Why Do We Say That? – Terms We Learned From “Paris Is Burning”


It has been over a quarter of a century since the documentary Paris Is Burning was first released. For many people, this movie was their first (and possibly only) look into the lifestyle of New York City’s ballroom culture. It displays a side of our LGBT+ history that is often overlooked or simply attributed to another person or show. Ninety percent of the witty one-liners and catchphrases that are heard over and over again on RuPaul’s Drag Race and other LGBT+ centric shows have their origins in this culture. Performers such as RuPaul herself, Bob The Drag Queen, and Azelia Banks have even sampled audio clips from this documentary into their current-day music. This movie; these people; this art form have all played a major role in shaping our community, and even our everyday vocabulary.

Here are some of the terms that became so commonplace through the years and their definitions:


I think Dorian Corey put it best. “Shade is I don’t tell you you’re ugly but I don’t have to tell you because you know you’re ugly … and that’s shade.”



As Corey also taught us, shade comes from reading. And never forget that reading is (what?) fundamental. “Reading is the real art form of insults.” Reading is to insult someone imaginatively. It was (and still is) the LGBT+ community’s way of opposing blunt gay-bashing and hurtful insults from outsiders. It is, at its core, insulting someone without hurting them.



Voguing is throwing shade through dance. It is a direct competition and a way to settle problems between different individuals and “houses”. The name “Voguing” came from the fashion magazine, because a lot of the poses and body movements used are reminiscent of high fashion model poses. Jose Gutierez Xtravaganza and Luis Xtravaganza introduced voguing to Madonna at the Sound Factory Club in New York City, and that is how it reached mainstream culture and became what it is today.



A House is a family. It is a “gay street gang.” Many members of these makeshift families were disowned by their own. This is probably one of the strongest bonds in the community. There are always House parents (a “Mother” and “Father” respectively) and everyone in each House looks out for each other. Like RuPaul says, “We as gay people get to choose our family and the people we’re around.”



Realness is the ability to pose convincingly. It is the ability to completely pass yourself off as the person you are impersonating and blend in. This term originated from members of the community wanting to present themselves as members of another community that would never accept them, whether it is because of their race, gender, or orientation. Realness is the basis of the phrase “Fake it ’till you make it.”





  • 00:49:58 Just look for… look for whatever you want to see,
  • 00:50:01 look for whatever.
  • 00:50:03 Mopping is stealing.
  • 00:50:05 General stealing.
  • 00:50:07 However it’s done, it’s stealing.


Thank you for reading, and I leave you with this