Garbage, Uniqueness, Nerve and Talons: House of Gunt's southern swamp legacy

House of Gunt , photos by Trevor Miles Martin

House of Gunt, photos by Trevor Miles Martin

This article originally ran in the printed edition of WUSSY vol.05.
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It’s flu season baby, and drag momma Influenza A. Mueller is giving us a heavy dose of sickening looks. Symptoms may include gagging, death drops, and a raging UTI.

Influenza Mueller isn’t like other drag moms, she’s a cool drag mom. She travels the country in a RV stacked with 6-packs, breastfeeds in only the finest Applebee’s, and when she’s not giving trade the flu she’s looking after Savannah, Georgia’s most deranged balls-to-the wall drag family, the House of Gunt. Like a Joann Fabrics’ store on bath salts, the House of Gunt is a ragtag group of DIY queer performers who host drag shows, shoot surreal art videos, and put on some of the best burlesque acts in the south. They also boast big drag names like Dax ExclamationPoint of RuPaul’s Drag Race and season two winner of the Boulet Brothers’ hit web series Dragula, Biqtch Puddin. And at the head of all these problem children is Influenza, a momma and a hooker with a heart of gold.

When she’s not partying with the cool kids, Influenza - a.k.a Max Arnzen - works alongside other queer arts organizers in the Savannah area to cultivate spaces for LGBTQIA+ artists. With her duties as a drag mom and community organizer, Influenza is proving to bigger Southern cities why queer art matters in smaller towns.

We sat down with Influenza to learn more about the beginnings of the House of Gunt and how her drag family has had an effect on the queer arts scene in Savannah.

Influenza Mueller

Influenza Mueller

Vegina George

Vegina George

How did the House of Gunt (HoG) come to be? Where did it all start?

Monster Cunt and I began recruiting other queer performers. I’m not even sure if it was with the goal of starting a House. I think we liked the idea and knew that there was power in numbers. We were both filmmakers at the time. Films can take a lot of time and energy to make, where with performance you can just shit it all out. We were definitely looking for a form of catharsis.

Outside from Lavender Mist, the other girls came from just playing with all of our dress up stuff at home (a collection of props and costumes hoarded from our production design work). My partner at the time, Toyota Mitsubishi, was easy to wrangle if not very anxious about hitting the stage again and Rachel Fauxrelle (burlesque entertainer Jack n Thacox) was always looking for different ways to experiment with clowning around. Princess Shay Shay came from amateur night at Club One when she landed on her back and flung her platforms off into the air - one landing gloriously in the trash bin. It was meant to be.

Then on October 4th 2013, we had house party called “Noise Complaint.” We made a stage using wooden pallets, drew a curtain over the pocket doors, threw up some decorations, got a DJ (we miss you Alycia!), and 6 queens later: history was made.

Of any house name I’ve come across Gunt stands out from the rest. What does Gunt mean and how did you come up with the name?

Gunt means where the gut meets the cunt. It was originally about blending two dichotomies or insecurities. In fact, our first motto was “a playground for insecurities.” The gut being the physical and the cunt being the social insecurity. We wanted to exist between the spaces of ugly and beautiful, fact and fiction, rehearsal and recital, the masculine and the feminine.

For anyone who isn’t familiar with the HoG, how would you describe its aesthetic?

Gunt isn't a word that's very soft on the ears or the eyes. Whether it's offensive, startling, bewildering, questionable or in your face, that’s what we strive to be. For our PG audiences, we’ve devised the acronym G.U.N.T. for Garbage Uniqueness Nerve and Talons.

Lazanya Ontre

Lazanya Ontre

Edna Allen Hoe

Edna Allen Hoe

Shrimp Etoufee

Shrimp Etoufee

Alongside family member Monster Cunt, you’re one of two drag mothers in the Gunt family. What is a drag mother, and what would you say are some of your duties as a mother figure to these kooky queer kids?

Monster Cunt was the Magneto to my Xavier. We were a great duo.

My duty as a mother was always providing shelter and room to grow. Anyone who’s come to the House of Gunt - whether or not they considered themselves a Gunt or gunty - needed a space to perform or experiment. I use Dax ExclamationPoint here as an example. You know, in no way would I ever consider her a daughter. In fact she was one of my greatest mentors and on more than one occasion would come to bat for us, sticking up for what we were trying to do in a scene more accustomed to high form female impersonation or pageantry drag. But at the end of the day, we both found each other, and for different reasons found our needs and wants being met. Everyone brings something to the table.

And not everyone in the family gets along. But at the end of the day, if you have dinner on the table, and a roof to eat it under, they’ll come together. Even if they just eat their bit, not say a single word to one another and just move along. There’s nothing wrong with that. Because, as a mother, I still get the satisfaction of seeing everyone come together. I feel like Francine Fishpaw on a daily basis!

But that satisfaction doesn’t last forever. The most toxic thing a mother can do is keep them home. Watching them go is sometimes the hardest thing to do, but then I get to watch them go on and slay things like Dragula and start wearing my signature look.

Looking back, what would you say have been the most memorable HoG performances?

Monster Cunt and Toyota Mitsubishi becoming a 9 foot drag queen in front of our very eyes, making 43 wigs for Vivienne Westwood’s Dress Up Story exhibit, and decapitating Donald Trump before it was cool.

The House of Gunt

The House of Gunt

It sounds like HoG has become an outlet for audiences to experience different styles of drag. Would you say the HoG has become a staple in the queer scene in Savannah?

The House of Gunt has definitely become a staple in the queer scene here in Savannah. Though I would argue that the queer scene doesn’t “need” us as much as the queer community at large, which I believe is what has benefited more. It’s definitely found different ways to utilize, if not exploit, our relevancy in whatever ways work for them. As we all know, deviations from the norm will be punished until proven exploitable. We might even be the queer scene’s punching bag at this point, but someone’s gotta take the punches.

There’s something distinctly southern about you and your drag family’s performances. How do you think southern drag sets itself apart from other cities or schools of drag?

I’m beginning to think that southern drag, more specifically Georgia drag is not only different from other cities, but it’s on a completely different level. I think of all the names who have either come from or launched their drag careers here: Lady Bunny, Diamond Lil, the Lady Chablis, and DeAundra mother fuckin Peek! Not all of our members were born southern, but the personas were definitely born of the same contentious relationship of coming to terms with their queerness and experimenting with its performativity in a hostile environment. It's become increasingly easier to do drag in the south, but it’s not becoming easier to be queer and in the south; there's still a lot of work to be done.

Bigger cities, like Atlanta, have more accessible queer spaces for people to join. In your opinion, why is it important to cultivate queer art (drag, music, performance, etc.) in smaller cities like Savannah?

I truly wonder, unless you fit a certain mold of queer or gay, is one truly safe or able to access queer spaces? Admittedly, the House of Gunt’s cultivation in Savannah never came from gay bars until within the last year or so. We were injecting the attitude into bars that were willing and open to protect us and our ideas as much as they could. Bars and venues allowed us to inject some spirit into them; that would rather serve genderqueer, gay, trans, and nonbinary folks than bros and bachelorette parties.

It’s very important to cultivate a queer art scene in small cities. Let’s put it this way, Savannah is home to Georgia’s oldest LGBT organization, First City Network, and we just got an LGBT center a year ago. Change is slow. The Haus of Gunt was originally started out of a necessity for something outside of conventional gay spaces. It was a mission to inject the queer into the straight, or the feminine into the masculine. To this day it surprises me to see queer folks come out of the woodwork to see our shows.

Stevie King is a genderqueer comedian, freelance writer, and wife of seven brother-husbands. She loves spending her days sitting at home waiting for her children to call...

Photography by Trevor Miles Martin