you’ll go to?
My fashion icons would be Christy Turlington. She has always been a fashion icon for me. Naomi Campbell, André Leon Talley, all these people that have been in the fashion industry. Those people are iconic.
Who’s style do you emanate? I know Lena loves Donna Summer. Her whole vibe, as well as Bobby is a big influence on her in a weird way.
Angelina Jolie is a fashion. Jennifer Lopez is a big fashion icon of mine. She’s always turning it.
Talking of JLo, one of the things about the House of Xtravaganza is that you’re a Latino-based community. Is that still the case with the new intake that you’ve embraced into the community? Is it still Latino-based? Have you opened it up more?
We’re open to everything but it’s still mostly based Latino because it is what it is. The connections have been there. That’s one of the reasons I respect this house is because of what it is, what it means, what it represents to the Latino specifically institution.
What’s your heritage?
I was born in New York but my mother is Dominican from the Dominican Republic and my father is Puerto Rican from Puerto Rico.
You got some fire in the belly.
I have a lot of fire in the belly.
That’s a great line to end on.
I’ve got to ask her one more thing. With all the publicity nowadays on the houses, you must have a lot of celebrities wanting to come and hang up the balls or be a guest judge. Who have you had shown up? We know Rihanna is a big fan and still some names for us.
Naomi Campbell, Madonna, Rihanna, Beyoncé, all of them.
Do they come and watch the balls?
Do they judge?
No, they sometimes did. Rihanna was on stage.
The crowd must go wild.
I’m telling you the environment is competitive that everybody’s still like, “I’m the one.” They’re like, “RiRi who? Look at me.”
You’ve got to keep us posted with the next big events and I have to come.
100% we will be there in all of our glory.
Come. You’re welcome.
Thank you. You’re always such a delight to speak to and informative about everything.
Thank you, Tara. I appreciate it.
Thanks, Gisele. Send love to the rest of the family and stay out of trouble. Stop arguing with Jose. Make this marriage work.
I got into one because you know men.
We look forward to chatting with you again soon. It’s Gisele from the House of Xtravaganza. You can follow Gisele and the rest of the family members. What’s your Instagram handle, Gisele?
It’s @GiseleAlicea on Instagram.
What’s the House Instagram?
There you have it. Thanks for reading. A big thank you to Gisele, our fabulous guest and her fur mink hat over there. A big shout-out and a big thanks to all our readers for reading again our blog. We’ll be back soon. You know where to find us @LaLaLandedPodcast on Instagram. Check out LaLaLanded.com for all promotions and future episodes coming up. Thanks.
Thank you. You’ll be hearing from us soon.
- House of Xtravaganza
- @GiseleAlicea on Instagram
- @HouseOfXtravaganza on Instagram
- @LaLaLandedPodcast – Instagram
About Gisele Alicea
Gisele Alicea Xtravaganza is a high fashion model, actress, painter, singer, event producer, transgender activist and the mother of the House of Xtravaganza. She appeared in Vogue and Vanity Fair as part of the groundbreaking Barney’s campaign, which featured transgender models. As a result of her participation in the campaign, she was also profiled on Japanese Public TV. Over the course of her modeling career she has worked with Academy-award nominated costume and fashion designer, Patricia Field along with many leading fashion photographers, including Patrick Demarchelier, Terry Richardson, Danielle Levitt and Bruce Weber. In addition to Vogue and Vanity Fair, she has appeared in Interview, Out, Amelie G, Flaunt and C*ndy. Her runway work includes The Blonds, Vidal Sassoon, Nico and Adrian. Gisele is also featured in the Icona Pop video All Night, which has gotten millions of YouTube views, and she appeared with them at Radio City Music Hall for the 2013 finale of America’s Got Talent. She also performed with Katy Perry at the Life Ball in Vienna and on Saturday Night Live. She appeared on Baz Luhrmann’s, The Get Down, and on Ryan Murphy’s, Pose, and was featured on the Oxygen series, Flaunt, which was produced by Whoopi Goldberg. Gisele also appeared in the film, The Extra Man, with Katie Holmes, Kevin Kline, and Paul Dano and was featured in the documentary, Lost in the Crowd, by Susi Graf. She grew up in Hamilton Heights, went to school in Harlem and now lives in Downtown Manhattan.