No, I am not doing this to add to the growing number of media sources that showcase both harsh and inaccurate criticisms of a ‘boy who dressed in women’s clothes’ [Thank you for rewording your article as the first was very offensive, Jess Wisloski, ], nor will i talk candidly about the men she brought back and forth into her apartment or the sex ads she posted on websites, and whatnot [Really NYTimes? And a group of ‘transgender performers’ to describe her family? How disrespectful ] All of that is not important to me, nor do i think it should have been said, but the media is what it is [Although THIS article did give her a little bit of dignity of some kind.]
I am doing this because I lost a good friend. Albeit one that I referred to as a sister on more than one occasion, because of my affinity for her as a human being, and an artist.
We came from the same community, and I heard of her through our participation in the Ballroom Scene. I at the time was a budding photographer armed with a broken Canon XT, attempting to shoot some of the most beautiful people New York City had to offer. One of my times back in the city after I was interning at VIBE Magazine, I met Lorena at Escuelita’s, a popular hangout for LGBTQ youth where performances by local entertainers were broadcasted. It was the modern-day equivalent for Sally’s Hideaway (a popular transgender spot during the 80’s-early 90’s). Drag Queens, Femqueens (transsexuals), Gogo Dancers, Ballroom participants, LGBTQ self-identifiers, Heterosexuals, celebrities, you name them, they stepped foot in this local spot. It currently escapes me what actually was occurring that night (probably a mini-ball), but I remembered that night I met Lorena.
Besides one or two individuals in my house, I never really talked to many femqueens in the scene, and I definitely never worked with one, but I recalled Lorena from her videos on Youtube as one of the new “It” girls of the Ballroom Community. She was just starting out, made her debut a year before, and rocked the Ballroom with her beauty and her “realness” (The main categories she walked in this community were “FQ Face”, which admired the feminine qualities of 5 prominent facial features [Eyes, Nose, Teeth (smile) , Structure (overall proportion and symmetry), and Skin (Clearness and Evenness)] and FQ Realness (Being passable in mainstream society by successfully eliminating any cultural markers that you were born a male) [It must be noted that this category differs dramatically depending on the gender/sexual identity the participant who walks a category of Realness identifies as]. She also walked Sex Siren (which praised the sex appeal an individual possesses), and Lorena Escalera was all of these things. I gave her my card that night and went about my way for the rest of the night, eventually meeting her again a few months later at the Latex, where she saw me sweating in a three-piece black tuxedo attempting to get various shots at the event. She cooled me off with her ornate fan she donned a few hours earlier [Yes, these functions last for many hours], and proceeded to have conversation with me about working together. I was surprised she remembered me, because I was still fresh and not as popular in the scene as she was, but she gave me her contact information and we eventually made a date to shoot.
My first time working with Lorena, I was surprised at her bravery and unbothered attitude about life. She sat in a local Starbucks around Columbus Circle waiting for me, in a multi-colored off-the shoulder number, hair done in a low chignon, and a face with minimal makeup prepared for the shoot that day. It was over 90 degrees that day and burning, so she retouched her makeup every few minutes with a golden compact she carried in a small black clutch. Being the gentlemen I was, I offered to carry her luggage. She changed into her first outfit which was a black ruffle dress that she wore in a popular Youtube clip that introduced her to the world. For a crowd of hundreds, there she stood, brave and unabashedly confident, mimicking the W Magazine editorial of pop singer Madonna and her boyfriend Jesus Luz we used as inspiration for her looks. The crowd looked on, and marveled at her beauty, and commented on her performance, except one lady. Tattered and worn, she heckled us for almost an hour straight, spewing various hurtful epithets at Escalera, calling her everything from “whore” to “bitch”. Lorena just stood there, laughed at her, and continued on with her shoot. Always the professional, we stayed in this area for two hours, before the lady became more and more overwhelming, I proceeded to yell back at her, in clear anger, and she only got louder, blocking my shots, until we decided it was best to leave.
We went to Christopher Street, which was a lot more liberal than Columbus Circle had been that day. These streets held a vast history for the many LGBTQ individuals that walked them, from homeless youth, to transsexuals working as escorts, down to the local kids who vogued at the pier. Lorena and I knew these streets all too well. It was then I got to learn more about this mysterious figure. She informed me how she had recently become a FQ [femmequeen, or transsexual female] around the age of 19-20, roughly the same time we came into the scene, but when she was growing up she was always “really really cunt (feminine)”. I found this to be astounding, considering we were both 22 at the time, and for her to be as stunning as she was with minimal cosmetic surgery, she was completely passable as a woman, a beautiful one at that. She ended up moving to New York in the hopes to better her chances, staying with a few of her house members from “The Royal House of Xtravaganza”, a collective of various individuals (both heterosexual and LGBTQ) who all performed across the world within the Ballroom Community, as well as outside of it-her first and only house at that point. She considered her ‘gay parents’ to be the overall parents of her house, Icon Father Jose Xtravaganza, popular for his time as one of Madonna’s legendary dancers during her Blonde Ambition Tour and the popular video “Vogue” that solidified Ballroom in the mainstream, and Icon Mother Carmen Xtravaganza, a popular entertainer in the community who also was one of the notable personalities in the Jennie Livingston-produced documentary, Paris Is Burning [You may recall her iconic line, “…but that voice, is STILL THERE” when referring to the significant changes her sister Brooke went through to become a gender reassigned female]. We discussed everything from who we liked/disliked [she really loved Beyonce and the model Joan Smalls], the categories we both walked [She told me the ‘Body’ category she walked with a popular male figure in the scene the night I met her was merely a ‘favor’ to him, and she never considered it a valid asset to her repertoire of things she was good at, regardless of the fanfare she received], what we disliked about being in the community [‘the girls can be very shady, and jealous’], and where we hoped to be in our lives.
We went by the pier and so many passerbys stopped to comment on her beauty with each click, and she would constantly readjust herself and i would cover her so as to not leave her exposed for those to see. We walked back to the stop on the 1 Train and as we walked I saw how she spoke to the male streetwalkers. Very seductive, like a vamp tempting the allured, I told my own mother Jahaira and uncle Derrick (the latter who was a bigger brother of hers in her house) how I feared for her: partly because she was so beautiful, and the other because she was so NICE. It was scary to see, because you always heard stories about these tragic female personalities who were killed, raped, or sexually abused in cold blood by their admirers, especially on a street such as Christopher (One being Venus Xtravaganza). I felt like she was a sister of mine I wanted to protect and look out for, although she was not in my house, even though I would later feel like a little brother, because I looked up to her because of her proudness, her bravery and her love and admiration for her loved ones. I use that word incessantly, because that’s the best terminology I can give to describe her: BRAVE…and FEARLESS.
We worked together one more time in 2010 a year later. We both accumulated a bit of experience in the scene due to our respective categories and lives outside of the scene. By then, she became a premiere performer in the NYC Metropolitan area, renowned for her performances of everyone from Beyonce (her most notable), Rihanna, Jennifer Lopez, and Nicki Minaj. If you ever saw her perform in person, it was a true experience. I was shocked because you never expect someone to be SO GOOD to the point of perfecting the performance better than the individuals who created them. She later would travel overseas to Ibiza, Spain and wow the crowds internationally as well. Armed with her own Hair and makeup artist, Victor Noble (who i later became friends with as well) we turned out another photoshoot in Brooklyn. Again hecklers of young female teens from a high-rise window shot epithets of ‘SLUT’, ‘WHORE’, etc. to an unaffected Lorena. In fact, she laughed along. Again, I admired her bravery and her strong skin as she went ahead with the shoot, giving her 100% like any other performance on a main stage. After the shoot was done, she lit a blunt, and all three of us smoked it heading back to the train station.
Since then, she became one of my STRONGEST confidantes in the community. I called or texted her many times over the past two years, either to ask her advice, plan her next shoot [she was in Ibiza at the time so it never came into fruition], or talk about things that bothered me such as my own self-esteem issues being in the community, being kicked out of my house, or to get her opinion on effects or categories i planned to walk in the scene, and she would always have something positive to say. Always smiling, always joking, always in a light mood, she sought out to conquer the world, so to speak. I’m sure she had many more high hopes as we all do in life, but the life she led was nothing short of BRAVE and to be lauded. She did so many things people of her age and identity dreamed to do, and she did it VERY WELL.
Lorena, La Reina, You truly were a princess of your house and symbolized all things ‘xtravagant’. You gave your all in everything you did, was a positive role model for the community you were a part of and etched your statement into every person’s lives that you touched. There will never be another woman quite like you, because you truly are THE QUEEN. Sleep with the Angels now. God has you. My condolences go out to her family and loved ones.