“When we heard she was in a coma we all tried to go there,” Sham Ibrahim, a fellow drag performer, told The Hollywood Reporter of Arquette, who died Sunday morning at age 47 from complications related to AIDS.
Ibrahim, 37, began a close friendship with Arquette when they met in the dressing room of a Hollywood nightclub in 1999. At the time, he was a 19-year-old go-go boy and Arquette was the drag-queen host.
According to Ibrahim, when news of Arquette’s hospitalization broke, “all of her friends called Cedars-Sinai but it was on lockdown and reserved for family only.”
“I understand that, because Alexis had a lot of crazy friends,” he added.
Though Arquette was living as a man when the two met, Ibrahim said he “always felt she had the spirit of a female,” and always referred to her using female pronouns.
In 2004, when Arquette began taking friends aside and telling them she was going to slowly “phase out the boy” side of her personality and live as a woman, it didn’t surprise Ibrahim at all.
“I didn’t even bat an eyelash because it seemed so normal and natural,” he said.
But, says Ibrahim, Arquette regularly faced discrimination in the mainstream Hollywood world.
“Anywhere we went, especially the rock ‘n’ roll straight clubs on Hollywood Boulevard like the Burgundy Room or the Beauty Bar, the guys just couldn’t handle it,” Ibrahim recalled. “People would literally throw things at her, call her ‘tranny freak.’ ”
In her late 30s, her decision to transition to female was documented in the 2007 film Alexis Arquette: She’s My Brother, but Arquette kept the intimate details of her transition closely guarded, which created tension with the filmmakers.
“Her whole point was, why do people care what was in her pants?” Ibrahim said. “And if you want to get graphic about it, she was very well-endowed and I don’t think she was going to cut that thing off. I don’t think she had any intention to.”
A few years later, in 2013, Arquette began presenting herself as a man again amid increasing health complications.
According to Ibrahim, she told him: “Gender is bulls—. … Putting on a dress doesn’t biologically change anything. Nor does a sex-change. … Sex-reassignment is physically impossible. All you can do is adopt these superficial characteristics but the biology will never change.”
Ibrahim suspects that realization was a source of emotional torment for the star.
“She was very attractive, very beautiful. Men loved her, women loved her. She had many lovers – like, harems of lovers,” he said. “Even movie stars would be into her – straight, heterosexual guys – because of her androgynous look. But she could never find the right man to love her.”
“And I think that as her health was deteriorating, [presenting as a woman] was too much of a struggle to even think about,” he added. “Being able to get up and put that dress on and the wig – it was too much for her.”