Every time I start Renaissance, I’m transfixed to a higher vibration. Even while writing this article, I’m enveloped in a velvety reverie as I pour admiration and awe into this piece. The following is not merely an article or report but a love letter to those who have made a love letter to queer and trans people of color.
Beyoncé weaves magic in her latest album, an oeuvre that becomes a haven of expression, and reflection for a collective experience often pushed to the periphery. As a Black trans woman who has defied the unspoken yet glaring odds in a nation that sometimes seems to contest her very existence, I find refuge, euphoria, and empowerment in the sheer artistry of her latest creation. (Yes, this album was on repeat for several weeks after it dropped.)
From creating ballroom culture to setting the blueprint for contemporary cultural aesthetics, queer and trans people of color have not only shown up but have shown out -- especially throughout the Renaissance World Tour -- radiating brilliance in abundance. In a world that sometimes endeavors to dim the light of our existence, Beyoncé’s album reflects the profound depth and beauty of the vibrant mosaic that form the essence of our shared experience.
Kevin Aviance Shares His Reaction To Beyoncé Sampling His Song Kevin Aviance
The echoes of Kevin Aviance, among other Black queer and trans artists, resonate profoundly through this album. This innate synergy serves as a continuum of celebration that has provided the fertile ground for queer and trans people of color to flourish and be revered and celebrated.
Though I’ve been familiar with Aviance and ballroom since the days my late aunt walked the ballroom scene in the early 2000s, a new generation adulates the icon with a career spanning over three decades. Christened into the legendary House of Aviance in 1989, Kevin’s start in a safe space for queer people of color later birthed a career that has taken him around the globe and rubbing shoulders with celebrities.
After his hit song, “Cunty,” was sampled on Beyoncé’s album - a brief yet impactful homage to those who serve the fiercest looks and faces in ballroom - the glamorous Kevin Aviance took it on the road with the CVNTY Ball Tour earlier this summer: a trailblazing supplement to the U.S. leg of Beyoncé’s worldwide tour.
A figure who embodies the potent fusion of talent, flamboyance, and unabashed authenticity, Kevin crafted CVNTY Ball Tour as an expression of queer and trans joy. Starting in Seattle, the tour ended in Dallas - where I, not so coincidentally, found myself this past weekend. Not for Beyoncé (apologies) or Kevin (apologies again!), but for Unleashed LGBTQ+ -- billed as the “gay SXSW” and featuring prominent LGBTQ+ individuals from across entertainment, business, politics, healthcare, and other fields.
Also, there was Zayn Aguilar, the Latinx queer prodigy and founder of Crystal Queer Riots, the producer of Aviance’s finale show. On my second day there, between panel sessions and before Aguilar’s anticipated event, we secluded ourselves at Gloria’s for some distinct Latin cuisine and to talk, toast, and have a little kiki. Coincidentally, this restaurant was where Zayn would get his first taste of producing events. Growing up in a Jehovah's Witness family, Aguilar found community through music and dancing.
“A misconception that a lot of people have about Jehovah's Witnesses are [sic] that they’re kind of dry and bland, because they don't celebrate birthdays like Christmas or whatever,” Aguilar said while sipping on his drink. “But they celebrate just about everything else they can. So weddings are big; graduations are like huge parties.”
Moving from the East Coast to Texas in the '80s, his family would help put together parties for the majority Mexican community where people laughed, cheered, and danced. Zayn, originally tasked with a minor part in these events, eventually grew to take on the lead as coordinator and director of these community events at one of the restaurant’s locations in Dallas. And the rest, well, is history. We were still chatting and enjoying chips, queso, and the Swirl Margarita when I asked Zayn about the impact of Beyoncé and Kevin on his life.
“Beyoncé is mother. Kevin is mother. It's incredibly hard to find someone who hasn't heard or known or seen Beyoncé. But Kevin, to me, is someone that I can easily see the footprint or the thumbprint of in every single queer person," Aguilar said. "And that's what makes Kevin so amazing, because we're all, we all carry Kevin in us.”
Our main course was arriving — carne asada, with an extra Swirl — when Zayn honed in on the role Crystal Queer Riots play in allowing the Aviance in all of us to play out authentically at these events. But I was quickly corrected when I used the term "safe space."
"These are ‘brave’ spaces for people to let go in here in order to thrive out there. They give us strength to be ourselves in the real world," Aguilar said. Our meal was ending when we touched on the cultural impact of the Renaissance World Tour; Aguilar was one of thousands to attend the Dallas stop.
“The Renaissance tour is something that we're going to be talking about for a very, very, very long time," he said. "People left empowered. And they left feeling pride about being unique. You know, about being alien little superstars.”
The next evening, I walked into the highly-anticipated Aguilar x Aviance show at the rooftop of Canvas Hotel. Zayn said the Dallas sunset was breathtaking; he told no lie. Getting myself situated in the cabana, watching dancers of all shapes, colors, and identities dance and congregate from the infinity pool to the indoor bar and the DJ booth, I saw what Zayn meant in creating a brave space.
As storm clouds gathered above us and slowly lit up the sky, I witnessed fears, worries, and anxieties give way to the sensations of joy, hope, and freedom. Watching Aviance hold court from the DJ booth, with the attendees moving with every beat, Aguilar has created a space of reverence. An oasis, a sanctuary, where we are not merely spectators but the creators of a vibrant, pulsating narrative that shapes, defines and elevates culture to celestial heights.
As I danced in the warm embrace of the Dallas evening I also reflected on the cultural journey of the past year, a moment unlike any other I’ve seen before. Sure, the ballroom scene has provided a space of expression for queer and trans people of color, but only within the confines of a temporary event space. And, yes, shows like Orange Is the New Black and Pose have brought the joy, pains, and angst of Black trans and queer lives to the screen for viewers to understand our trials and tribulations. However, these narratives were made for viewers outside of the experience rather than within.
Renaissance is for us. A celebration of us -- yesterday, today, and tomorrow. A global showcase of proud queer and trans people of color who, through the ages, have long exhibited bravery as we navigate a world that often wants us to remain unseen and unheard. Renaissance is the soundtrack of the QTPOC experience.
To Beyoncé, to Kevin, to Zayn, and to the vibrant tapestry and diversity of my queer and trans siblings of color who overcame the unthinkable and dreamed the impossible, I send you all my love and thanks. May we continue to create works highlighting our past, illuminating our present, and enlightening our future with the radiant hues of love, joy, and boundless creativity.