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TRANSCEND: JACEN BOWMAN

Our host Gracie Cartier sits with Philly's face ruler, Jacen Bowman.

The following is a transcript of Gracie’s conversation with Jacen Bowman

GRACIE

The category is ballroom, next. You’ve seen him on HBO’s hit show, “Legendary.” He’s the former overall mother of the house of prodigy, and Philly’s face ruler, not to mention celebrity artists to the stars. He beats a mug down, honey. It’s the one and only, icon icon, Ms. Jacen Jacen!

JACEN

Hi Gracie, thank you for having me.

GRACIE

Thank you much for being here. I’m so excited to sit and chat with you. This is truly a full on, full circle moment to sit and go back with you into our roots and to come back into present day, so thank you so much.

JACEN

No, thank you, thank you.

GRACIE

Jacen and I, we go back. I mean, when you think of ballroom and you think of face, for Philadelphia, there were three face divas that rule and Jacen is like, he took the torch and he took it to a whole ‘nother level. There was Frank Excellence, who happened to be one of my gay fathers, one of my parents. And then there was Kareem Cartier. Some of you may know him by the golden child.

JACEN

The golden child.

GRACIE

And then it was the icon, Jacen. And like I said, you have truly like, you’ve done so much with, not only your legacy and ballroom, but also as a glam artist.

JACEN

It’s like watching your little sister grow up right before your eyes, right?

GRACIE

It is, it really is. You know, ballroom, ballroom has really made a huge impact. And I’m glad that the world truly now gets to see what ballroom is all about. You know, from “Paris is Burning,” that was the introduction, and if you don’t know what “Paris is Burning,” you must’ve been hiding under a rock. It’s just so many layers to ballroom. And me and Jacen, we’ve kind of like, we’ve had our history of a love, hate relationship.

JACEN

Yes, we have.

GRACIE

We were the face rivals. It took so much out of me to really fully admit that, but it’s like, when you’re the raining face girl and you’re like, in a ballroom scene period, when you’re like the reigning girl, there’s always the new bitch that’s coming for the crown, coming for the trophy, coming for the cash, that’s like, it’s about the new girl now. And for me, it was Jacen. And it got up under my skin so much because like, I truly had my little reign and he just came and took my thunder.

JACEN

It’s funny ’cause like, even hearing you talk about that, I remember being 16 and my first time ever seeing you, ’cause like people don’t know that, you know, you went to high school with my older brother. So like I knew who you were prior to actually hitting the Gayborhood and being on 13th street and like seeing the essence of how you commanded, you know, a room, how you commanded the block. I mean, I can even think back to gay pride when you had on all white, when you were a con and you had the little dog in your hand, I think the dog like made a mistake and peed on you or something, but it was like, to watch how you commanded all of that, it was always something that I aspired to be, it was always something that I looked up to. And it’s interesting because back during that time, I was always seeking for validation from, you know, Gracie. I always wanted to know more about Gracie, and I watched you, I studied you, and in my interpretation of what face was, you were my only interpretation. I knew that in order to be that girl, I had to battle and beat that girl. And so much of, you know, the creation of Jacen really I got from you, and then I took my own spin to it, but, you know, it’s so amazing to see that, I’m trying not to get emotional, but it’s so amazing to see that, you know, us growing up in the scene that created that competition and that grittiness and just that love and that family that we still never let, even though we had some close calls, we never let that interfere with who we are as grown people and as adults. And, you know, I just thank you for all of those things early on that you taught me, you know, conversations that you have with me young about not getting caught up and making sure I stayed grounded and making sure that I stayed focused. So I just want you to know from my mouth to your ears, I appreciate you and just thank you.

GRACIE

Before the Housewives was dishing out iconic and legendary reads, me and this one, when we’ve been there and we’ve done that, honey. I mean, again, that’s ballroom. Like, what does ballroom mean to you, and how has it impacted your life?

JACEN

So ballroom to me is about, you know, a chosen family. And though I was fortunate enough to have support from my biological family with my sexuality, I always say I never had a closet to come out of. How Jacen is now is how Jacen always was. But ballroom was the place where I could fellowship with likeminded individuals where my femininity was celebrated and not tolerated. It was an area where, you know, growing up, I was a little bit chubby. I went through a growth spurt. I got skinny. I knew that I was attractive, but I didn’t find myself this handsome man that everybody else looked at me. It gave me confidence. It showed me how to navigate, you know, in a world with artistic people that’s outspoken, that’s loud, that’s in your face. It really helped me embrace my gayness. And because of ballroom, I am who I am today. You know, it taught me how to navigate and articulate my career in the entertainment realm ’cause of all those lessons in ballroom. So it’s definitely a fabric of my being.

GRACIE

I cannot agree with you more. Before coming to LA, working in the industry, like before all of that, ballroom is the root of who I am. It really like, it has set us up for who we are today. It gave us that confidence. It gave us that no matter what you’re going through and what you’re dealing with in life, you can still show up, you can still be sitting and show up and handle whatever trials and tribulations that life throw at you. So of course the politics, like that taught me how to navigate one day you’re hot, the next day you’re not in the business. It has truly set me up for who I am today. So I cannot agree with you more. Now that ballroom has gone mainstream, what do you think the success of shows like “Pose” and “Legendary” mean to and for the community?

JACEN

I think it’s really important for shows like “Pose” and “Legendary” and also “My House” that came out on the Vice Network to have representation. You know, growing up on TV, they made such a spectaclilty out of being black and gay. We always thought that we had to be loud and feminine and flamboyant and just, we were the laughing stock. When you think about the Wayans brothers, and Shanaynay, and you know, and Wanda, they always made gay and drag and trans like the laughing stock, the joke. And now to have ballroom shows, you’re able to see a different type of queerness that, you know, you’re not accustomed to. So the good thing about that is, the people that’s growing up now in this generation can see, hey, I see representation. I see people just like me. Oh, wow, what is this world of ballroom? I’ve never heard this before. Oh, they compete. Oh, they have mothers, they have fathers, they have uncles and mentorships. And it’s really about community building. So I think that, you know, those shows are great. I think that, you know, sometimes those shows kind of missed the mark a little bit. It doesn’t really show the grittiness and the rawness of ballroom, but it’s a great representation or an introduction for you to understand more of current day ballroom than just looking at “Paris is Burning.”

GRACIE

Representation, indeed. Not only in front of the camera, but behind the camera. And that’s what I love about shows like “Pose” is because “Pose” not only shows the life, the real hard life of trans, of gay, but it also shows that we can be the writers, we can be the producers, we can be the creators, we can tell our own stories and not be exploited in a way to, like you said, like a spectacle. To whereas though we really show our true gifts, our true artistry.

JACEN

And I was blessed to be able to work on “Pose” for season one underneath Sherri Laurence who’s a makeup artist that I respect in the industry. And just even when I did do, you know, season two of “Legendary,” like when I got to the makeup department and I knew Tony Green and like, it was just a full circle moment of like, okay wow. I’m so used to being behind the camera. Now I’m on the camera, and my fellow colleagues are working on me. So, all right, let me take a step back. I don’t gotta do my makeup. Go ahead, y’all, beat me. Take care of me. Like, come on, let’s do this, let’s do this. So it was definitely a fun experience.

GRACIE

Now let’s get into “Legendary.” What did you learn and take away from that experience?

JACEN

The biggest thing that I took away from it, ’cause you know, we did go home early in the season. I don’t feel like we should’ve went home. I think that, you know, the judging on “Legendary,” very interesting. I don’t feel like they know enough about ballroom. I wish that Leiomy would’ve took a little bit more time educating the judges. Like I don’t feel like Megan and Law really knew what they were talking about. But overall, the experience was great. The biggest takeaway that I got from the show was I’m so used to being a leader and being a teacher and a mentor. Well, this was the one time that I had to like, actually be a student ’cause I had to trust my kids to teach me how to move my body. Though I have a little bit of rhythm, I have two left feet. I can’t Vogue, per se. I know how to do face and performance, but when it comes to learning fullout choreo and catching choreo and movement, child, I was in there looking like, what am I supposed to do? And you know, my kids taught me, I trusted my kids to, you know, lead me to the right direction. I think that’s the greatest thing about being a leader. In order to be a great leader, you have to be a great follower. So I’m appreciative of those moments. It was challenging because, you know, it is COVID, it’s a pandemic. So a lot of access to certain things that we normally would have, we didn’t, but we made the most out of it. And you know, I would never take away the opportunity. It was an amazing experience. I loved the fact that everybody was finally able to see me and talk about a world that I believe in and that I love so much, so I was really thankful for that.

GRACIE

And let me just say one thing, let me add my little two cents because I do think that “Legendary” is an amazing show. However, when we speak of telling our stories and representing us, I do feel that, Law to me is a great judge only because Law to me reminds me of an icon. He reminds me of RR Chanel. RR Chanel was shady as hell. You never knew, his judging was very unpredictable. You never knew what you were going to get, but the fact that he’s there for fashion, I do think that, and he like one of the top stylists in the industry in the world. I do think that he’s a great judge. However, as much as I love Jameela, and as much as I love Megan off of “Legendary,” I do not like them on “Legendary.” I feel that we need to have our people, people that know our story, that know our roots, that know what we go through, that know what it takes to show up in ballroom judging us. I think that it would be great to have one celebrity guest, but I do not feel that Jameela nor Megan should be on the panel and Leiomy is top tier judge. Not only is she an amazing judge on the show, I think that she’s an amazing judge in general. She’s non biased, she’s unapologetic. She gives it to you raw. and I just think that she’s like, she’s an amazing judge. I would like to see more people like Leiomy, maybe moi, on the panel judging the children. I know that you recently stepped down from the house of prodigy. We don’t gotta get into that tea, but I would like to know what are your plans for the future of ballroom and makeup?

JACEN

The future of me stepping down from the house of prodigy, I know a lot of people get the misconception, they think that I left the house of prodigy because of what happened on the show. I left the house of prodigy because it’s time that, you know, I be the change that I seek. A lot of times, you know, people hold on to the keys and the guard in ballroom for so long. You know, I felt like I was inside of a box, and I outgrew the box. And I left respectfully, you know, I love men, I appreciate men. Men have taught me a lot when it comes to just being a man and growing into my own entity. But yes, it is time that I start a new revolution. It’s time that, you know, I tie in and create a house that’s about arts and entertainment, that’s about culture, that’s about advocacy work. That really is about, you know, building the future, not chasing the future. So I can’t wait till you guys see what I have in store ’cause it’s coming very soon. And even in makeup artistry, you know, for so many years, I’ve always been someone who has separated ballroom and makeup because they always frowned upon ballroom people. They thought that we were , They thought we were prostitutes, they thought all kinds of negative connotations. So now to see ballroom on the rise and now that, you know, people are like, oh wait, you’re in the ballroom scene? Oh wait, Jacen, you’re the mother of my house? Like, oh, I didn’t know that. So it was really about using my platform to tie both worlds in together to pull people into ballroom that normally wouldn’t be pulled into ballroom who are scared of ballroom because they think it’s a shady place, not realizing that yeah, it can be a little tough, it can be a little shady, but it’s still filled with so much love, so much life, and so much respect. So that’s really where I’m going with my journey. I’m so in alignment to my next chapter. I’m just overjoyed even talking about it.

GRACIE

I feel the same way because I think I’m ready to dust off my shoes and come back into the ballroom scene, and show who I am as Gracie Cartier, Cartier for life. Jacen, thank you so much for being here today. It was so much fun taking it back from kids on the runway to now icons in the community, keep inspiring the children with your legacy and continue success, not only in the world of ballroom, but also glam.

JACEN

Thank you.

GRACIE

To watch this episode again or for more stories like these, visit our website at pluslifemedia.com and also check us out at social @pluslifemedia. Until next time, be a star, be a statement, be a legend, and be an icon, darling.

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