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Honoring Transgender Awareness Week by celebrating Ballroom culture

Three Black women smile for a group photograph in front of a white background
Photo by Texas Isaiah

Recently, the ballroom scene has been everywhere, from pop stars’ tours to TV shows to Google Arts & Culture, which worked with the Ballroom community to digitize photography collections and launch the community’s Ballroom in Focus archive this year. But Ballroom has been around for decades, giving power and community, while also honoring the Black and Brown LGBTQ+ communities. It was a community I found by accident in 1987, at a time when I was searching for family, and a sense of who I was as a Black trans man.

One day, while sitting in my room talking to my friend, we decided we were going to find people that were like us: LGBTQ+ people who were living their lives according to their terms. We found our way to Washington Square Park in New York City, and accidentally walked down a “runway” between some benches — only to get roasted for our runway walks.

The people we were talking to quickly became our friends — and eventually, they asked us if we wanted to be part of their “house.” I responded, “I live with my grandmother, but I’d love to hang out with y’all!” They laughed and explained the Ballroom community to me. “Houses” were groups of competitors in balls, and members of each group adopted the house’s last name — and even had a house mother and father.

A group of people involved in the Ballroom scene take a portrait in front of a white background

Photo by Texas Isaiah

During my first competition, I was excited and nervous. It was decided that I would walk in the “Male Illusionist'' category, because of how I appeared male. Whoa: Finally, others saw me as I saw myself and didn’t shun me for it. Actually, they did just the opposite — they celebrated me.

During my time in Ballroom, I’ve walked and won multiple times under a few categories. But perhaps the most consequential thing that happened is I was given the space and autonomy to define my maleness. While the world kept telling me I was not who I said I was, Ballroom celebrated me, and was part of my transition into being a proud Black Trans man.

This Transgender Awareness Week, Google partnered with Texas Isaiah to capture the themes that honor Trans youth and their joy — and especially their joy of being part of Ballroom. In beautiful portraits and images shot on Pixel, they’re centering the power of joy at a time when too much joy is being taken away from trans youth. While the world tells trans youth that they are unworthy and even criminal, Ballroom tells them — tells us — that we are beautiful and powerful, and we belong.

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