My Biggest Career Mistakes, Part One (a 500-Part Series)


In 1990, a talented young filmmaker named Jennie Livingston approached me for support with her documentary-in-progress about the uptown voguing scene. She wanted to enlist my name for a committee of people supporting the film which would help raise money to complete it. In return, I’d be thanked in the credits and would know I had played a part in creating an exciting new work.

But when Livingston showed me some of the footage she’d shot, I was chokeholded by p.c. rage! One of the voguers had the nerve to say that by voguing he could pretend to be a REAL man, whereas as a regular gay, he couldn’t be that way. “This is an outrage!” I shrieked. “So these people think gays aren’t real men? I had no idea voguing was based on such deep-rooted self loathing! I want nothing to do with this or any other voguing project!” I was too caught up in the throes of ACT UP-era correctness to realize that the voguer was merely reflecting his own reality—that a poor Hispanic gay is not treated like a real man by society and therefore he has to immerse himself into a subculture that allows him to elevate his status through ritualized fantasy. The movie, of course, turned out to be Paris Is Burning—only one of the greatest documentaries ever made. Once I got a home-viewing copy, I watched it endlessly, learning all the lines (“You’re nothing but an overgrown orangutan”) and adoring all the characters as they rose out of oppression with such inspiring flair. But mind you, that clip was not included in the film…