Paris is Burning star Carmen Xtravaganza dies aged 62: ‘Undeniable icon’

Carmen Xtravaganza (right) at a drag ball in 1988 in Harlem, New York City, New York.

Paris is Burning star and “undeniable icon” Carmen Xtravaganza has died aged 62 after a battle with lung cancer. 

The Ballroom Hall of Fame member, who was born on 9 April, 1961, in Spain, was a model, ballroom icon and singer. She is best-known for starring in the 1990 documentary Paris is Burning alongside her house sister, Brooke Xtravaganza. 

Filmed over seven years, Paris is Burning follows the queer men and trans women of colour who illuminated the ballroom scene with shade, fashion and fierce voguing.

It also features hard-hitting interviews and touches on the violence faced by trans women of colour, an epidemic which continues to this day. One of its stars, Venus Xtravaganza, was killed during the film’s production, and her murder remains unsolved.

‘Except that voice is still there’

In Paris Is Burning, Brooke and Carmen are seen chatting about their transitions while on the beach. Brooke talks openly about the operations she’s undergone and laughs, before she confirms she feels happy in her identity. 

Carmen interjects and says “except that voice is still there” – the pair are later seen singing Gloria Gaynor’s “I Am What I Am,” in a show of trans resistance and sisterhood. 

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In 2013, in an interview with the TransGriot blog, Carmen said she knew she was trans around the age of five. 

“As far back as I can remember my dad always knew from when I was a small child I was always effeminate. 

“[My dad] explained it to me much later after I had already transitioned.”

It is thought that Carmen began hormones at the age of 16 in Washington DC during her stay at a runaway house after she ran away from home. At the age of 18, she is thought to have undergone gender-affirming surgery, according to an interview she did in 2006’s ballroom documentary How Do I Look. 

‘Undeniable icon’

The House of Xtravaganza honoured Carmen on social media, remembering her as one of its “impossible beauties” and an “undeniable icon”. 

Giving a rundown of Carmen’s life highlights – including gracing the cover of Village Voice and her appearance in Paris Is Burning – the House’s Instagram post extended deepest condolences “to all who love her”. 

In reference to her famous quote in the documentary, the post continued: “‘That voice is still there’ takes on new meaning, serving as a reminder that Carmen’s spirit will live on through the love and memories she left behind.

“Rest in power, dear Carmen. You will be missed, but your spirit will continue to inspire.” 

In 2022, Mink Xtravaganza started a GoFundMe in a bid to help Carmen through her chemotherapy treatment. The fundraiser managed to raise $6,000. 

On 3 July, Carmen explained on Facebook that the cancer had reached stage four and spread to her bones. She wrote: “My message is my departure coming soon as I was noticed by my oncology [doctor].

“The chemotherapy I was taking has not worked. My message is enjoy life. Love family, be forgiven, humble, and love god over all things.

“I want to thank you all for being part of my journey in life. Carmen Xtravaganza.”

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