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Realness
August 10, 2009 10:00 PM   Subscribe

Dorian Corey was the articulate elder stateswoman of the New York City ball scene featured in the 1990 documentary Paris is Burning. When she died in 1993, police found the body of a murdered man 15 years mummified in her apartment.

In December 2008, a message popped up in a thread from 2007 at the Motherboards, a forum dedicated to NYC nightlife and alternative lifestyles. It was posted by a man claiming to be the off-duty police officer who found the body in Corey's apartment after she died. He says he wants to set the record straight, though according to most sources I can find (including the Cunningham article linked below), Corey did that herself with a note that said that the man broke into her apartment and she was forced to murder him. Unfortunately, what is likely the most definitive article on the debacle appears to be unavailable online.

Vogueing, brought to the surface of culture by Madonna, originated in the ball culture. Though Dorian herself was of the older Vegas showgirl-inspired feathers and sequins school (so she says in Paris is Burning), she too could vogue with the best of them.

According to the Village Voice, Paris was still burning circa 2001: In reality, Madonna's video and Livingston's film were station stops on a cultural continuum, affectionate but voyeuristic peeks into a tradition dating back to the 19th century and going strong into the 21st.

Even 16 years after the documentary Paris Is Burning shed light on New York City's gay underground house ball scene, misconceptions linger about the scene's past, present and future. (from 2007)

The Hours author Michael Cunningham writes about Angie, Dorian, and the ball and house cultures in The Slap of Love (Part 2).

Consider another tragedy of racial, class, and sexual subordination–the life and death of Venus Xtravaganza (Dorian Corey's voice narrates the beginning of the clip and describes the Realness category in the balls), a young, poor, Puerto Rican, transsexual male [also] featured in the film Paris is Burning.
posted by nosila (46 comments total) 70 users marked this as a favorite

 
First post...go easy! (Or not.)
posted by nosila at 10:01 PM on August 10, 2009


Actually, I can't imagine a first post being much better than this. What a strange story. I shall have to go through all your links.
posted by Astro Zombie at 10:10 PM on August 10, 2009 [2 favorites]


I'm pretty sure this answers a long-standing AskMe.
posted by b1tr0t at 10:25 PM on August 10, 2009 [5 favorites]


Nice first post. I saw Paris is Burning at the Margaret Mead Documentary Film Festival back in 1993 at the Museum of Natural History. Drag queens and dinosaurs. What a crazy night!
posted by cazoo at 10:25 PM on August 10, 2009


Now there's a woman with a skeleton in her closet.
posted by spock at 10:29 PM on August 10, 2009 [8 favorites]


Wow. I know I came out relatively recently, but still it's fascinating to be introduced to whole new LGBT subcultures of which I was previously completely unaware. Thanks for the post, nosila.
posted by darkstar at 10:34 PM on August 10, 2009


What I can't imagine is knowing someone who passes away, going to their place to sort out their things, "Oh, what's in here?," and...

Great post.
posted by ambient2 at 10:37 PM on August 10, 2009


Obligatory link to scarabic's famous AskMe answer on what she could've done with the body.
Of course, they didn't find him until after she'd died anyway, so I guess she did okay.
posted by zoinks at 10:38 PM on August 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


I will admit, before I go to bed, that I'm sort of hoping that some of that infamously badass Metafilter sleuthing will magically occur and I'll find out if the guy from the Motherboards really is who he says he is. As the friend who pointed me to the documentary said when I showed him the post, there's just so much drama and show surrounding the entire set of subcultures, with which the Motherboards appear to be entwined, that it's really hard to believe him.
posted by nosila at 10:48 PM on August 10, 2009


Excellent post. I really love Paris is Burning, an incredible documentary. But since seeing that all those years ago, I never heard about any of this other stuff. Fascinating!
posted by crossoverman at 10:50 PM on August 10, 2009


This has happened to me.
posted by Henry C. Mabuse at 10:56 PM on August 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


Woah. Incredible post, first or not. Great lead. Don't be surprised if this is one of those threads where people just go "Wow, nice post." and then go get lost in the links.

Suggested tags: LGBT, clubkids, turntablism, DJ and/or DJs, music, fashion, and house.
posted by loquacious at 10:59 PM on August 10, 2009


Where did you get the information that Venus was Puerto-Rican? According to Wikipedia, she was an Italian-American whose given name was Thomas Pellagatti. I can't find any other info on her.
posted by Partario at 11:04 PM on August 10, 2009


I saw Paris Is Burning just a day or two before I saw The Crying Game. It ruined the "twist" of the movie for me.

Now I have to go read! Nice post! I wish my first had been this eloquent and well-constructed.
posted by hippybear at 11:06 PM on August 10, 2009


I really love watching the parts of the movie Corey is in and wondering where in the background that body might be.
posted by hermitosis at 11:15 PM on August 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


I saw Paris Is Burning just a day or two before I saw The Crying Game. It ruined the "twist" of the movie for me.

As it should. The way that part of the movie is/was generally interpreted by the public sucked.

"OH GOD THE HORROR. I WAS ATTRACTED TO THIS HUMAN BEING UNTIL I DISCOVERED THEY HAD A PENIS! WAIT, DOES THIS MAKE ME GAY? FUCK!?"
posted by loquacious at 11:16 PM on August 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


Excellent post.
posted by rdr at 11:16 PM on August 10, 2009


I know I came out relatively recently

Robert Wells never came out of Dorian Corey's closet.
posted by orthogonality at 11:29 PM on August 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


Wow. You've possibly got enough material on voguing for a whole other post. (Not that I'm complaining.) I'm looking forward to digging in!
posted by EvaDestruction at 11:34 PM on August 10, 2009


Poor Venus Xtravaganza; she's the one person in the film who made the greatest impression on me while I was watching it -- and that was before the terrible revelation that she had been murdered shortly after filming.

However, your FPP is slightly incorrect; Wikipedia and IMDB both mention her birth name, and it is clear that she was (at least paternally) Italian-American, not Puerto Rican.

A little trolling through the databases at Ancestry.com and Google makes a convincing case that she was actually from Jersey City, and that her stepfather was a truck driver who had served in the Air Force.

RIP Venus.
posted by Asparagirl at 11:57 PM on August 10, 2009


Thanks for this great post. This movie was a big part of my coming-out. I was haunted by Venus' tragic end because (as I remember it, it's been a long time) she was really the shining, optimistic light of the movie.

I was not terribly impressed by Frank Leon Roberts' article about the history of the ball scene - not so much for the history (which was way cool) as his totally unsupported assertion in the first sentence that Paris Is Burning was "misleading". I would love to know how it was misleading (other than it didn't include anything equal to his impressive history of the ball scene) - any mefites have some insight into this?
posted by smartyboots at 12:30 AM on August 11, 2009


that's not a post, it's a world...brilliant
posted by johnny novak at 2:20 AM on August 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


The way that part of the movie is/was generally interpreted by the public sucked.

That moment made me feel like I'd taken a punch to the stomach. (The only other piece of film that's done that to me is Brazil.) It also forced me to deal with why I had that reaction. I don't believe it had the effect on the popular consciousness you think it did.

(Great post, BTW)
posted by Leon at 3:59 AM on August 11, 2009


Inside was a male body, tucked into a fetal position and wrapped in imitation leather.
posted by R. Mutt at 4:42 AM on August 11, 2009


i wonder if she ever invited anyone up for "a cold one"?
posted by billybobtoo at 4:56 AM on August 11, 2009


If you shoot an arrow and it goes real high, hooray for you.
posted by Mapes at 5:02 AM on August 11, 2009 [2 favorites]


Fabulous post. Thanks.
posted by Floydd at 5:10 AM on August 11, 2009


I missed this last night—which was probably for the best, given how napping under my desk is sort of frowned upon and I would have been up until all hours reading all the links and things—but I can't wait to dive into this this morning. Thanks!
posted by rtha at 6:06 AM on August 11, 2009


Where did you get the information that Venus was Puerto-Rican?

My apologies. I quoted that sentence directly from the book linked at the beginning of it, Critical Race Theory.

I wasn't sure, by the way, how to cite that. I hope just linking to the book in the quote is enough of a citation.

I was not terribly impressed by Frank Leon Roberts' article about the history of the ball scene

Agreed. Granted, he was a student when he wrote it. Actually, I started digging around in this stuff because a friend, who saw the movie in an Ethnomusicology class, mentioned that his professor went on about how the movie was controversial in its treatment of the scene because the documentary film-maker went on to riches and didn't do anything to help the people who were featured in the film. I was skeptical of that idea, so I started doing some digging and...lo and behold, a crazy, crazy world!

Besides, the dancer-guy who founded Ninja house got to go to Japan and buy a huge Gautier earring! How awesome is that?
posted by nosila at 6:14 AM on August 11, 2009


great post. *awesome* first post.
posted by rmd1023 at 6:29 AM on August 11, 2009


As it should. The way that part of the movie is/was generally interpreted by the public sucked.

Were there people actually surprised by the twist? I spent most of the movie wondering how they were going to deal with the "finding out," which was pretty blatantly telegraphed from the outset that it would be the denouement.

Oh, absolutely brilliant post, BTW, nosila.
posted by Devils Rancher at 6:57 AM on August 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


What a horrifying story. Imitation leather?!?
posted by msalt at 7:24 AM on August 11, 2009


What a horrifying story. Imitation leather?!?

By the time he was found, he was also wrapped in real leather. I guess he didn't rub the lotion on his skin.

Fabulous first post! If you liked Paris Is Burning, you might also like Tears, Tiaras, and Transsexuals.
posted by notashroom at 7:43 AM on August 11, 2009


I don't have time to sift through the links yet, but I wanted to say great job on your first post and I look forward to reading through these a little later.
posted by lazaruslong at 7:56 AM on August 11, 2009


Thanks to this post, I watched all of Paris is Burning last night. Really great, thanks for the introduction.
posted by Partario at 8:04 AM on August 11, 2009


No post about vogueing is complete without a reference to RuPaul's Drag Race
posted by lalochezia at 9:43 AM on August 11, 2009


I wrote: I saw Paris Is Burning just a day or two before I saw The Crying Game. It ruined the "twist" of the movie for me.

loquacious wrote: As it should. The way that part of the movie is/was generally interpreted by the public sucked.

All gay panic aside, I was trying to say that the "big hands and adam's apples" parts of Paris Is Burning had halfway educated me about what to look for. I saw The Crying Game very early in its run, before the press became all about gay panic in our culture, and the instant I saw, um... Jade? I knew what was going on. I was just a bit startled when they actually showed penis on the screen and "went there" with the plot.

Nobody else who saw The Crying Game with me had seen the other film previously, and their shock (along with everyone else's) was audible during the reveal. I don't know whether this was from the genderfuck qualities of the moment, or just from seeing penis on a movie screen. Probably both.

But then, most of the people I saw that movie with had never really listened to the lyrics of "Lola", either.
posted by hippybear at 10:05 AM on August 11, 2009 [2 favorites]


But then, most of the people I saw that movie with had never really listened to the lyrics of "Lola", either.

There's a reason magic tricks work on the majority of viewers.
posted by Mental Wimp at 10:27 AM on August 11, 2009


DJ Sprinkles's "Ball'r (Madonna-Free Zone)" seems appropriate here - there's not very much politicized house music any more & this has been kicking up a bit of a storm in that world.
posted by with hidden noise at 11:07 AM on August 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


Really cool music and post, with hidden noise. As a music theorist, I wish I could get away with talking about this sort of thing more; unfortunately, the music itself is so simple that no one really wants to hear about it.

Those vocal samples though...wow. Really beautiful feel and soundscape, too. Sounds like dance floors long past.

hippybear: I've been on a Kinks kick the past couple of days. I've always thought it pretty bizarre that Lola was so popular in the U.S.

C-O-L-A, cola!
posted by nosila at 11:34 AM on August 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


nosila: "Besides, the dancer-guy who founded Ninja house got to go to Japan and buy a huge Gautier earring! How awesome is that?"

And now he's one of Tyra's pet gays (scroll down)! How awesome.
posted by subbes at 4:00 PM on August 11, 2009


I worked on Paris Is Burning, as did my ex. We were on the fringes of the ball scene due to a) writing about NYC nightlife and b) my working at the Hetrick-Martin Institute.

We would watch the movie with some of the very same young people who lived in that world, and they would alternately love it and hate it: love it because it was so rare to say any images of themselves anywhere, and hate it because they felt like people were watching the film and judging them by extension. The controversy over Jennie Livingston's assistance of lack thereof to the participants was indeed real, but nonetheless sometimes watching people like yourself crafting and creating flawless art, thereby earning admiration, awe and respect in the face of hate and poverty would win out over the race and class issues that the movie and its director carried, and so we would screen it again.

[NB: One of the proudest moments of my life was winning Butch Realness at a House of Xtravaganza Ball. Rather than attempt to compete as a "banjee boy", I did leather daddy and won 10s across the board. I still have the trophy, and it holds a special place on my mantle.]
posted by ltracey at 6:23 PM on August 11, 2009 [8 favorites]


Remember that time way back when, when an audience would gasp aloud in shock and astonishment at seeing a penis on a movie screen?

Yah, not so much anymore.

I feel old.
posted by five fresh fish at 6:34 PM on August 11, 2009


ltracey - got any pictures you can share?

I have such conflicted feelings about the film. I have an abiding, nostalgic affection for it because of where I was in my life when I saw it, and I also have strong feelings about the race and class issues it raised/enforced/took advantage of.
posted by rtha at 6:57 PM on August 11, 2009


Tyra's Pet Gays

Perfect band name.
posted by msalt at 7:11 AM on August 12, 2009


But then, most of the people I saw that movie with had never really listened to the lyrics of "Lola", either.

A friend of mine told me that her husband only figured out what the song was about a few years ago (they're in their late 30s). I don't know how you could hear that song and miss it.

Nthing the wows for the fabulous post.
posted by immlass at 7:51 AM on August 12, 2009


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