The Trans Sounds of Black Freedom Roundtable: Ballroom as a Performative Philosophy

Scholar, critic, and professor Fred Moten has long drawn on the notions, theory, and practices of radical black aesthetic traditions—both as political thought and, more significantly, as an aesthetic critique to hegemonic notions of power. As he once proclaimed, “Exhaustive celebration of and in and through our suffering, which is neither distant nor sutured, is black study.” Ballroom comes out of this tradition. This roundtable session will examine the House-Ballroom Community’s (HBC) use of performance—vogue as a hermeneutics of the body; a reading of a sacred text; a story-telling; an apparatus to conceptualize pain, joy, and desire—and the use of lip sync performance—as a homiletics; a means of ministry; a holding of space; a spiritual formation.

This session will further invoice the misnomer of vogue origins. Contrary to popular belief, Madonna did not create vogue in 1990, although she introduced it to a wider audience. In the early 1970’s, the pioneer ballroom cultural icon Paris Dupree created vogue as part of the lexicon of the black radical aesthetic tradition. Throughout the 1990s and 2000s, the HBC expanded throughout the country and overseas, serving as a place of refuge and freedom. It was through this performance of the struggle—through the art of vogue, which is its signature dance—that was most effective.

Lastly, this session will center Ballroom performativity through the work of Womanist Ethics scholar at Yale Divinity, Dr. Eboni Marshal-Turman, and her use of a “womanist theo-ethical choreographic methodology,” which implies that, “the body is central to Christian practice in rebellion.” Dr. Marshal-Turman posits that, “To imagine a Christology that is born as much outside of the church, in a dance studio no less, as it is inside of the church, is a radical move that leaves room for the new black ecclesiologies developing in the streets of this Black Lives Matter moment,” or, for this purpose, at a Ball. As is oft stated: vogue/performance has mended the historical damages inflicted upon the HBC by society. The performance became the worship. The beat of house music became the spoken word. The stage became the pulpit. The Ball became the Church. The crowd became the congregation. Altogether, it became, or rather, was and still is, GOD in motion.

About The Trans Sounds of Black Freedom Roundtable

This Roundtable will explore the history of the House-Ballroom Community as a Black Trans-Womanist theological discourse, a freedom movement, and its spiritual formation responses to race, class, sexuality, and gender oppression. It will further examine the community’s ability to use the art of performance as a hermeneutics of the body and situate its history of mobilization as a resistance to these oppressions. It will place the HBC in conversation with other historical struggles and illuminate the community’s prophetic gift of truth-telling and its ethical gift of archiving suffering and allowing suffering to speak. Being on intimate terms with death and annihilation, through the trifecta of the philosophical, theological, and political, the HBC has something to say to the world over: “What it means to be human, to struggle for freedom, to reimagine death, and to transmute it to power, healing, and life.”

Michael Roberson is a public health practitioner, advocate, activist, artist, curator, and leader within the LGBTQ community, as well as an Adjunct Professor at The New School University/Lang College, NYC and Union Theological Seminary NYC. Michael has two Master degrees from Union Theological Seminary and is the Senior Scholar in Residence for the Center for Race, Religion and Economic Democracy. He is an international art and politics consultant and a member of the international sound art collective entitled “Ultra-Red.” Michael is also a recent TED Media Resident, where he performed a global TED talk about the underground black/Latino LGBTQ House/ball ballroom community. Michael created The Federation of Ballroom Houses, co-created the nation’s only Black Gay research Group, The National Black Gay Men’s Advocacy Group, and the Nationally Diffused CDC Behavioral Change HIV Prevention Intervention “Many Men, Many Voices.”


Please note, this roundtable session is held on our second floor. At this time, we do not have an elevator. Please email with any questions or concerns regarding accessibility.