CDFA: In Paris Is Burning, the seminal Jennie Livingston documentary, a voice is heard saying, “I remember my dad saying you have three strikes against you: being black, male, and gay.”
Cameo of the Ballroom Houses of Balenciaga and Kiki House of Juicy Couture has been motivated to stand with pride in his identities everyday. His journey from St. Louis, Illinois to New York City has challenged him to be appreciative of his present.
Cameo Balenciaga has embraced fashion to create a space where he feels safe among the unapologetically cool and wise Ballroom culture.
In 2018, Cameo made an appearance in the Pat McGrath Ball for New York Fashion Week. Since then, his dynamic impact on the crossover between fashion and ballroom culture has deemed him something of a legend in Ballroom culture.
From Monday to Friday, he works as a Digital Marketer at Initiative Media Company in New York City. Outside of this, Cameo makes impactful contributions in his community. On the weekend, he storms the runway in magnificent and fashionable creations that take us to a different world.
How are you giving back to your surrounding communities?
I volunteer for Ballroom We Care, a non-profit organization that provides resources for the LGBTQ youth in the scene. I host runway classes; I held a free runway class recently and rewarded the winner with $100. I am teaching upcoming individuals the fundamentals of runway in addition to providing advice to people around the world.
In The House of Balenciaga, I do a lot of talent development, ballroom management, and I also contribute funds to the house and individuals who are apart. Of course, working with people can be stressful as people come from different backgrounds but it is rewarding because it’s something that I’m passionate about. I am blessed in my personal life and I want other people apart from the Ballroom and LGBTQ community to have opportunities as well.”
There are many individuals who Black and queer men would say that they have to work 10 times as hard to be taken seriously. How true is that for you?
I feel like that with everything, your upbringing and association does matter. As a digital marketer, I came into a space as a Black and gay kid without any affiliation with anyone of the company. I had to figure out how I could be identified and stand out through my work. Oftentimes they look over people who look like me, so you have to go above and beyond.
In St. Louis, my mom raised us to go after what we want. She raised us to put in 110 percent. She raised us to leave an everlasting impression and I have learned that is how to get noticed. So I have applied these tools to every facet within my career and ballroom.
Society often attempts to fashion us in labels than we fashion ourselves. As a Kiki House of Juicy Couture ICON and Balenciaga Legend in Ballroom culture, how have you used fashion to also allow you to escape realities?
It has really afforded me a lot of great opportunities and allowed me to tell some amazing stories in the ballroom. When creating these ballroom effects, I use fashion as an entry point because it helps tell the story. It’s the make-up, the accessories, the shoes… fashion helps bring my ideas to life. Ballroom takes us from our everyday responsibilities to a utopia — a place of freedom and queerness. It’s powerful, when I’m on the floor I feel very liberated and powerful like the head person in charge.
How are you standing with pride for each of your societal identities everyday?
I think it is about being unapologetically myself in every room, being aware of my surroundings, and not being tone death. The company I work for creates a safe space and they encourage you to be your authentic self at work. They believe it helps them thrive in the workplace, I can wear a skirt and not be judged. I am confident in myself in general.
I do not wake up ever day to go to work and announce that I am a Black and gay man. My mother and family have always been supportive of me, always. They believe in me. Their confidence made me feel invincible.
I was raised around a bunch of girls. They would do all the “girl dances” such as the tootsie roll, the splits, the popping, the gigolo. I would ask my mom if I could do the dances and she just would say “go dance, do what you want.” Even though I was so young, I could feel everybody judging her for letting me do that. But on the other hand, I felt like I was able to be myself. My mom didn’t care that I was dancing, she just wanted me to be happy.
In what ways does fashion in your imaginations allow you to stand in who you are even outside of Ballroom culture?
For me, I wear fashion to be noticed and I do like attention. I know I can get certain attention from my fashions, it allows me to be an influence on people and network with people as well. I started connecting with my boss at work fashion, we complimented each other on our looks then we started talking every day. Expressing yourself creativity through fashion can have people open doors for you.