Paris is Burning star and trans advocate Carmen Xtravaganza dies aged 62

Throughout her life, the ballroom icon campaigned for trans visibility and LGBTQ+ youth services, especially in New York.

Carmen Xtravaganza poses wearing black hat and dress against red background.
Image: Twitter @CelebFallecidas

Carmen Xtravaganza, a transgender advocate, singer and ballroom icon best known for her role in the 1990 documentary Paris Is Burning, has died at the age of 62.

Throughout her life, Carmen campaigned to improve trans visibility and advocated for more LGBTQ+ youth services, especially in New York. In recent months, Xtravaganza had been undergoing chemotherapy treatment for Stage 4 lung cancer. She shared an update on her Facebook page on July 3, which sadly said her cancer had spread and her departure was coming soon.

Her death was announced by New York’s House of Xtravaganza, a ballroom dancing community composed primarily of Black and Latinx LGBTQ+ dancers that fostered creativity and community. Within the ballroom community, houses are typically named after the house “mother” or “father” who directs the group. Carman served as the mother of the House of Xtravaganza in 1997 and was named to Ballroom’s Hall of Fame in 1999.

In an Instagram statement, the group shared: “It is with a heavy heart that we share the news of Carmen Xtravaganza’s passing. Throughout the 1980s, Carmen reigned on the runways as one of the House of Xtravaganza’s ‘impossible beauties.’ Her presence and talent left an indelible mark on the House Ballroom scene.”

It added: “Her openness and bravery helped pave the way for others, leaving an enduring legacy of acceptance and love.”


Carmen Xtravaganza was born on April 9, 1961, in Rota, Spain. Throughout her childhood, she moved often due to her father’s job with the American military. At the age of 15, Carmen left home to begin her transition in Washington DC, and then to New York where she worked as a sex worker. In New York, she had a wealth of support from the trans community, access to hormones and affordable surgery.

In 1988, she appeared on the cover of Village Voice, marking one of the first times thata mainstream media outlet explored ballroom communities. 

In the 1990 landmark documentary, Paris Is Burning, Carmen talks about her transition experiences. The film was shot over seven years, and it features interviews with trans women of colour including Carmen.

Her story and others helped build awareness about drag shows and the predominantly Black and Latinx queer ballroom culture. In 2006, Carmen featured in another ballroom documentary called, How Do I Look. She also gained an additional fanbase after starring in the recent FX series Pose.




In 2013, Carmen was interviewed by TransRiot where she talked about her hopes for the trans community in ten years’ time, which would be 2023.

She said: “I hope to see trans people of colour in a better situation, for violence against us to be reduced. For our brothers and sisters to be able to get the healthcare and service that we most urgently need. There is a need for us to be educated about our gender identity so we can empower ourselves to reach greater heights and become more visible in society.” 

Rest in Power.

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