‘Paris Is Burning’ star Carmen Xtravaganza, ballroom icon and transgender advocate, dies at 62


Carmen Xtravaganza, a ballroom icon and transgender advocate identified for her look within the 1990 documentary “Paris Is Burning,” has died. She was 62.

Her dying was introduced Friday by Home of Xtravaganza, one of many unique homes of New York’s ballroom group, of which she had been a Home Mom, or chief, previously. “Paris Is Burning” helped convey mainstream consideration to the predominantly Black and Latino queer ball and “home” tradition, in addition to drag exhibits.

Although the home didn’t point out her explanation for dying, in latest months the LGBTQ+ icon had been battling Stage 4 lung most cancers, in response to a GoFundMe to lift funds for her therapy.

“It’s with a heavy coronary heart that we share the information of Carmen Xtravaganza’s passing,” the home wrote in a press release shared on Instagram. “All through the Eighties, Carmen reigned on the runways as one of many Home of Xtravaganza’s ‘unattainable beauties.’ Her presence and expertise left an indelible mark on the Home Ballroom scene.”

The assertion additionally talked about Carmen’s characteristic in a 1988 Village Voice article by Donald Suggs, which was among the many first tales by a mainstream publication concerning the underground ball scene. She was featured on the quilt and inside the article.

The duvet photograph by Sylvia Plachy, which highlighted Carmen, would show influential. French Haitian photographer Chantal Regnault, one of many foremost chroniclers of the ball scene’s rise to fame within the late Eighties and early Nineteen Nineties, credited the picture of Carmen as part of her introduction to the group that will go on to closely affect at the moment’s drag tradition, now closely commercialized with actuality present “RuPaul’s Drag Race” and RuPaul’s DragCon.

“There was this stunning image of Carmen Xtravaganza, and reverse was an article about balls and interviews with voguers,” Regnault instructed Vogue earlier this yr. “The photographs by Sylvia had been hanging, and that’s the way it began for me. When you went to a ball, you’d learn of the following one.”

Carmen, whose full identify was Carmen Inmaculada Ruiz, was born in Spain to a Spanish mom and American father, in response to Out journal and the TransGriot weblog, run by author and transgender advocate Monica Roberts, who interviewed the performer in 2013. Her household moved round typically attributable to her father’s job with the U.S. navy. After her dad and mom separated, she break up time between two households. From a younger age, Carmen mentioned she recognized as a lady.

“I knew I used to be meant to be Carmen round 5 years previous or so,” she instructed TransGriot. “Way back to I can keep in mind my dad all the time knew from after I was a small baby I used to be all the time effeminate.”

She discovered assist from her father, however her mom struggled to simply accept her. At 15, Carmen ran away from dwelling in Washington, D.C., to formally start her transition course of. Throughout that two-year interval, Carmen mentioned she was “robbed, mugged, raped and incarcerated.”

“Life was laborious as a result of I used to be by myself and needed to hustle to outlive,” she instructed TransGriot. Quickly after, in 1981, she and a pal moved to New York, the place she discovered a job as a intercourse employee — and likewise discovered Manhattan’s burgeoning ballroom scene. She first carried out as Carmen St. Laurent, discovering group with different intercourse staff on the scene’s numerous homes.

“In these days it was way more family-oriented than it’s at the moment,” Carmen mentioned of the ballroom’s homes, that are makeshift households that always have a Father and Mom who take care of the home’s youngsters, who had been typically LGBTQ+ runaways comparable to Carmen. “There have been no packages for trans women like there are actually.”

She finally gained the respect of Mom Angie of Home Xtravaganza, one of many unique main homes within the ball scene, and was featured in “Paris Is Burning.” In 2006 she appeared in one other documentary about ballroom tradition, “How Do I Look,” and later, within the latest FX sequence “Pose.”

Carmen was capable of proceed her transition in New York, the place she mentioned she “had entry to one of the best hormones on this planet and plenty of assist via the ladies and nice surgeons who modified their costs for our group of trans girls.”

In her look in “Paris Is Burning” (accessible to stream on Max), Carmen is seen on the seashore together with her home sister, Brooke Xtravaganza, speaking about their transition experiences. The dialog is informative, affectionate and humorous. As Brooke recollects her numerous surgical procedures, Carmen gives an affirmation, “Sure, inform them like it’s.” She later ribs at Brooke, who references her surgical procedure to change into a lady, “She has to rub it in,” whereas capturing a sarcastic take a look at the digicam. After sharing amusing, the pair get away in tune, singing “I’m what I’m / I’m my very own particular creation,” the opening line of of Gloria Gaynor’s 1983 single “I Am What I Am.”

All through the final decade of her life, Carmen remained dedicated to furthering trans visibility by sharing her life story and advocated for extra providers for LGBTQ+ youth in New York. Within the TransGriot interview, she additionally known as on extra partnerships between ballroom homes and trans-activist communities.

“I hope to see trans folks of shade in a greater state of affairs, for violence towards us to be diminished,” Carmen mentioned. “For our brothers and sisters to have the ability to get the healthcare and repair that we most urgently want. There’s a want for us to be educated about our gender id so we are able to empower ourselves to succeed in higher heights and change into extra seen in society.”


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