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A Rose by Any Other Name

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Violet S’Arbleu

April showers may bring May flowers, but this bouquet blooms year-round. Nicknamed “The Thinking Man’s Drag Queen,” Violet S’Arbleu gladly dressed up as The April Fool for this month’s issue as a nod to her character’s cerebral humor and spot-on wit. “Technically, I’m a fool all year round,” she explains. “I like to remind myself (as a counterbalance to my outspoken activism and quest for accountability and common sense in the world) that I’m just a man in a dress. I’m a clown to dress up and keep people entertained.”

Pronouns?
Any pronoun not intended as an insult is perfectly fine.

Hometown?
Houston for Jacob; Savannah, Georgia, for Violet.

Drag birth date?
I have always loved women’s clothes, which is why I went to school for fashion design, so I can’t really count a “first outing” as a birthday. I was at a drag-themed party on Valentine’s Day while at college when I finally named her “Violet,” so that’s what I call her birthday: February 14, 2009. My first performance was June 6 that year.

Name inspiration?
After picking Violet, I wanted something funny or punny as a last name, and then it hit me: Violet S’Arbleu. People don’t often get the joke when they see my name in print, so I tell them to finish the sentence out loud: “Roses are red, . . .” That usually does the trick.

Describe Violet.
A retro housewife Disney princess with a strong moral compass. I call my visual style “exaggerated naturalism” and my personality “activist Auntie Mame.”

Inspiration for looks?
Pop culture and trends are great, but history is a gold mine. I’m rarely in black, and when I perform, if it’s a number that’s a commentary or opinion piece, the outfit usually correlates with that. But otherwise, it’s just about having fun. Blue eyebrows tonight? Why not. Drag imbues the power to be anyone you like, anytime you want, so why be the same person every day?

Pageant history? Do you have a philanthropic side?
I am still very grateful to have been OutSmart’s “Most Divine Drag Queen” in both 2015 and 2017. I was also Miss Gay Houston America 2015 and Miss Gay Texas America 2017. Being Miss Texas is indeed a high honor, and when Hurricane Harvey hit, I was fortunate that I [could attract] the statewide and nationwide attention that I did, to share news of what was happening and raise money for locals in need. That momentum led to 15 fundraisers that raised money for a dozen Houston-area charities. I also participate in multiple annual charity functions for groups like the Montrose Center and Houston Gaymers.

Sewing skills?
I love clothes, and Violet is a life-sized doll I can dress up however I like. I studied at the Savannah College of Art and Design with a minor in psychology, so when I can’t find what I like in a vintage store, I just make it myself.

Tell us about your mom’s fans.
My mom has always been my biggest fan. Someone dubbed her “Mama Rose” many years ago (I assume more in relation to the “Roses Are Red” poetry roots with my name rather than Gypsy Rose Lee’s “momager”) and it stuck. I do think her fan club is even bigger than mine, because she represents the family that a lot of older gay men unfortunately don’t have. You can catch her sitting with new friends every Friday night at my Michael’s Outpost show.

Dream job?
I’d love to utilize my degree more, and once upon a time I wanted to design at Christian Dior. Honestly, I love the creation of something special that transforms you or inspires an audience. If I was fortunate enough to work in the costume department at one of Houston’s fabulous artistic organizations like Houston Grand Opera, Houston Ballet, Theatre Under The Stars, or Alley Theatre, I’d be happy.

When we’re no longer social-distancing, where can we see Violet perform?
Mondays at Crocker at 10 p.m.; Tuesdays at JR’s at 11 p.m.; Thursdays at Barcode at 11 p.m.; Fridays and Saturdays at Michael’s Outpost Piano Bar at 7:30 p.m.; Select Saturdays at House of Blues’ Drag Diva Brunch at noon; and assorted other gigs in the greater Houston area.

Keep up with Violet on Instagram @violetwithav.

This article appears in the April 2020 edition of OutSmart magazine.

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Sam Byrd

Sam Byrd is a freelance contributor to Outsmart who loves to take in all of Houston’s sights, sounds, food and fun. He also loves helping others to discover Houston’s rich culture. Speaking of Houston, he's never heard a Whitney Houston song he didn't like.

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