Carmen’s friends at the House of Xtravaganza, a popular house in the New York City ballroom scene, announced the sad news via Instagram on Saturday.
“It is with a heavy heart that we share the news of Carmen Xtravaganza’s passing,” the House of Xtravaganza said about its beloved member. “Today, we extend our deepest condolences to all who loved her . . . Rest in power, dear Carmen. You will be missed, but your spirit will continue to inspire.”
Carmen, a Ballroom Hall of Fame member, was featured in the now-iconic documentary Paris Is Burning, which tells the story of New York’s ballroom scene in the 1980s. One of the most iconic scenes of the documentary shows Carmen and her house sister Brooke Xtravaganza singing Gloria Gaynor‘s “I Am What I Am.” The inspiring performance became a symbol of resistance for the transgender community.
In its tribute to Carmen, The House of Xtravaganza referenced one of her most famous quotes from the documentary: “That voice is still there.” The quote, according to the group, now “takes on new meaning, serving as a reminder that Carmen’s spirit will live on through the love and memories she left behind.”
In an interview with TransGriot, the Spain native said she was just 5 years old when she realized she was trans.
“As far back as I can remember my dad always knew from when I was a small child I was always effeminate,” she said in the 2013 interview. “[My dad] explained it to me much later after I had already transitioned.”
Carmen was also featured in the 2006 documentary How Do I Look, revealing that she took hormones at age 16 to complete her medical transition. At that time, Carmen said she was staying at a runaway home.
According to Out, the LGBTQ+ advocate joined the ballroom scene in 1981 when she became part of the House of St. Laurent in New York. At the same time, Carmen was doing sex work in the city’s meatpacking district, a place where many trans people also did the same. Carmen then joined the House of Xtravaganza a few years later.
After moving back to her native Spain in the early ’90s, Carmen founded a House of Xtravaganza chapter in the European nation. She also worked as a model in Spain and released a few songs.
Carmen became the mother of the House of Xtravaganza in 1997 when she returned to New York. In 1999, the beloved leader was honored with an induction to Ballroom’s Hall of Fame.
In a Facebook post on July 3, Carmen said the cancer she had been battling had reached stage four, spreading to her bones.
“My message is my departure coming soon as I was noticed by my oncology [doctor],” she wrote, according to The Pink News. “The chemotherapy I was taking has not worked. My message is enjoy life. Love family, be forgiven, humble, and love god over all things. I want to thank you all for being part of my journey in life. Carmen Xtravaganza.”