T. Kepler Final Paper Final Draft
After watching the film Paris is Burning, one can see that the difference between the black LGBT scene of the eighties and the twenty-first century LGBT scene is very large. The community has become stronger and is getting noticed by more and more people. A great example of the evolution of the modern day black LGBT scene is the House of LaDosha. The House of LaDosha is a group of artists whose tastes in art and humor are similar that support each other and often work together. Basically, they’re a group of very good friends united through their fun times and their art. The House of LaDosha is one of the most well known black LGBT houses on the scene today. They record and play their own original trap music compositions, they host parties and shows, and some of the members are traditional artists as well, making paintings, drawings, even statues. Compared to the ball queens of Paris is Burning, the members of LaDosha have a much broader artistic palate and stronger standing social status in the club and art scene than the ball queens ever did. This is mainly because of the difference in philosophies between the groups. The characters in Paris is Burning were united through the culture of the balls: They believed that had they not been born gay and black, they would’ve been able to be rich and influential in white society. Therefore, in the balls, they dressed up as who they believed they should have been in white society. As a result, the balls that were held limited the self-expression of the queens because they were so focused on who they should’ve been, and not who they could actually be. The artists of LaDosha know who they are, are comfortable with themselves, and are proud to show it. The artists of LaDosha, as opposed to the ball queens past, are united through a shared love for artistic vision and simply through shared humor. When united through similar self-expressions, like House of LaDosha, we see rebelliousness towards the world of anyone on the opposing side and a stronger and more popular community. The artists of House of LaDosha have built their world that optimizes their self-expression where as the people of Paris is Burning intentionally made one that converted and hid it, and therefore, through their philosophy of uniqueness rather than imitation, the House of LaDosha will leave a greater mark on their society than the ball scene ever did.
The contestants in the balls of Paris is Burning were living in a counterculture that limited their freedom of self-expression to the maximum. The world around them was run predominantly by white people, and thus the ideas and images around them were also “white inspired”. Obviously, a person that is black and gay living in a white and mostly straight culture, would feel conscious and subconscious wants to conform to the world around them, and that’s exactly what the ball contestants did. They set up these balls, these contests, to project themselves in their category as “real” to their idealized identity as possible. “To be able to blend; that’s what realness is. If you can pass the untrained eye, or even the trained eye and not give away the fact that you’re gay, that’s when it’s real. The idea of realness is to look as much as possible as your straight counterpart” (Dorian Corey, 18:00–18:40). If they could project themselves as “real”, then that was assurance to themselves and the people around them that they could have, if given the chance, been a part of the popular white culture that dominated their world. The whole idea of their counterculture was intentionally and unintentionally relinquishing the idea of personal identity and true self-expression for imitation.
One could argue that the contestants’ freedom and self-expression were expressed in their personal interpretations of their own categories that they walked in at the balls, but this faint glimmer of self-expression paled in comparison to the bigger picture of the balls. The balls were not only centered on imitation and realness, but they also partially discarded the idea of participating in a ball for your own want, or gain. A contestant usually didn’t walk because they wanted to express themselves and win for themselves, but rather because they wanted to please the judges and win a prize, or they wanted to win a ball for their house. The whole motive for being in a ball denounced self-expression and personal gain so much so that any personal twists or embellishments that a contestant brought to their own costume, or imitation, were inconsequential to the freedom of expression the contestant had in a ball. Furthermore, as Dorian Corey explained and many other ball contestants confirmed through interview, in order for one to win a ball, one must “become” their alter ego, because by doing this one can be as real of an imitation they can possibly be, and thus score the most points in a ball. Of course, the point when a contestant denounces their own identity in order for their ball identity to replace it just for the sake of winning is the point where their whole identity is lost, and has been replaced by their ideal identity, or their favored ball identity, and their drive for wanting to win a ball is also replaced with their new identity’s wants instead. For example, as Dorian Corey explained, when she was young, she wanted to be like the white movie stars she saw in the media, not only to win balls. She wanted to be famous and well known; she wanted to leave a mark on the world. She then explains that as she got older, her standards changed and she realized that if one simply leaves a memory of themselves in their community, then that counts as leaving a mark.
A lesser point can also be made about how some of the black queens felt the need to completely physically change their sex not because of their personal wants, but because the sex change would make their “transformation” complete and push them closer into their ball identity. Near the end of the movie, there’s a scene where a black transgender woman is at the beach with her friends. This woman talks about how she’s been on hormones for a prolonged period of time and how her body is “almost complete”; because she just needs her sex change and then she will have undergone a full transformation. However, she always refers to her sex changing as a transformation or a mask, rather than a realization or a completion. Not only does this show how deep the idea of imitation goes in the ball culture, (even complete sex changes are done in order to complete a sense of “realness”) but if one becomes as “real” as is humanly possible, then are they the person they have transformed into or are they still pretending to be that person? The imitator has seemingly lost his or her identity because the person they were trying to imitate has replaced it. The sex change becomes less of a realization of one’s true self and more of a conforming to one’s surroundings-type deal. Something can be said about how only some people in this ball community underwent full sex changes while others, like Pepper LaBeija, chose to not go through with it, because of their personal choices. Still, the way that most of the people simply referred to their sex changes as transformations implies ideals of ball culture and imitation have taken root in their minds at least to some degree.
Lastly, the large association with houses in Paris is Burning further greatened the loss of identity within the ball scene competitors. Many of the ball goers would be associated with a house, and many of the people from the film put a lot of emphasis on how the balls were not just balls, but rather how they were house wars. Ball goers were not just singular participants, but rather were part of a larger game between houses. Ball goers were expected to win for their house, and therefore were allowed less self-expression within their categories. One’s personal want to win a ball would diminish, and so would their self-expression and identity. These would be replaced by the house’s expression, message, and identity instead.
From this same view, when we observe the members of the House of LaDosha, their attitude is all about self-expression, and their culture is centered around the idea of pure self-expression and refusal to pretend to be someone they’re not. The House of LaDosha is connected through passion: They are connected through each of their individual art styles and senses of humor. Just as Blair, otherwise known as “Dosha Devastation”, said in the house’s interview on the Interview Magazine website, “[T]he House has grown so much as far as whom I would consider family. For the most part, all my friends are artists, designers, writers or performers, so I think that we all connected to each other through a love of creating stuff… anything” (Chapman). In this sense, we can see that the art of each member individually is what brought the house together, rather than each member of the house becoming a singular part of a force under the house’s name. The force that binds the members of the house is the individuality of each member, or each member’s contribution to the house.
The House has formed its own rebellious counterculture that came about because of the sense of humor of the members. For example, they have changed the word “cunt” into a word of appraisal connotation, rather than it being something demeaning. They frequently describe things of their house and things around them as “cunty” and they sell “cuntlife” tee shirts. “I guess it’s just looking at things we find interesting or funny and then incorporating it into the way we talk to each other — our very gay New York language. And we’re all very creative so it’s very natural to have this”, Radakovich explains (Freeman). They even photoshopped a tattoo of “CUNTLIFE” onto a picture of Rihanna, who is one of the house’s shared idols. The House of LaDosha’s members not only share similar rebellious senses of humor, but their artworks also embody a rebellious tone. The music of LaDosha, primarily run by Antonio Blair and Adam Radakovich, is hardcore trap beats backed by highly sexual hard-style lyrics. For example, in the song 9 or 11 on their Soundcloud, the opening rap says, “fuck a pretty boy. I’m prettier than that // fuck a bad bitch, I’m badder than that // pull out their dick, I gotta see it // he’s swinging 6, but imma need // 9 or 11, 9 or 11”. Firstly, this song is rebellious because of its subject. There are numerous songs in the rap and hip-hop genre that talk about vaginas and freely reference women as objects, but almost no one refers to men in this same light of objectification. Even more in general, much of present-day rap doesn’t even go into explicit sexual details like the one’s in LaDosha’s songs. For them to even be so free and willing to write a song about a subject like this is a true demonstration of LaDosha’s rebellious attitude.
One could argue that House of LaDosha is “just a bunch of kids making music” and “shouldn’t be taken seriously”, but the amazing thing about House of LaDosha is that they are such a well-rounded group of artists, not just in different forms of media like traditional art and music, but also in how the various members express themselves. While the music of Dosha Destruction and Cunty Crawford LaDosha is very blunt, hard-hitting and “in your face”, other LaDosha members express their rebellion in more suave or urbane ways. On the topic of the house promoting self-expression, not through necessarily an outright rebellious attitude but also through fearlessness and art, we have the art of Juliana Huxtable, an artist of LaDosha whose work is on display at the New Museum Triennial.
Huxtable’s art has individuality, honesty, and rebelliousness in waves. Take, for example, her piece, “Untitled in the Rage (Nibiru Cataclysm)”. In this photo we see a nude Huxtable with green and yellow skin in front of a blue background kneeling away from us, the viewer. She looks off to the side of the photo with what almost seems like complacency, mixed with a small amount of passivity. The elements that strike the viewer first are her nudity and her green skin. Her nudity implies that she is not afraid to portray herself to a viewer as honestly as she can, and that she is who she is and she does what she wants with her art. Secondly, the green skin can suggest two different things, which are not mutually exclusive. One, it is an allusion to her affiliation with the rebellious and unorthodox beliefs of the Nuwaubian Nation, which believes that white people were created by black people, and that black people are descendant from an ancient race of lizard aliens (hence the green). Two, the green skin can be interpreted to give a sense of calmness and peace to the picture. In this picture, Huxtable combines all these elements to make a photo that says, “this is me”, while not doing so in a brash manner. The cool colors of the photo complement Huxtable’s nude body, presenting Huxtable almost as a deity, or one who has been enlightened and is not afraid to display their true image to the world. This honesty is taken to the next level in here other piece done by Frank Benson, entitled, “Juliana”. This work is a statue of Juliana, again with her nude and her skin a cool shade of fluorescent green/turquoise. Here, all the peaceful, enlightened details from the previous work are here, except this work is a statue and brings a whole new dimension into it. A viewer can look at the statue in various ways at multiple different angles, adding to the revealing and honesty factor of the piece. On this statue we can clearly see Juliana’s breasts and penis, completing the image of pure honesty. Additionally, we can again see the clear hints of rebellious undertones. The gaze of the statue is determined and bold, contrasted with Juliana’s gaze in the first work. As Antwaun Sargent put it in his VICE News article, “Juliana updates the abashed Hermaphroditus with a futuristic metallic sheen, a ‘mudra’ hand sign, and a bold gaze that challenges the viewer on ideas of femininity and representation.” Juliana’s art is not only self-accepting and honest, but the other elements of it make it so that it’s challenging any viewer who won’t take it seriously. It’s a subtler flavor of rebellion being expressed within the art, as opposed to the more loud and distortion heavy trap beats of the House of LaDosha music productions. As we can see, the House of LaDosha is not afraid to show themselves off and express themselves in any way they want to, contrasted to the balls from Paris is burning.
At the end of LaDosha’s interview with Cluster Mag, Dosha Devastation actually quotes Dorian Corey Paris is Burning, saying, “if you shoot an arrow and it goes real high… hooray for you”. However, the interpretations of this quote have changed from the one who said it to the way Dosha Devastation used it. Corey said the quote near the end of her ball career. All through out her time as a ball queen she had been trying to shoot her arrow high, and her saying this quote is like an admission. She admits through this quote that the life of a ball queen is all about shooting arrows high, but in the end, it doesn’t really matter if your arrow shot high, because you left enough of a mark in your community already. It’s a very realistic yet somber way of saying how if dreams don’t come true, at least you had a family. It’s an even bigger statement because it shows that no matter how much a ball queen spends their life trying to be “real”, or trying to imitate the majority of people they see as ideal (shoot an arrow high), they will most likely not ever leave a mark on the world, or in other words, “shoot an arrow real high”. Take, for example, Pepper LaBeija, or even Octavia St. Laurent. LaBeija explains how when she was younger she had dreams of being famous and well known. Then when we see all her interviews in the film, she talks about how she is the best in her community, because she had to come to terms with the fact that she would not be truly known outside of her community and take solace in that fact. Similarly, St. Laurent wanted to be somebody, as the explicitly said in the film, “preferably a rich somebody”. We can see her in some scenes trying to become a model and getting cheered for at balls. However, because of this ball culture that she was a part of, she didn’t have time and wasn’t able to let her true self be expressed. She tried modeling, singing, but ended up dying at age 45 from cancer. Contrast this with someone like Willi Ninja. Although Ninja also only lived to 45 (before dying of AIDS), he accomplished much more in his lifetime because he didn’t solely try to imitate the white world around him. Rather he incorporated elements of it in a new, fresh way and thusly innovated something unique, that being the vogue dance. He became known in a bigger society because of this dance that he helped grow.
Contrasted to the ball scene, the House of LaDosha doesn’t want or try to shoot their arrows high. To keep analogy, they just want to shoot arrows. They want to create: Dosha Devastation and Cunty Crawford LaDosha with their hadstyle trap music, or Juliana Huxtable with her self portraits, other art, and even her own music and DJ mixes. As a result of their originality and freedom of expression in their art, LaDosha have been able to break into other communities outside of the trans community: their Soundcloud account has almost five thousand followers, Huxtable’s art is being displayed in a well-known museum, and they even have their own merchandise line of tee shirts and other items. So when Dosha Devastation says the infamous Corey quote, what she means is that it doesn’t matter to her of the LaDoshas if their arrows go high or not; they want to shoot arrows, so they’re going to keep firing them off whether they go high or not.
The point that LaDosha has proven is that fame is not a goal, but rather a result. The ball queens had the capabilities and personas to be great and famous, but they were so trapped inside their communities that they saw no other way out other than becoming an imitation. LaDosha, on the other hand, had no plans to be great. Rather, they simply wanted to express themselves, and as a result, became huge personalities not only with the transsexual crowds of the clubbing and art communities, but also to the entirety of the clubbing and art communities. In order to be great, one must stay true to their inner self, and not be an imitation of previous examples of success. In short, originality gains greatness.
Blair, Antonio, and Adam Radakovich. 9 OR 11. HOUSEofLaDOSHA. Dosha Devastation, Cunty Crawford LaDosha, 2013. MP3.
Chapman, Alex. “Discovery: House of Ladosha.” Interview Magazine. Interviewmagazine.com, 2012. Web. 13 May 2015.
Collins, Petra. “Petra Collins Selects Juliana Huxtable.” Dazed. States of Independence, 08 July 2014. Web. 13 May 2015.
Mac, Amos. “Am I Carrying? An Interview with House of Ladosha — The Cluster Mag.” The Cluster Mag. Theclustermag.com, 30 Mar. 2012. Web. 13 May 2015.
Paris Is Burning. Dir. Jennie Livingston. Perf. Dorian Corey, Willi Ninja, Octavia St. Laurent, Pepper LaBeija. Miramax Films, 1990.
Sargent, Antwaun. “Artist Juliana Huxtable’s Bold, Defiant Vision | VICE | United States.” VICE. VICE.com, 25 Mar. 2015. Web. 13 May 2015.
Sauvalle, Julien. “Trans Artist Juliana Huxtable Is Owning the New Museum Triennial.” Trans Artist Juliana Huxtable Is Owning the New Museum Triennial. Out.com, 27 Feb. 2015. Web. 13 May 2015.