Tuesday, October 03, 2006
music: "Alright" by Janet Jackson
Mother Jamiee Balenciaga’s success in the ballroom scene is similar to Teena Marie’s success in R&B/soul (yeah, I know – odd analogy, but some of my readers are still trying to understand ballroom culture!). Jaimee is a minority in the scene being a lesbian; however, she has served, conquered and annihilated her category, which is Women’s Face. In ballroom it is challenging for lesbians and straight women to receive respect, especially the type of respect and admiration Jamiee has managed to gain. She has been walking balls since 1996 and is officially a “legend” in the ballroom community. No other woman has been an ongoing fixture in the world of ballroom for the past ten years like Jamiee Balenciaga. She is not your stereotypical woman, who is simply around gay men as a spectacle, or a form of entertainment – the ballroom scene is her second family and she is just as dedicated to ballroom culture as the other beautiful women I have interviewed. Nonetheless, it was not an easy journey to gain respect in a subculture that is male dominated. Now Jaimee is the Mother of the House of Balenciaga, she has won more trophies than any other female in ballroom and is the first woman to win Mother of the year. In a candid interview with Mother Aga she lets it out on the transformations of the ballroom scene, what it means to be “legendary” and current women who are walking her category.
Men are attracted to the scene because they feel like there are other gay men who are possible like them. There are very few lesbians in ballroom – so what attracted you to it?
Jaimee: Well, I started walking balls the end of ‘96 to ‘97. I knew nothing about it and my ex-lover brought me into the ballroom scene. All of my friends were butch queens and that’s what I got involved in. It was actually a form of extracurricular activity, it was enjoyable. I liked the fashion, the runway … everything to me was just exciting and then when I started walking I guess the attention of it all attracted me to the ballroom scene. At heart I am a little bit of a butch queen myself. (laughs)
Was it hard to get respect in the scene being a lesbian?
Jaimee: Definitely it was hard; it took a long time to get respect. When I first came in people didn’t even know my name, it took a long time for people to even learn my name. They were calling me “Vanessa” when I first came out – I remember when Eric Bazaar at a few balls called me Vanessa. When I was in the House of Jourdan I was made mother with somebody else being told that women wouldn’t get any respect in the ballroom scene. Yeah, it took a long time and it was hard …
You are legendary for “Women’s Face” -- explains what it means to be legendary.
Jaimee: To me it means that you conquered your category, people look up to you and respect you for that category. I’ve been walking approximately ten maybe plus years now -- a lot of the time I hadn’t walked against a lot of people, but when I did I won. So, people look up to you when you’re legendary, and I know I look up to a lot of legends and icons to this day.
Some people in the scene feel like there are people becoming legends too soon – what’s your take on that?
Jaimee: I do feel a lot of people are becoming legendary too quick but then again this generation that has come into the ballroom scene is different then it was when I started. There’s more people walking, there’s more balls, there’s wasn’t that many balls back then. Now there’s a ball every weekend so there’s more opportunity to make yourself legendary. If somebody is willing to travel they’ll probably become legendary quicker because they are willing to go to Atlanta, Chicago, Virginia – you know, places where we didn’t really go as much like ten years ago.
Do you think it is a good thing that the ballroom scene has grown all over the country?
Jaimee: Yes and no – I think people who deserve it for their category it gives them … I guess that title but some people let it go to their head. A lot of younger kids that come into the ballroom scene now, they don’t know their history – that makes me upset too. I’m all for “teach me something new,” I try to learn my history, where everything came from as far as categories, who started it and a lot of those younger kids now don’t know that.
If someone wants to get in the ballroom scene what do you think are some important historical aspects they should know?
Jaimee: Well, I totally think anyone who comes into the scene should definitely watch Paris Is Burning and learn about the people that started the ballroom scene. Especially your category – if you’re going to enter into a category you should know who started your category, or at least who has been reigning for the past ten years, what the battles were – I think everybody should definitely know their history on their category.
Do you think the scene is easier on women then it was ten years ago when you first started?
Jaimee: Wow … well, I think they are a lot easier on women now. I don’t want to say there is too much of a difference, but for me … as far as my category, I feel the women back then fit the category more. The way they put “face” out there you were suppose to have structure, teeth, eyes and skin – now if a girl is cute they are like, “Okay let her slide by because she’s a woman.” I think the butch queens kind of just pass over the women and the butch categories. If it was a femme queen – they would get chopped. Since it is a woman it’s like, “Okay let them slide through because there are only about four of them in here.”
Are you a hardcore judge when your category comes up?
Jaimee: Yes, I am! (laughs) Like I said I look for skin, teeth, structure and eyes – there have been women that come up there as who just swing their hair around and think that’s face because they can sell it.
I’ve taken some women to balls and they were a little offended by some of the language like, “bitch,” “cunt,” “pussy” – I know you aren’t offended by that, but what has been your impression when you’ve taken women to balls who aren’t in the scene?
Jaimee: I’ve taken some of my straight girl friends to balls as well and they actually kiki and laugh about it. It never really offended them because it’s never been in the context like you’re a bitch – it’s like, “Work bitch!” They’ve never taken it seriously to the point where they are offended. I could see why women might possibly get offended, but it depends on the way it’s used and the times it’s used. It has never offended me or any of my girlfriends that I’ve taken to balls.
The ballroom scene can be very addictive. As a Mother of House what advice do you give when you see someone losing themselves in the scene?
Jaimee: I know from experience that first of all -- it is only a ball – it’s supposed to be an extracurricular activity. Therefore, I don’t feel any type of work or home life should come after the balls. You shouldn’t miss a day of work because you’re trying to go to a ball. I don’t see anybody just taking off work, or if they plan to go to work the next day and they call out for work – I don’t see that, I don’t use – at all! These balls do not pay your bills, some categories are for cash, but it is just cash for that moment. You can get fired from your job for missing a day of work, it’s not that serious.
What kind of house mother are you?
Jaimee: From what I’m told and I feel the same as well, I’m very maternal. A lot of people say when they first meet me I come across shady and unapproachable, but when you get to know me I’m really soft – you can come to me for anything. If you have problems with your family, problems with your lover – my door is pretty much open all the time.
Some women have this awful stereotype the transgender women just want to “be them.” Being a biologically born woman what was your reaction when you were first around femme queens?
Jaimee: When I first came out I was actually in awe of everything -– it was a lot to take in. I had seen drag queens before but never transgender women. It was like a culture shock for me so the first year I just sat on the sidelines like, wow – then I got close to a lot of the femme queens. I was never shady and felt like they wanted to be like me -- actually I don’t get along with too many women so I gravitated more toward femme queens and I became close friends with a lot of femme queens.
You didn’t click with the lesbian community?
Jaimee: It was never that I didn’t click with the lesbian community it was just that I had more butch queen friends. I was closer to the butch queens; I hung out with the butch queens so I never really extended myself to the lesbian community. My mother calls me a “fag hag” – old school terminology. All my closest friends are butch queens and you’ll see me more at a butch queen club than a female club, you know it’s weird – but it’s the way it is.
Who do you look up to or admire in the scene?
Jaimee: There’s a lot … I guess different time periods I’ve looked up to different people. I defiantly looked up to my first mother, which is Alyssa. Also, Ayanna – she’s my gay mother now. Octavia, Carmen – a lot of the face femme queens that I’ve watched tapes and seen how far they’ve come and their transformation. I also look up to Elaina Jourdan who is the first woman to be legendary for women’s face.
Are there any females right now that you like for your category?
Jaimee: NO … No, with the exception of the girls in my house, I don’t see none of the women out right now. The only person who actually made my head spin was TK Prada at the POCC Ball and recently this Milan girl that just walked the Icon Ball, she won – she really made me know it. There’s another TK and I actually see her too – as far as other women I don’t really use … no. I hope that doesn’t seem shady.
Hey, you are keeping it real – that’s how you feel.
Jaimee: Yeah, but I try to keep it real without being shady. (laughs)
This might be a hard question but you’ve been in the scene for over ten years so I wanted to try this on you – the ballroom scene is so creative and I’ve seen some amazing things at balls. What’s one of the hottest productions you’ve ever seen at ball?
Jaimee: Wow … you put one on me there! (laughs) I know a lot of the Jourdans “runway as a house” really impressed me. It’s so funny because my friends and I just got finished watching the Legends Ball from ’97 where the Xtravaganzas came out of a shower for “face as a house” – that was hot. Another thing that has stuck in my head for a long time was when the girls had walked femme queen performance and they came down from the balcony – I think that was at the YMCA in Brooklyn.
What is life like for you outside of the scene?
Jaimee: I do graphic design, I also model – I do a lot commercial model work. Also, trying to break into acting as well.
How has the ballroom scene helped your professional career?
Jaimee: As far as modeling and acting it has given me a lot of confidence. A lot of people say they can’t believe I had low self-esteem, but I did. The ballroom scene boosted that up – especially when you start out your really have to make these people know it. You have to put yourself out there, you’re vulnerable – you’re going in front of these people who are judging you on how you look. That boosted my confidence.
What about the ballroom scene has changed now that it’s all over the internet and basically nationwide?
Jaimee: A lot has changed. It’s about politics and favoritism right now. I feel if you do not put yourself out there … I don’t want to say kiss people’s ass, but to a certain extent it’s like … you can’t win. A lot of houses lost their sense of family. The whole point to me when I came into the scene was this is supposed to be a second family. When you go through it with your own family this is supposed to be your comfort zone. People have lost that, people house hop too much and it’s just for the name – it’s not even for that sense of comfort … the battles too, people don’t walk like they used to. You’ll see a lot of the older girls out, but it’s nice once in awhile to see an older girl come out and walk to show these young kids what it’s really all about, or to make them want to come out stronger the next time. A lot of the older people they just come to the ball, they judge or they just stand around and read the girls – and it’s like, okay get out there, walk and show some of these new kids that are coming out where you came from and what they can be.
You can also check out Mother Aga at http://myspace.com/jaimeepaige!
Posted by Clay ::
1:43 AM ::