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Star's Amiyah Scott on Growing Up in the Ballroom Scene 

Amiyah Scott Talks About Growing Up In The Ballroom Scene

This interview was conducted as part of The Advocate's interview series, LGBTQ&A, a weekly podcast that documents modern queer and trans history. 

After being forced to leave New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina, Amiyah Scott moved to Atlanta where she quickly made a name for herself in the ballroom community. Still a teenager, Scott began dominating the competition. Her success lead to a strong following online, which is where Lee Daniels discovered her before casting her on the Fox series, Star

Now in its third season, Amiyah Scott's role on Star makes her one of the first openly trans actors to be a series regular on a Network show. 

Amiyah Scott sat down with us for this week's episode of the podcast, LGBTQ&A, to talk about her groundbreaking character, why it's difficult to play a character that's gone through so many of the things she went through, and what it was like to discover the ballroom community as a teenager. 

[Read highlights below and click here to listen to the full podcast interview with Amiyah Scott.]

Jeffrey Masters: How did you originally find the ball scene?
Amiyah Scott: When Hurricane Katrina hit, we had to evacuate from New Orleans to Atlanta. I was 17, this fresh face on the scene and people were excited. I was quickly recruited.

That's what actually began or propelled my social media popularity because balls were recorded and they were placed on YouTube. This is way before Instagram and stuff like that. I would walk balls and I would win them. It began to generate hype like, "Who is this girl? Who is Amiyah Mizrahi?" "Oh, she's 17. She's trans."

That began a small piece of representation and I think people began to grow interested with me.

JM: What's a quick, two-sentence synopsis of balls for people?
AS: I would describe it as a mixture of a fashion show and a beauty contest. There are different categories where you compete.

Say there's a category called Face and that would be who has the most beautiful face. You can perform and vogue or walk the runway. If you have a nice body, you can walk Sex Siren. You walk them to win trophies or money.

JM: What was your category?
AS: Face. I did walk Realness which is about being passable, but I loved Face.

JM: Legend says that you entered the ball scene and very quickly started winning.
AS: Yes.

JM: How does one do that?
AS: I don't know. I had no idea that that's how it would go. I was 17-years old. I didn't know myself. I just stumbled upon my path.

And I lost everything in the hurricane, which though unfortunate, gave me a chance to start over. When I did make it to Atlanta with nothing, there was no place to go but up from there.

JM: When you got to Atlanta, did you start going by Amiyah?
AS: Yes, I did. I met this guy and I met him as Amiyah and we fell in love very quickly. I did it for myself, but I think that was the push over the edge. He loves me as I am. Somebody accepts me and sees me as I am.

Things at the time with my family and my relationships weren't completely mended so that love and bond really was essential.

JM: Without Hurricane Katrina operating as this reset button in your life, do you think you would have started to transition as early?
AS: I don't think that it would have happened as quickly. When I was in New Orleans, I took birth control and things like that. Don't do that, kids. It's like a hormone replacement therapy, but an under the table version.

So, I was on the path of transitioning but I don't think that it would have happened as quickly as it did in Atlanta. Atlanta is just a faster city as far as the scene goes.

JM: With balls, this an oversimplification, but it's people walking back and forth in front of a crowd. And, of course, there's more to it than that. What does it take to succeed?
AS: I think what makes balls so special is that they are about us celebrating ourselves. That's what that walking back and forth is. Balls were created to not only be a safe space, but to celebrate the community because we weren't being celebrated. So, we decided to celebrate ourselves.

That's why I love the TV show, Pose, because they break that down. The balls were a celebration. Put on your best and let's go feel good about ourselves. Let's award ourselves. Let's clap for each other and uplift each other.

JM: What did you learn doing the balls that you've taken into your life now?
AS: The ballroom scene taught me how to have a presence, or I believe they magnified my presence. It helped me sharpen up. When you're on stage, it's all eyes on you. The balls, in a sense, helped me prepare to perform.

JM: How did the expectation of what Hollywood is compare to the reality of it?
AS: Well, Hollywood is something else, baby. Hollywood is something else.

It's not bad. It's just different. I can't speak for everyone, but I think that what I didn't realize before I came into it is that people are people.

Queen Latifah, for instance, for her to be such an icon, to have done so much, and to be so real and to be so humble. I try to see it from a positive standpoint because Hollywood can get a little negative as well.

JM: What are those negative things?
AS: The superficialness. People may not always be as genuine as they should be. I come from New Orleans. It's a city based on realness. It's just a feeling and people lack that somewhat in Hollywood. It can be soulless, you know?

JM: In some of the scenes in the TV show, Star, we see your character being misgendered and being disrespected because she's trans. Is that ever hard to film?
AS: Yes, yes. Absolutely. Cotton [Amiyah's character on Star] has come a long way, but it was difficult to have to go back. I've overcome some dramatic things. I've been through a lot.

A lot of those situations that I had to portray, they may not have been identical to my actual life, they were very reminiscent. When the pastor, gave me an exorcism at the kitchen table. That was rough. When you act and you portray something, you think about all the situations that are actually going on like that in real life.

I'm older than Cotton, so to have to not only tone myself down but to have to go through things or portray things that I've already overcome, it's like reopening the wounds that just started to heal.

JM: And especially because violence against trans people is an incredibly serious issue.
AS: Yeah. It's rough. My sister was shot 10 times in New Orleans. That's just one of the scenarios. 

I have friends who are scared to go outside. I was talking to my trans friend in Atlanta and I was like, "Girl, come out. Let's do something." She said, "Girl, I don't like people. I don't like people."

What type of life is that to live? She just would rather not deal with it. Just imagine.

JM: Your sister was shot 10 times. 
AS: 10 times

JM: How did that affect your sense of safety in the world?
AS: You can see that it kind of breaks me up. We grew up together. Her name was Chyna. It's scary for people to want to harm you purely for living your life, you know?

It's rough to just want to live in your truth and just be yourself and you can't do that. People are being murdered for just wanting to be happy and just wanting to be themselves. And it's frustrating to think about that. It's scary to know that that's a possibility. 

[Click here to listen to the full interview with Amiyah Scott.] 

Amiyah's first book, Memoirs of Mermaid, comes out on May 27th. It chronicles her tests, trials, triumphs, and transition. Click here to preorder a copy. 

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