MARK SHAW AVIANCE
I was born in the Roman walled city of Chester in England and moved to Atlanta, Georgia when I was 10; where I still currently reside. My parents had high standards to live up to and I was taught the rules of British etiquette. Discretion in England is the biggest part of proper etiquette. While in public, looking at another person is considered rude and privacy is highly regarded, never show any emotions other than a small smile, too much can make others uncomfortable and is also considered rude, be polite, use your manners, and only speak to others when spoken to. Between my parents’ high standards and the Americans different cultural views on life, I was misunderstood and felt lost and confused. I was isolated by my peers. Being gay I ended up feeling disconnected from my family. My brother feels like a stranger and in school, I had not one friend. I dreaded two words every day in every class: pair up. I was always the only one who had to raise his hand and ask to be partnered. My only relief came when I discovered the theatre. It was an escape from the etiquette I’ve had drilled into my brain. I could be whoever I wanted to be and the audience loved watching me. I finally caught the attention I so desperately craved. I had people I could talk to. I was good at it and I taught others the skills I had gathered. My relief ended when I went to college and I didn’t have the time for it required. I was a lost soul. Never understanding how too really make friends and I dropped out after getting my associates degree.
I was late entering the gay/drag scene, compared to many others I knew. I was 21 and the passion for the art of drag really started when I met Atlanta’s rising diva, the fishy Jazmin Aviance and…Well….we weren’t really fond of each other at first. I was training her at a restaurant to greet and seat. Simple, yes? HAH! The manager had told her to just stand and look pretty; which she was VERY good at. However, the managers didn’t tell me this, so the over achieving, ass kisser I am always complained about her lack of effort and could not understand why she didn’t get fired. I’m pretty sure she felt I took my job way too seriously and she was right. But if I’m given a job, I will get it done. So she eventually quit and I said good riddance. About a year later, I was in her house for a party. Somehow, by morning we ended up living in the house together and we were friends. It’s still a mystery. It was on the gayest street in the gayest area of town and probably gayest house too. Rainbow flags, weave, and glitter was always EVERYWHERE. Our driveway looked like a fairy had sneezed on it. It was fabulous!! All the biggest Atlanta drag queens, DJs, and Promoters were always at the house and Avi’ously, it was at this house that I learned about the Legendary House of Aviance.
After the birds and the mice helped me get ready each morning just like in Cinderella, Jazmin, Will (her other son) and myself would kiki around the house and listen to her tell us stories about the famous House and the history of drag. Jazmin and I became best friends “Inseparable”. Actually, obnoxiously close for everyone else in the city because we finished each other’s sentences and thought the same ideas. She taught me everything she knew about drag. And she did drag explicitly winning numerous pageants. I was her biggest supporter and fan. She brought me out of my shell and I was free to be me. I ended up being the one in the club that screamed “WERQ” the loudest, and pushed everyone out of the way, with elbows, (Survival of the fittest darling) to be up front because I knew she would turn it that much harder. I recorded every performance I went to for her but then I’d secretly replay it over and over again studying her. After some time, she began asking me for my criticism and ideas and trusted my instincts. She also noticed my talent for styling and asked me to be her stylist. Of course, I loved having any excuse to titty around the house in heels all day. We became muses to each other. Inspiring each other to do more and be more and together we became a bit of an icon in Atlanta.
Only when she felt the time was right, she asked me to be part of the Aviance house and the legends within it. Of course I screamed yes like I’d been murdered and ran around giddy. That night I couldn’t sleep. I was just so excited. Me! An Aviance! I was part of a group with REAL people in it. The first thing I was asked to do was introduce myself to Mother Juan Aviance. Well, I’d only heard of him and knew he was the founder… so, Mother ONE Aviance? It took me a couple days before I figured out it was Juan. I still feel silly to this day. I told him a little about myself but wasn’t sure what to say. But Juan welcomed me lovingly; on the condition I follow all the house rules. Aviance after all is like a brand, known for its illustrious talent and known for its exemplary prestige and he is matriarch. I remember sitting in the dining room while Jazmin was making a new costume and getting that reply. I was so happy and so was she. It was a soap opera scene. We jumped for joy, and then hugged; laughed, shed a few tears of joy and then zombie’d out to something on TV. Probably an infomercial since neither of us ever bothered to change the channel. If the TV was on, we would stare at it until it went off.
Then, I met EJ Aviance. Jazmin told me a few years back he was everything and then he retired. At first, I couldn’t really understand half of what he said. I swear he has his own language sometimes, but EJ taught me what the House of Aviance really ‘meant’ and went over the House creed. He was playing a movie on the TV and I asked what it was. He gasped and said, “CHILD! Sit. Watch. Learn. This is your history right here.” It was Paris is Burning. This is when my affinity for vogueing started. I begged for EJ and Jazmin to take me to a ball. I was transfixed on the language, the energy, the culture. They told me to ask Mother Juan. It took me time to understand why Juan wouldn’t allow an Aviance to participate. But now I have come to understand his concern… especially for someone so outcast from others like me. But that didn’t stop me from getting on YouTube. I practiced every day the fluidity of the hands, the grace of the duck walk, and the terror of the death drop. It became an obsession and today I still watch, still practice, still learn. I don’t think I remember how to dance any other way anymore. The house mother, Juan has always been by my side giving guidance and love. I finally felt like I had people I could turn to… sometimes for advice, sometimes to vent and sometimes just to talk to someone when I had no one. And sometimes he would scold me and teach valuable life lessons. But Juan accepts our mistakes and told me that we all make them. We just have to learn, love, and move on. What I love most about Juan is his affinity to want to know his members personally. He told me it’s okay to do whatever in the world I want to do. He will be there for support and help me with his wisdom that only a mother has! And Trust and Believe honey, I need all the wisdom. I know he will always be there. And typing this, I realize it even more. I don’t say it often enough but thank you for doing all that you do! Holding the Aviance name can open doors that I never thought possible. That’s the magic of the House.
Today, I still learn and grow and take heed in Juan’s guidance for it means success. I continue to open my heart and mind. I am currently starting a new career in real estate and slinging cocktails on the side so good, they taste like nectar but will have you belting EJ’s single ‘gagging’ before you know what hit you. As long as my heart beats, it will be beat to the Aviance rhythm. I love this House. Maybe it’s so great it should be called a mansion? Whatever you call it, it’s my family. We inspire each other to be the best we can be. And Juan believes in all of us expressing to be true to ourselves. After all, we are AVIANCE….and there’s really nothing better. So why would I be anything but? And Jazmin Aviance, thank you for this wonderful gift. I love you, admire you, and you are my big bright star. I look forward to the future of the house, to meeting all its members and devoting myself to its service.
Peace, Love and Aviance,
Mark Shaw Aviance