“When someone steps on to the ballroom floor, they’re not just competing in categories. They’re telling a story. Someone who walks says, ‘I am beautiful. This is who I am. I’m lovely no matter what you say, what you think. I’m beautiful.’”
The LGBT community is far more diverse than we may usually think. One subculture within that broader community is voguing, which combines expressive dance, elaborate costumes, and a ton of attitude. In New York City, young LGBT people of color may take part in the Kiki scene. This has been chronicled by Sara Jordenö in her Spirit Award nominated (for “Truer than Fiction”) documentary Kiki.
For those unfamiliar with voguing, you might want to think of it as “So You Think You Can Dance” through the lens of a Gay Pride parade. The film takes us into some of the Kiki balls, where various “houses” compete amidst a raucous revelry. The houses are in one sense teams, but they often serve as a kind of surrogate family. The heads of the houses are often called Mother and Father. This grows out of the marginalization that many LGBT people have had to deal with through their lives. Within these houses each person can find acceptance for who they are.
The diversity of the community is seen in the various people we meet. They each have their own story and find themselves on their own spot on the sexuality spectrum. We discover the labels we apply don’t always fit the way we think they should. (This is one of the reasons that Q [Queer] is often added on the LGBT. It signifies that the gender identification of some doesn’t quite fit the categories of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, or Transgender.) Some of those we meet have stories of rejection, others have been accepted by their families, but still feel like outsiders in the world at large.
The film also takes time to highlight stories that continue to be important in the LGBT community, even as acceptance has grown through the years. Homelessness, HIV, and sexual exploitation in term of sex workers continue to be some of the things young LGBT people face as they try to find their way in a world that is often hostile to them. The community that has grown up around the Kiki balls is for some a lifeboat in a stormy sea. The voguing scene is not just about providing expression to marginalized people. It also provides community action that seeks to address some of the issues being faced.
For many outside this community, the extremes of dress and sexualized behavior may be disconcerting and perhaps even repellant. But the community that has been formed in the process is one that provides nurture, safety, and stability for many.
Photos courtesy of IFC Films