Gia Love on KIKI The Movie
Last week I interviewed Gia Love, a New York based trans activist and actress in the highly reviewed Kiki the Movie (check out the trailer here). The film discusses the intersectional nature of queer identity, race, gender and the HIV/AIDS epidemic through the lens of the KIKI ballroom scene. Keep reading to hear Gia's perspective on the impact of the film and the need that it fills within the LGBTQ community.
Can you tell us more about the documentary?
Kiki is a documentary that covers the story of the Kiki ballroom scene. It highlights a handful of people in the Kiki scene and it tells their stories. I think it tells a human story. Yes, there is this community, this underground, subculture community that people who have been ostracized and pushed to the side of society go to to perform and to be socially accepted. However, there are issues that these people go through; issues that we need to address. My storyline is about my transition and me coming into my true self as well as different obstacles that I faced during that process; from trying to build relationships with my friends and family, trying to self-discover who I am, cause it's a journey. The way I felt about myself two years ago is different from the way I feel about myself now.
Sometimes people have issues with cross-applying narratives. Like when someone says "I'm transgender" and it's a very specific and unique experience but I challenge people to that ideology because I feel like everyone has a "gender transition;" like when you're a little boy and you grow up to be a man, it's a gender transition. You're going through the gender spectrum and figuring out who you are and what a "man" means to you. But, that's a normative, or more like "cis" way of viewing the gender transition. And a lot of times people get wielded out by like someone who is trans and our stories they think we are so different but if you just look at yourself, look at the experience you had to go through to get to who you are today and empathize with that.
My next question was how did you get involved in Kiki and you actually answered my question.
"Well, there's a little more background. When I was in high school I used to do policy debate, and when I would debate it was a very– I debated for an urban league so a lot of my friends from the urban league were people of color. But when we used to go outside of the urban league it was all white men for the most part– white young men and white young women– but mostly men. It was a very elitist sport– intellectual sport. There was a time when I kind of got sick of it because I felt like we were trying and we were arguing but we were feeling the “weight of the world in debate,” haha. So I was like "I need friends" so I started hanging out with this girl at my school, she's a trans woman today, so I started to hang out with her and we were trying to just figure out who we were gonna be. Are we gonna be happy? Then we found out about Kiki balls and so we decided to hold each other's hand and go to one and perform. So me having the courage to do that was kind of a response to the ideas I was having in debate and feeling oppressed. Once I started to get involved in ballroom, I stepped away from debate. Debate taught me a lot of great tools, like how to advocate and how to argue in a strategic way and how to get your point across, but I wanted to perform and I wanted to read. And the thing about the kiki ball scene, the performance is very specific to gender expression, being who you want to be, and not even being who you want to, being who you may NOT want to be, just performing and being a character and just being okay. I'm very open minded to experiences like that so it was very attractive for me."
For our readers, who might not be aware, what is a Kiki exactly? What happens and what goes on there?
"So the Kiki community is a community of individuals who come together – maybe spectators or maybe participants- in the community of the Kiki ball. The Kiki ball is an event. There are other events that take place in the community but the Kiki ball is the center of the community and the ball is a competition that has categories- vogueing, runway, face, fashion- where you're given a description before the ball and you have to bring it. You have to come as what they ask you to bring it as to that performance. It's your interpretation. It just a competition and basically those are the events. The Kiki community is made up of individuals, they don't have to be part of houses but most people are part of houses, and these houses are organized families that compete against each other at the balls. When people think of a house they think of a physical house, and that can be true for some like some house parents may have their headquarters at a house, but that’s not really typical. Usually people meet and practice at community spaces but it's figurative, it's a metaphorical house, it's like all the issues that go on with a family. You have mothers and fathers, you have children, they have issues. But at the end of the day, you're raising your child to be the best possible. In the ballroom you're raising this "kid" to compete and be the best ballroom competitor as possible. And you're competing yourself."
How did the word Kiki come about? I know on this coast we've heard of balls" before but I've never heard the word "Kiki.”
"A Kiki is like a good time or something that's funny. That's what a Kiki is. It’s part of the urban gay slang that we use. ‘Cause a lot of the times the white gay kids, they will use the term but it will mean something different. But in the urban gay and trans community, will use terms could mean different things depending on context. Let's go Kiki! - that's like let's go have a good time. Or if you say to someone- ‘You're having a Kiki’ – that’s like you're funny. Or like "That was a Kiki." A Kiki ball and a ball is like the same thing but a kiki ball is like a youth-driven event and a ball a mainstream ball is open for everyone. So like the houses that you see in Paris is Burning` are houses of the mainstream ballroom. Then you have the Kiki ballroom. The Kiki ballroom was created as a response to the growing infections in the 13-24 age range and a lot of organizations were giving funding to do work with that population so they created these Kiki ballroom spaces to like teach and spread prevention messages and it kind of got little "mainstream" if you will, like bigger and a lot of participation and extreme creativity. They started out as something that was fun - like really fun - but even though Kiki's are fun they can be very competitive as well."
What do you believe to be the main message of the film? and what do you want the viewer to walk away with?
"The main message for me is a message of healing. I feel that with the Kiki movie, there's a lot of perceptions of the ballroom community and what it is. A lot of those perceptions and representations of the ballroom community have plagued the community; there's a light shed on the community as these like hopeless, struggling individuals. I feel like our film tells a different story, you know people who have issues, but who are fighting actively in this world to heal and be the greatest person they can be. It tells a political story of ballroom and the erasure of that history from the world, and it tells how being a part of that community is like an act of activism for people, in it's historical roots of not being accepted in pageants that were ran by white gay people and people deciding that 'we're gonna create our own’ and the creation of this thriving art community of performance and continuing that legacy. It's very political and its story should be told and read, widely and massively. The reason why I specifically say healing is the message is because when I saw Paris is burning it was like a light for me- you know there are people like me out there! You know what I mean? But when you see the "Kiki" you see there are people like me out there you may not be able to touch them but they're there. And all that can be powerful, I can speak out, I can do something. I can be an agent of change by just being."
We’ll be screening KIKI the movie at our upcoming Aids Advocacy Night on November 30th at UC Riverside. Gia will be hosting a Q&A section after the film to answer your questions. To register for Aids Advocacy Night, please click here.