I don’t think I’m breaking any news by saying this, but some of you might have had your heads in the sand when it got announced last summer, and some of you probably haven’t even started the show yet. (You should definitely fix that…like, ASAP. Get the HBO subscription EXPEDITIOUSLY!)
Legendary is coming back for a third season!
And it’s coming back at a perfect time, because I’ve been missing it. Ballroom has a spirit that’s so unlike anything else in this universe. And being a judge on the show has meant that I’ve gotten to spend all of this time witnessing these artists work, and grow, and cry, and laugh, and really showcase their talent on a global stage where everyone can appreciate their craft. And they get to do that in a space that was made for them to thrive in. We don’t have many of those in this world.
Anyone who watched the finale of season two knows what I’m talking about. How could you see something like that and not fall in love? How could you witness all of the magic in that moment and not feel transformed by it?
I’ve been going to the balls for as long as I can remember, since way before I was working in fashion. Chicago has this really beautiful, thriving underground ballroom scene, and I would go to the balls with a friend of mine and just be completely blown away. These were Black and brown queer kids from working class neighborhoods, just like me. And here they were on these stages, wearing crazy outfits that they borrowed, or stole, or made themselves from scratch. And they were COMMANDING the room! They could do so much with so little.
It was love at first sight for me, and you don’t feel that often in this life. We would go all the way to Atlanta or New York City just to see a ball, to be a part of it. I wasn’t courageous enough back then to put myself on a stage to be judged and critiqued and picked apart. But I would go, and I saw those critiques made people better. I saw how someone could get chopped one week, then come back the next and really kill it, and it would be like the underdog of all underdogs just proved themselves to everyone. There’s so much beauty in that kind of tenacity and resilience. Everyone felt it.
That friend I used to go to the balls with walked them for 20 years, and I watched her grow as she performed. I didn’t know back then that Ayanna Balenciaga would become the legend she is today. But she was always so kind and gentle. And the true generosity of her spirit is really in her effort to bring me into this world that she knew I could take refuge in. She showed me all of these possibilities, and I’m forever thankful to her for that.
That’s why it’s always so funny for me to hear people talk about my persona on the show, when they think that I’m too harsh, or too mean. I see the contestants on the show as being like my children. And what everyone doesn’t always understand is that in ballroom we have a culture of honesty, where critiques aren’t malicious. It’s rough love.
I grew up as the eldest child of five kids in a rough neighborhood. I took care of my siblings for a long time. I grew up around drug dealers and pimps. So it’s in my DNA to be nurturing, but also to keep it real and to never mince words. You don’t have to agree with me. I’m aware of how it comes across! But you have to understand that ballroom is an artform. It’s not just some side hobby! It’s a lifestyle.
For a lot of people, it’s everything. And on Legendary, there’s $100,000 on the line. What can you do except take it seriously?
So much of who I am is indebted to ballroom culture, so it’s been hard to watch the fashion industry steal so much from the community without giving it any credit at all. It happens all of the time. But my hope has always been that I could use my profile to help highlight the beauty of a community I’ve had a love affair with for decades. And I’m so grateful that I get another season to share that with you. Because this world has been underground for so long now that it’s become easy to take from. I just hope the show helps the culture to finally get its due.
Back in September, the House of Lanvin did a whole partnership with the actual brand Lanvin, and my heart swelled. They competed on the first season of the show and came second. And they might not have won, but the world got to see everything they offer, and that’s what really mattered.
All it took was an opportunity.
Until next time,