D’Angelo Vogues Down: A Memorial

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Photo credit: Sarah Jane Rhee

This very short story is written in memory of a youth member of the Chicago queer community we lost in the summer of 2015, and will appear alongside other pieces in the forthcoming zine honoring the 20th Anniversary of the Chicago Dyke March. Trigger warning: Transphobia and anti-trans violence.

It was a bright morning that could have been hotter for the end of June.

I sat on the cement steps of the Broadway Youth Center with a grocery bag full of sub sandwiches and cans of pop, waiting for the young people to show up.

It was the Saturday of Dyke March, and a small group of youth had been practicing for weeks in our voguing workshop series, preparing to dance on stage at the march’s culmination in the park. Myself and my co-facilitator had purposefully left the order open to accommodate whoever showed up.

Tyrik arrived first, his skinny frame pumping down the block, headphones in, with a toothy smile. Monica rolled by looking for her mail, was ambivalent about making the performance, but said she would take the bus on her own and meet us at the park. Lopez and D’Angelo showed up around the same time.

D’Angelo wore a white t, black cargo shorts and Jordans. His grin was playful, with one tooth missing. He had a treble clef symbol tattooed under his right eye, and his dark hair was tapered and short on top. He gave hugs to everyone there, and as we waited for the group to assemble, mused aloud about the on-again-off-again girlfriend he was currently arguing with, and flirted with cute passers by.

The first day D’Angelo had shown up at the center, he was quiet but quick to make friends. I watched him stare at a group of girls voguing in the corner, not repulsed or amused as masculine folks regularly were, but enthralled. I asked him what he thought about the dance. “I want to learn how to do that,” he replied seriously. I told him about the workshops we were holding and he began attending religiously.

Throughout the summer, he was the newest to the dance form, the only trans man who participated, and the most dedicated dancer.

The day got hotter as we prepared to leave for the bus stop. Lopez was playing a T-Pain song off her phone, and D’Angelo peeled off his shirt and started dancing with her on the sidewalk. I remember his bare breasts and stretch-marked stomach reflecting the sun light that fell in glowing patches through the leaves. He looked unapologetic and unbothered. I felt bad telling him to put his shirt back on, but knew the neighborhood we were in, the consequences of someone spotting Brown, trans youth dancing shirtless on the street—even during Pride weekend.

We arrived at the march and gathered our crew, me frantically texting the girls who were still en route on the bus, while Chris and Dee wandered in search of a public bathroom. The organizers asked for youth to lead the procession, so we made our way to the front as the march took Division. The event was in Humboldt Park that summer—D’Angelo’s own neighborhood—and as we made our way down Paseo, shop owners and families came outside to watch.

We waved flags, chanted for queer power and against gentrification, and someone passed the mic to D’Angelo. Cautiously but decidedly he grabbed the megaphone, and began leading the crowd in “Humboldt Park no se vende!” the promise in his voice increasing with each new call. We passed under the enormous steel bandera at California with fists raised, D’Angelo looking like the historic commander of a fierce riot.

As our time to perform in the park drew close, we lined up backstage, chugging water and making last minute adjustments. The DJ dropped our beat and we filed on stage into a semicircle, looking around to see who would take the first solo. Without hesitation, D’Angelo stepped into the center of the ring, his gaze fixed and arms extended. He placed his hand on his hip, hunched his back and shuffled his feet to the rhythm of the track, mimicking the elders at a family barbecue. The audience erupted. With concentration and poise, he executed each step he had rehearsed, raising his hands above his head as though conducting the cheers of the crowd.

We finished the set, the dancers bowed then streamed off the stage. I looked for an organizer to pass off the twenties we had to offer each performer. Lopez was upset that Monica and Dee had taken up so much stage time, complaining that she only got one solo. As we consoled her, D’Angelo came over, tripping slightly over his untied Jordans. He gave us each a quick hug, grabbed his coin and disappeared into the crowd.

Less than forty-eight hours later, he was killed. He jumped in front of a knife, defending a family member in a fight that wasn’t his. I found out when another young person whom I did not know showed up at the center on Tuesday afternoon, looking for his folks, meaning to spread the word.

It’s hard to keep losing people. We know loss too intimately. The last day I spent with D’Angelo was a warm one, in which he gave and grew so much. I like to think this is something he is still doing, something still reverberating out from that Saturday in June.

I didn’t get to go to the memorial service his family held. I heard they dressed him in a black suit and tie. I heard that, though they didn’t use his chosen name, didn’t talk about him the way we did at the center, his essence was lifted and seen.

The following Thursday at our weekly community meeting, Lopez vogued to “Good Beat” by Deee-Lite in dedication to D’Angelo.

The song played weakly from her phone’s speaker. She moved deliberately, her eyes downturned and shaded by rainbow-rimmed sun glasses. She spun, dropped, took over the floor, offering her spread hands and splayed fingers like a genuflection to every corner of the room.

The mid afternoon sunlight streamed in through the basement’s windows. We were silent and watched.

8 responses to “D’Angelo Vogues Down: A Memorial

  1. Thank you for sharing D’Angelo’s story. It sounds like the world has lost a beautiful force. I am saddened.

  2. Tears. I didn’t know this wonderful person, but I know others like him. My worry always hovers over them in my own mind, knowing how punishing others are to people who have gone beyond dualistic ways of life. Off you go, D’Angelo – on to the next adventure.

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