Rosa Isabel Rayos, 28, is an Afro-Latina transgender rapper whose goal is to make music that uplifts, supports and encourages black transgender women – including, at times, herself.
“Anyone who raps just remembers what they know,” said Ms. Rayos, who passes by Ms. Boogie when she performs. Her motive happens to be very clear: to connect with other trans people who need to remember that they deserve to feel safety, love and joy.
“It is imperative for me to focus my work on spreading this ‘joy of a queen woman’,” Ms. Rayos said. “It seems like the right thing to do, to create emotionally, to create the things that I needed and still need to hear. I give myself too. “
Black transgender women live under such a constant threat of violence that the American Medical Association declared the wave of murders of trans people last year an “epidemic.” “We’re at the bottom of the totem pole,” Ms. Rayos said, “right next to the cisgender black woman.”
Media coverage of trans life is minimal and typically portrays tragedies resulting from harassment and discrimination. This makes the rare positive portrayals of trans people all the more important, according to advocates for the trans community.
Steven Canals, creator, director and executive producer of “Pose” – a TV show about the 1980s New York City LGBTQ ballroom community that includes trans members – recalls being approached by two young black trans women , who were extras, one day on the set.
“One of them grabbed my hand,” he said. “With tears in their eyes, they were like, ‘As a young girl, I wanted to be an actor, but because I’m black and trans, I always felt like that would never happen. for me. I let the dream go. Being here on this set has allowed me to dream again. ”
Raquel Willis, a transgender activist and former national organizer of the Transgender Law Center, also stressed the importance of positive pop culture and media representation for transgender people.
“When you have been so maligned and marginalized you have no choice but to imagine a better world or imagine a fuller life because you have been forced to find that in some of the most difficult circumstances ”Ms. Willis said. “We have to recreate ourselves, whether it is for ourselves or to navigate a world that we often feel other people have tried to create for us.”
Born and raised in the East New York neighborhood of Brooklyn, Ms.Rayos started performing on the New York warehouse rave circuit six years ago and found that she felt empowered on stage. She had previously walked the New York City ballroom scene and used that experience to develop a distinct physicality and presence that blends rap with the ballroom. As a musician, Ms. Rayos has performed under the name Jay Boogie.
As its popularity increased, its success increased. She started touring different cities and countries and was the subject of admiring profiles in Vice and other publications, but the life she was living was not what she felt.
“I was in a very conflictual situation in my life,” Ms. Rayos said. “I was torn.”
The performance provided an outlet for her gender expression. “In a lot of ways, it used to be like getting ready for a performance and getting into glamor was an opportunity for me to feel closer to my femininity,” she said. “I could not wait to be there.”
In 2018, Ms Rayos came out publicly in a letter published in Paper Magazine, writing: “In a practical world I would be a ‘trans woman’, but in the world that I have built for myself and my loved ones I am. just myself.
What followed, on stage, was a transformation into an effervescent performer that Ms Rayos conjured up as she mixed in a bit of her mother’s tenacity, a punch of confidence from Grace Jones and several spoonfuls of pretty aura. Brooklyn daughter of Foxy Brown.
The extreme assertiveness she hopes to embody is not meant to mask the reality of the dangers she and other trans people disproportionately face in the United States and around the world, but to address them. “My joy and self-determination in no way prevents me from being targeted,” Ms. Rayos said.
She feels obligated to learn the stories of other trans women and to fight for them, she said. But she also works to let herself enjoy the moment. She has a new single, “Fem Queen”, an upcoming album, and was recently featured in Vogue Mexico.
“I’m thrilled to just do things and keep telling my story, create more and give some queens more gifts,” Ms. Rayos said.