The first time I saw Octavia St. Laurent , I was at the River Oaks Theater back home watching the 1990 blockbuster documentary Paris Is Burning.
I was starting my own transition at the time and the movie was on my must see list since it was about the ballroom community descended from the Harlem drag balls.
I was captivated by the class, grace and easy elegance she showed in that film living her life. I added her to the long list of women I based my own evolving feminine presentation on. I also resolved to meet her one day.
While I have been fortunate to meet and get to know many of the women in the transgender community I set my sights on meeting, and I'm even blessed to call some of them my friends, sadly my meeting with Octavia will never happen.
I received the disappointing news that she passed away on May 17.
Actually, my meeting with Octavia almost happened. I was planning to fly up to New York with Vanessa Edwards Foster for Amanda Milan's funeral in 2000 but couldn't get the time off from work to go. I was even more pissed when I discovered that Octavia gave a fiery and moving eulogy for her that I'd wished I'd been present to hear.
She asked at the time, "Gays have rights, lesbians have rights, men have rights, women have rights, even animals have rights. How many of us have to die before the community recognizes that we are not expendable?"
Sadly, that's a question that still has yet to be answered.
Octavia is many things to a lot of people. For those of us who watched her in Paris Is Burning, she stole the show. For the children who are now battling to become legendary in the ballroom community, she's an iconic figure. For those of us who were transitioning at the time and since, we had her to look up to as an example of the grace, class and spiritual beauty that we wished to project to the rest of the world. For others she was an educator warning about the dangers of HIV/AIDS in the ballroom community.
Rest in peace, sis, you've earned your rest and you'll be missed. The ball competitions in Heaven just got a little fiercer as well.