A still of Xtravaganza taken from Paris is Burning
May 22, 1965
Jersey City, New Jersey, U.S.
|Died||December 21, 1988
New York, New York, U.S.
|Cause of death||Strangulation|
|Occupation||Performer, sex worker|
|Notable work||Paris Is Burning|
Venus Xtravaganza (May 22, 1965 – December 21, 1988) was an American performer, escort, and aspiring model. She came to national attention after being featured in Jennie Livingston's 1990 documentary film Paris Is Burning, about New York City ball culture including vogue dancing; her life as a trans woman and eventual murder form a story arc within the film. Xtravaganza was featured on the original 1990 theatrical release poster for the film.
Born to an Italian American family, she took the name Venus in her early teens. As is the tradition of the gay ball culture, she adopted the name Xtravaganza upon becoming a member of the House of Xtravaganza in 1983. The house, like similar houses, is named in the style of European fashion houses (e.g., House of Chanel) and is an affiliation of young drag queens, transgender and gay youth who have come together around the underground Harlem drag ball scene.
In Paris Is Burning, she notes the racial and socioeconomic barriers faced by many in the ball scene, saying she dreamed of being "a spoiled, rich, white girl living in the suburbs" in order to gain access to the lifestyle she envisioned for herself. In one of her interviews, she describes the transphobia she experienced during her time as a sex worker, one time having to flee for her life by escaping through a window, after a client had become enraged upon discovering she was not a cisgender woman. On sex work, she observed: "If you're a married woman living in the suburbs, a regular woman, married to her husband... and she wants him to buy her a washer and dryer set, in order for him to buy that I'm sure she'd have to go to bed with him anyway – for him to get what he wants, for her to get what she wants. So in the long run, it all ends up the same way." At the time the documentary was filmed, she was an aspiring model. She was saving money for sex reassignment surgery.
According to her house mother Angie Xtravaganza, Venus was found strangled under a bed in a New York hotel room in 1988. Her body was discovered by a stranger four days after her death. Her killer has never been found.
- Halberstam, Judith; Livingston, Ira (eds.). Posthuman Bodies. Indiana University Press.
- Butler, J. (1999). "Gender is Burning: Questions of Appropriation and Subversion". In Thornham, S. Feminist Film Theory, a Reader. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.
- "Shopping For a Change: The House of Mirth and 'Paris is Burning'". Retrieved 2013-12-05.
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