A still of Xtravaganza taken from Paris is Burning
|Born||May 22, 1965
Jersey City, New Jersey, U.S.
|Died||December 21, 1988
New York, New York, U.S.
|Cause of death||Strangulation|
|Notable work||Paris Is Burning|
Venus Xtravaganza (May 22, 1965 – December 21, 1988) was an American transgender performer. She came to national attention after her appearance in Jennie Livingston's 1990 documentary film Paris Is Burning, in which her life as a trans woman forms one of the film's numerous story arcs.
Venus states in Paris is Burning that she began performing after leaving home “at 13 or 14,” placing her earliest performances around 1978 or 79. Her ball career began in 1983, when Venus was invited to join the House of Xtravaganza by its founder, Hector Xtravaganza. Angie Xtravaganza, another transgender performer and the first to join Hector’s house, took on Venus as her mentee and “drag daughter.” Venus and the house’s other “fem queens” (ballroom lingo for transgender performers) achieved high success on New York’s competition circuit and were dubbed “impossible beauties." At the time of filming, Venus was also an aspiring model.
On Christmas Day, 1988, Venus was found strangled under a bed at the Duchess Hotel in New York. It was estimated her body had been there for four days before discovery. Paris is Burning was still shooting at the time of Venus’ death; the film’s closing features characters reacting to her death, including house mother Angie Xtravaganza. Most suspect that Venus, a sex worker, was murdered by a vengeful john who discovered she was not a cisgender woman, a narrative consistent with an interview shown earlier in the film where Venus admits narrowly escaping a similar instance of retaliation. Her killer has never been found. She is buried at Holy Cross Cemetery in North Arlington, New Jersey.
- In “Gender is Burning: Questions of Appropriation and Subversion,” Feminist scholar Judith Butler discusses Venus’ interviews in light of transgenderism and gender theory.
- In the fall of 2013, a New York City theatre group presented a “murder mystery” play centered around a fictionalized account of Venus Extravaganza’s murder. Members of the House of Xtravanganza stated in a press release on Facebook that they were not involved in the show’s production and withheld their endorsement. A later press release condemned the production, deeming it, “inappropriate, opportunistic, and disrespectful to Venus’ legacy.”
- In the television competition show RuPaul’s Drag Race, contestants and judges make frequent allusions to lines from Paris is Burning, many of them Venus’. A notable example is in Season 4, episode 2 (“WTF! Wrestling’s Trashiest Fighters"), when competitor Willam Belli says “Touch this skin! Touch all this skin!” before referring to the opposing team as “…a bunch of overgrown orangutans.,” an insult originated by Venus in the documentary’s section on trash talk, or “reading.”
- The House of Xtravaganza remains active within the ball circuit, night life, and LGBTQ activism. It is one of the longest continually-active groups of New York’s drag scene.
- Hutchinson, Darren Lenard. "Out Yet Unseen: A Racial Critique of Gay and Lesbian Legal Theory and Political Discourse." Connecticut Law Review 29.2 (1997): 561-645.
- "House of Xtravaganza - Carmen Xtravaganza". Carmen Xtravaganza. Retrieved 2017-11-17.
- 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.
- "House of Xtravaganza". www.facebook.com. Retrieved 2017-11-17.
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