Xyra Flores goes by her real name when she performs, putting her identity and fearlessness on full display. And that's exactly what she did on Saturday, March 30, at a drag show and fundraiser for Trans Queer Pueblo. The event took place on a simple wooden stage, lit with string lights, in the backyard of a house on Roosevelt Street that the group is currently in the process of buying.
“Drag started with trans women of color finding their identity, finding their niche, being able to perform femininity in a way that is both accepted and in which they can have fun,” Flores explained.
Flores walked around with confidence before the show started, greeting people and conversing with them as she carried around a puppet named El Viejo. She brought that same energy to the stage, along with a plate of food. As she performed to the song "El Colesterol" by Fito Olivares, she took bites from her plate, drawing cheers and tips from the engaged crowd that numbered around 40 people.
It was already dark by the time the drag queens performed and the night was a perfect spring temperature. The crowd enthusiastically watching the performances was mostly Latinx, but diverse in terms of age. The same could be said about the drag queens, with one young performer doing a piece to Britney Spears’ “Oops!...I Did It Again.”
The goal of the night was to raise money for Trans Queer Pueblo, which provides a multitude of services to the LGBT community, including building spaces for them to survive and thrive. The event was free, but organizers were asking for donations and selling drinks, food, and merchandise. In total, they ended up raising $800.
Flores is the coordinator of Trans Queer Pueblo's queer politics project, which collaborates with different organizations, creating connections with them and politicians. Their goal is to create discussions where they can all converse about the ways they are affected and create solutions.
As a Latinx person from a family of immigrants, she’s constantly aware of the intersections of violence she faces because of her identities.
“The number-one thing that I always think about is ‘Am I safe in this space?” she said. “What I really like about Trans Queer Pueblo is that I’m able to bring my full self into every space that I’m in and that they encourage me to actually not only be fully myself, but challenge systems, challenge the idea that I am complicated.”
Flores notes a lack of spaces for new drag queens to showcase their talent in this area and also a lack of queerness and Latinx culture in her city. She got involved with the organization because she found the queer, Latino, and political aspect that she really wanted to see.
“What we do here is we bring all those pieces together because we understand we are a powerful people, and as powerful people, we’re able to fundraise for ourselves,” she said.
The night allowed spaces for many different performers, from Vixen, a fan favorite because of her elaborate silver costume that included wings, to Christian Caliente, a drag king.
Dagoberto Bailon, an assistant with Trans Queer Pueblo, hopes the event provides not only entertainment but education because he believes people need to ground themselves in the culture of their ancestors and their Latinx cultures.
“We know that a lot of spaces that are created in art are not centered around the identities of people of color,” he explained. “[We] wanted to build a space that was theirs, that was autonomous and that they could shape,” he says regarding the artists.
Bailon believes that people who are at the intersection of different identities, like queer and Latinx or queer and undocumented, actually have unique thoughts and ideas on how to improve systems and how those systems can be changed.
“Because they’re generally in the back, they can see everything that is at the front and so they have a better perspective on what things are working and what things are not working,” he said. “We have the ability and the power to dream and to create different systems.”
Bailon pointed to what they’ve already been able to do with their resources: open up an LGBT clinic for undocumented and migrant people in Arizona.
“That’s what happens when you give people who are at the intersections of all of these things the ability to imagine and to dream,” he said. “Because that’s one of the things that was taken away when we were colonized.”
They choose to do drag performances at their events because it helps challenge systems and ideas of what a woman looks like and what a performance looks like.
“What we’ve noticed is for a lot of people, drag is the first time that they’re able to experience what it means to reject the binary,” he explained. “Some people who have not been able to have that opportunity, they actually discover that drag is a powerful tool.”
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He noted that there were many genders before colonization and that third and fourth genders still exist in communities around the world.
“A lot of the mainstream media tries to categorize them as trans women; however, they are not — they’re third gender,” Bailon said. “And I don’t think in Spanish or in English there is language to really understand the third gender.”
He hopes people left the event with a better understanding of his community and that people were able to come together to have a good time, celebrate, and support the work the LGBT community is doing.