THE GRAN VARONES (Posts tagged storytelling)

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See, that’s what the app is perfect for.

Sounds perfect Wahhhh, I don’t wanna

my life is a perpetual music soundtrack. i remember all of the moments – no matter how trivial or traumatic – in song. my friends often joke that whenever i say, “i love this song!”, they know a story will follow. and they’re correct. music and pop culture are usually how i recall and process my experiences. they help me to make sense of things.

during my many days of quarantine, i have spent a lot of time listening to music, specifically my “1990 was that gurl” playlist. there are times when a song comes on and i simply sing along and then there times when i am flooded with emotions that are normally dormant in busier times. one of those songs is “joey” by concrete blonde. a song that helped me make a little bit of since of the complicated and absolutely relationship i shared with my aunt blanca.

one song that reminds me of blanca, not necessarily because the song was ever playing when we were together – she would have never listened to modern rock – is concrete blonde’s 1990 hit “joey.” the song conjures up feelings that are both painful and sentimental. released in the fall of 1990, “joey” is an all too-relatable song about loving someone who is the depths as addiction.

i cannot listen to this song without thinking of the many nights i watched blanca disappear into herself. she never instructed me to keep her self-medication a secret. i just kinda just knew. i was already a master at hiding the severity of my own mother’s addiction. and for real, for real, everyone in my universe was either surviving addiction or fiercely judging those of us who were surviving. there was really no one left to tell. these secrets were easy to keep but heavier to hold.

I know you’ve heard it all before

So I don’t say it anymore

I just stand by and let you

Fight your secret war

And though I used to wonder why

I used to cry till I was dry

Still sometimes I get a strange pain inside

Oh, Joey, if you’re hurting so am I”

the youngest of my mother’s sisters, blanca was 10 years my senior and in 1990 was one of my favorite people to spend time with. she was an avid music lover. she loved babyface and keith sweat. when together, she and i would listen to the quiet storm and just talk – me about boys i had crushes on and she about the men who had broken her heart. it seemed her heart was always broken.

blanca wasn’t a drinker. i cannot remember her ever drinking actually. we drank pepsis and ate chinese take-out while we listened to songs about heartbreak. we laughed and laughed as songs by phylis hyman, stephanie mills and luther vandross played in the background. but then a song would begin to play and the energy would shift immediately. it was like literally like watching a broken heart bleed. i’d try to distract her with conversation and antidotes. i was a funny as kid. but she would just pull the small clear bag of heroine from out her purse and take a hit.

then the race would begin. i would begin to talk faster because i knew she would be nodding off soon. blanca engaged in conversation for as long as she could or until she was completely out of it. then i would continue to talk but not as much and not as fast. i would try to salvage the night before the feeling if regret began to set in.


But if I seem to be confused

I didn’t mean to be with you

And when you said I scared you

Well I guess you scared me too

But we got lucky once before

And I don’t want to close the door

And if you’re somewhere out there

Passed out on the floor

Oh Joey, I’m not angry anymore”

i never got mad at blanca for getting high. i hated that it made her disappear. but i knew heroine was a tough thing to kick. when she did try, i would accompany her to the methadone clinic. and when she relapsed, i would go with her to cop her drugs. i just liked being around her – most of the time. i liked the world we created together. blanca was funny as hell.

blanca struggled with addition up until the very end of her life in 1998. she was just 32 years old.

it has been 30 years single the release of “joey.” i listen to “joey” when i want to mourn the loss of the things i remember and the things that i don’t. like her birthday. i still listen to the songs that played in the background during our times together. sometimes i laugh because i remember her jokes. i tell you, blanca was funny as hell! and yes, there is trauma attached to these memories but the immense love i still have for her is what carries me.

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Horacio: Long story short, the quarantine made our March 21st date impossible so the day that the stay at home order was enacted in Philly (March 17th) we got a call from the chapel offering to sign our marriage license that day so it wouldn’t expire. We like to think of this “time off” as our honeymoon.

Besides binging televisions shows and desperately trying to come up with recipes that accomadte to our limited knowledge cooking, we’ve embarrassingly enough been spending many days playing Fornite on the couch without cat and dog. We introduced our sobrinos to it (yeah, not the other way around) and since then we’ve been playing together over the phone and it’s been a cute bonding experience since we can’t go visit them at the moment. When we need a little movement we switch to Just Dance or go for a little walk when it’s nice out. We also got to volunteer for Prevention Point here in Philly by helping put together bags of clean syringes and other sanitary measures for the community. When I told mom I had to reassure her we were more than six feet apart in a big room with masks gloves on. We’ve perfected the deep clean, our bathtub and stove have never been shinier. We’ve also become each others personal barber and our hair has changed color like three times. We’re homebodies to begin with so staying at home hasn’t been too strange but we do miss our friends.

Eddie: During quarantine, I have learned that in life, you just don’t have control over the situation that happens around you. What you do have control is how you chose to respond to it. That there is a difference between staying home voluntarily and staying home involuntarily. I like one but not the other. I’ve also learned that I’m much less of a introvert that I thought I was. We’ve both been missing hanging out with friends and being social. Also that Hori and I can sleep a lot haha. But I could probably become completely nocturnal if left unchecked.

Horacio: Personally, I’ve learned to be less serious. I’m the dramatic one and Eddie is the level headed peacekeeper if you will. When I found out we both wouldn’t be working, it stressed us both out but his way of conquering stress is contagious. Of course there are moments of tension when we’re not on the same page, and I’ve learned to detect when those moments are coming and diffuse them by clearing the air before we grow silent. Mostly, I’ve learned that I really have married my best friend and that our connection is genuine and I’m lucky to be able to spend this historical moment with him.

Horacio & Eddie (He/Him/His)

Philadelphia, PA

interviewed (yesterday)& photographed (a few months ago) by: louie a. ortiz-fonseca

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Growing up, I’ve always considered music to be a huge part of my life. I used to sometimes joke about how I’d leave my current city and one day become a popular DJ in Miami or Atlanta. While my dreams of being a DJ haven’t clearly panned out into a serious decision, social distancing, COVID-19, and virtual parties have re-sparked my interest in creating playlists and having people dance to tunes. Throughout COVID-19 I’ve celebrated/held down the music on birthdays for myself, family members, and friends. This was all done through folks coming together to decide on a time, wishing the individual happy birthday, and jamming to tunes so loud that my neighbors sometimes knocked.

When my friends first suggested that I have a “Virtual Birthday Party,” I was shook. As my birthday got closer, I began to take the option seriously and how it was a low-level activity where no costs were involved. Considering that we were all advised to stay at home, I continued to ask myself “Well, what are people going to be doing at 8PM on Thursday anyway?” We quickly set up a webinar link, sent a calendar invite, and spread the word on social media.


To see my family members and friends on several screens and webinar apps showed me how it was probably in my best interest to virtually celebrate with people. For instance, if I were going to have a party in person, most of the people that joined wouldn’t have been able to come anyway due to locations, etc.

As weird as it may have initially seemed to host a virtual birthday party, and now DJ for others, I’m reminded of my passions: community and dancing. No matter what here’s what I’ll always remember that during this time of social isolation: the beat goes on.

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i came out to my mother when my grandmother died in 2006. and back then I had a cousin that was gay - - that IS gay - -he has not a stopped being gay. (laughs) he was living around here and my mother would always ask me, “why do you hang out with him so much?” eventually, i got upset when she said “it doesn’t bother you?” and I was like, “mom, would it bother you if i was gay?” and she was like “are you gay?” insaid “yeah.” but i was upset so wasn’t that soft. there was some screaming. then after that, we had that long conversation and the crying.

she’s been to the pride parade here. i bring her and i put out a chair for her and she watches the whole show. ya know, the first thing she said when i brought her here to wilton manor - she said, “i never thought they were old gay people.” she always thought that came and were young and “cute” and then when she saw older gay couples walking and holding hands she was like, “aawwww.” it blew her mind.

i still have to teach her. like with my boyfriend, i had to teach her that he is not just my “special friend,” he is my boyfriend. i need you to call him my boyfriend. i explain to her that i remember when you told me once, “don’t introduce me to every single person. just introduce me to the one.” and i explain to her that this is the one right now. you need to get with it.

he went with me to washington, heights for thanksgiving, in a house with like 50 dominicans. (laughs). i prepared my mom. i was like, “mom, i’m gonna take him. and you’re gonna get questions.” he’s the first person that has ever been to my family gatherings. it’s a big thing for me and my family. that know i’m gay but they never seen me with a partner. it was good until one my aunt’s found out that he didn’t speak spanish. ya know, older generations.

josé, he/him/his

wilton manor, florida

interviewed & photographed by: louie a. ortiz-fonseca

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My love for Selena would begin as a young brown boy growing up in Tucson, AZ. As a first generation Mexican-American, and child of immigrant families, her story of embracing her Chicanaroots is what mirrored most in my life. From my earliest of memories, all I know is singing and dancing like Selena, mimicking her moves, perfecting her vocals…even putting a bandaid on my finger and tying my tshirt into a bra. I never felt freer as a kid than when I was blasting and dancing to her music in the living room when no one was home. If you haven’t guessed by now, I was an incredibly unapologetic and unconsciously Queer child. Me and my brother, who is also Queer, would get up in all the Selena drag and perform, then rush to take it all off when our Mother pulled into the driveway. Selena has always been a part of my family’s life…So much so that my Nana would record Selena’s TV appearances in between home family videos on VHS.

I am a “deep cuts” Selena fan. Before my birth in 1990, she already had many years in the game. Her 80s Tejano music is some of my absolute favorite and probably the most slept on. Watching Selena y Los Dinos evolve from kids with cute matching outfits to full fledge flashy performance attire, modern choreography and sophisticated sound is nothing short of astounding to witness. She truly had an immense love for music. I find myself now as an adult watching her live performances and still in awe of her volcanic talent. Seeing her incorporate famous 80s fashion, big hair, huge shoulder pads, and freestyle dance moves into her Pop/Tejano music has me screaming at my TV! Her “Running Man” was just so fresh!!! She was even brave enough to attempt the “Moonwalk”, and even covered both Michael and Janet Jackson songs, as well as many other 80s top 40 jams. You’ve got to Youtube her singing “Girlfriend” by Pebbles, and any performance of “Enamorada De Ti” will give you all the life!! Whew!!!!

Selena would eventually grow into a massive household name for some Latinx folks in the early 90s. I’ve recently converted all of my family’s home VHS videos to digital, and it was so funny to hear her music in the background at family gatherings as early as 1993. She is undoubtedly the reason that I myself love to sing, why I love to dance, and the reason I grew up feeling like I wasn’t the only Pochx in the world, shit, she taught me most of the Spanish I know today!


It brings me great joy to see that while she was still here with us that she knew how much she was loved. She frequently snatched all the trophies at award shows, and we can’t forget about that Grammy! Her image is now beyond the words legendary and iconic, but meteoric and phenomenal. I still can’t wrap my head around her passing. It’s been 25 years, and I am now about to turn 30, I still weep for Selena as if I somehow knew her personally. I’m so pissed at what could have been. Before her death, she was working with the likes of Dianne Warren and David Morales, both famed and highly coveted and respected musicians. She was going to be a massive star, I just know it. Today her legacy lives on, no Quinceanera, sweet 16, wedding, or even backyard junta is safe from a Selena cumbia. Whenever I go to live music shows where artists perform her music, I cheer with excitement because I never got the opportunity to cheer for her, like I do with all of the other divas I stan for. Her voice, image, laugh, smile, entrepreneurship, hard work, creativity, passion and determination has been and always will be an inspiration to all who love her, and to those who will be introduced to her in the generations to come.

Happy Birthday Selena, we love and miss you so so much. Today I celebrate as I sing and dance in my living room for you, and we are together, siempre.

Written by: Carlos, He/Him/His

Los Angeles, CA

Gran Varones Fellow

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chris: my brother really continues to teach me how to be unapologetically me. he is so unapologetically him ALL the time. like, i have never met another person who is able to be like “i don’t give a fuck if you don’t like anything about me. i’m pretty sure about who i am.” i’ve even told this to people about you (andrew), you are going to do what you want to do, when and how you want to do it and that’s it. that’s something i have learned because out of the two of us, i am the more reserved one. i am figuring out that i can be be that way too and that there is nothing wrong with me and he teaches me that.

andrew: you (chris) teach me to never be afraid to stand up. seeing you defend me when you felt i needed to be defended has always been very inspiring. we would be on the train and somebody would say something crazy about me and my brother would be like, “what the did you say!?” we much homophobia we DON’T get inside our home, we don’t live in a bubble. we don’t live in a place that is always going to be safe to be queer. and so i see you (chris) as a hero. your ability to stand up for people. you taught me “if my queer friends and family aren’t safe, i’m not safe.” that is something i have learned from you.

chris (he/him) & andrew (he/they)

bronx, new york

interviewed & photographed by: louie a. ortiz-fonseca

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last august, hydeia broadbent celebrated her 35th birthday. this wasn’t just a milestone but a testament to the sheer determination of life and hope.

diagnosed with hiv at three years old, hydeia was not expected to survive past age five. and in 1987, years almost a decade before the breakthrough of hiv treatment, this prognosis was pretty accurate for children battling the opportunistic infections brought on by HIV. hydeia’s mother immediately became a fierce advocate and enrolled hydeia into clinical trials with the hopes of prolonging her life. and no easy feet during especially during a time when hiv clinical trials did not include women, young people and people of color. 

a chance meeting with the late hiv advocate elizabeth glaser in 1988 at the national institutes of health, where they were both receiving treatment, led to hydeia becoming a public speaker. after telling her story across the world including on a tv special for nickelodeon with magic johnson, 20/20, good morning america and becoming one of the most memorable guests of the oprah winfrey show. at just age 10, hydeia had become the face of not just pediatric aids but the first generation of children born with hiv.

in the years since, hydeia has dedicated her life to promoting hiv prevention among young people, specifically young black women as well as advocating for accessible treatment and healthcare for all young people living with hiv.

today, on national youth hiv/aids awareness day, we honor and celebrate all of the work hydeia has done to center young people living with hiv. we thank hydeia broadbent for teaching us all the power of storytelling as a radical tactic for activism and advocacy.

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I was born in Mexico, grew up there as a little kid but then I’ve spent most of my life now in Houston, Texas.I was nine years old actually, my dad had to come over to the US undocumented since he was 14 years old. Back in the 80s, it was more like he would spend some time working in Texas, go back to Mexico for a few months, do that back-and-forth and then that’s how he met my mom and they got married and all that. At age 9 we moved to Houston.

I mean it was weird because I come from a really tiny town that had maybe like 1500 people. We only had one school and one church, I mean everyone knew each other, it was very rural. And then I moved to Houston which was this huge city, where I couldn’t, yeah it was way bigger, but it felt a lot smaller than my town. In my town as a 6, 7, 8-year-old I could just roam around, like go to my friends house, play all around, but in Houston we moved into a tiny apartment and that’s what I thought Houston was, kind of like a tiny apartment. Getting used to that took a while but then I think that I was the lucky to find a lot of community and a lot of folks in Houston that basically made me stay here and I’ve been living in Houston ever since.

Well, I was a big nerd in high school so I did a lot of school things. One of the things I did was theatre. I started doing theater since I was in like six grade 6th grade, and you know I was like a really shy kid and didn’t like talking a lot. I also wasn’t allowed to have friends outside of school like I never was able to go to like their houses, they couldn’t come over to my house. Theatre was like the thing that I was allowed to do where it was still outside of school, but you know it was still seen as like you’re taking a class or you’re doing it for like an extracurricular and that was actually the thing that helped me most like connect with people.

Theatre was in a lot of ways a place where the queer kids would go because it was that space where you could put on different characters and sometimes the characters that we are putting on weren’t fake, they were actually the real ones, but we had to pretend. We had the space to be like “Oh this is something we can do.” When I was in high school I wasn’t at the point where I was out, or a lot of other people were out, but there with us understanding that in that space we could be whoever we wanted to be and that included like our sexual orientation, gender expression, and all of that, even if we didn’t say it out loud .

My parents came to shows and it was weird in a way. My mom actually passed away like the beginning of my junior year of high school, so she went to some of the first performances. The thing about my family, my parents in particular, was that they didn’t speak English so they would sit through an entire like two hour play that was all in English. They didn’t understand mostly anything that was being said, but then, you know, every time at the end of the performance, they were always like “That was really good, I really liked it.” I always wondered like how could they do that, I don’t think I could sit through like a two hour thing where I don’t understand what is going on, but I think in a way that kind of that was really cool to me, but at the same time I wonder if they understood, like not just what was happening in the plays, but also what I was trying to express through being in the plays. That was always like an interesting thing– they would go to all the shows, even if they couldn’t understand most of what was happening.

My interest in theatre was mainly in Houston, but in Mexico the one thing that I remember since I was a little kid was just being in the kitchen all the time because that’s where my mom was, that’s where all my aunt’s were, that’s basically where all the women in my family were–in the kitchen. I remember being there and it was just like this really special place, again ,where I felt, I never thought about this but in a way that was like a theater space. The kitchen was kind of like a theater. Every time my aunts, grandma, and mom were cooking they were always telling these stories about when they were growing up or people that they knew. Actually, now that I think about it that was kind of like “theater” that I had before I came to the US, and then had like you know like a more sort of formal or like traditional definition of the term.

In the kitchen I mean I learned so much about my family, the town, and maybe some stuff that I shouldn’t have been learning when I was that age, but seeing them there, they were the ones in power. In power in every aspect of it from deciding the dishes, dividing the labor among themselves, to like who is leading the conversation of the stories that they are telling.

José Eduardo, He/They

Houston, TX

Interviewed by: Armonté Butler

Photographed: louie a. ortiz-fonseca

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people living AIDS formed coalitions for each other years before then US present ronald reagan publicly acknowledged AIDS. people living with AIDS mobilized to feed, house, nurse, care and fight for themselves and each other. they became their own researchers, lobbyists and drug smugglers. and this was done before the advent of the internet and social media. people with living AIDS created the template of how to survive a plague as governments willfully fail us.

one of the people who was in the thick of AIDS advocacy from the mid-1980’s until his death in 1990, was queer activist, author and queer historian, vito russo.

vito’s activism was threaded throughout his entire existence. always an out and proud gay man, vito’s activism began immediately after the stonewall riots when he joined the then emerging gay activists alliance. he would later independently organize camp-film festivals examining the representation of gay and lesbians in film. his 1981 book “the celluloid closet” was a culmination of this work.

as one of the first out-gay men to create and host a cable access show in 1983, vito’s commitment to challenging the lgbtq representation in medio led his to co-found GLAAD.

after being diagnosed with AIDS in 1985, vito became an active member of ACT-UP, one of the most influential and effective organizing groups in history. during a 1988 an ACT-UP demonstration in front of the new york state capitol in albany, vito delivered a passionate speech entitled “why we fight” (full speech) that till this day still resonates. especially now as we all are now surviving a plague.

“why we fight” is a reminder of who we are and all the power we posses as people. it is also a call to action to continue to organize and survive with each other – every step of the way. it is also a promise of hope that this plague will end and we will win.

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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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it has been almost 20 years since the death of singer and prolific songwriter, kenny greene. sadly, his death was shrouded in hiv stigma and biphobia. .

kenny greene was the dynamic mastermind behind 90’s r&b trio INTRO. born in detroit, michigan, kenny, was inspired to put a trio together after meeting two other singers while serving in the army. after being discovered by dj eddie f in 1990, INTRO began to groom their sound.

kenny wrote and composed most of their 1993 self-titled debut album. the lead single “come inside” cracked the r&b top 10 and peaked at #33 on the hot 100.

with their blend of sultry melodies, new jack swing and early neo-soul sound, INTRO became one of the hottest r&b groups of the mid 1990’s. kenny’s voice so impressed stevie wonder that kenny was given blessing by stevie himself to cover “ribbon in the sky.” mr. wonder himself even appears in the video.

kenny teamed up with dave “jam” hall to create “love no limit” from mary j. blige’s iconic debut album “what’s the 411.” kenny’s songwriting skills were so celebrated that he was awarded the 1993 ASCAP songwriter of the year.

through-out the 90’s, kenny continued to write for other artists, including 98 degrees, tyrese, will smith, and cam'ron.

in a 2001 interview with the now defunct sister2sister magazine, kenny courageously disclosed that he was bisexual and he was battling complications brought on by HIV. he shared the pressures brought on by societal expectations that he present as both heterosexual and the alpha-male. while many privately applauded him for using his story to raise awareness, many publicly condemned him.

on oct. 1, 2001, kenny greene died in NYC. he was just 32 yrs old. 9/11 attacks, kenny’s death received little media coverage. and outlets that did cover his death, framed his death around the how bisexual men or men on the “DL” were a danger to women.

kenny’s wake was arranged by close friends. his family did not attend. kenny was honored by the US army and is buried at calverton national cemetery on long island.

kenny greene is not a household name although many households are probably jammin’ to his songs. he honor his life and legacy.

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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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Source: granvarones queer gay trans bisexual latinx afrolatinx mijente podcast storytelling

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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