I was delighted to be included as a guest at Outfest, an annual Los Angeles LGBTQ film festival. I had been looking forward to seeing Kiki – a documentary film about vogue ballroom culture in New York City.
Before the film started, some of the creators (and subjects) performed for the audience. Twiggy Pucci Garçon, one of the film's writers and founder of House of Pucci, was careful to explain that vogue is an emotional and therapeutic outlet for the community–not just for our entertainment, and that it was our privilege to see a live performance that evening. And it was their pleasure to perform for us. This thoughtful and informative tone maintained through the rest of the evening, as the film challenged our perceptions of vogue, its community, and what it represents.
The film made clear that vogue (or ballroom culture) is more than a dance style or art form. It provides a safe space and substitute family for many black and latino LGBTQ teens. Not only do vogue houses have a leading mother and father, but they provide positive role modeling, mentorship, and togetherness that many in the community did not find elsewhere. As trans woman Gia Marie Love explained, where society has not met the needs of their community, they have found their own way.
Many black trans women especially have found a home in ballroom culture, where gender fluidity and the trans experience are welcome. The documentary made a strong effort to elevate the voices of trans individuals and their varied experiences, from stories of discrimination to coming out to transition. As Gia Marie Love said, "We're strong as f*&^$!"
There were a number of tear-jerking moments where the mothers of trans female and gay male individuals spoke about why they supported their children. One mother said "You can never kick your child out of your home. That's just wrong. Pray or go to therapy if you need to. But don't kick them out."
The film repeatedly addressed the dangers of youth homelessness in the LGBTQ community. In an expensive place like a city, children who have been rejected by their families often find themselves on the streets. It also carefully aligned with black lives matter, and one of the speakers introducing the film spoke about black lives matter at the start.
Overall, it was an impactful, activist film. At this phase of the LGBTQ civil rights movement, it's become increasingly important that the voices of people of color and trans people be amplified. And this film does good work to tell their stories in their own words.
For me, as a non-black and middle class gay man that grew up in a rural area, I had a very limited perspective on the ballroom movement. I have watched lots of ballroom performance and vogueing videos out of curiosity, but I'd never understood its greater importance. It was a privilege to be able to witness the film.
Thank you to the creators of the film: Sara Jordenö and Twiggy Pucci Garcon, Chi Chi Mizrahi, Christopher Waldorf, Divo Pink Lady, Gia Marie Love, Izana "Zariya" Vidal, & Kenneth "Symba McQueen" Soler-Rios.