Izana Vidal, a trans activist and model who featured in Sara Jordeno's documentary ‘Kiki’, speaks to Manuela Leigh about her introduction to Kiki, the experience of working with Jordeno, and how the Kiki community acts as a platform to celebrate diversity and non-conformity.
From the early 90’s, drag ballroom has been a transformative art celebrated by LGBTQI communities in New York City. Today, the Kiki scene is a vibrant and safe place for LGBTQI youth to come together in celebration of ballroom culture.
Premiering at Sundance in 2016, Sara Jordeno’s documentary ‘Kiki’, in collaboration with ballroom dancer Twiggy Pucci Garçon, captures the world of ballroom competitions which currently serve as a platform to host conversations within the Black and Trans Lives Matter movements.
Trans activist and model Izana Vidal speaks to Manuela Leigh about the experience working with Jordeno & Garçon, her personal journey and introduction to Kiki, and how it has activated new ways to celebrate the LGBTQI community.
Tell me about your experience being part of ‘Kiki ‘the film.
The filming process took place over the course of my transition, life wise, but also my literal (gender) transition. Honestly, it’s been an amazing experience. Being a part of the film was a decision I made in terms of becoming open about my personal journey, in order to share details about my family and my experiences after deciding to transition. I feel that when it comes to stories, transparency is important and always helps those who are in relatable positions.
My intentions were to be open with who I am, and to outline my personal growth as a result of this experience, hoping others might find inspiration and be able to relate to my story. The feedback from the film was amazing and humbling, among other things such as being able to network with positive people.
How did you discover and join the Kiki community?
Actually, my first boyfriend invited me to a ‘house’ meeting, where I met my gay mother Chi Chi Mizrahi. He and I hit it off from that point on. We were both from the same neighbourhood, and after bonding, he introduced me to ballroom and the Kikicommunity which I gradually became a part of.
One of the ballroom competition categories is ‘Fem Queen Face’, can you tell me more about this category and it’s important within the transgender community?
‘Fem Queen Face’ has a lot of history, and it’s been a popular category within ballroom for ages.
It’s a beauty category, so the criteria is centred on being able to ‘sell’ their faces to the judges panel. Those who walk have to be breathtakingly beautiful, have nice teeth, and so on. The category aims to celebrate the beauty of trans women.
"KIKI OFFERS UNDERPRIVILEGED LGBTQI YOUTH A PLACE TO FEEL WELCOME IN A WORLD WHERE ANYTHING THAT DOESN'T CONFORM TO A NOTION OF NORMAL IS OSTRACISED."
Voguing seems to be experiencing a resurgence in mainstream culture, do you feel that this is effectively creating a distance from it’s political origin?
Although I feel that education about the history of voguing is important, as it is introduced more and more into mainstream culture, you still can’t take away it’s roots which lie in ballroom.
What are some of the misconceptions people have about the Kiki community?
The ballroom and Kiki community is without a doubt an artistic outlet for many talented individuals. However, some think it’s only about voguing and wearing costumes. Many don’t understand that there are so many families that develop within the community, and that it offers underprivileged LGBTQI youth a place to feel welcome and to be themselves in a world where pretty much anything that doesn’t conform to a notion of ‘normal’ is ostracised.
Has the film had an impact on the Kiki scene? Good or bad. And how has it changed you?
It is always impactful when the Kiki scene experiences more exposure. I think the film has also hit home for many within. It’s like every character represents a wider group of individuals who go through similar obstacles and life stories. Our stories are more visible now.
What’s next for you?
At the moment, I’m working on my modelling portfolio. It’s my dream to be a model. Otherwise, I’m focused on college, and the pursuit of my goals to continue growing and branching out. Acting and modelling are my main interests.
Interview by Manuela Leigh
Photography Christelle de Castro
Styling Danasia Sutton
Production Manuela Leigh