A still of Xtravaganza taken from Paris is Burning
|Born||May 22, 1965|
Jersey City, New Jersey, U.S.
|Died||December 21, 1988 (aged 23)|
New York, New York, U.S.
|Cause of death||Strangulation|
|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 several story arcs.
Venus states in Paris is Burning that she began cross dressing and performing "at 13 or 14," placing her earliest performances around 1978 or 79. Eventually her family caught on about her lifestyle and because she didn't "want to embarrass them, so [she] moved away." Venus moved to New York so she can freely continue to perform where her ball career began in 1983, when Venus was invited to join the House of Xtravaganza by its founder, Hector Xtravaganza. Venus stated that Hector, "was the first gay that I've ever met;" on her fifteenth birthday Hector took Venus to the Village (Greenwich) and threw a "party for me out there and he bought me a cake." Which goes to show how the houses became surrogate families for these rejected people. Hector Xtravaganza died from a AIDS complications in 1985, bring the new house mother to be Angie Xtravaganza, another transgender performer and the first to join Hector's house, who also took on Venus as her mentee and "drag daughter." Venus and the house's other "fem queens" 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. , "I wanted my sex change to make myself feel complete."
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 upon 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. According to Angie Xtravaganza, Venus was one to "take too many chances. Your too wild with people from the street, something is going to happen to you. But that was Venus, she always took chances." Detectives approached Angie with the news about Venus' death prompting Angie to take the news to Venus' biological parents. It's highly suspected that Venus, an escort, was murdered by a vengeful man who discovered she was a transgender 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.