Tiffany Devereaux – The Exit Interview
Robert Friedline has never lived life as a gay man. At 22 while studying at Virginia Tech, he came out, met his first boyfriend, and four weeks later, he became Tiffany Devereaux.
After Saturday night’s farewell performance at Godfrey’s, Tiffany hangs up the dress, starts selling the wigs, and brings the focus back to Robert.
“They’ve always said when I came out, I took the dynamite and blew up the closet.” Friedline jokes.
Since March 2005, Godfrey’s College Hump Nights and seeing Tiffany host have become a rite of passage into Richmond’s gay community. After eleven years of her signature windmill, holding pageant titles across the country, and helping bring back an annual drag fundraiser for Fan Free Clinic, she’s made her mark.
Friedline speaks candidly about his larger-than-life alter ego, the drama of drag, the decision to retire months ago, and what’s next.
GayRVA.com: What were those first College Hump Nights like?
Friedline: We struggled for about 6 months after we started it. We maybe had 40 people there throughout the summer, so we started an amateur night once a month to bring new blood in.
A friend of mine wanted to do it. I put him in that August and I think the stars lined up. He had invited 75 other people from work and whatnot. It just coincided with the VCU kids coming back to school, and we did a great job of advertising. Putting those pieces together, it went from 40-person night to a 250-person night in one week.
In the past two to three years, you see a lot of new entertainers on the scene. Certainly, in part to people like you and Esta Bunny helping develop new talent. Do you think the Internet has played a role in that?
I think about that a lot when I go online and see all the different entertainers on their Facebook pages – it’s not underground anymore.
So many people are exposed to it now that there is a lot more interest out there. It’s not as hidden or taboo, which can be a good or a bad thing…Now you can just Google them.
What role have you played in building drag culture?
People come, they respect us, they give tips, and they support the bar. I think there’s a responsibility for us to use that power and give back – that’s the biggest thing I’ve tried to teach.
That’s why I work with ROSMY. That’s why I worked with Esta and the committee to bring back Fun For A Cause.
You mentioned with celebrity, you become a public figure. You get attacked in your personal life.
Definitely. When I started 10 years ago, I thought I’m just going to play in a dress, put makeup on, and dance across a stage. I wouldn’t give up anything that I’ve done in ten years, but you can get lost in it. You can get lost in the celebrity, the fantasy of it.
Your persona takes on a whole different life and some people like the feeling that persona gives them, so they lose themselves.
There’s no handbook.
How did you learn that lesson?
Making mistakes…It’s an ego thing. Probably two years in, College Hump Night had taken off, people knew me and I was Miss Fielden’s at the time.
There was joke that Tiffany got too big for her britches. Tiffany got an attitude and I went through a couple stumbling blocks. But it was a growth opportunity for me and that’s when things changed and when I really got involved with Fan Free Clinic.
Was there a specific situation?
Jeff Willis (show cast director at Godfrey’s) fired me for a month, and then I got into an attitude and I thought I could do whatever I wanted.
I forgot that it was business and there are still responsibilities that come with the job. Is this the person I want to be? I have a degree, I have a real job and I’m letting this drag fantasy world control me. It was a growing point. I had only been here for three years and I was just becoming an adult – I was just out of school.
There’s been a lot of drama within the drag community – you’ve seen it.
Always. I think that’s where people do get lost in it.
They’re fighting for that one little piece of white light and always trying to step on each other to get to it. If people were able to focus more on their own individuality –I think that every single person that stumbles through this learning and this art form has something to bring to it and can touch somebody. We all touch different people.
Some people forget that. They fight over the money, who will get to host, who’s in what cast – people need to do what they do because they love it.
So people forget it’s a hobby sometimes?
Yes – I think we’ve all gone through that. It’s our little piece of Hollywood. We all love that gossip, that drama we see on TV. We all want that spotlight and everything that comes with it. It’s so much easier to fall into that sometimes.
There are times where I’ve had a horrible day and I know it’s Wednesday. It’s time to put my face on. I look in the mirror – Tiffany doesn’t have those problems.
Tiffany isn’t going through a breakup. She didn’t have a bad day at work. She doesn’t have to pay bills.
That’s where the drama comes from because it matters to a lot to people. I wish people would remember it is an art form and a privilege to learn how to do it, but it’s not going to sustain your life.
How did you get through hosting Wednesday nights and working the next day?
The first year and a half was really rough. It’s changing behaviors. It’s making sure I do my job and don’t get lost in the craziness knowing that I have to work the next day and making that a priority.
Most of the time I’m asleep on the couch on Thursdays, but that’s one of the reasons I’ve decided it’s time to pass the torch. I have to make my reality a priority and I can’t keep playing in my fantasy world anymore.
So now, what are you going to be doing with your Wednesdays?
I know that I need a break – for now, that’s going to include traveling some and focusing on my job. I don’t want to fill it in right now, because I’m very much a type-A personality and always looking for a project to do.
I want to force myself to have some downtime and see what it’s like to have my friends, have my job and have my life. I’m not going to disappear.
I think people know who Robert is just as much as Tiffany. When I’m ready, I’ll be able to use that energy to help out on community projects and refocus – just not in a dress.
Tiffany Devereaux’s final show is Saturday, December 11, 10 p.m. at Godfrey’s, 308 E. Grace St., 18+. Photo credit: Jason Yu & Robert Friedline.
Kevin Clay is the editor and publisher of GAYRVA.COM. He is a Richmond native, loves the city and knows it's on the edge of greatness. Don't hold back RVA. You can follow Kevin on GAYRVA's Twitter or e-mail him at email@example.com.
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