Just because the end of June quickly approaches it doesn’t mean LGBTQ+ Pride month has to sashay away. It’s been a huge Pride month this year with so many returns to in-person celebrations around the world after the pandemic halted Prides everywhere. If we’ve learned anything as a community over the years, however, it is that Pride should be a daily celebration that goes beyond a monthly observance. Along with our allies, we should strive to practice daily advocacy for LGBTQ+ who may not be out for specific reasons and to remind the world that our own existence is resistance.
Whether that daily celebration happens at the local bar, in your workplace, or casually at the corner coffee shop, it’s a privilege to be a alive at a time where being queer continues to shatter barriers. For those who may feel that daily in-person interaction may not be for them, or for those who want to take that celebration somewhere fresh and exciting, Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) is the new frontier. From gaming, to events, to exercising, and socializing, VR is a space for exploration beyond the physical plane. While VR has been on the rise for decades, the term metaverse is often used synonymously to describe a universal and immersive virtual world that is facilitated by the use of VR or AR headsets. A metaverse is a network of 3D virtual worlds focused on social connection. Nowadays you can find a metaworld for virtually anything (no pun intended).
I recently had the pleasure of taking a dive into the metaverse to explore the Metaverse Culture Series (MCS), a series of experiences in Horizon Worlds that is amplifying culture and diversity via the metaverse. The series is an effort to create a more accessible entrypoint into the future of technology for historically excluded and underrepresented communities. The MCS is bringing together diverse thought leaders, creators and Meta executives to explore ideas for weaving diverse perspectives, culture and creativity into the fabric of the metaverse. All inside of the new Dream House inside of the Horizon Worlds app within the metaverse. Okay, that sounds like so much, but it’s pretty amazing and fun!
Dream House is a new metaworld inspired by the heart of Ballroom culture. A grassroots team of LGBTQ+ creators designed and engineered Dream House as a safe and welcoming space that gives queer people and allies a ‘Welcome Home’ sensation. Ballroom culture has historically proved life-saving for many Black and Brown LGBTQ+ people in search of safe spaces to express themselves and freely connect. This subculture emphasizes belonging and inclusivity, expressed through performance, competition and houses. Within LGBTQ+ Ballroom culture, a “house” is more than the place you live. It’s a chosen family, a safe space for its members to feel free to explore and be exactly who they are.
Upon entry into Dream House, you are spawned into a vibrant, Ballroom-inspired setting that allows you to participate in a “Grand March,” where movement is celebrated on the runway.
Once you pass through the runway, you descend into an ambient, meditative space with mind-bending architecture that transports your senses into a far-away oasis. You’ll see the vastness of the sunset’s pink, purple, orange, and golden hues! The depth-defying structure is equal parts intimate and vast with minimalistic design intended to be a creative blank slate to inspire all who enter to dream and connect. It really is a dream!
I had the pleasure of chatting with voguing legend Leiomy Maldonado from HBO Max’s Legendary inside Dream House where we had a virtual kiki about her journey through Ballroom and how the metaverse is a necessary space for marginalized folks.
Leiomy, known as the “Wonder Woman of Vogue”, is a transgender Afro-Puerto Rican dancer, instructor, model, activist, and ballroom dancer. She is the founder of the House of Amazon and best known for being one of the best voguers in Ballroom Culture. As part of the panel of sick’ning judges on Legendary, Leiomy brings her eagle eye to the runway looking for the technique and ferocity the teams bring to the competition.
Legendary, which just ended its third season on HBO Max, is an American voguing reality competition series, exploring the world of ball culture. The series follows teams known as ‘houses’ as they compete in various balls (dancing/voguing/walking events), with the chance to snag a gag-worthy prize of $100,000 for the winning house.
After creating my cute avatar in Horizon Worlds, complete with futuristic sunglasses, I was ready to hit the runway with Leiomy and chat it up with Wonder Woman herself in this interview that was clearly 10s across the board! WE DID WHAT NEEDED TO BE DONE!
DAVID LOPEZ: Man, this is a trip! How are you today?
LEIOMY MALDONADO: I’m pretty good. How are you?
DL: Good. It’s so good to meet you! I’m such a fan of Legendary, such a fan of what you do on the show. And I love to hear all of your catch phrases and see your fashion. It really is an honor to be here with you. And I love your little avatar hair. That’s so cute.
LM: Thank you.
DL: I’d like to know a little bit about your ballroom journey. How did you get started in ballroom?
LM: I found out about ballroom, going to a Boys and Girls Club. I came across someone who ended up becoming my first trans mentor. She gave me a VHS tape and I went home and I put it in and then I was like automatically sucked into the wonderland that ballroom is from there. I started going to after school LGBTQ+ programs and meeting kids and people who were a part of ballroom. I joined my first house and around 2003, I walked my first ball, which I got chopped, of course, cuz I sucked but it was an amazing experience. So it was pretty cool.
DL: And what does it mean now to you to be considered one of the legends of ballroom.
LM: To be a part of the legendary girls and the icons has been an amazing journey for me. For me, it means a lot. My journey has been really, really long and it’s been kind of tough in and outta ballroom. My story itself is legendary. I came into the ballroom scene and I changed what voguing is to the style that it is now. It’s more athletic, it’s more high energy than when I came into ballroom. It was more about posing and being more feminine. I’ve been a part of the crossover from underground to mainstream and that’s been something that has been a huge, huge, huge impact for the world itself and for ballroom. To even start having these opportunities that we’ve been able to have now, and the shows that we’ve been able to have now that showcase ballroom and it’s all beauty.
DL: Who are others past or present who you look up to in the ballroom scene?
LM: There are two women who inspire me from day one and that’s Alloura and Yolanda, may they rest in peace. Their styles, both of them, for two different reasons. I feel like I would’ve never been who I am now and been inspired to even want to vogue if it wasn’t for those two women
DL: Outside of ballroom, do you have any other inspirations?
LM: I don’t really have any other inspirations outside of ballroom. Coming into my womanhood and my artistry, I didn’t have representation really out in the world outside of ballroom. I didn’t see anyone on TV that represented me or that I saw myself in. Now I love being people’s inspiration and I love being that beacon of light for everyone.
DL: Absolutely. And before I go into the next question, I do want to touch on what you just said. You know, shows in today’s world that do have that representation, I’m in awe of that storytelling and that narrative. I really want to commend you for being part of that journey. It’s really important for me as a part of queer media to see that and to be able to meet and discuss that with people like you. So thank you for that.
LM: Thank you.
DL: On the topic of Legendary, are you surprised at the success of the show?
LM: No, only because I know how amazing ballroom is, but it was a bit surprising in the sense of how open people have been and how positive people have been about the show. I feel like it’s more so because of the fact that we’ve been able to show the world the culture. They actually see why it’s so important for so many different people in different ways. They get to learn from different stories and get to learn different personalities. It gives so many people a reason to feel like they belong. You get to see so many different shapes, so many different sizes, races. Ballroom has been a place where it shows the world, unity, and that we can all come together and celebrate each other. Live and be competitive as well, cuz the show is a competition. We’re not gonna forget about the competition. Overall it’s beautiful that the world gets to see how much hard work it takes for ballroom to even exist, honestly.
DL: Yes, absolutely! Looking back at all the seasons, what has been in your mind– one of the most gag-worthy performances on Legendary?
LM: Ooh–I would have to say me and Deshaun’s performance, honestly. Coming from ‘America’s Best Dance Crew’, for me and Deshaun, to be able to have this platform and being able to say that we’ve been through so much together, to me that was a personal one. The ballroom community, for a very long time, has seen us out there breaking down these barriers and taking up these spaces that we belong in and that we finally have been given the opportunities to be a part of. I feel like that’s why, to me, that’s one of the most gag-worthy because it was like a gift back to our community and shows where our careers brought us.
DL: That’s great. Yeah. That’s such a good one! You’ve had such an amazing lineup of guest judges throughout the seasons. Is there anyone who you feel you would like to see as a guest judge? Who would be your dream guest judge on the show?
LM: Oh my God, my top three: It would have to be Mariah Carey, Beyoncé and Doja Cat. Yeah, but I would also love to see Missy Elliott up there as well. I feel like my girl, Missy, needs to come on out.
DL: Alright! Changing gears a little bit–as queer people of color where do you see us in a place like Virtual Reality?
LM: I feel like the metaverse can be a place where a lot of trans kids will be able to live and be comfortable in sharing spaces and sharing ideas and just being themselves and just being open to expressing who they are without having to be judged. A lot of times I feel like we’re afraid to be a part of social circles because of how our appearances may be different from others and we’re often judged before we’re even met or before people actually get to know us. I feel like a place like this would be more of a safe haven where people are not getting to know you in person. As you can see we’re talking and you get to see some of my facial expressions and I can show off different little things to make me showcase personality. That’s something beautiful and it’s something that will help a lot of people navigate in spaces where they don’t feel seen.
DL: That’s great! That’s exactly where I wanna see it go as well. Do you see ballroom, specifically, having a space in the VR?
LM: Yes for sure. You saw the runway down over there. It’s a place where you can actually come out there and showcase a little bit of fun. Maybe not the extent of real life, but it’ll give people that, that feeling and that presence. It even gives people hopes of wanting to be a part of a real ball. I feel like that’ll be something fun.
DL: So what’s next for you?
LM: Ooh. I’m the type of girl where I just like to do and show off. So I’m the girl who does projects and just lets it be, just let them come out. But you know, this is just the beginning, my journey. I have so many other things that I wanna do. I want to get into acting and I want to get into other things and doing more performances and getting back out there. Cuz that’s something that as an artist I have been discovered through dancing. I’ve been doing a lot of speaking engagements and I need to get back onto my route and get on that floor and carry for the children.
DL: Yeah! Well, whatever it is that you do, we know that you’re gonna slay! We’re really looking forward to that. Thank you so much for your time today.
LM: Thank you so much.
DL: Really appreciate it. Yay.
LM: Have a good day. High five!
DL: Oh, yeah. Did it.
LM: That’s right.
Here’s the full video interview
Check out Dream House in Horizon Worlds in the metaverse and carry for all the children!