Butch Queens Up in Pumps

Gender, Performance, and Ballroom Culture in Detroit
Marlon M. Bailey
20 years after Paris Is Burning, a rare look at Ballroom culture—from the inside


Butch Queens Up in Pumps examines Ballroom culture, in which inner-city LGBT individuals dress, dance, and vogue to compete for prizes and trophies. Participants are affiliated with a house, an alternative family structure typically named after haute couture designers and providing support to this diverse community. Marlon M. Bailey’s rich first-person performance ethnography of the Ballroom scene in Detroit examines Ballroom as a queer cultural formation that upsets dominant notions of gender, sexuality, kinship, and community.

Butch Queens Up in Pumps is a sophisticated account of the production of genders and bodies and it tracks subversion and resistance not to symbolic acts but to material forms of survival and community. . . . This book, showing that gender is equal parts production, performance, biology, labor and fashion, makes truly original contributions to the twenty-first century study of gender and embodiment.”
—Jack Halberstam, University of Southern California

 “At once revelatory and heartbreaking, Bailey’s ethnographic details leap off the page, putting the reader dead center inside the kaleidoscopic world that is ballroom. Beyond his wonderful storytelling, however, Bailey’s research is undergirded by the very ‘ethics of care’ practiced by the members of the ball houses he studies, as well as a nuanced theorizing that sacrifices none of the material implications of the political economy of racialized spaces—specifically the ballroom scene in Detroit.”
—Dwight McBride, Northwestern University

“To read Butch Queens Up in Pumps is to immerse oneself in the drama and splendor of Detroit’s Ballroom culture, a thriving Black and Latino performance commons. Marlon Bailey’s riveting accounts of live performance events like Ballroom competitions, his astute analysis of the performer's world off the runways and his invaluable insights on the complex, interlacing performances of race, class, gender and sex that mark the entire scene remind us of what the best performance ethnographies can teach us.” —José Muñoz, New York University

Cover: photo by Christopher Cushman (www.epiphanynoir.com). Performers (L-R) Pasahype and Paris Nuance.

Marlon M. Bailey is Associate Professor of Women and Gender Studies in the School of Social Transformation at Arizona State University.

Praise / Awards

  • "This study of house/ball culture also makes for yet another example of the positive impact of liberation psychologies at work among people attempting to thrive and survive amid systemic marginalization and dismissal by outgroup members in the wider society."
  • "Butch Queens Up in Pumps meticulously details how racism, poverty, homophobia and AIDS still challenge the black lgbt community and how Ballroom culture in Detroit provides a space of resistance, yet as a combination of ethnography and memoir, the book reads personally and emotionally in a way that few academic studies achieve."
    Lambda Literary Review
  • "Bailey’s work on the Ballroom and black queer performance cultures, more generally, makes a significant contribution to scholarship on LGBT families, ethnographies of racialized gender and sexuality, and African diasporic expressive cultures and forms."
    --C. Riley Snorton, GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies

  • "Butch Queens Up in Pumps is a stunning ethnography of Detroit’s Black and Latina/o Ballroom culture...Butch Queens is engaging and compelling; it opens up new avenues for discussing the importance of performance for LGBT people of color, and the multifaceted ways they creatively resist discrimination."
    --Josh Morrison, Latino Studies
  • "Bailey offers us crucially important insights into how black queer life is a necessary life of creative destruction and invention but also one that is fulfilling in ways that hegemonic contemporary queer culture can’t seem to notice or can only notice at the site of entertainment, like Rupaul’s drag race. Instead, Butch Queens Up in Pumps reveals to us pleasure, death, and life as creative forces shaping everyday existence always slightly ahead of that which seeks to drag us into the abyss."
    --Transgender Studies Quarterly
  • "Bailey offers us a rich and detailed view of Detroit’s ballroom scene..."
    --Feminist Studies
  • Bailey’s text offers numerous, timely, ethnographically rich and useful contributions to scholarship in gender/
    sexuality studies, performance studies, African-American studies and theatre/drama and, as they say in the scene, deserves “tens across the board.”
    --Text and Performance Quarterly
  • "Butch Queens Up in Pumps is a story of place, invention, and agency marshalled by deep participatory and critical engagement."
    --Quarterly Journal of Speech
  • Bailey’s rich ethnography provides a model not only for how to capture the voices of those with whom we work
    and speak, but also how to attend to political economy while doing so. This balance is a true treasure in this ethnographic endeavor — “making the familiar strange” while also unveiling the layered interplay of race, gender, class, and sexuality in a complicated playground of identities."
    --Theatre Annual
  • Winner, Alan Bray Memorial Book Prize, 2015
  •  Finalist, Lambda Literary Award in LGBT Studies, 2014

Look Inside

News, Reviews, Interviews

Interview | Strange Fruit
Interview | Left of Black

Product Details

  • 6 x 9.
  • 296pp.
  • 21 B/W photographs.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Hardcover
  • 2013
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-07196-8

Add to Cart
  • $85.00 U.S.

  • Paper
  • 2013
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-05196-0

Add to Cart
  • $33.95 U.S.

Related Products



  • Ballroom Culture, House/Ball Culture, Gender, Sexuality, Queer Kinship, Black/African American Cultures, Black Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, LGBT, Black Queer Performance, HIV/AIDS Prevention, Drag Performance, Vogue, a Black LGBT Dance Form, Detroit