A still of Xtravaganza taken from Paris is Burning
May 22, 1965
|Died||December 21, 1988 (aged 23)|
|Cause of death||Strangulation (murder)|
|Years active||1978 or 1979 – 1988|
|Paris Is Burning|
Venus Xtravaganza (born Thomas Pellagatti; May 22, 1965 – December 21, 1988) was an American transgender performer. She came to national attention after her appearance in Jennie Livingston's 1990 documentary film Paris Is Burning, in which her life as a trans woman forms one of the film's several story arcs.
Xtravaganza was born Thomas Pellagatti on May 22, 1965, in Jersey City, New Jersey. Her parents were of Italian-American and Puerto Rican descent. She had four brothers. Xtravaganza took the name Venus in her early teens.
Xtravaganza states in Paris is Burning that she began cross-dressing and performing at age 13 or 14, placing her earliest performances around 1978 or 1979. Eventually, her family caught on to her lifestyle, and because she didn't "want to embarrass them, ... [she] moved away." She relocated to New York in order to be able to perform freely. Her ball career began in 1983, when House of Xtravaganza founder Hector Valle invited her to join the house. She stated that he "was the first gay that [I'd] ever met." On her 15th birthday, Valle took her to Greenwich Village, threw her a party, and bought her a cake. After Valle died from AIDS-related complications in 1985, Angie Xtravaganza assumed the role of house mother, and she took on Xtravaganza as her mentee and drag daughter. At the time of filming Paris is Burning, Xtravaganza was an aspiring model. She said, "I [want] my sex change to make myself feel complete."
On Christmas Day in 1988, Xtravaganza was found strangled under a bed at the Duchess Hotel in New York. It was estimated that her body had been there for four days upon discovery. Shooting for Paris is Burning was ongoing, and the film's final minutes include Angie Xtravaganza reacting to her death. Angie Xtravaganza said she felt that Xtravaganza was one to take too many chances, that she "was too wild with people in the streets," and that she feared "something [was] going to happen to [her]." Angie Xtravaganza was the first person detectives approached with the news of Xtravaganza's death, and it was she who broke the news to the latter's biological parents.
In Paris Is Burning, Xtravaganza describes a time she narrowly escaped an attack by a man who discovered she was transgender during an intimate encounter, and it is possible her murder occurred during a similar situation. Her killer was never found. She is buried at Holy Cross Cemetery in North Arlington, New Jersey.
- In her book Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of "Sex", feminist scholar Judith Butler discusses Xtravaganza's interviews in the context of transgenderism and gender theory.
- In the fall of 2013, a New York City theatre group presented a murder mystery play centered around a fictionalized account of Xtravaganza's murder. Members of the House of Xtravanganza stated in a press release on Facebook that they were not involved in the show's production and withheld their endorsement. In a later press release, they condemned the work as "inappropriate, opportunistic, and disrespectful to Venus' legacy." Xtravaganza's biological family also expressed displeasure with the play.
- In the reality television competition program RuPaul's Drag Race, contestants and judges frequently allude to lines from Paris is Burning, many of them Xtravaganza's. A notable example occurs in the second episode of the fourth season, when competitor Willam Belli refers to the opposing team in a challenge as "a bunch of overgrown orangutans," a read (insult) Xtravaganza used in the documentary.
- The House of Xtravaganza remains active in the ball circuit, nightlife, and LGBTQ activism. It is one of the oldest active houses in New York City.
- Nakiska, Tempe (2013-11-20). "The legacy of Venus Xtravaganza". Dazed. Dazed Media. Archived from the original on 2019-04-14. Retrieved 2019-05-31.
- Iovannone, Jeffry J. (2018-07-12). "Justice for Venus Xtravaganza". Medium. A Medium Corporation. Archived from the original on 2019-05-31. Retrieved 2019-05-31.
- "Venus "Tiny" Xtravaganza". Find a Grave. Ancestry.com. Archived from the original on 2019-05-31. Retrieved 2019-05-31.
- Butler, Judith (1993). "Gender is Burning: Questions of Appropriation and Subversion". Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of "Sex" (PDF). New York: Roudedge. Retrieved 2019-05-31.
- Hutchinson, Darren Lenard (1997). "Out Yet Unseen: A Racial Critique of Gay and Lesbian Legal Theory and Political Discourse". Connecticut Law Review. 29 (2): 561–645. Retrieved 2019-05-31.
- Schiller, Rebecca (2018-06-25). "Venus Xtravaganza's Nephew on Her Legacy: 'She Never Envisioned Herself Becoming a Transgender Martyr'". Billboard. Lynne Segall. Archived from the original on 2018-06-25. Retrieved 2019-05-31.
- Livingston, Jennie (Director) (1990-09-13). Paris Is Burning (Motion picture).
- House of Xtravaganza (2013-09-19). "PRESS RELEASE – FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE" (Facebook post). Retrieved 2017-11-17 – via Facebook.
- "WTF!: Wrestling's Trashiest Fighters". RuPaul's Drag Race. Season 4. Episode 2. 2012-02-06. Logo TV.