Interview with the Legendary Tommy Labeija

The Legendary Tommy Labeija is the Grandfather and Historian of the House of Labeija. In this phone conversation, Tommy Labeija discusses the history of the House of Labeija.

Tommy Labeija (TL):    Hello.

Victor UltraOmni (VUO): Hello. Is that a little bit better? Hi, I’m sorry.

TL:    Yeah. [crosstalk 00:00:06].

VUO:    I guess [inaudible 00:00:14].

TL:    Your phone is really going in and out.

VUO:    I’m so sorry. I’m in the dorm at school the connection isn’t the best. Is this better? [inaudible 00:00:25] before where you said you could hear me a little bit clearer.

TL:    Yeah. Now I can hear you clearly.

VUO:    Okay, hopefully … I’m going to sit down right here. I just don’t think that my generation would be able to have this conversation without the pioneers and without you folks. I really, really appreciate your time and I just want you to be able to just say anything that you feel comfortable with. This article is going to be dedicated to all of you. I’m not getting paid for it. It’s kind just like when you’re an undergrad, you just kind of present something. My hope is that [inaudible 00:00:58] because when I was a first year in college, I [inaudible 00:01:03] my classes, but I was looking in books and I didn’t see the stories of our community and I really want someday for someone to be able to read those stories and be able to talk about them and be like, “Yeah. They really did that and it really changed the world.” Just thank you a lot. It really is an honor to get to talk to you.

TL:    No problem. It’s an honor to be even asked to be quite honest. I’m a student as well so I definitely understand kind of scholastic achievement. I just received my masters and am currently working on my doctorate.

VUO:    Wow. Congratulations.

TL:    Thank you. Just got married so yeah, life is [crosstalk 00:01:46].

VUO:    That is so beautiful.

TL:    There’s really no questions that’s off limits to me. Knowledge is power so whatever you feel the need to ask go ahead and ask.

VUO:    Well thank you so much. I guess my first question kind of … I don’t want this to be an anthropological interview or anything like that. I just kind of want to ask when did you first … Just some open questions and just answer in any way that you feel comfortable.

TL:    Okay. Not a problem.

VUO:    Yeah. Feel free to talk as much as you want. I’m tired of my voice already. When did you first get involved with the scene in New York City? How old were you? What year was it and yeah, just how did your journey begin with this?

TL:    Well, I basically just finished college, my first year in college, receiving an associates degree at Monroe College and I was actually trying to seek myself out as far as identity. I didn’t see many people like myself or know many people like myself and I met someone and they took me to the Village and I kind of found my footing at that point. You know, oh wow, there’s people like me. This is home. This is where I need to be, blah, blah, blah. Met a few people. Eventually found my way to [Tracks 00:03:22]. Went to [Tracks 00:03:23] every once in a while. One particular day I was [Tracks 00:03:27] and I was kind of drunk out of mind. I was just learning to drink because I had a lover and I wasn’t a drinker because my father was an alcoholic so I didn’t want to become an alcoholic. I thought drinking would turn me into an alcoholic. Friends took me out to the clubs to teach me how to drink and be a man. You know that macho shit, got to put some hair on your chest.

    One particular day I was in a club and I was really, really stoned, couldn’t really handle the liquor and I was sitting there and here comes this androgynous person and it happened to have been Pepper. I didn’t know who she was, but I knew she was someone important because it was like the music stopped and all eyes was on her and they gathered around her and you know, adorned her and it was like, “Who the hell is this?”

    She actually made her way over to my area where I was standing, where I was sitting actually. I guess to greet one of her friends. After she made her way through the crowd over to that section my cousin came to check on me to see if I was alright and I kind of made the mistake and said, “Yeah, it would be fine if this bitch’s coat wasn’t shedding all up in my nose.” It was kind of winter and she had this fox tail, black fox tail coat. It was all made of fox tails and so she turns around and says, “Excuse me. Is my coat bothering you?” I said, “Well, it’s not really bothering me. It’s just shedding all over the place and I just have to keep picking hair up my nose.”

    She said, “Oh, I’m sorry. I will remove it.” She removes it and she had on this leather top and this leather skirt and some little boots and she introduced herself to me and said, “Hi. My name is Pepper [inaudible 00:05:16].” At that point I was like oh my God. We’re not going to get out of this club alive. We kind of heard you know, stories about the ballroom children and I mean pretty much they were considered to be gay. They really weren’t, but when you hear stories you think they’re gay, whatever they were.

    I just figured we were not getting out of this club alive because all she has to do is wave her magic wand and we were finished, but it just so happened that me and Pepper talked. She really, really liked me. I guess I was different breed of person because I was in the club. I was young. I was a little southern boy from Bronx. She in real life said I was 25 years old. Well, she [inaudible 00:06:09] of course through conversation she learned I was 25 years old and just finished college. I was making my way and I didn’t know anything about ballroom and I think the reason why me and Pepper connected so well is because I wasn’t enamored with ballroom. I didn’t know anything about it. I was oblivious to ballroom and I already was on a different journey. The ballroom children back then were considered bums and drug addicts and all kinds of other negative things, which was not always the case, but the majority of the time it was the case.

    I think our connection was the fact that I was an older guy. I didn’t know anything about ballroom so it wasn’t a fact that I was using her for her fame and her title. It was just someone … you know she can have an intellectual conversation with other than the ones she was having with Paris and Avis and [Dorian 00:07:04] and Angie. We hung out a few times. It took me awhile to really get comfortable with the fact that she was inviting me over and inviting me over and had friends who were uppity, uppity and it was like, “Oh, you know that’s the ballroom children. You don’t want to get involved with that. Blah, blah, blah.” You know, as a scholar like yourself, you know you want to research stuff for yourself and see what it’s really about.

    I went over to her house and we just talked and it was pretty nice. I felt a little intimidating because I just was like, okay I’m waiting for the touches or the … You’re just waiting for them to lower the boom and for everything … all the negative things you heard about ballroom children to make itself available by way of touching me or coming on to me or someone else coming through the door while you’re getting molested or whatever the hell. I mean I was 25 so I couldn’t of been molested, but you know what I mean?

VUO:    Yeah.

TL:    It was a refreshing conversation. We kept in touch throughout phone calls and she actually invited me to a ball one day and she wanted me to accompany her to the ball that they were having somewhere in Philly. Philly was actually on the rise then and I said, “Yes.” I showed up to her house and I was [inaudible 00:08:34] down. I had on my little Polo jacket, my little jeans, my little sneakers and she was all dolled up and she said, “Oh Boo, that will never do.” I’m like, “Oh God. She’s about to put me in dress.” I’m like, “Okay, what do you mean this will never do?” She’s like, “I’m all glamorous and you look like …” She said, [“Bangy 00:08:54].” I wouldn’t say, “Son,” but that wasn’t the terms they were using there. She said, [“Bangy 00:08:59]. Like we’re not going to match. We’re not going to look well. You’re going to look like my son,” which she did have. She went in her closet and she pulled out this nice little lemon Perry Ellis or somebody. I don’t know. Some crocodile shoes and pretty much brushed me up and off to the ball we went and that was pretty much my introduction to ballroom.

VUO:    What year was this?

TL:    I’m going to say around ’80 … late ’84, beginning ’85 because I finished college in ’84. I’m going to say end of ’84, rolling over into ’85.

VUO:    Okay, okay. What are some of the dynamics that you saw within the House of Labeija in this period?

TL:    At that particular time in ballroom, ballroom was a really fantastic place to meet. It was a place of wonderment and it really catered to the transgender or the ladies who dressed in drag primarily. You know, when you went to the ball and those kind of galas, you really went to see the women and the ladies in their transition and how beautiful it was, whether they were a butch queen in drag, they were beautiful. Whether they fully transitioned, they were beautiful and they were really protected by the community, if that makes sense. No one could disrespect because not only the House of [Labasa 00:10:42] would attack you, the ballroom would attack you and that was same for any of the mothers in ballroom. They were revered as kind of gods to us and mentors to the younger generation because they really … At that time when you were found out, you were ostracized from your family. Pepper, Dorian and [Avis 00:11:07] and those ladies became your parents. It was a whole different dynamic than it is now.

    These days you don’t really cherish the ladies of [inaudible 00:11:22] or the transgender. Back then people came to see that. That was what was beautiful about ballroom. Personally, I don’t see no wonderment in going to a ball to see a bunch of boys do anything: voguing, runway … I want to see the ladies do that.

VUO:    [inaudible 00:11:48] I’ve also been really curios. I think my biggest question from an interview is just like what practices of survival did you see in the ’80s happening sort of around the ballroom. You said they tested [inaudible 00:12:02] There’s so much that you were … That all of the community was facing at that moment, particularly [inaudible 00:12:12] in the middle of the AIDS crisis in the middle of policing and just harassment from maybe other straight counterparts. How did houses work? Did you see any best practices of survival if any?

TL:    Actually I would say that back in those days, we really didn’t have much problems out of the straight community as a single unit. In other words, if you were in your neighborhood and people know you to be gay, they may pick on you individually, but like if we were out and about and because we all went in kind of groups because we were families and it didn’t even matter if you were in the House of Labeija or the House of Ebony or the House of Xtravaganza, outside of ballroom, you were a ballroom family. We were a community within your community.

    The only time that rivalry came into play was in the ballroom. That’s when the separation came because you’re now a Labeija or you’re an Ebony or you’re a, whatever you were at that point, but because balls were far and few between back then, we were still a ballroom family so when the children went out … I mean there were times when the boys or the trade would try it on the children, but they were in for a rude awakening because these weren’t punk children. They fought their way through the ranks. They fought together. They battled together. They didn’t sit there and watch their girlfriend get beat and film in for YouTube.

VUO:    Yeah.

TL:    No one was going to have a camera because everyone was going to be thumping the boy and the boy quickly learned that particular generation of the gay children were not having it because those children either had a hammer in their bag. We didn’t do mace and all that. You may of had a bottle of [inaudible 00:14:18] and a Coke bottle. The boys learned really quickly don’t mess with … Unfortunately they used to call us fags, but they learned quite early, don’t fuck with the fags because those bitches are crazy.

VUO:    I guess something that keeps coming up is language has changed so much, but that language wouldn’t have changed without the ballroom community. How do you think you saw different transgender women or just people who opted to transition in some ways navigate their identity in the ballroom scene and in everyday life outside of the ballroom?

TL:    I’ve actually seen some success stories in regards to transitioning and I’ve actually witnessed some not so much. Basically the girls that were usually successful, they worked in [inaudible 00:15:20]. Even if they were butch queen in drag for example because most of them were at the time. We didn’t really have many girls transitioning. We had a few. You know, the ballroom scene was Pepper, girls that were transitioning, but for the most part they were really butch queen in drag and so they would go to someone’s house who was established. Sometimes it would be Pepper Dorian or Avis or sometimes it was one of the older girls in the community aside from Pepper and Dorian and those girls and they would go to their house and they would get their selves together, butch queen in drag wise.

    I really think a detriment came in or some of the girls were forced to transition if that’s going to make sense because of ballroom and when I say that I say that because some of the girls were comfortable being in drag where they would go and sneak off and they would change their identity, not their gender, just change their identity for the evening or for the weekend depending on what they were up to and if they came … Maybe more importantly for a ball because you know … because the balls were far and few between, you would really have to go get yourself together. Instead of having on a wig you have a sew in or a glue in or whatever they was doing back then. You definitely could come home with all that hair because you can’t take it out.

    I really feel they changed their identity, but then when they went to ballroom and they started competing and they were losing to a girl who was prettier or lighter or had better structure or whatever the dynamics was, now these girls were forced to transition in terms of okay, I need to go get me some titties. Oh, I need to go get my checks hit or I need get my nose cracked or you know, they started transitioning in order to be accepted by ballroom because I think a lot of the girls would of taken their time had they had the proper guidance and the ballroom was a little bit more accepting in terms of okay, it’s not your night, but you’re not going to bash the girl down. Oh, you lost because you need your nose done or girl, you lost because you haven’t got no titties. That’s forced the girls to go into sex work and try and work on their transition at this point because first it was identity crisis you know?

VUO:    Yeah.

TL:    Now it’s gender crisis because now you’re trying to change your gender because although you’re not the prettiest looking girl in drag yet and maybe that’s the route you’re eventually going to take and you’re playing with it to get used to it and get comfortable with it and you know, spring it not only on the community, spring it on the real world and see how you’re accepted before you actually fully commit to it because once you actually get your bag or you get … Back then they didn’t even get all that. They got all that fake silicon and all that crap that’s ruining their lives now, but I think it was more of a identity crisis at first and then ballroom in my opinion, forced a lot of the girls to actual transition and get work done that they probably should of waited a few more years or been guided and navigated through the process through someone a little older.

    Unfortunately what then happens is because of economics, they can’t just go to the doctor and say, “I want my nose done” or “I want my checks done” or “I want a shot in my butt to shape out my boy pockets.” Now they have to go into sex work in order to gather the coins to get this and that done. First they’ll get little shots to fill in their boy pockets. That was the big thing back then, got to fill in your boy pockets. After you fill in your boy pockets now you want to get some breasts. I think back then it … Although it was survival mode, I think that ballroom forced a lot of girls to transition when they were happy being in drag. They were happy being in drag because I would think and as a psychologist, I would think that you would be able to back then be able to navigate through life a little better because you can always come out of drag.

VUO:    Yeah.

TL:    You know what I mean? You can get in drag and play with it even if you’re going to take it serious. You can spring it on the world and see how you’re received, catch your little critique while you’re getting spooked and then fix those things if you feel they need to be fixed, but just find your flaws. Let other people tell you what the flaws are, not ballroom.

VUO:    Yeah.

TL:    If you listen to ballroom, you’ll be looking like madame. Oh, you don’t have enough titties. Oh, your nose is too big. Oh, your nose is too small. By the time you’re finished you’re going to look like a man because ballroom is never going to accept you. It’s not very much an accepting place. Only a few girls and I’m pretty sure you know the names of some, really get that kid of adulation. The other girls not so much.

VUO:    Okay. I had a technical question. I kind of noticed that sometimes the only places that we find the ballroom [inaudible 00:21:24] written about [inaudible 00:21:30] who judge the competition and-

TL:    Your phone is breaking up. Your phone is braking up.

VUO:    I’m sorry. [inaudible 00:21:39] that sort of judge the competition sometimes like Keith Harring and then way later you had Jennifer Livingston come in, how do you feel the way art scene started to meet the house and ball scene in New York in this time?

TL:    I mean I think Jenny Livingston got a really bad wrap to a degree. Jenny Livenston was a film student and so what was important to her was images. I’ve actually worked with her on Paris is Burning although no one really knows that because I don’t publicize it. She was in film school or art school or something and I came … I met Pepper at the end of the project. It was already in wraps by the time … I think a year after I met Pepper and Jenny Livingston came to Doreen and Cory’s house with the finished product or somewhat of the finished product because she didn’t really have the rights to the music. When people seen it was … She wanted to make it a movie, but the only way she could really get the rights to the music was if it was [inaudible 00:22:44].

VUO:    Yeah.

TL:    If she said it was a movie, she would of had to pay all the people that was used in the film, but as a documentary piece, that was avoided. A lot of people don’t know that little history about that, but anyway-

VUO:    Thank you.

TL:    She came to village and she’d seen people voguing and seen all this and she actually found her way to a ball eventually and of course it was wonderment. This would be a dream for anybody who was a film student because you get to see all these images and movement and colors. That’s a film … That’s a dream for someone. She didn’t even know what she had and it took her a long time to navigate through the community because no one trusted her. Of course she was a white woman with a camera. What is she doing here and what is she doing and no one knew her so of course, once she made alliances with Pepper and Dorian, she was a little bit more accepted by the community and interviews were granted as you can see from the film.

    She didn’t really know what she had until she went to school and started showing it to her professor and at first she didn’t have interviews, she just had images of the ballroom children walking balls and the different terminologies, which was fascinating because it was an underground culture. As a faculty member, I would be fascinated too because it’s an untapped resource. Probably not one of the better resources, but it’s an untapped resource and you never know what you have, but her faculty member told her that she needs to get interviews with these people. We need to know who they are, why are they doing this. You need more. That’s when she navigated through and go the Octavia and Angie’s and the Pepper and the Dorians and all that stuff. Once they actually put it together it started winning awards. It started getting recognition. It was pretty much her thesis and it just go so much critical acclaim that it just took off and she didn’t know and then when money started rolling in, who’s going to turn down money?

    The unfortunate part of it is that she didn’t really come back and give back to the community of which they felt raped. You made millions of dollars once it went to Miramax, why didn’t you buy a building to house the homeless children that you’ve actually filmed at these balls? Why didn’t you fund some programs, which there weren’t many, but why didn’t you … and springboard a program that would help the community that actually was ultimately responsible for putting you in the position financially that you are? I mean you actually have children in Paris is Burning stealing from a burger joint.

VUO:    Yeah.

TL:    Wasn’t that a clue to you that maybe some of these children are hungry? Why didn’t you come back to the community and just give a big old dinner? Like, you did nothing for the community.

VUO:    [crosstalk 00:26:10] Sorry. Just keep going.

TL:    She did of course … You know, rub elbows with the right people and started helping a different community. Yeah, she fights for the community, but not our community if that makes sense? The ballroom community is where you got your start, where you got your fame, where your name went in the history books and now you’re rubbing elbows with … I would say the right people if you want to use that term and you’re working for LBGTQ rights, but you forgot about the people that got you in that position in the first place. Why not come back to us and say, “Hey, let me help you here. Let me … The winner of this category, I will pay your rent for one year.”

VUO:    Yeah.

TL:    Why did you not come back? That’s why the community feels a little slighted by her and with all honesty, unfortunately and fortunately, when you’re a young, gay child, those children who are not even born yet who are going to be gay, when they find out about the ballroom community, ballroom 101 is going to be Paris is Burning.

VUO:    Yeah.

TL:    If you want to know about ballroom, you need to watch Paris … Everyone is going to tell you. You have to go watch Paris is Burning. Although it will be 1,000s and 1,000s and 1,000s of years old at a certain point, it’s still going to be ballroom 101 because this is going to be the beginning. I can understand the children’s frustration with her not coming back and servicing the community. I do know that she paid Dorian a couple of dollars. I do know that she paid a few of the children some money, but you made millions of dollars. I mean that movie outsold Madonna, what is that? What Jose and them were in.

VUO:    Psycho Killers?

TL:    No, not that one. The movie before that. When she was on tour.

VUO:    Oh, I know what you’re talking about. Her little documentary that was in the movies.

TL:    Exactly. It outranked and outsold that.

VUO:    Yeah.

TL:    That shows you how powerful that Parish is Burning is. Jenny Livingston could of very well came back. I can’t say that she hasn’t because … No, I can say. She hasn’t and Paris actually wanted to sue her because she used the name of her balls.

VUO:    Yeah.

TL:    She couldn’t really sue her because she didn’t have the name copy written. She kind of lost there and that made Paris hate her forever. Paris hated her until the day she died.

VUO:    How do you feel that before Paris died-

TL:    Your phone is breaking up again.

VUO:    Okay. Prior to Paris coming out, there was a lot of straight folks at the balls?

TL:    There are a lot … I personally feel that a lot of people are at the balls now because we’re now … We’re now embedded in pop culture. What was an underground entity that no one wanted to deal with aside from Paris is Burning was pretty much enough of them. Okay, we see those bum niggers in Puerto Ricans. They steal burgers and they flap around on the floor and they dress up and they do this, that and the other. Okay, cutesy, cutesy. Once the vogue evolution came about, it kind of … It kind of catapulted us into main stream. There was no way around it. Everybody in the world wanted to vogue. When back then Madonna was doing it, you were a faggot if you vogued. Nobody wanted to do that faggot dance. Straight boys, I’ve been to Russia twice to judge balls. Straight boys are voguing and voguing better than they do here in the States I might add. All from watching YouTube clips.

    I think it’s a good thing. The only thing that I think is bad about it is that ballroom is not in a good place right now. Unfortunately we’ve reversed ourselves to being those bums in Paris is Burning and what I mean by that, you would like to see some progression or movement of the needle. You still see images of bums and broken down children. That’s not to say that all the children are bums or anything like that, but that would be the perception. In other words, if you see a cute little voguing child, you know you could say, “Hey, I want you to be in my video. I’m going to give you $300” and that would be enough for them. In actuality, they’re worth more than that, but because you view then as bums, you’re going to pay them scale.

VUO:    Yeah. Do you feel that this culture in the ’80s specifically was really tied to blackness?

TL:    I need you to say that again because your phone is breaking up.

VUO:    I’m so sorry. Do you feel in the ’80s the culture was tied to blackness, like voguing in any way or do you feel that it was tied to the Puerto Rican. The community that these guys came from, but at the same time you have hip hop happening. I know so much of it started with the clubs. I just wanted to ask if you felt there were any connections to blackness in this way?

TL:    I will say that it was a test to blackness only because it started in Harlem and because it was underground, no one from other ethnic groups knew about it until they were introduced. If we start with the Hispanic culture because they kind of infiltrated and we’ll go with the Xtravaganza, yes, they gave the Xtravaganza the hard way to go, but not because of ethnicity. They gave them a hard way to go because it was kind of considered this was ours. What are you doing here? Create your own shit.

VUO:    Mm-hmm (affirmative)-

TL:    They were eventually accepted because at the end of the day they are part of the community and to be quite honest, the Spanish children when they transition, they transition a lot better than the black children. They can grow the hair down their back. They pop a couple of bones and they’re soft as a cushion. Was it culturally divided? Yes. Was it intentional or racist? No. I wouldn’t want to believe that.

VUO:    Yeah. I don’t know. Something that I’ve been interested in, have you ever seen the dances that they do in Brazil? The [Para 00:34:09] dances? The fighting dance?

TL:    Uh huh.

VUO:    It looks kind of similar to voguing sometimes in a way. I wonder if you ever felt like there was a connection there between that and just kind of the conditions that made voguing come about?

TL:    I think that everybody takes elements of vogue and use it a little differently. I was watching Dance Moms years ago and they were voguing, but they was calling the dip the death drop. It kind of made me feel bad because you got the dance from our community, call it what it is. It’s not the death drop because you don’t want to associate it with the gay dance. It’s the fucking dip. It’s not a death drop unless you do it wrong. That kind of troubled me.

VUO:    Yeah. I guess what I’m asking … I guess I’m asking it the wrong way. Some of the roots of voguing, kind of what helped bring voguing into existence. Do you have any ideas about how the roots in terms of kind of looking it as people of African decent, what they were bringing into this time voguing came out.

TL:    I mean I’m not really sure what you’re asking me. Are you asking me what is the phenomenon that everyone takes from it and other cultures and countries?

VUO:    I just kind of meant [inaudible 00:35:48] all coming about do you think this style … I think this is just kind of me wondering more than a serious question. We can move on. If you felt that the dances before vogue that inspired vogue?

TL:    I won’t say that. I won’t even say … Me personally, I’m not going to give other dances the credit for that because vogue is a dance that came from our community and is specifically our. Did it take elements from other portions of dances, eventually it did, but primarily vogue was a dance that was generated from poses on a magazine, on Vogue Magazine. The difference is if you took Vogue … If you took all … Let’s say you took about 50 Vogue covers and you just flipped through them very quickly, you would see the Vogue dance. I don’t know if that makes sense to you?

VUO:    No, it does. It does. Yeah. Thank you so much.

TL:    Look, if you actually take a couple of Vogue covers and let’s say from the ’80s and when they were doing intricate poses and stuff like that, if you just flipped through the pages really quickly and just let the pictures move in a sense, you would see elements of vogue. Eventually like I said, they did take elements of hip hop, they did take … It always had elements of ballet because you had to have clean lines. If you are asking me that, absolutely, but we just … That was just … How can I say this? Ballet has certain things that you have to do for it to be ballet. Vogue has certain elements that makes it vogue. What they are doing now to me is not vogue. It’s a mess. There’s nothing beautiful. Vogue was a beautiful dance. I used to see Ronald LaMann and Jose Xtravaganza and all these children. I would stand in the club tracks on the balcony and I could sit there and watch them vogue for hours. That’s how beautiful. It was like watching a ballet. It was the most beautiful dance I have ever seen and it didn’t even appear …

    It was only gay because it was feminite movements, but that was the only thing that made it look gay to the world. It was still the most beautiful dance I had ever seen. It rivals ballet. It rivals jazz. It’s just … If those people were alive, some of them are and we still had footage of people who really vogued, the children of today would find it boring because it’s too structured for them. It’s a discipline dance. You had to be disciplined to vogue to be taken seriously. I hope that answers your question.

    I think vogue is a dance all of its own and again, does it take elements of other dances? Yes. You could say that ballet is a part of it because of the clean lines. Jazz you could say it’s about jazz because you have to have those beautiful spins. There’s certain elements in every dance because every dance could say, generated from somewhere else, but I will say that vogue is a dance all of its own created by us and there are some … There are logistics to the dance. There’s just some elements we expect to have.

    Let’s say if you went main … If it really did go main stream and let’s say it was part of the Olympics, the Olympics would ask us what are we judging? What do we need to see? We need to see clean lines. We need to see this. We need to see that. You can’t just say, “Oh, that was cute what he did. We’re going to give him 10s.” No, no, no. Just like a gymnast. You could say that vogue has some gymnast moves if that were the case as well.

    You could incorporate, but at the end of the day it’s still our dance and there’s certain elements, catwalk, duck walk, floor performance. These are things you have to see in real vogue. You have to remember that vogue did evolve. You have vogue that first it was old way, then it became performance, then it’s pop hip and spin, then you’ve got vogue femme, now you’ve got dramatics. It was never that. It evolved into that because people … That’s why they call it the old way. In other words, it’s irrelevant. No one is doing that anymore and that’s exactly the point. No one is doing that anymore, but those are the elements that you should have when you vogue.

    This new stuff, that actually took off around the world because I don’t know. It’s a phenomenon all over the world because of whatever. I don’t know. I think the old way is the best way.

VUO:    Thank you so much. I guess my last question is just is there anything else that you would want to say? Anything else about this time in the ’80s where you feel that people don’t talk about and what you would want to say?

TL:    What would I like to say? That’s like saying, “If you died tomorrow, what would you want to leave to this Earth?” I don’t know. I would really like to say that … Two things really. The first thing, I’d really wish that the younger generation would educate themselves in regards to ballroom and the real world. You really need your education to navigate through this world and education is so important and unfortunately it’s wasted on the young because they’re not taking advantage of it. As a result, that’s why we have poor educational systems because when the census come around and we fill out these censuses, education doesn’t rank high in our community so they don’t invest the money that it takes to give us the better education and then we complain about it, but we’re the reason that we’re having the problem so make education more of a priority and maybe the system will actually put better schools and better teachers in our community so that we don’t have to go outside of our community to these Ivy League schools to get a good education. That’s one.

    Two, I would like to say that we would bring the ladies back to ballroom. It’s not all about the butch queens anymore. It should never have been about the butch queen. Let the ladies have a go at it because they’re what’s beautiful about ballroom. They started ballroom and they should end ballroom and for the butch queens to push them out and make them feel unwanted, unneeded is just a travesty to me. I know the ladies are rolling over in their graves because we don’t have a bunch of femme queen or butch queen in drag categories because we don’t want to see the ladies because anything the ladies could do, they boys could do. They boys could vogue. The boys could walk runway. The boys could walk face. What do we need the girls for? That’s the sad part of ballroom to me.

VUO:    Thank you so much for your time. I can’t tell you how helpful and just amazing this has been. I hope you know that … I’m definitely going to be sending you copies of my paper. If there’s anything else that you feel an hour from now, you’re like, “I wish I had said that or [inaudible 00:44:11]” or just talk more-

TL:    [crosstalk 00:44:16]

VUO:    Please feel free to reach out. I can’t even express to you how much this means to me so thank you so much.

TL:    It’s not a problem at all and if ever you need me I’m off on Fridays. Anytime you need me or if you think of something or if you have an epiphany from speaking to others and you want to get my take on it, don’t worry. You can always call me. I’m always here for the community.

VUO:    I can definitely tell. Thank you so much. Have a great day and congratulations on your marriage and just everything that’s going great in your life.

TL:    Thank you and good luck with your piece and I look forward to reading it.

VUO:    All right. Thank you so much. All right. Bye.

TL:    Bye-bye.

Interview with Icon Egyptt Labeija

In this interview, Icon Egypt Labeija recalls her introduction to the ballroom scene and negotiating her survival. She also discusses care from other femme queens and how that impacted her role in activism at the Audre Lorde Project.

Victor UltraOmni: So please say your name and spell it please.

EL: Egyptt Labeija.  E-G-Y-P-T-T Capital L-a-b-e-i-j-a

EL: Can you give us your name and any other identities you want to claim on camera. And when you arrived in New York City after that.

EL: I was born in New York. um In a place called Long island which is another country. um and then I moved to New York City at the age of 19.

VUO: Please explain your a first memory of a ball.

EL: My first movie ever ball was in the early 90s. A good friend of mine said let’s go to a ball which I had no clue what it was. So we went to this place it was in Harlem. And This experience when you walk in the door. It’s amazing. You see. all the LGBT community people in one room participating for a trophy. But it’s so much love. The costumes, the performances, it was just absolutely amazing. To the point where was like I like this and I want to do this. So it takes me way back

VUO: When did you first get involved with the house of Labeija? .

EL: I’ve been with the house of Labeija for five years now. They had a meeting and had wanted me to come to join. Which is actually an honor to me to be asked to join, the royal iconic House that started all the ballroom.

VUO:   What are some of the dyanmics that you have heard about from the house scene in the 1980s?

EL: The dynamics basically is when you come into a house you come into the house for a purpose. um it’s not just only to be in balls to participate. It’s a family. um Because back in those days a lot of families did not accept if you were gay, if you were to be trans. It just was unheard of. So a lot of kids were thrown out of their homes so a house was like your Home. That why they call it a house. And the dynamics were basically mothers took care of the kids. Because originally there were no Fathers it was just Mothers.

VUO: How do you feel like history has circulated about the pioneers of ballroom to you?

EL:  How does… Say that again?

VUO: How do you feel like ballroom history has gotten passed down to you?

EL:  It’s gotten passed down to me because like I said, I’ve been to a lot of balls. And you just listen. And when you surround yourself with ballroom people. They talk about it because it is a part of history that needs to be talked about. um Because I know a lot of the original pioneers. That I’ve talked to them about it. They’ve schooled me. They told me the do’s and don’ts when it comes to ballroom.

VUO: What did that schooling look like?

EL: The schooling means. When it’s time to walk a ball. If you don’t know what you’re doing you have to ask. Mothers back then were very strict. Because you are representing a house. And you cannot go out there looking wrong. Because it get back to them. It’s a battle. It’s what you call the survival of the fittest. So you have to just listen because if you don’t listen they scold you just like a real mother would,=.

VUO: What did they tell you about the early days of ballroom?

EL: The early days of ballroom was basically about the feminine perspective. um it was about the glamour the feathers the beads. Who was realer than this one.  Who’s body was better.

EL: Who could walk more like a model. um So it taught you basically how to live your life as a woman every day but just with a little extra.

VUO:  What role did you think the balls played in the 1980s?

EL:  The balls basically taught you how to be yourself. Don’t be afraid of who you are.um It shows you how community can come together in the worst times. Because. it wasn’t easy for people of color to do anything. Doors were shut. So when ballroom came out it was for us too. It was a night for us to be who we wanted to be and how we wanted to be and there was nobody to judge us but ourselves.

VUO: Do you have any other memories with the four pioneering Mothers?

EL: Dorian, Avis, Andy I mean Angie and Pepper. Were all very strict mothers and they were the ones who put ballroom where  where it is because without them there would be no houses. um I actually met all of them. Dorian used to make my clothes. She made clothes for me back then. And she’s very funny, she’s a very funny woman. Avis also made clothes for me we worked together we’ve done lots of shows together at a place called Blues in New York City. And it was just the way they treat you, the way they talk to you.  As a person, they always want to make you feel like you were someone you are somebody no matter what no one else says. I believe in you. And so go for it if there’s a problem you always came to them, one of them would help you. And even if you weren’t in one of their houses  if you knew them you could always talk to them.

VUO:  Do you have any memories in particular you want to share?

EL: I remember the first time I ever met Dorian

Was at a place called the Anville. I got booked there to do a show. And I’m supposed to Diana Ross. And I came in I did my makeup what I thought was made up. And I’ve already heard about her but you know you hear things but you have to once   you meet a person its completely different. So I’m sitting in the dressing room and she looks at me and says uh sweetie you have to get yourself ready for the show. And I said I am ready. And she she said “No you’re not.”  And she looked at the rest of the girls and this is “Oh we have one.” And I was petrified. What are they going to throw me out because I’m  done the way they’re done? But what they did was there was six girls in the dressing room and each one took a different part of me and got me together. The hair, the makeup, the lashes, the dresses they all put me together to make me look like I was supposed to.  And that was one of the best memories I have, especially with the iconic people That we talk about today.

VUO: um. Are there any stories that they made sure you knew going forward in the ballroom?

EL:  Basically that any stories that they’ve told me was about it’s hard and it is a competition. So when you go out there you have to do your best. Do research. Study videos. It. They had camcorders back then and you could always go find a video somewhere and they always see the practice. Practice makes perfect.

What is your opinion on Paris is Burning?

Paris is burning. It’s a good documentary. um. There are a lot of parts that are left out, that are not put in there. There are a lot of people that were not in it because they didn’t want to sign the contract. Jennie Livingston did what she did with a low budget but made millions on it. I don’t think it was fair to some of the people. Because once the money came to her she should of gave it out to the people who made the movie. You know, you made something underground that we were so proud of and you put it on a platform. That you didn’t give us recognition for

VUO:  What do you feel like was left out?

EL:  About the heartache that came along with the ballroom. Ballroom it’s a beautiful thing. But it hurts sometimes when you go out there an you do what you  and you don’t feel like it was enough. Or the judges chop you. No I don’t see it. It hurts. The don’t show those parts. um. They don’t show the parts where people who cannot make clothes. What they had to do to get all the stuff they needed for the balls they left all that out. um They left a lot of parts about how judges, judge each contestant. So there’s a  lot they left out. That’s been put put in other documentaries but that one they just left they left you wanting more. Cause you have to ask a lot ask still about the movie.

VUO:  How did the HIV/AIDS epidemic impact the ballroom in the 80s? What did you hear?

EL: So in the 80s when the AIDS epidemic hit um there were a lot of ballroom kids that were sick. They still walked balls they were sick and then a lot of them had passed away. In impacted because a lot of the Pioneers the people who worked hard to get  what we call their status they were dying. And back then they didn’t have the medications they have now. So it really hurt. Because all of these people that are now gone I’m going because in Paris is Burning, you might have 5 to 10 people that’s still alive. Maybe. So it hurts because none of these people are hear to actually talk about what actually happened how they got through the balls. How they dealt with their friends their sisters and brothers passing away.

VUO: Can you tell me any of the stories that you’ve heard?

EL:  Well. I have a friend. Well actually have a friend who was in those balls she wasn’t in the movie the Paris is burning. But she got sick during the um ballroom scene  in the 80s. And she used talked to me about “I can’t do it. I can’t do it because I’m in pain. But I have to do it because this is all I have left.” And to hear her say that it hurts, I don’t want to bring her name up. But she used to cry to me about how ballroom was the only thing that she had to keep her going because she knew she was not going to live long. So she pushed hard to make a name for herself in ballroom.

VUO:  Did you hear the House of Latex?  How do you feel that it impacted the ballroom?

EL: The House of Latex when they decided to get involved in ballroom it was basically for protection because they wanted  people to use condoms.  So they got involved for good reason. um. Which today is one of New York’s biggest balls. Um. It helps ballroom because at that particular ball the Latex Ball, what they do is they promote safe sex in order for people to live longer. Which is what we all want.

VUO: Do you feel houses as if the houses um responded to the epidemic in the 80s?

EL:  Actually not really, because we didn’t know too much about it. It just happened. um Try to make people comfortable but that’s all you can do is just talk to them and try to make them comfortable. It impacted the ballroom scene because there were so many people getting sick. And every time you turned around somebody else was passing away. So it did it did a lot of damage. So you had to just regroup.

VUO:  What role do you feel like femmequeens played in the establishment of the ballroom scene?

EL: They played the biggest role because in the beginning of ballroom it was all feminine. There was no masculine in it all because it was for the female figure to do what she had to do. um And that why it became. That’s why each House it was a Mother. um. Because you have to have a structure and. The female figure was the best way to show.The next generation on how to become your best potential.

VUO: Mhm. What do you think about voguing as?

EL: Voguing is… a part of art because they took, they look in vogue magazine and they saw poses. And that’s how it originally started because you just stuck a pose while you were doing whatever you’re doing on the runway. Then it became a dance. um. It has evolved from slow movements to dramatic. um And there’s so many different types of voguing you have, you have old way, you have new way, you have butch queen vogue femme. You have dramatic. So it take. Each generation brings the own new thing into it. That’s what makes it so great.

VUO: Can you talk to me more about Old Way?

EL: Old way is the the original. Where it was slow and graceful. Where when it was time for you to do a spin, you spin like a ballerina and you went into graceful dip on the floor. um It was more points to it where your arms, your legs, your poses was more like a magazine pose.

VUO: Um What else do you want people to remember about the 1980s ballroom scene?

EL: What I want people to remember is that it is a way of life. The way we get together in a ballroom is our day to shine. There are a lot of people that live their life through ballroom. And the history that comes with it.um. How it started. The reason why it started so that we as a community can have a place for us that nobody can take from us. Um People need to understand that this is history  ballroom is history. That one day especially with this interview people will understand exactly what ballroom represents. Again, it  was an underground thing. Where we just…it was required.

VUO: Why?

EL: Because society wasn’t  ready for it and it was something that we could do on our own. You know because to get a ball together is a lot of work. You have to get the venue you have to come up with categories. You have to come up with tropies. You have to come up with cash. And to do for one person to get all that together it’s a lot. And I take my hat off to all the pioneers that started it. Because back in those days I don’t think I could have done it.  A lot of people couldn’t have do it. That’s why it started off small. and then people started getting sponsors and.. It got popular and now everybody wanted to do it. It started in New York in Harlem. And today ballroom is throughout this world. They have it in China, Mexico, Italy. I mean it’s everywhere.

VUO: Did you hear um stories about the first Mother’s were able to do it in the 80s?

EL: First Mothers?

VUO: How the Pioneers managed the 80s?

EL: [00:00:20] How the Pioneers managed was through prayer and just on a whim. Because you had to… the Mothers back then it was rivalry but not hateful rivalry. It was my girls are better than yours. And in order to make my girls better than yours I have to groom them. To listen to a lot them, cause like I said knew a lot of them. I knew Angie, I knew Dorian, I knew  Avis, I knew all of them. And the way that they used to manage was just take it one day at a time. It was a vision that they saw and that they wanted. To make not just something of ballroom but of the kids that’s in ballroom. Because a lot of them they had a rule, if you’re going to be in this house you have to go to school, you have to go to work. You have to do something with yourself.

VUO: What are somethings you remember about Pepper Labeija?

EL: Pepper was shady as hell.  But her shade wasn’t a nasty shade her was only because she wanted the best the best for her kids. And she wanted the best for ballroom.  The first time I ever met her, she just looked at me and says “You’re cute, now move away. Because she didn’t know me at that point. When she she said it she did it with a laugh, so it wasn’t like she was being um disrespectful.  um And I think she did just to see how much I could take, or if I was one of those poor people that just crawls up in a cornerand disappears. Because Pepper made you strong. Because ballroom you have to be strong. So if you could deal with her little subtle stuff then you’re not ready. And if she likes you she is still come at you to make you ready.

VUO: How did femmequeens make it to the balls in the 90s?

EL: What do you mean how did they make it? like get to it?

VUO: Like avoid harassment?

EL: How did they get to the balls?

VUO: Yeah.

EL: To get to a ball most of the time you caught a cab or depending on if you had money you would catch a cab… or if you didn’t have money you just get on the train. A lot of times there was a lot of ridicule on the trains because you’re coming your face is made up. You have on these outfits. Cause a lot of back then you came to the ball in your outfit you didn’t change. Unless it was a category that you needed to change for. But most of the time already came to balls all glammed up. And in New York City riding on a subway or a bus  to go to a ball. It was easier to go to a ball than to go home. Because going… it was late. So you can sneak out of the house because  there’s a lot of kids that still live with parents. So you had to sneak out and look one way  and then change on the train  or around the corner from the house.

VUO: What are some of the most iconic moments that you’ve heard about from the ball scene in the 1980s?

EL: How dramatic the categories were. um The categories back then everything had to be creative, it wasn’t something that you just went to the store and bought. You had.. they would come up with categories with say the Little Mermaid. We’ll use that. That means you have to look like a mermaid. They would come in fish tanks. There were people they used to walk inside big balloons. There were people that used to jump off the balconies. During the performance they were start on the balcony and jump off. I remember one person I knew he jumped off the balcony and broke his leg, but he kept going until he got his trophy. um It was just how people come in… with like Pepper used to come in she was on… she was Egyptian… and she had a complete entourage come in with her. So those were the best days because it was more creativity in it than it is today.

VUO: We’re a lot more categories establish in the 80s?

EL: No. It wasn’t a lot more. There’s more categories, now in the 80s you might have had maybe 12 categories. So today you’ll have 22 categories or 42 categories. And the reason they didn’t have as many is because each category took a while, and there was a lot of contestants for those categories. So they had maybe 12 to 15 categories at the most at those balls.

VUO: What are anything else that you’ve heard about ballroom in the 1980s?

EL: So in the 1980s what I will say is that we stuck together, because if um some guys would try it. It could be one and he  came at one person. He used to get beat up. Because we were family. um. We used to carry hammers, ice picks, and blades. You know we had used it because like I said we would come out in all of these costumes and you had to protect yourself. um that’s why it’s called a house because if you mess with one, you mess with them all. I was…in the 80s I wasn’t there but I heard stories and then it followed down  by the time I came into the ballroom scene. I have gone to ball Before and they started fighting on the way to the ball because some guys came at them because of all the glitz and grammaer. things. The guys got beat up because… there’s a lot that go with it. And the police came because they got beat up. And you see back then they didn’t believe we have the rights that we have today. So sometime we got locked up. up for self defense. Which wasn’t… it wasn’t happy. But things happen then we learned how to get around there. You just do and you throw it away.

VUO: How do you feel like houses interacted with the police in the 1980s?

EL: Ok. So there’s things where the police were involved.  I have to be honest. You know a lot of the outfits that people wore were stolen. And people would go to these big department stores, break windows, hide in the closet before it closes, and they would literally go and get these clothes. And when they’re missing the police figured it out. On where they’re going because balls became popular but they were still underground.  And the police you know because you have a flyer and you put the flyer out all over the place police could see it. And they go  to this ball. And they lock you up because it’s already been reported stolen. There were some police that were nice. They would just say you know we we’re just going to take it and you go. But that was so far in between. um. The police really didn’t bother you at a ball per se unless they were there looking for a stolen item. After a while they actually were helpful. Because they would come in to the balls, the detectives because they needed to see what was going on. They knew we had to be protected so to speak. Becaus there were guys that would to the balls that would try to rob.. and beat the girls up. Not that it was successful but they would try. um. And then after enough  complaining to the police about this is what is going on. They started parking outside.  And You know so it took time for it to get to where it is.

VUO: Where or what clubs were the balls held at in the 80s?

EL: In the 80s. Everything was happening here in Harlem. Theyhad it at.  God I can’t remember the names of these places. I’m having a brain freeze right now.Um.

VUO: No worries we can move on.

EL: Yeah cause right now I have all the names in my head I just can’t remember them.

VUO: It’s alright

VUO: um. How do you feel you’re time in the ballroom has been shaped by the femme queens before you?

EL: My time in the ballroom was shaped by them because they showed me how to do it. Because ballroom was set up for a specific reason. And the feminine aspect of it is that they sit and they  talk to you. And some time they would light  you up because if you don’t listen it defeats the whole purpose to them talking to you. um. They show you how to reach your next potential. Because you could start out as nobody in ballroom but you keep going and you keep going. You ask questions you watch you learn and you build yourself up in the ballroom scene.

VUO: How did the balls end up in Harlem in the 1980s?

EL: Because that’s where Pepper gave it, which is in a bowling alley if I’m not mistaken. She just went to a bowling alley   and she rented it. And after a while the bowling alley was too small. So they had to find other places to do balls in Harlem because that’s where the trans community was in Harlem. So that was easy for the trans women to get to, it was easier and safer.

VUO: Do you know anything about the trans community in Harlem at that time?

EL: No.  I’ve heard stories but I couldn’t tell you precise how it was. You had Harlem girls and you had Brooklyn girls. Because that’s where it was Harlem in Brooklyn. And that’s how basically balls really started. My borough is against your borough. But because it started in Harlem um it just stayed there until years later and then started doing it in different borough.

VUO: Do you have any memories of Avis Pendavis?

EL: Yes. Me and Avis… I met Avis at a ball. And she said…I wasn’t walking I was just there with a friend of mine. And She said she’s so cute. She said “Are you walking?” I said “No.” And then I winded up seeing her at a place called Blues. We were both working there at the same time. That’s when I originally became a Pendavis. Back then.I walked a few balls. And then I get scared, and I left. The entire ballroom scene. I was there but just quiet. Because I didn’t feel that I could reach the potential that they were, that they wanted me to go to. So I just said “No I’ll stay back here. I’ll stay back with psychosis. It’s nice to be back here.  And then I just got out. Until recently, then I got back out and I came in hard. So it’s a lot of work. And it’s only because… I’m able to do what I do now. Is because of all the memories and what I learned from Avis, Dorian, Pepper. All the things that they taught me today I’m ready to face everything.

VUO: How did they prepare you?

EL: Just by encouraging me. Pushing me for greatness. Always making me feel that I am somebody, I’m important. And if you want something in life. You have to go for it. You can’t let people tell you’re  not worthy or you’re not good enough. If they do you work harder because in life, real life people are going to tell you you’re not good enough for something. So they make sure that’s in your head that you’re worthy, you’re wonderful. It doesn’t matter what someone else is wearing with they’re doing. You can do better if you don’t get it this time there is a next time. Just don’t give up.

VUO: How you stay in contact with all of them?

EL: The clubs and bars. You know, just you being out you see them. I’m going to Avis house to get some things made, I’m going to Dorian’s house to get somethings made. Pepper’s I used to just see her at the balls and the clubs.

EL: Did you know Angie Xtravaganza?

EL: I met her.  I met her at a club called Escuelita. And I knew her from the Pier in the village.

VUO: Can you talk to me about the Pier?

EL: The Pier is… It brings back a lot of memories because when I first came to the pier… I came down there with a friend of mine.. Because From where I lived in Long Island we didn’t have all that. So when I came down there I was like wow this is wierd. um. There were cars parked and there was buildings . And people used to come down here to vogue and read. And I… it scared me. Because I don’t want. I can’t do this for these people. They don’t know me so I have to stay up the in a corner because somebody’s going to curse me out. So I didn’t say anything to anybody right away.  And then the morning came and I met people. And in this life style that we live in. You have to learn to read in order to survive. If you can’t read. You just don’t get lit up. Because it you can’t read you’re not going to feel like anything. And it’s just a kiki for us.

VUO: What other experiences did you have at the Pier?

EL: I used to live on the pier years ago. I  have to put that in there. Because when I left my parents house I had nowhere to go. So I lived on the Pier. I had to make money on the Pier.  I’m not ashamed of anything I’ve done. It’s just a part… it’s just a part… it’s the experience I had to go through. But going through all of the homelessness and the drugs and the prostitution. It made me a stronger person. So today I can…I’m still here because the Pier  taught me how to live.

VUO: How many other people were living on the pier at that time?

EL: Oh my god.  At the time I was there it was about 50. Stretched through out the whole Pier.

VUO: Do you know when people first began living there?

EL: Longbefore I did. I couldn’t really get time but they were there. A lot of times you didn’t see them because they’d hide. You didn’t want people to see that youhave no place to live. So the only time you actually know that they werehomeless if you were out there 24 hours a day. Because sometimes if you justhang out hanging out you might be just tired from the night before you mightlay down. And just rest on a bench or on the grass. But that was the onlyoption.

VUO: What do you think the Pier represents today?

EL: A new age. And there’s still homeless people that sleep on the Pier today.  They have gentrified it too. Now it’s called a park not a Pier.

VUO: Yeah.

EL: But it’s not the same because the love that was down there is not there because they pushed everybody away.

VUO: Can you tell me more about that love?

EL: When you came down to the peer you felt love from one end to the other end you always knew somebody. And if you didn’t know somebody, somebody was always speaking to you. um It was like going to a family park. Like when you go to a picnic… that what it was like. But it was everyday. It’s like you’d go down there at any given time and there was somebody that was down there you can laugh. There was music. It was a party, an outside party every day.

VUO: Is there anything else that you want to talk about?

EL: That the Pieris a place where people practice to Vogue. The pier is Home. um it made Houses come together. It was a place where you can come and be yourself without anybody judging you on the outside.

VUO: Can you tell me more about that?

EL: When you camedown to the Pier. It was houses. It was the LGBT community area where you couldbe yourself. um the only people that would judge you is the people that you’re coming down to mess with. The outside world were outsiders down there. um.They were statistic in the village because we were ruled. It was our place. um.We didn’t have to worry about the police that much because that was our haven.It was a safe haven for the LGBT community.

VUO: What else would you want people to know about ballroom in the 1980s?

EL: Ballroom in the 1980s was an outlet for the the trans feminine women to be who they want to be. It was a place where you didn’t have to worry about not being who you wanted to be.Um.If you didn’t suceed the first time you always come back and try it again. And again. And again. Because It was there for you. It was there for us. It was made by us and there for us.

VUO: And then my last question is can you tell me a little more about the advocacy you’ve done in your life?

EL: Okay. Ihave, I went to a school called  trans justice community to school that was given by the Audre Lorde Project. I didn’ tknow what I was getting myself into. Um. But this school taught me that I havea mouth. And I can  speak for others that can’t speak. If I see something to say something. So going to school it opened my eyes to a lot of laws that we had a lot of possibilities that the community has itself. So going to the school I wound becoming the coordinator for trans justice at the Audre Lorde Project. I also became an advocate for Housing Works. Going to Albany to petition laws and policies. I have gone to Albany for homeless trans people of color to make a point that we are people too. And thatI do have a voice. I can speak. And. You’re going to listen. And all this I have to say is because ballroom made me not fear the unexpected.

VUO: Alright well thank you so much.

EL: Thank you!