In David Valentine’s book, “Imagining Transgender, an ethnography of a category”, his initial description of what ballroom was as well as the visits that Valentine made to the different balls peaked my interest most. I was introduced to ballroom by Dr. Marlon Bailey in G215 this semester. I did not understand the complexity of ballroom culture, nor the breadth of people that participate in ballroom.

The analysis that Valentine gave of the three different balls; The Clubhouse, Crossdressers International (CDI) Debutante Ball, and Night of  a Thousand Gowns enlightened me to the intricacies that ballroom has to offer. Like in the movie Paris is Burning balls are an outlet for people;  cisgendered, bisexual, homosexual, transsexual or transgender to achieve status or to just have plain fun (75). Most balls that Valentine talks about are attended by black and Latino gay men, though there are also balls where cisgendered women can also participate. Houses are groups of people that participate in balls that can fulfill the same category during competition, or are of the same general embodied gender. Houses also serve as alternative families and support networks for their member (75).

In Dr. Bailey’s article Gender/Racial Realness: Theorizing the Gender System in Ballroom Culture, readers are  introduced to all of the categories of gender embodiment as well as what Bailey calls the six-part gender system. Butch queens, femme queens, butch queens up in drags, butches, women, and men can all find a place in ballroom culture. “The gender system in ballroom culture is always about sexuality and reflects the pervasive conflation of sex, gender, and sexuality in broader society” (371, Bailey). I find it intriguing the criteria for someone to participate in a certain category, and that judgement is passed on your “realness” over all else. We watched a video in class where a cisgendered woman walked in the wrong category. The criticism of her honest mistake and the lewd comments from the judges showed me that even though ballroom has it’s own culture it is still policed by societal standards. One of the judges put a hand on her vagina to feel for its “realness”. Even in subcultures of the most deviate categories what society deems as male/female or masculine/feminine ends up being the law.

Here are two videos for your viewing pleasure.


-Sarah Klapperich