What's Up People -
I had to skip my monthly ballroom features for December and January because of the Dreamgirls. However, it has been worth the wait to bring you an interview with the legendary Ayana Khan. This interview will also be printed in the February issue of Clik Magazine, which also includes my interview with Maurice Jamal, writer and director of the upcoming film Dirty Laundry.
Over ten years ago ballroom legend, Ayana Khan, entered the ballroom scene originally as a member of the House of Allure. In 1996 she was one of the first femme queens to join the House of Khan, ushering other female figures to the house and would eventually become Mother in 1999. Ayana’s reign in the ballroom scene was before balls expanded to nearly every major city, before ball clips could be viewed on Youtube.com, or before balls were available on DVD. In order to become a star, statement and then a legend, one had to prove themselves to the iconic divas before them. Snatching grand prizes and being one of the main faces to put the Washington D.C. ballroom scene on the map would label Ayana as a legend. In addition, Ayana’s success has transcended ballroom, she is a registered oncology nurse, has a Bachelor’s degree and is in her first year of Graduate school at the University of Maryland.
On February 17th Mother Ayana Khan is paying unprecedented homage to the femme queens of the ballroom scene in her highly anticipated F.A.C.E. The Facts I Am Legend Ball. Ayana states, “A tremendous effort has been put forth to bring you this night of passion, glamour, and prestige. Please join me in honoring the women of our community. The women who have made the ballroom scene what it is today… the Female Figures.” In a candid interview Ayana Khan discusses her journey as a transgender woman, politics of the ballroom scene, transgender health, her upcoming ball and much more.
Clay: You are the mother of the House of Khan; explain what the role of a house mother means to you.
Ayana: Clay, actually, I’m really just now being able to understand with myself what the role of being a house mother is all about. When I took the position seven years ago I was still a baby, I was very young and my ballroom career was still primitive so I think my role back then was basically like a figurine type. Something similar to the Queen of England, she doesn’t really have power, but she is there. That’s what it was for me back then versus today…I feel that my role as a mother has turned more into mentoring and fostering a relationship with my house kids who are still connected with their families of origin, and some who aren’t. I think that my role as the mother has really just come about.
Clay: You’re a ballroom legend. Nearly every person I’ve interviewed have commented on how people in the scene are becoming legendary way too fast—how do you feel about that?
Ayana: Clay, do you really want me to go on that? [Laughs] Well, I have actually been around for a little awhile now and I personally felt in my own aspect it took me hard work and dedication to get out here and get what has been labeled as “legendary status.” When I first started it was identified as five or more years, nonstop, reigning on the scene and at this point in time that seems to no longer be the standard. There are some people out here who are being labeled as legends and they haven’t even been on the scene two years. I think there has been this new division, what has been labeled as "local legend." That means in your own town, in your own city, on the local ballroom circuit versus all over. When I imagined myself, or someone else, being a legend I envisioned everyone, no matter where you go and what corner of the country -- when you say this name, everybody knows. For some of these “new legends” that’s not the case. I, myself, don’t want to put any extra light, or shine, on my own name, but I still find it kind of flattering when you can have someone say your name, or speak your name, and everyone knows who you are talking about. It feels good, I think I’ve worked hard for that and I’ve earned it.
Clay: What do you think is missing from the ballroom scene now versus ten years ago?
Ayana: The female figure participation—it’s not what it used to be. That’s what my ball essentially is trying to do, take a flashback to those moments and those highlights. To that day and time when the whole ball was about the femme queens, the femme queen categories, which femme queens are going to be there, which femme queens were going to walk and looking beautiful, or “sitting”, as we say. On February 17th were paying special honor and tribute to those days. We have so many of the legendary femme queens who no longer participate because they’ve moved on and taken different directions in their lives, but we want to have everyone come out to return to those days because that’s what’s missing now. Everything is about the guys, or the gay males.
Clay: That really is true, when I used to go to balls heavily back in the mid ‘90’s it was really about the femme queens. Why do you think that happened--what was that transition about to where it went to the guys?
Ayana: Honestly, I think that any female figure, and this is true about a natural born woman, every woman wants to be adored. She wants attention; she needs to feel like there is this small sense of longing for her presence. You don’t get that anymore, I assume how you do that is the categories you have at your ball, the prizes and trophies that you give away at your ball. I, myself, have taken to having a grand prize that’s $2000 and something dollars for a category that is everything to everybody. Though it takes so much money to get prepared for this category you want to make them feel like they’re coming for a purpose, not just for the applause and adulation, but because they are going to get something out of it. That was really big for me when I was on the scene because it takes a pretty penny to get yourself together to walk a ball -- if you’re femme queen.
Clay: Where do you see the ballroom scene going ten years from now?
Ayana: I’m hoping that the ballroom scene really becomes more mainstream. I know there have been talks of doing balls on reality television. I'd honestly like to see that but I don’t think I’d be a part of the scene at that point in time. Though this is my outlet, I am into other things with my own personal life that the ballroom scene is a distraction at some points, not all, but at some points. I don’t have the time and commitment like I used to when I didn’t have a job and I didn’t go to school. Now that I have so many other things going on this has become a very minute portion of my life. It seems like I’m going to have to scale back even more.
Clay: Let's talk and little more about Ayana and your transgender female experience. What were those feelings like when you first started to realize you were female?
Ayana: It was definitely innate, just a natural sensation because nothing I did was masculine in nature. People around me picked up on that and no one can ever see, or tell, what they're doing, everyone has to tell you -- that's how you learn, from your environment. Everyone picked up on my female characteristics, my mannerisms, it was like, "You're a girl, and you act like a girl." Then you look essentially like a girl...when I actually took the time out to stop and look at myself —take myself out of the situation so I could look back at it... This was me, this was my life. Everything I did, I looked at my wardrobe, the things that I liked, the things that I didn’t like—it was just so woman-like that it was, what are you going to do, how are you going to be? If you choose to be something that society doesn’t necessarily condone, how are you going to be able to tackle that?
Clay: How did your family and your close friends react to transitioning to being a complete woman?
Ayana: Well, when I first got the courage to tell my mother that I wanted to have a sex change operation, my mother said, “Talk to God, ask God and when you ask Him, He'll give you the answer, He'll show you the answer.” And, I did just that. I said a prayer and maybe a month and a half later I had a girlfriend who had actually had the surgery the past summer. She just came out of the blue and we have never had a close relationship. She contacted me and started talking to me about the whole procedure and…I thought it was kind of odd. After I thought about it for a couple days I realized this was my sign, this was my answer that I had asked for. He had sent me this message, He sent me her because anyone who is a female figure always talks about wanting to be a full woman, and to go through with the complete transition, but it's just that—it's just talk till you start putting it into action and start taking actions to do things to have the surgery. I just thought when she called me that this was my cue that I was to go head and start seriously looking into doing it. Since that happened my parents have been full-steam ahead in supporting me. I had dinner with my whole family the week before I left…it was actually my dad's birthday and I had a very meaningful talk with my dad after dinner. He told me he was proud of me and supported me in anything that I did and that was enough for me to go. I came back as the new me and it has been a beautiful thing in terms of having my family and my close friends. Of course my friends were scared for me because with medical advances and technology they just weren’t sure if this was ideal, but I’m in the healthcare profession – I’m not going to let anybody do anything to me that I don’t see it as being thorough and fully developed. Also, they were afraid I was going to take this and I was going to leave and disappear with my new —it hasn’t been that. I’m actually more embedded in this thing that I’ve ever been and I’m sometimes afraid of myself because I’m like, am I too deep in this and did I do this to get out and to make a change? However, I feel good about my whole input into giving back to what so many people have given to me in my friends, my family and also in the ballroom scene because I’ve learned a lot…I’ve learned a whole lot.
Clay: Getting silicone injections and underground surgery is a big issue in the transgender community. Being that you're in the healthcare profession, how do you feel about that?
Ayana: Oh my Gosh… you're amazing, Clay! (laughs) Well, I get a lot of phone calls from a lot of people and a lot of people know that I’m a registered nurse. They call me and they tell me these stories about this big rampant wave of witch doctoring. I kind of feel like there's something I should do about it, but I’m not sure what I should do. Is this really of any of my concern, or am I truly the one who should be picking up this plight? There are numerous stories that I’ve heard about people having bad experiences with silicone injections, either the result, the aesthetic look of it, or quite a few deaths as well. I have spoken out at some transgender health groups in which I was very adamant about expressing my concern about transgender women allowing inexperienced, unlicensed people to perform these procedures. This is very dangerous to introduce foreign substances to your body; it’s such a big deal. People cannot imagine, having autoimmune response to these things. They can literally kill you, or just make you terribly sick that you feel like you want to die. Most of our community isn’t educated and not well informed. It's very hard to say to them, no you shouldn’t do this because look at me—I’ve had my own transformation performed. No, it has not been by a licensed professional because silicone injections in the United States are illegal, but it was performed by someone who is well experienced. You can tell that because I’m not having some of the poor results, or maybe it might just be luck. I’m not experiencing some of the results many of these transgender women are experiencing now. They're calling me; they're having difficulty with breathing if they've had their chest pumped. They’re having bruising and lumps in their hips if they've gotten their body done. You can’t help but to feel very sad for them, and knowing how mainstream healthcare view these women when they go to a doctor's office, or an emergency room, it's disparaging. I'm gong to do my doctoral dissertation on transgenders access to healthcare. When I have a problem, or trying to get someone to take care of me because I’m ill and then I go to the healthcare professionals, it is not necessarily addressed. My gender identity is a big hang up that kind of shadows everything in which I’m there for. In the aspect of this silicone, I definitely tell all of the young transgenders in my house—If I could do some things over that I did before some of the things, like the silicone injections, I would not have personally done myself. Everybody's always so concerned about how it's going to look now nobody's ever worried about what it's going to do. These younger kids they go out and they have these things done to them, they let people pierce them, they let people operate on them— do all of these things to them and no one's ever thinking about the long road, twenty years from now. God knows when I had it done I didn’t think about it. I'm thirty years old, I’ll be thirty one in February, and I know I didn’t even think that I would still be here for some odd reason. I just didn’t even have any outlook on the future. These things that I was doing to myself was when I was 19 years old—I never thought about what impact they would have when I got older. That wasn’t my concern, I wasn’t able to see that far, but now that I’m here I’m just thanking God that I’m here and I’m okay, and I didn’t do that much stuff to myself that I’m living to regret it now. Gosh...
Clay: Thank you for sharing that. I think it's really important to talk about this and a lot of young kids will read this.
Ayana: Clay, you wouldn’t believe these girls—they find my number, although I think I’m hiding in the cut somewhere, I’m not, I’m really not. These girls, they get my number and every time I get a phone call about something like this, it's all so unreal. It's always some new person trying to perform these procedures. This is weird, I know the human anatomy back and forth, but I would never even think to introduce silicone injections to someone because I know it's something that is not eventually going to be good. I’m an oncology nurse so I see this cancer everyday. Patients that I take care of that essentially live normally healthy lives—vegetarians, people that just take care of themselves, they look amazing and then they have this thing, this uncharted phenomenon that just comes and destroys everything from the inside out. Medical science has not gotten a handle on this, they say what you eat can cause cancer, what you do in your daily life; they say if you don’t exercise you can get cancer. So, that’s got to tell someone somewhere, knowing how cancer works, if you put something that does not belong in your body—cancer is only normal tissue turning into something bad. So, if you put something in addition to the natural risk of cancer that has got to make you shudder. Like I said, if I knew then what I know now I would not even have thought twice.
Clay: So many people are shocked when they hear about transgenders in college. How was your experience in college and being transgender?
Ayana: Well, my first year of college I really don’t think I had my mind made up about what I was going to do with my gender identity. I think I was pretty late compared to some of these young kids who are getting started today. I mean they’re 16 and 17, they’re in high school, or either high school drop outs. I had finished high school by the time I had fully made my transition. When I was in high school I did go to school in women's clothing, in drag as they say, maybe two or three days a week, but that was not really a full transgender transition in my eyes. I still had my birth name and everyone still knew me by my birth name and I was identified in the male gender. I actually did my first year of college and then I just stopped. I gave that a rest, I put it on the back burner then I worked on getting me together. I took my time to formulate myself into the person I am now. So, it's a self determination thing with education and your pursuit of goals because when I was maybe 19 or 20, there weren’t very many places that were amiable to having transgenders in their work environment.
Clay: Your ball is the same day as the Karan Ball in Philadelphia; well, the Karan Ball is during the day, are you concerned about pulling the Philly and New York crowd?
Ayana: You did your research! (laughs) Well, Clay - I will say this... I have been talking about this ball since the summer. I had my noticed posted on essentially the biggest outlet for the ballroom scene, which is http://www.walk4mewednesdays.net/—I had my ball posted on their events calendar since August of 2006. There are actually two or three other balls that have since made their way on February 17th. Though I would think most people would be worried having another ball on the same day as theirs -- I'm not. I think those who are close associates and friends of mine that I have come to be close with over the last ten years—we have such good rapport that those who know me, or who have heard about me would essentially just want to come and support. Not just because I'm me, but what we're coming to do. We're coming together to pay tribute to some of the most interesting, the most beautiful, the most talented figures on the ballroom scene and that's the female figures. I know everyone has their own favorite female figure and we have set out to pull in the female figures. I’ve been mainly pulling on the female figures; I’ve made personal phone calls and emails to female figures. I’ve haven’t even begun to solicit the participation of the general audience and that's because my concern is getting the ladies there. If the ladies are there I would just be satisfied. Everybody else, if my friends are there, my loved ones, and I have so many close relationships with so many people in the ballroom scene, even if they’re just there that would be enough. I wouldn’t even think about letting a low turn out ruin this night that I set out to do. I’ve personally worked very hard on this Clay, and so it definitely means a lot to me.
Clay: If you weren’t in the House of Khan what house would you be in?
Ayana: I couldn’t see myself being in any other house other than the house in which I am. Why? Clay, the House of Khan is my family. They are my family, my friends that I’ve grown up with and I’ve come out with. I was telling you in the beginning that I started out in another house. I started out in a house in which there were more femme queens because I didn’t want to be the only one. I needed someone to teach me the ropes, to put me in the right track, in the right direction and show me all that needed to be shown. All of my true friends were in a house in which I wanted to be, but I wasn’t going to get nurtured like I needed. I had to make a decision on what I was going to do. Yeah, I caught a lot of flack from that but it was a very intricate decision to just make me into me, by being connected to someone who knew the ropes. If I didn’t have a female figure mentor how was I going to do it? There were none in my house; I'm essentially the first female figure in the House of Khan. When I did come over it was me and my best friend and that's how we got more female figures. No, I really couldn’t see myself being in any other house, but the House of Khan.
Clay: When I interviewed Jazmine Blahnik she said, “As many trophies as I’ve won, I feel like I can still get spooked.” Although you are "real as rain" as they say—do you ever worry about getting clocked, does that even cross your mind anymore?
Ayana: Yes and no. In a personal aspect I worry about it, on a dating aspect with a male suitor, yes. Professionally, no—ask me how backwards that is and I know it is! But, I am so confident and so secure in who I am that I’ve laid all of the foundation building my self-esteem to a point where in my professional life I can never worry about anybody judging me for who I am. At the end of the day I have a professional duty, a license backing me up with education backing me up to say that no matter what you think of me— there is nothing you can take away from who I am professionally because I am transgender. On a personal level, who wants to deal with all the negative of being outed by a guy? It seems sort of shallow to me, but like I said, I’d be more worried about being spooked on a personal level than on a professional level. It's like, you are who you are, the person is trying to get to know what they ultimately think is a natural born female, which I’m not. I think on a professional level that really doesn’t have anything to do with it. At the end of day I’m a person there to perform my roles and responsibilities; I don’t see that at all being jaded by my gender identity.
Clay: What else should we know about the F.A.C.E. The Facts I Am Legend Ball?
Ayana: This is my very first ball that I’ve thrown with my name on it…with my hard work, my sweat, and even my tears. Believe me because I didn’t realize that giving a ball was so hard in terms of putting my own money out there, my hard earned money because there's nobody here helping me with this. I work 36 hard hours a week and I’m putting my own funds into this. To be able to do this and to have it come out the way I want to would essentially be the best reward. I just encourage everyone to come out and enjoy this night with us as we come to commemorate, like I’ve always known, the most influential part of the ballroom scene, what makes the ballroom scene…and that's the ladies.
If you have never been to a ball now is the time to experience the drama, glamour and creativity!
F.A.C.E. The Facts I Am Legend Ball
Knights of Columbus Bryne Manor 1501 Southern Avenue Oxon Hill, MD 20745
Saturday, February 17, 2007
Doors Open @ 10:00 p.m.
Stars , Statements and Legends promptly at midnight
$20.00 before Midnight
$30.00 after Midnight
Table Reservation: $125.00 in advance
Mother Juboo Khan (DC) 202-832-0079
Father Harold Balenciaga 301-379-2291
Grandmother Steve Khan (DC) 240-398-6363 for Table Reservations
Labels: Ballroom, Transgender