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09 October 2006

Comments

Greg

It's interesting to hear Darryl Brown say that most ballroom kids have careers and are professional. I suppose that for every crafty 21 year old in the balls, there are many others who are in school or have careers. Like a Frank Leon Roberts.

Thanks for the heads up.

A. Ronald

I haven't seen this magazine yet. But everyone I know has said good things. Did you see the "Ricky" character in "Noah's Arc" reading the magazine?

Alan T

I've read it, the magazine is okay. (Sigh) It's basically like a Clik with even more emphasis on ball culture. By the way Rod, I see you're not working with Clik any more. Their loss, you were the best writer they ever had.

rob

I've seen the magazine. It's okay. Sounds like Mr. Brown had a good business idea.

Derrick

Good point, Rob. Even more important is the fact that he went out and created something, a sopposed to just sitting around and whining.

Kyle

this magazine's writing is awful hopefully it will get better with time but I won't be subscribing until it does.

Derrick

One more thing....that was a very good point Alan. I started buying the magazine because Rod was getting involved and trying to chat it up...especially when they weregetting bad press elsewhere. I'm not sure what happened but if they don't recognize Rod in their "Clik 25" for all his work, plus the awards, plu everything he did for them.....well, you know our people.

Franklyn Smith

Kyle, the writing is bad at most of the black gay magazines. It seems that the learning curve is quite high. Clik's writing is awful and Ballroom is worst. But Derrick and Alan had a point, Rod's writing in Clik just like everywhere was fierce and polished.

I read something by Clay Cane in Ballroom Rockstar. It's okay, his site reads like a ballroom queen--but I suppose that's why he is popular. The magazine definitely needs to build its editorial content.

Jonathan David Jackson

Dear Friends,

Greetings.

I respect the work of younger voices like Frank Leon Roberts, Darryl L. Brown, and Dwight Powell. Mr. Robert's weblog and burgeoning scholarship and creative writing, Mr. Brown's work with BALLROOM ROCKSTAR magazine and Mr. Powell's groundbreaking work with CLIKQUE magazine have advanced our knowledge of the ballworld. I also deeply value the intelligence of Rodonline, one of the best web-digests for news and culture related to gay men of color ever. May I also praise the work of Marlon Bailey, a scholar in CA whose work with the ballworld is first rate and Professor George Chauncey at Yale who work documenting the ballworld of the mid-20th century is extremely important to our understanding of the current ballworld today.

At the same that I register my respect and admiration I must also signal my regret that the deeply entrenched problems that face members of the houses of the ballworld are once again skirted over while yet another slogan ("Old stigmas don't apply...") threatens to make those less knowledgeable about the ballworld ignore its struggles.

I have worked inside of the ballworld for over twenty years, helped nurse the sick and dying, and interviewed many community members as a journalist and a historian, especially members in NYC and Philadelphia. I grew up with community members like Eric Christian Bazaar (who died in 2001) and Mother Pepper Labeija (who passed away in 2003) and, in addition to observing and studying the culture's elders I have worked with and observed the culture's younger generations.

These experiences are the place from which I say that the ballworld, despite its intelligence, despite its creativity, despite a few in the younger generation who represent us positively--the ballworld has not loosened itself from problems of criminal practice (fraud, theft, drug abuse, and prostitution) OR problems of peer-to-peer agression. Again, the ballworld has not loosened itself from these problems AT ALL.

In fact, while simpler shoplifting practices like mopping (as it was represented in the film PARIS IS BURNING) may no longer be practiced, criminal practices of fraud and theft have only become more sophisticated in the ballworld. I have literally observed, interviewed, and visited tens and twenties of community members who are struggling either in prison (right now) or outside of prison with records; community members who are trying to get jobs in a hostile world for felons of color; including a few of the people who have appeared in the pages of CLIKQUE and BALLROOM ROCKSTAR magazines.

However uncomfortable it is for us to hear this truth, we must embrace the knowledge that the stigmas remain.

The vast majority of community members in the ballworld are not the privileged few that are adored or who win top prizes. Most DO NOT win (though their efforts are always noticed by hosue members and judges). The majority are the struggling community members who face truly basic problems: in addition to some member's negotiation of criminal practices, members struggle with constant, constant internal bickering and traumatic peer-to-peer relations.

I have seen this kind of aggressive kinship wear down community members. I have watched in the early 21st century while fights broke out over top of Mother Labeija while she was sitting in her wheel chair next to the runway at a ball in her honor. For everlasting shame, I say before GOD.

This kind of frequently disrespectful and aggressive kinship in the ballworld actually expands the abuses of the mainstream world that sometimes hates and fears us for being LGBTIS-G-S. This aggressive, bickering kinship is passed on and accepted as par for the course in the ballworld; take the shade, the ballworld seems to say, and dish it back more viciously than it was dished to you because it may make you stronger.

But for every ruthless thick-skinned narcissist in this world, there are tens and twenties of community members whose drive to a positive sense of self at the balls is continually eroded by over 3 decades of relentless psychologically damaging shade: and I mean black and latin sexual minorities who so often hate on each other while the few--the briefly adored, the select prize-winning or the beautiful ones--ride the crest of arrogance while taking care of mainly themselves and their close circle of peers.

Yes, like popular culture, there is little push for a sense of social responsibility and even substantive, systematic unity among us in the ballworld. Even my words now may be interpreted by some as an attempt to 'throw shade'; that's all it seems (seems being the optimum word) so many of us know: ki ki and shade. But I throw no shade here. In fact, my aim is to take off the shade and shed light.

To these problems there is also cross-generational strife whereby younger generations do not know the history of the culture that they occupy. Consequently, they work hard to disparage elders. I remember in the 1980s and 1990s that those who were the adored, the annointed were dismissive of elders and now the same cycle of cross-generational strife is happening to them.

But all elders need our help more than ever. They are struggling with basic problems of health and low-income-living as they age. They made this culture possible through sacrifices that may be unimaginable today.

In many respects, the ballworld that arose after the 1960s (the one we are still living in today) came to be because a younger generation broke from the drag ball traditions that came before it. What we know of as the ballworld today is the latest manifestation of a drag ball culture that was put into motion by a remarkable African American man in Harlem named Phil Black. (And before him, another man named Bonnie Clark.)

Mr. Black's Funmakers drag balls (held in Harlem for about 30 years until his death in '75) are the standard on which the vogue balls from the middle 1970s until today are based (regardless of whether or not younger generations know this history).

The stigmas that arose after PARIS IS BURNING are the fault of that film, despite what I believe were the good intentions of Jennie Livingstone and her film editor, Jerry Oppenheimer.

Yet, if we do not face the facts of our struggles in the ballworld, if we don't stop romanticizing and fantasizing--just for a bit, before God--then we will continue to let down community members who are in the maelstrom of illicit behavior, peer aggression, and other ills.

Furthermore, while many house mothers and fathers and judges' panels have worked to erase categories like LABELS from the ballworld that encourage illicit activities (and to his enormous credit Arbert, formerly of the house of Latex, of GMHC was one of the first to call for this at the 1999 Love ball at the Roseland ballroom; and people like Willi Ninja critiqued labels and other categories that encouraged theft or prostitution) the very arts of the ballroom still sometimes encourage criminality.

I mention Mr. Phil Black because his example has been lacking in the ballworld for over three decades in so many ways. Without strong centralized leadership the ballword errs--and not just the image of the ballword on ball tapes, online and in magazines; with the continuing legacy of aggressive relations, with the frequent tendency to privilege image or susbtance, the ballroom errs.

So I am pleased to see positive news about the community. Yet, time and time again, sound bites attempt to valorize the culture without advancing a balanced view.

More than we are currently doing, we must pull up our sleeves--from the INSIDE--and face problems like the ones that I have mentioned here with all our intelligence.

For example, I have yet to see a social service program for those incarcerated or with records who are members of houses. We need to give those community members guidance to combat ills. I have yet to see a truly comprehensive social service program that works with prostitutes in the ballworld--both butch queens AND femme queens...and, have mercy, I mean a program that involves more than passing out condoms on the stroll, at balls, or in clubs. These illicit practices (to say nothing of those ballworld members who are involved in the black-run wings of the gay and trans porn industry) actually OVERLAP with the spread of HIV and we need to be writing grants to fund ever more sophisticated and REAL initiatives that do not sugar-friggin'-coat the reality of what it truly means for so many of us to live in the life in the ballworld.

From an old-head like me, I thank you for this opportunity to speak at length here.

Wishing everyone blessings.

Jonathan David Jackson

jbyrd130

Mr. Jackson,

I just wanted to say that I appreciate your comments. I'm a 26 year old, and have only been involved in balls as a spectator, but many of your comments ring true with what I've observed. It remains to be seen whether Ballroom Rockstar will be successful as an affirming and preventative force against criminal aspects of the scene; it would be amazing if they could take on this responsibility, at least in part.

But with that said, it's only fair to acknowledge that many houses are serious about a mentor/education based focus, and do not tolerate vice.

BTW, you are the same Jonathan David Jackson that taught a Black Popular Dance course at Oberlin in the Fall of '01, correct? I wasn't in your class but I remember your course getting rave reviews...

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