Legendary ballroom and “Paris is Burning” star Carmen Xtravaganza died at age 62, the House of Xtravaganza announced on Instagram on Aug. 5.
Xtravaganza was born in Spain in 1961 to a Spanish mother and American father and subsequently moved to the United States. At the age of 16, while living in Washington DC, she was able to start her gender-affirming care and underwent surgery at 18.
“As far back as I can remember, my dad always knew from when I was a small child I was always effeminate,” she told TransGriot in an interview in 2013. “[My dad] explained it to me much later after I had already transitioned.”
Carmen emerged as a House Mother, and in 1999, she was honored with a place in the Ballroom Hall of Fame. Through the ’80s, she was a notable runway model, and she made the cover of Village Voice for a 1988 article written by Donald Suggs titled “Venus Envy: The Drag Balls of Harlem.”
“This moment was pivotal as the House Ballroom scene began gaining mainstream attention,” the House of Xtravaganza said on Instagram. “Her contribution to the community and artistry will forever be remembered.”
Through all of her artistry, Carmen Xtravaganza is perhaps best known for her role in “Paris is Burning,” a documentary that spanned over seven years, following queer men, trans women of color, and other LGBTQ individuals in the ballroom scene, fashion, and modeling. The documentary approaches topics of violence against trans women of color, relevant then and now. During the filming, Venus Xtravaganza, one of Carmen’s House sisters, was murdered, and the crime remains unsolved even today.
In a particular scene from the film, Carmen is shown with another House sister, Brooke Xtravaganza, on the beach. Brooke is detailing the surgeries she had for her transition and expressed her contentedness in her identity, saying how she was as “free as the wind that is blowing out on this beach.” Carmen is recorded saying, “except that voice is still there.”
That House of Xtravaganza invoked that quote in the Instagram tribute.
“Today, we extend our deepest condolences to all who loved her, the House of Xtravaganza wrote on Instagram. “As we hold her memory close to our hearts, her famous quote, ‘… but that voice is still there,’ takes on new meaning, serving as a reminder that Carmen’s spirit will live on through the love and memories she left behind. Rest in power, dear Carmen. You will be missed, but your spirit will continue to inspire.”