(Photo credits: Viktor Veltstra, Tribecafilm.com, FindAGrave.com contributor Adam Hill)

A couple of years ago, The Trans Doe Task Force was contacted by a team of filmmakers looking to not only tell the story of the life and death of Venus Xtravaganza, but to try to make actual moves to help resolve her case. We have been unable to discuss our involvement during the making of the film, and cannot divulge too many details as the investigation is now active and ongoing. The film, “I’m Your Venus”, premiered last week at the Tribeca Festival in New York. We were honored to be invited and were given a “Special Thanks” credit at the end of the film. We would like to say in response, special thanks to YOU! Thank you to the filmmakers for seeking us out to advise on DNA evidence processing, thank you for allowing us to help tell Trans history, thank you for seeking to move Venus’ case forward, and thank you for the caring you have demonstrated to Venus and her families. Seeing her name on her headstone is beautiful. We hope that we can continue to be of assistance in this important endeavor and see case resolution come for her loved ones, and justice for her memory.

The following is an account of the premiere by Viktor Veltstra, Trans Doe Task Force board member:

This past Thursday, June 6th, 2024, I had the massive honor of attending the premier of the documentary “I’m Your Venus”. The documentary follows the efforts of Venus Pellagatti Xtravaganza’s families, both biological and chosen, in trying to find out the details of her Dec 1988 murder and working to try to find out who killed her. Even though I was aware of all the happenings in the documentary, and had seen “Paris is Burning”, I was not prepared for how emotionally impactful actually watching how things unfolded would be. It’s actually taken me a full day to even process the weight of the experience so I could sit down and write this. 

Within the first few minutes of the film, it’s clear that her entire family of origin is hilarious, and very close knit, which was familiar and relatable to me as I am also from New Jersey. When it came to the subject of Venus, what’s clear from the start is that her brothers loved her enormously. With that love, there’s a tension and a huge amount of pain and that’s evident and constant throughout. 

Watching this as a Trans person, my heart broke for Venus and her feeling of rejection from her family, and also for her family being robbed of the ability to show her the love and acceptance and evolution they have had. So many Trans people have families of origin who never make that effort. Honestly the Pellagatti family fighting so hard for Venus, to ensure she is respected and honored in death as is detailed in this film makes me hopeful that more Trans people will be able to experience that love and acceptance in life. 

We get to see Venus’s sisters, including the present day House Mother, from the House of Xtravaganza meet with her biological family, who did not flinch away from confronting the pain Venus felt from her family with them. They generously explain why chosen families and the Houses exist, and the damage it does to Queer people to not be accepted by family that they dearly love, as well as the struggles that Queer people face even now. The incredibly emotional conversation concludes with, I think, both families coming out feeling more understood, and agreeing that they all love Venus and will work together to fight for her. It seems like an initially uneasy alliance that clearly becomes much more comfortable by the end of the film. 

The House of Xtravaganza comes out to the vigil of O’Shea Sibley, who was a 28 year old gay man who was murdered at a gas station because he was Voguing while pumping gas, by a 17 year old who yelled racist and homophobic statements at him before stabbing him to death. It’s a stark reminder of why the ballroom scene and the Houses exist, and the position they hold in the community, which is likely different from the public perception. The Houses are not just glitz and glamour, the Houses are also in the street every day, helping uplift and fight for Queer people. 

We also get the background of the investigation into Venus’s murder, which was reopened by the NYPD during the course of the filming of this documentary. While they initially believed they knew who killed her, after testing the evidence, they believe that that person may not be responsible for her death and that more investigation is needed. The families hear details of her murder that no family should ever have to hear, but to me are unfortunately familiar. 

“I’m your Venus” was a real rollercoaster of emotions to watch; I’d find myself laughing out loud, and a few minutes later quietly sobbing and sharing tissues with the lady sitting next to me. We got to witness Venus’s name being posthumously change (A legal first in New Jersey!), her home in Jersey City being designated as a Historic Landmark, and the name on her headstone being changed. So many groups worked together to help honor Venus; it’s truly wonderful to see and I hope the community at large will work collaboratively more often, not just to make sure that Trans people are respected in death, but also that they are respected and supported in life.

One small moment that had a big impact on me, and one I remember the most, was her brother showing off Venus’s library card, which she had just gotten a few days before her murder. While he was explaining what the card was and showing it to the camera, he noted that it had her deadname on it, and took his thumb to cover it. It was such a small movement. But deliberate. And that intentional act of respect and love had such weight. 

We get to see new video we hadn’t seen before of Venus’s interviews for Paris is Burning, and stories about her life with her House family and her biological family. We get to learn more about who she was through the love of the people who knew her and have kept her alive in their hearts. The end of the film was clearly not the end of Venus’s story. I’m glad that there will be wider distribution of “I’m Your Venus”.

Then we got to experience a bit of the Ballroom scene, after the end of the film, which was extremely fun and unexpected. (I’m sure there will be video out there so I won’t ruin the surprise for everyone.) 

I had some very intense conversations with one of Venus’s brothers, as well as members of the House of Xtravaganza and some local community organizers who were also involved in the film, and got to thank the producer and some members of the crew as well as we were leaving the theater. Overall it was a good, but very intense time. I’m hoping the next time we meet, it will be because there’s been positive  movement in Venus’s case. 

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