The six-foot-two leggy blond with the Southern drawl is clearly not from these parts, but she fits in just fine, thank you. Like Miami, the city that saw her star rise, Elaine Lancaster is a series of stunning contradictions, starting, of course, with the fact that she is nothing more than a fabulous character, created and performed by a man: James Davis. And yet, she is not just a figment of his imagination. Like any creation, she has taken on a life of her own, growing over the last two decades to play a prominent role in Davis’ life and within the local community, too.
Girl Next Door
Born “off a dirt road” in Alabama the day before the largest civil rights march led by Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. on Washington DC, Davis was raised in various states throughout the South — including Georgia and South Carolina — before his family finally settled in Kansas. He graduated from the University of Kansas in the early 1990s after a prolonged stint in college.
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After that, he traveled around the world, even doing some modeling in the mid ‘90s. At the time, South Beach was a hotbed of models, photographers, artists and dreamers. One prominent resident being none other than famed designer Gianni Versace, at whose behest Davis moved. He arrived in Miami late in the evening the night before he was supposed to begin working for Versace, but not 24 hours had elapsed and Versace was dead, shot early in the morning on the steps of his Ocean Drive mansion.
“I moved here the day he died,” Davis says. “My friends told me they were having a memorial party the following Wednesday at Warsaw Ballroom. And I thought, ‘what better way to honor his memory than to get into high drag and go celebrating?’”
He walked into the lobby at the Warsaw Ballroom and met General Manager Maxwell Blandford, who offered Elaine Lancaster a job on the spot as the emcee of the amateur strip contest on Wednesday nights.
“I made a lot of friends, but I made a lot of enemies, too,” says Davis. “The drag queens all hated me from that moment on. I had taken a job they all thought they were entitled to.”
For just about two decades now, Davis has played the part of Elaine Lancaster, entertaining and emceeing at numerous LGBTQ and non-gay galas throughout South Florida, including White Party, Miami Beach Gay Pride and The Blacks’ Annual Gala (co-hosted by good friend Lea Black, with whom Elaine co-starred on Bravo’s Real Housewives of Miami in 2010). She has come to count Pamela Anderson and Dennis Rodman among her good friends.
A number of proclamations — from Dallas, TX, several from Miami Beach, one from each Miami-Dade County and the city of Miami — adorn the walls of Davis’ apartment. By some counts he may just be the most awarded citizen — not just drag queen — in Miami and Miami Beach.
The organization sought candidates who give back to their communities or people who are unabashedly authentic, and Davis fulfilled both categories, according to Stuart Milk, president of the national Harvey Milk Foundation.
Thanks to Elaine’s growing presence and zealous work ethic, Davis now owns a four-unit apartment building in Miami’s Upper East Side. And “because you can’t live off your good looks forever,” he rents out two of the units and resides there, too. He shares the top floor with the woman in his life, the real landlady: Elaine. From his unit, a simple door separates his modest and orderly world from her profusion of embellished designer gowns, full flaxen wigs and trays upon trays of make-up.
“Wind me up and I’ll go,” says Davis. “I have a tendency to invoke emotions in people. I’m never angry. I’m never nasty. I don’t attack anybody. I never do.”
But the very same penchant for being outspoken that led to Elaine Lancaster’s rise, has also led to plenty of public scrutiny, especially given Davis’ very public support of Donald Trump.
“I’m a leader in the community, and I know I am and I take great responsibility in that,” he says. “I have never in my life experienced so much hatred, pettiness and animosity for me posting something.”
He says it started when he posted a statement about how Obama was like Madonna and Lady Gaga, playing the gay community. “The gays used to be the free thinkers. They used to be so progressive and so independent and now they’re sheep,” he says. “If the leader, whoever it may be Gaga or Madonna, says to do this, they all get in lock step. It’s ok to be a free dresser, an independent spirit, but don’t you dare deviate from the thought. Don’t you ever change the way you’re supposed to think.”
Many in the community have questioned and rejected Davis’ political views. While Trump’s campaign was unorthodox by any measure and the discourse has been quite inflammatory in general, the LGBTQ community had a greater concern than offensive language. Trump’s chosen running mate, former Indiana governor Mike Pence, famously signed the controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act into law in 2015, drawing plenty of attention to that state.
Davis admits he’s a little concerned by some of the appointments that have been made by the president elect. The EPA is one example. “Yeah, that scares me too because I’m a huge environmentalist,” he says. But in the end he says that issues like employment and the economy affect everyone, including the LGBTQ community and he feels that many have lost sight of that. “Without jobs, it doesn’t matter how many rights we get!”
As with just about every other aspect of this last presidential campaign cycle, the political discussion between Davis and many in the community went from heated to downright aggressive in no time. Being a public figure, all the animosity played out in a very public way, and that has taken its toll.
“I’ve done all these events for all these gay causes, and people have literally said, ‘I’m gonna kill you. If I see you outside I’m gonna throw a brick at your head,’” he says.
He created what he calls The Folder of Hate, which includes screen shots of the nastier messages he’s received via social media. At least one he felt he had to report to the Miami Beach police department.
“I will not tolerate it anymore.”
Spreading the Love
“I know how you effect change is you engage the so-called enemy,” says Davis. “I don’t consider anyone an enemy. I consider them sort of misguided perhaps, and if you create dialogue you can create change.”
He says he once engaged political pundit Rush Limbaugh in this way, and he feels that Limbaugh listened because he was being included.
“It’s because so many people say, ‘if you’re not gonna accept me for who I am, ‘f’ you! I’m out of here.’ But they don’t create dialogue. There’s no communication.”
Davis has taken Lancaster to spread her message in foreign lands as part of an ongoing project titled Diva Destinations. The online travel show provides viewers with an insider’s look at some of the most glamorous places on Earth. Introducing viewers to places they would never have imaged, Diva Destinations has one completed episode filmed in Mykonos, Greece and a trip to Cuba is in the works.
In addition to the show and her ongoing drag performances at Señor Frogs in Miami Beach, Lancaster even developed her own line of lip gloss. She now has 12 shades in her collection and more is sure to come.