The South's Ballroom Subculture Is Here, And It's Thriving

Photo via Red Bull Content Pool

"Atlanta needs something like this"

Identity repression is a fickle thing. I've always been gay, but it took until I moved to New York City—and away from the conservative culture in my hometown of Birmingham, Alabama—for me to accept that fact about myself. It had always been true, but I'd been unwilling and even afraid to believe it when I lived in the South; maybe because I am innately scared of judgment, regardless of the come-what-may attitude I like to think I have.

And, even now, there are ways in which I'm still afraid to talk about being gay when I go back home, so fearful am I of being judged, and of not being accepted.

Which is why I felt equal parts enthralled and nervous to attend Atlanta Is Burning over the weekend, an event hosted in Atlanta by Red Bull, which celebrated the ballroom scene in what is arguably the South's best city (sorry to my hometown). If you've seen Paris Is Burning, you'll know that New York City has long had a thriving ballroom scene, a subculture that has been historically inclusive and celebratory of gender nonconformity. But what you may not know is that a similar scene has existed in the South—specifically in Atlanta—for almost three decades. Leonce Nelson, the music producer and DJ who helped plan the event, noted that the scene in Atlanta is "definitely one of the strongest, if not the strongest ballroom scene in the South."

Photo via Red Bull Content Pool

I'd assumed, naively, that since I had not found or even known about a queer subculture in my hometown, that it just did not exist in the South—at least not to the degree I knew it did elsewhere. But, though I was wrong, what is true is that these subcultures are not as celebrated or as well documented as the ones in other places. Brooklyn-based rapper Cakes da Killa echoed this, saying, "When you go outside of L.A. and New York, there's not a lot of queer visibility—not a lot of gay or trans visibility." This doesn't mean that performers or queer individuals in the South hide their identities or their sexualities, though. What I found so interesting about the ballroom scene in Atlanta is that it's so out-there, so in-your-face—so gay—that it gives the concept of pride a whole new meaning.

The idea of being so outwardly gay in a place where you might get assaulted (verbally or physically) speaks to another level of bravery to me, but it's actually commonplace for many who participate in the scene. Surprisingly, to me, "the South is a lot gayer than people think it is," according to Nelson. Also, as Atlanta-based singer and DJ Divoli S'Vere says, Atlanta differs from the rest of the South—especially the more rural areas—because "there's always something going on in Atlanta," particularly when it comes to ballroom. But still, Nelson says, "Even though the ballroom scene has been so active in the South, it's also very underground still." Think of it as a self-preserving force within the community.

Photo via Red Bull Content Pool

Vjuan Allure, a DJ, producer, and founder of the House of Allure, got his start in New York's ballroom scene, and said that while in the North, ballroom performers "were more out with their femininity and they were walking around in heels," in the South, the culture is "not more reserved, but just a different scene," which could definitely be a repercussion of the still-prominent prejudices that many Southerners possess. Atlanta Is Burning, he said, is meant to "[highlight] that there is that scene, and you can find things to do if you're into the underground culture." And it's clear that there's a demand for it: I was shocked and relieved to see hundreds of queer people—queer, Southern people (my people!)—show up for the event.

Thankfully for everyone, the performers that participate in ballroom and voguing contests in Atlanta don't share my aversion to being out in the South, even in a place where many people may not accept you. S'Vere, who hails from New York, notes that "being queer is still not accepted in the South," and that "it's still very, very, very prejudiced down here." Also, "people are extremely nosy, and they want to know all about everything with you." But still, he said, he "never really gave a shit" about what people thought about him, or whether people approved of his identity, so it didn't matter to him.

Something similar was noted by singer Ripparachie, who performed his set in a bomber jacket decked out with silk flowers. A native of Indiana, he moved to Atlanta because he thought it would be less homophobic than his rural town, but instead found that he was receiving the same type of treatment. He wears pink every day as a marker of his identity, and he said he was threatened and assaulted just for wearing the color. "People would pull knives on me in the street," he tells me, but he did not back down from the threats.

A celebration of the ballroom subculture in Atlanta has not happened on such a large scale, according to the artists involved. And such a celebrated ball, they said, would do wonders for queer representation in the South. S'Vere says that it would "make people realize that there are spaces that allow you to be comfortable, and allow you to be yourself, just putting out there that there are other people in Atlanta, or in the South, who are comfortable being themselves." This is certainly something that I never saw growing up in the South, and my trepidation is something S'Vere notes is still a common experience for people: "I have actually come across one or two people who don't know where to go to have a good time and still be gay, or whatever the case may be, and still dress a certain way and just be comfortable being themselves, out."

Photo via Red Bull Content Pool

But there is a notable difference to my experience growing up—not least because a subculture like ballroom now has corporate sponsorship in the form of Red Bull. Though that might be dissonant for some, at Atlanta Is Burning, many of the performers were comfortable with a large company being involved, and saw it less as appropriation, and more as something that would help to provide more representation for the Southern queer scene and bring legitimacy to a subculture that has been underground and underrepresented for years. S'vere puts it best: "They're just shedding light."

And, of course, there are always complications when marginalized groups are co-opted by those that aren't as marginalized; this was the case with the film Paris Is Burning, which was directed by a white lesbian who was not involved in the subculture, and who exploited the key players in Harlem's ballroom scene to make her film. I can't say that there is any redeeming quality in those actions, but I can say that I—and countless others—wouldn't know about the subculture without that movie. It's a shame that representation came at such a cost, but it also provided an important lesson for those promoting Atlanta Is Burning, who worked with the already established ballroom culture to make an event that appropriately represented them. It didn't claim to start the ballroom scene in Atlanta, but it definitely brought awareness to the Southern queer community in a powerful way. Nelson says that the visibility that came from this event "does a lot for queer representation in the South," and might even help queer people who didn't know about events like this, who have "never known how to access the ballroom scene," gain that coveted, often elusive access.

Knowing that there are hundreds of other people like you in your city may not change a queer person's experience with the prejudices that lots of Southerners still have, but it could make facing that prejudice feel more bearable by knowing that there are other people who are still living their best lives in the face of that discrimination. And maybe soon, people won't feel like they have to move to another city to find their community, like I thought I did. S'Vere says that this event was important to him because "Atlanta needs something like this," and I agree. All of the South needs something like this—all of America does, really.

Photos by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images

This photo proves that they are the chillest onscreen family

Sophie Turner just posted a photo of herself, Maisie Williams, and Isaac Hempstead Wright—aka the Stark siblings—to her Instagram, showing just what the three used to get up to when the Game of Thrones cameras weren't rolling.

The photo shows Wright looking quite pleased with himself while sitting on a makeshift throne, wearing no pants. As he should be, seeing as (spoiler) his character, Bran, won the Iron Throne this weekend. Williams, meanwhile, is looking way too cool to be involved in the shenanigans, wearing a pair of black sunglasses and staring absently off-camera. As for Turner, she's looking away from her onscreen brother, too, nervously smoking a Juul.

"The pack survived," Turner captioned the photo.

This photo just goes to prove that the Stark siblings are the chillest onscreen family. (It also proves, yet again, that Turner's social media is an absolute delight.)

We're actually a little sad that this footage didn't make it into the final season, considering how many modern-day objects have been spotted in the show's last few episodes.

Photo via @mileycyrus on Twitter

Meet Ashley

Miley Cyrus shared the trailer for her forthcoming Black Mirror episode, and it's basically Hannah Montana set in a dystopian future. Cyrus is a pink wig-wearing pop star named Ashley who is rolling out an in-home virtual assistant, named Ashley Too, that looks like her and shares her voice. But, as is the case with every Black Mirror episode, this technology is not as cute and fun as it's advertised to be.

In the trailer, we get the idea that Ashley is all about wanting fans to "believe" in themselves—but underneath that pink wig, maybe she doesn't feel that same self-love. After Ashley Too introduces herself to fan and new owner Rachel, promising to be her friend, we get a look at Ashley's darker side. She's depressed and tired of the pop star life. A record label executive says to several people in the room, "She doesn't understand how fragile all this is." As they consider upping her dose of medication, Ashley's life is on a downward slope. "It's getting so hard to keep doing this," she voices over glimpses of a police car chase, performances, and breakdowns backstage.

But back to the technology: Does Ashley's breakdown also mean the breakdown of Ashley Too? Looks like it. We see Rachel's virtual assistant screaming, "Get that cable out of my ass! Holy shit! Pull it out," breathing a sigh of relief as soon as they pull it out. A title card then reveals the episode name, "Rachel, Jack, and Ashley Too."

Watch the full trailer and get a full view of Cyrus' cyborg-esque pop star look, below. Black Mirror returns to Netflix on June 5.


Photo by Paras Griffin / Stringer / Getty Images.

Several actresses allegedly had "issues" with him

Lena Waithe's Showtime series, The Chi, just lost one of its main characters. Jason Mitchell, who was also set to appear in the Netflix film Desperados, has been dropped from both projects following multiple allegations of misconduct. He has also been dropped by his agent and manager.

Hollywood Reporter heard from a source "with knowledge" of The Chi, who says that Tiffany Boone, the actress who plays Mitchell's girlfriend on the show, is just one of several actresses who had "issues" with him. She eventually told producers at Fox21 that she could no longer work with him after filing several sexual harassment complaints. Apparently, her fiancé, Dear White People co-star Marque Richardson, would join her on set when she would shoot with Mitchell.

While news of Mitchell's alleged misconduct is just now beginning to surface, it looks like the ball started rolling on the fallout weeks ago. He was dropped from Desperados and replaced by Lamorne Morris before filming began. A source from the production team said that the producers received "specific information" that they reviewed and acted on quickly. Similarly, a source familiar with Mitchell's former agent, UTA, said the decision to drop him a few weeks ago was very quick following the allegations.

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Prior to the college admissions scandal, she said she doesn't "care about school"

Apparently, Olivia Jade wants to go back to school despite all those YouTube videos that suggested otherwise. Back in March, it was revealed that her mom, Fuller House actress Lori Loughlin, and dad, Mossimo Giannulli, had scammed Jade's way into the University of Southern California. Now, Loughlin faces jail time, and Jade lost out on plenty of lucrative ad partnerships.

According to Us Weekly, "Olivia Jade wants to go back to USC," per a source. "She didn't get officially kicked out and she is begging the school to let her back in." Another source though ousted Jade's real motivation to the publication. "She knows they won't let her in, so she's hoping this info gets out," they shared. "She wants to come out looking like she's changed, learned life lessons and is growing as a person, so she for sure wants people to think she is interested in her education."

Jade previously shared in a YouTube video she's in college for the "experience of like game days, partying" rather than the education. She also said, "I don't know how much of school I'm going to attend... I don't really care about school, as you guys all know." Though these statements were made prior to the scandal coming to light, her brand partnerships didn't come into question until her parents were indicted.

Right now, despite previous reports that Jade and her sister would both be dropping out of USC, Jade's enrollment has been placed on hold—meaning she cannot register for classes, or even withdraw from the school—until her parents' court case comes to a close. Then, the school will make its own decision as to how Jade will be affected. I think, either way, she should have to pay off a few of her classmates' loans for all the BS she pulled.

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He'd previously said he wanted to punch Jackson's 'Leaving Neverland' accusers in the face

Aaron Carter has been one of Michael Jackson's fiercest celebrity advocates in the aftermath of the Leaving Neverland documentary in which two men, Wade Robson and James Safechuck, alleged that Jackson sexually abused them when they were children. In a new clip from People, however, he seems to walk back his defense.

People reveals that Carter will be joining the upcoming season of reality TV show Marriage Boot Camp: Reality Stars Family Edition with his mother. It's noted that he will be revealing more thoughts regarding Jackson following the documentary and the sneak peek specifically sees him alluding to a negative experience with the singer.

Carter, who has previously said that Jackson was never inappropriate toward him, says that Jackson "was a really good guy," though he does note that this is only true "as far as I know." "He never did anything that was inappropriate," he continues before stopping himself, as though remembering something. "Except for one time. There was one thing that he did that was a little bit inappropriate."

Carter does not provide any more detail after this statement. He has previously said that he would stay at Jackson's Neverland estate and sleep in the same bed as the much older star when he was 15 years old, though he hasn't seemed to understand then just how creepy that is. He also said earlier this year, in a clip from TMZ, that he would be telling a story of something that happened between them in an upcoming book about his life.