THE GRAN VARONES (Posts tagged lgbtq)

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La Delfi was a pioneer and visionary. To carve out a space in a music genre that has been and continues to be dominated by cis-het men, La Delfi forged just of unprecedented successes for herself, but for queer dominican dembow artists including up...

La Delfi was a pioneer and visionary. To carve out a space in a music genre that has been and continues to be dominated by cis-het men, La Delfi forged just of unprecedented successes for herself, but for queer dominican dembow artists including up and coming queer La Kristy.

For almost a decade, La Delfi has been queering dembow both sonically and esthetically.In 2012, La Delfi released “La Mas Perra” (The Baddest Bitch) album which is widely recognized as the blueprint for queer and trans Latinx dembow & reggaetón artists. With club bangers like “Dame Leche” and “Mariquiqui,” she unapologetically claimed a space for herself and others in dembow.

It a few days ago it was confirmed that La Delfi had passed away due to complication from stomach ulcers that she had been battling for some time. La Delfi was just 28 years old.

From the Dominican Republic and abroad, La Delfi will always and forever have people feel like they are free to be themselves through her music.

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in 1990, madonna was arguably the most popular and consistent pop artist on the planet. at the time, she had already sold millions upon millions of records and amassed an astounding 17 consecutive top 10 singles. sixteen of the singles reached top 5 including 7 number ones on the billboard hot 100. madonna was a decade into her recording career and with the release of a surprise single, she was about to enter another imperial phase of her career.

madonna was still actively promoting her 1989 album “like a prayer” in the spring of 1990. in fact, the album’s fifth and final single, “keep it together” was still in the top 20 of the hot 100 after peaking at #10 in march of 1990. but a chance meeting with luis and jose xtravaganza of the legendary house of xtravaganza would inspire the creation of a song that became one the biggest culture moments of 1990.

released on march 27, 1990, “vogue” quickly became the most successful single of madonna’s career selling 6 million copies worldwide and reaching #1 in over 30 countries, including topping the us hit 100 in may of 1990. jose and luis not only served as lead choreographers, they were prominently featured in the “vogue” music video. it was through madonna’s and producer shep pettibone’s deep house track that the two xtravaganzas provided a glimpse of black and latinx ballroom culture in the accompanying music video that mainstream america had not yet seen.


since it’s release, the black queer and trans created art form of voguing has re-emerged in the mainstream via shows like “rupaul’s drag race,” the vice docu-series “my house” and most notably, the ever popular and critically acclaimed fx show, “pose.” in fact, the 1990 release and cultural impact of madonna’s “vogue” was a story arc across several episodes of the second season of “pose.”

so here we are 30 years after the release of one of pop music’s most commercially and culturally successful songs by one of pop’s most polarizing figures. i can attest to all of this because i was around to witness most of it. i have a clear memory of watching the teasers for “vogue’s” world premiere on mtv. i remember being in awe by the video’s imagery and wondering to myself, “is that a titty?”. i knew i was watching something so queer at a time when all things gay were associated to deviancy, aids and death. i also remember learning the choreography and showing it off to my aunt who quickly responded, “don’t you think those moves are kinda gay?” i didn’t respond but internally i was like, “bitch, duh!”

so in celebration of the “vogue’s” 30th anniversary, i wanted to ask a few friends around my grown and sexy age what they remember about the song. i asked my good friend, fellow queer historian and longtime madonna fan, juan, peter, who has long history in the philadelphia ballroom including being a member of the house of africa and my former mentor and former father of the house of ferraramo, kwame to share their memories of “vogue.”

louie: do you remember when you first heard “vogue”?

JUAN: i was in 5th or 6th grade when i first heard madonna’s vogue. that song was everywhere but it never really appealed to me. it didn’t really hit me till i was 14 and went to my first gay club, arena in hollywood, ca. the “older guys” i met through that scene – about 18-20 years old but at the time they seemed very adult – showed my friends and i what vogue was. i never really connected to the song till i saw live vogueing at arena. around that age, i also saw the “blonde ambition” tour broadcast on hbo, that whole thing became my obsession and my entry into queer culture. later in high school, a counselor in my lgbt support group showed us “paris is burning” and everything felt complete. being a madonna fan back then, when aids was still at the forefront of the lgbt community, being a madonna fan was code. now that i think about it, the song became a hit at the time that i came out and went to my first gay club.

KWAME: i think it was the world premiere of the video on mtv. if i had heard it before it wasn’t as exciting as waiting to see the visual.


louie: what were your initial thoughts about the song? about the video?

PETER: my initial thoughts about “vogue” when i first heard it, i was in delaware. i was hyped! i like “oh look, its gonna be on tv and there’s gonna be a video.” i was hype because voguing was coming out to the mainstream.

JUAN: i didn’t really care for the song. i still don’t. for some reason, i’ve always known all the lyrics so it definitely made an impression. the video was cool because her dancers were hot, and “fancy,” they were being sexualized in a way that was empowering to their nuanced body language. i would argue that without that specific group of dancers, that era in her career wouldn’t have been as exciting. the mtv awards performance where she lip-synced in marie antoinette drag was way more exciting than the video. when i hear the song, it just doesn’t process or register the way vogue and ball culture does. i was a madonna fanatic for decades, and in some ways still am, but that song isn’t my favorite. it does carry strong memories of coming out to my friends and a type of nostalgic, youthful freedom and for that i appreciate it. i remember when the club kids were on geraldo and they played vogue during an intro and they all gave geraldo shit, like, “we don’t listen to that!” – that’s how i feel about it now.


louie: were you aware of voguing before the song’s release? what was your entry into the world of voguing?

PETER: oh yes, i was well aware of the whole ballroom scene and vogueing long before madonna. and i was already in philadelphia way before that song.

JUAN: my entry to vogue was simultaneous to the first time i went to gay club and i met trans sex workers, and gays in the party scene doing this thing from new york. i remember all the queens talking about new york, looking to new york, walking runways on dancefloors and trying to vogue. the origins of vogue were unknown till a few years later when i was in high school. the song was also powerful in how it gave the working class access to “feel their fantasy.”

KWAME: yes, but I never walked before the song was released. i started walking (the category) later that year.


louie: how would you describe the impact of the song in 1990?

PETER: i think the impact was a lot for mainstream. because mainstream got to see what ballroom and voguing was because it had already existed for decades and it was interesting to see mainstream try to do it. really, really interesting.

KWAME: it (partnered with the release of “paris is burning”) brought visibility to the ballroom scene, and I think it helped create a dialogue that brought ballroom across the US in a big way. it definitely influenced choreography for a few years. although other artists (most notably, Jody Watley) had featured vogueing in some visual format before madonna, “vogue” became the anthem that made the dance a staple movement.

louie: how would you describe the song’s impact over the last 30 years?

JUAN: now we have the language to say she culturally appropriated an entire subculture (her career relied on it), we can say she exploited a whole community. that statement would not be wrong; but with vogue, she also highlighted a space and language that was entirely invisible and needed a lift. people were dying of aids, and tons of scared queer kids found joy in this song. in some ways it was a gift. rupaul’s “supermodel” (1992) could not have existed without vogue. deee-lite before that. underground club culture and dance music got a hand from this awkward single.

KWAME: for me, the power of the song waned as the visibility true ball culture rose. it’s a cute song about a dance, kinda like “the twist”. but i feel the video is ICONIC, and would even say her “live” performances (MTV awards; blond ambition tour) of the song are probably still entertaining. let me see… it’s one of those culture phenom moments, which is to be expected for madonna. and “vogue” is probably one of her three career defining songs!

PETER: i think after 30 years, madonna’s vogue has a small impact because ballroom has changed in the past 30 years, it has evolved. and it’s gone to different places with different songs from around the world, but it has a small part of the history.

there is no debating that “vogue” was a pop-culture moment in 1990 and like most things that are consumed by the american populous, the moment that madonna’s vogue ushered in didn’t last. however, the art form continued to thrive in the ballroom scene. so as we remember the impact of “vogue”, we must honor and raise up the black and brown queer and trans people from the new york ballroom scene who carried the beautiful art of vogueing before, during and after madonna’s cultural moment in 1990.

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I have always tried to inform people what it life was like behind bars as a transgender latina and as an hiv positive trans latina. people think that we are supported and we are not. we have to survive on our own in there just like we have to when we are on the outside. It was hard to get medications and hormones. Prison staff treat trans women like shit. Other people like inmates see that and thinks it’s ok to treat you like shit too. So you have to fight for everything.

I am blessed because my family has always accepted me. My mother and my brothers and sisters have always supported me. This is the kind of love that I want everyone to know because it kept me alive. Family is important.

When I was released around 2004, I started working with Galaei, (an hiv org in philly), and doing condom outreach. I was able to help make difference because Trans women still need support around HIV. Trans women in prison still need us to advocate for them. We need to stand up for them. Trust me, I know.”

June Martinez, she/her

Philadelphia, Pa

Interviewed & Photographed by: louie a. ortiz-fonseca

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There can be some old age ways of passing along health communication. It’s usually wrapped around fear or paranoia. Like, “Make sure you get your prueba de VIH cause you don’t know about cuando cortan el pelo o algo asi..” and stuff that’s not actually a risk. I have had to give positive results to folks in my community who are a bit older than me. It was really hard to stay present because this person was really thinking about their life in like 60 miles an hour in their head. Thinking about what they’re gonna do and you’re really there to be that emotional support but also a thought partner. You’re not trying to tell them what they should but come to their own decision.

I feel like this has made me a more strategic and intentional thinker and not so reliant on my own ideas about prevention and safety. I’ll ask people questions if they talk about others instead of themselves, or if they have ruminating thoughts then I’ll know that they might be more of an anxious/head personality. I’m into stuff like the enneagram personality system, I have a tarot deck in my coat right now. I don’t always share that kind of stuff.

I’m really into a variety of stuff like psycho-spiritual stuff to add to my toolbelt because I also find making connections to things exciting. The enneagram is based on the idea that we have three centers of intelligence and you can relate that to the tarot. Where you have the cups being emotion, the swords being intellect/logic, and wands would be instincts.

Javier, He/Him/His

Chicago, IL

Interviewed & Photographed by:

J Aces Lira, GV Fellow

He/Him/His - Chicago, IL

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a few days ago, i logged into this very account and saw that a mutual posted a meme that read, “900 people get coronavirus and the whole world wants to wear a surgical mask. 30 million people have AIDS but still nobody wants to wear a condom.” at first, i thought, is this a hot take that is so hot that even my poz ass doesn’t get? but after a minute or so, i’m like, “nah. this is stigmatizing trash.” sadly, i wasn’t surprised.

social media and even a substantial amount of the press coverage about the coronavirus has been anti-asian and xenophobic as fuck! hell, it was also even been a called a “hoax” by tr*mp. of course, none of this is surprising because AIDS history has taught me that people in power and those who write about that power, have at one point willfully minimized, disregarded and laugh about AIDS and the growing deaths of gay men.

in an october 15, 1982 white house press briefing, as the aids epidemic was growing already claiming 853 lives, journalist rev. lester kinsolving asks deputy press secretary larry speakes if then president reagan has any knowledge of aids - then referred to as “the gay plague.” this was the first public question about aids posed to the reagan administration. the question is met with laughter and disregard by both the deputy press secretary and reporters.

by 1984 the aids epidemic later became one of the most devastating pandemics in human history. all during the first term of reagan’s presidency. he was re-elected in an historic landslide victory. this was two years after a member of his administration laughed about AIDS. reagan himself would not utter the word “AIDS” in a speech until 1987. by then more than 20,000 americans had died of AIDS.

history repeats itself over and over.

so my question is are you laughing and making jokes about coronavirus? are you intentionally or unintentionally reinforcing stigma? are you just straight up being anti-asian? are you letting those in your family and intimate circles do these things? this kind of interrogating and examination is critical because what history tells us it that stigma and hate spread faster and kills more than most viruses

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I would pass by the clinic but I would never enter, standing in front of the door I would think, “Do I go in or not.” I made five attempts before going in. And when I entered, I sat down, and next to me someone sat down. The older gentleman says “Don’t worry, everything will be fine.” Then I turned and the person was gone. During that time in my life, I was sad and almost asleep on the train. Someone next to me in a woman’s voice tells me “Smile because not everything in life is easy.” After those two events, they became signs that I had to do something. I was always sad and at that time things were much more stigmatized.

The first year in coming to the US was very hard. I wanted to go back I didn’t want to be here, the food didn’t have taste, the people, I didn’t know how to move about. But after 5 years, I knew how to mobilize, I commuted by myself, I didn’t depend on anyone and my mindset changed. Once a person becomes self-sufficient it’s like they adapt. You begin making friends here and there. And when you least think about it, with my friends back in Colombia, I would call them every eight days and then I never called them again. My life is here in Chicago, I am a part of this.

They tell me that when I go to New York or anywhere else, “Where is your home?” Well, Chicago because the city opened its doors to me, it welcomed me. I know that in Colombia you can never have the medications I have here. If I go to Colombia I die, my life ends there. It is very difficult because those medications are expensive.

If you are diagnosed, you have to continue living, you can’t backtrack. To think that you are being given the opportunity to live, to be a better person, it’s like a life lesson. That living day by day is the only way to continue.

Fernando, He/Him/His

Chicago, IL

Interviewed & Photographed by: J. Aces Lira

Gran Varones Fellow

Chicago, IL

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there is a lot of history between 1990 and 2020. a lot. when the rock the vote campaign kicked off in the fall of 1990, mtv was still a channel that played music videos. not only did mtv actually play music videos but they played them all day and night.

george h.w. bush was half-way into his second year of his presidency. the aids epidemic was continuing to grow and the war on drugs, aka the war on black and brown poor people, was raging. AND donald trump was on the cover of playboy magazine. yeah, we were living in complete hell in 1990.

in an effort to re-set the culture and political landscape, rock the vote partnered with mtv to produce a series of cool – and quirky – PSAs designed to inspire young people ages 18-24 to vote.

this madonna rock the vote PSA featuring dancers and ballroom icons josé and luis xtravaganza was the first of many that were in heavy rotation at mtv. of course, the PSA was considered controversial as the queen of pop was featured dancing with two latinx fed gay men while wearing a bathing suit while draped in the american flag. as a young boy, i loved it. i wasn’t yet able to vote in 1990 but it did i was left with the impression that my vote did count.

also, can we talk about the groovy and dope ass rock the vote PSA featuring new york-based dance group deee-lite? after scoring a world wide hit with their 1990 funk-psychedelic track, “groove is the art,” deee-lite leveraged their break-out success to amplify environmental justice and voting rights. their 1992 rock the vote PSA was their second and features lead singer lady miss kier giving us 60’s futuristic glam as she dances to “vote, baby, vote,” a song that was featured on the group’s sophomore album.

30 years later, rock the vote continues its effort to draw young people to the polls through community-based efforts. my prayer is that the quirky, wild and outrageous rock the vote PSAs will return. in the meantime, if you are in california, north carolina, virginia, massachusetts or texas – today is #supertuesday – if you were able, hope you went out and voted. 

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what a time it was to be alive and witness the brilliance of jody watley thrive at every level of pop culture. when people talk about the pop/dance divas of the 80’s and 90’s, jody watley’s legacy is often omitted, which is nothing short of criminal. jody watley is arguably one of the most influential pop/dance artists of the musical era.

born in chicago on january 30, 1959, jody was introduced to the stage by her godfather & soul music pioneer, jackie wilson. by the time she turned 17, her trendsetting fashion style and dancing made her one of the most popular dancers on the weekly TV dance show “soul train.”

by the late 1970’s and early 80’s, jody was charting hits on both sides of the pond as one third of the post-disco group, shalamar. their sound and style made them one of the most influential r&b/dance groups of the 1980’s.

after exiting the group in 1983, jody moved to london for a few years before returning to the US to slay with gurls with her 1986 monster hit, “lookin’ for a new love.” her solo debut album followed and the hits continued. she would go in to win the grammy for best new artist in 1988.

in 1990, she released her sophomore album “larger than life” which included two of the pop/dance genres most influential songs. the video for the lead single, “real love” introduced high runway fashion into the pop music esthetic. it also became one of the VMA’s most nominated videos. the follow-up single, “friends” a collaboration with hip-hop duo erik b. & rakim invented the rap/sing genre that continues to dominate contemporary pop music.

for the past 40 years, jody watley has remained one of music’s most innovative performers, writers, singers and fashion icons. in 1990, long before AIDS advocacy became the “thing” to do, she was part of one of the first global HIV/AIDS projects.


jody continues to perform all over the world and champions lgbtq rights. miss watley is a living legend who have amassed 32 top 10 singles and 13 No. 1 singles across multiple  genres over the past three decades as a solo artist. all this and she never, ever had to gay bait. why? cuz miss jody was and still is THAT gurl!

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I learned a lot working with plants, the first: to be someone who has a plan in advance. The second: to be very clear about the things I need to have optimal growth. Third: surround myself with a healthy environment that supports my goals. Also, how to be more patient, choosing a lifestyle in harmony with nature, and to always look for ways to help people who are close to you. Above all, I have learned that nothing stays still, and everything is in constant change. It is good not to grapple with one state of mind and instead to flow in each day with the energy you feel. If it is anger to let it flow and pay attention, but not fixate on that feeling, same if it is joy and sadness. We can feel many feelings when passing from a single day, it happens to me and it can be very tiring, so being alone also helps me process what I have learned. For me, the key is to thank all the situations that have happened in life, each and every one of them are teachers and there are always one or several lessons to take away including experiences with illness. Nothing is incurable, everything is healthy if one looks for it from the heart.

Aprendí mucho trabajando con plantas, lo primero : a ser alguien que tiene un plan por adelantado. Lo segundo: tener muy claro que son las cosas que necesito para tener un crecimiento óptimo Tercero: rodearme de un ambiente saludable y acorde a mis objetivos. También como ser más paciente, optar por una estilo de vida más en harmonía con la naturaleza, y siempre buscar la manera de ayudar a las personas que estén cerca de ti. Y sobre todo eh aprendido a que nada se mantiene quieto y todo está en un cambio constante por lo que es bueno no aferrarse a un state of mind y poder fluir en cada día con la energía que sientes . Si es enojo dejarlo fluir y prestarle atención, más no centrarse solo en ese sentimiento, también si es alegría y/o tristeza. Podemos sentir muchos sentimientos al pasar de un solo día , a mi me pasa y es muy cansado por eso también estar solo me ayuda mucho para poder procesar lo que eh aprendido. Para mi la clave es agradecer todas las situaciones que han pasado en tu vida, todas y cada una de ellas son maestras y hay siempre una o varias lecciones que aprender incluyendo las enfermedades. Nada es incurable todo sana si uno lo busca de corazón.

Haitemai, He/Him/His

Mexico City, Mexico

Interviewed & photographed by GV Fellow:

Aces, He/Him/His

Chicago, IL

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“Unearthing the histories and legacies of people we lost to AIDS sometimes means discovering and losing someone in the same moment. The celebration can quickly become a kind of grief that leaves you raging and fighting ghosts of a not-so-distant past that allowed such extraordinary losses to happen. This is how I would describe my discovery of the legend, Lady Catiria.”

check out this piece i was invited to write for’s #ForTheCulture series. y'all should check it out!

shout out to Mathew Rodriguez for reaching out. I am humbled to be included in this brilliant series of articles highlight and examining the history of AIDS and it’s impact on culture.

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today is world aids day.

today we raise up all those we lost to this epidemic.

today we celebrate all those living & thriving with hiv.

today we stand with, by and for those who are just beginning their journey of life with hiv.

today we remember to remember that we are more than statistics.

they tell us that our kind of love is dangerous and risky. we say that our kind of love is revolutionary.

we are alive.

we are fighting.

we are the cure!

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Today marks 10 years since I began a new journey in life. Throughout the past ten years of Living with HIV, I have accomplished more than I could have ever imagined after being given the diagnosis. I want to honor my 19 year old self who searched desperately for other folks to connect with.

To commemorate this milestone in my life, I would like to help share as many stories of QTPOC/Womxn of Color’s journeys of living with HIV.

Starting on World AIDS Day, December 01, 2019, I will replace my daily @takemymeds posts with as many of your photos and stories as possible, in an effort to create more Poz visibility in a digital space and make sure our stories are preserved and other folks can find each other.

So many of you have shared parts of your stories with me both publicly and privately.

If you are able, please message me (@takemymeds on IG) a photo and caption of your journey and I will post and tag you.

Not everyone is able to be out about their status, so anonymous submissions will be greatly honored as well, your stories deserved to be shared.

I would like to thank Atripla, Stribild, and Genvoya, as well as all of my physicians and community healers for keeping my spirits alive and thriving.

Here’s to another 10 years!

Carlos, He/Him/His

Los Angeles, CA

GV Fellow

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Louie: So we have known each other for at for over 20 years.

Angel: Yeah, we are old! LOL

Louie: Almost lol What was it like for you in the 90s?

Angel: We were coming out with respect being ourselves. We had a club called “El Bravo” and we had so much fun. Everything at that time was on the down low; very different than how it is now. We had drag shows and the locas were everywhere but no one fucked with us.

Louie: What is it like now?

Angel: But now we are who we are opening! Atrevido con respect. You know what I mean? We are out and we don’t care what people say. That’s good, right?

Louie: But of course loca!

Angel: Gran Varòn, I love you.

Louie: I love you too, loca!

Angel Santiago, He/Him/His

Philadelphia, PA

interviewed & photographed: louie a. ortiz-fonseca

[angel was recently involved in a serious hit & run. we wish him a speedy recovery.]

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