Remember Madonna in her heyday? The megahit “Vogue”? “Let your body dance to the music!” How can you forget the sleek, black-and-white vintage video, slender men displaying hand-and-arm precision as exact as an antique timepiece? That video introduced mainstream to a subculture in existence for many years called the ballroom scene. Far from “Dancing with the Stars,” this demimonde was illuminated by the sultry moon.

Same-gender loving men founded a way to showcase natural raw talent like sewing, modeling, themed presentations and skits, and choreography – and most of all a place to boast about their ‘house’ members and earn cash and trophy prizes, along with bragging rights. A male-dominated scene, the only women who were usually seen were those who presented female but were male-bodied; whether they identified as what is now termed transgender was reserved for the individual.

As time progresses there is now an additional place for women, butch and trans persons to showcase their talents. The WBT Coalition is growing in numbers since its inception in 2012. It offers bragging rights, cash, and trophy prizes – and most importantly, a safe space to express oneself. It is a positive outlet for women who may fall on the masculine side of the trans spectrum.

Native Baltimorean Mr. Scruggs identifies as a queer man of trans experience who is making an impact in the WBT Coalition. He is the father of the Outstanding House of Prominence / La Casa de Prominencia. Started in 2008, Mr. Scruggs, affectionately known as AJ, aspired to guide LGBTQ youth and offer a family outside of bloodline ties. His inspiration came as a direct result of his personal experiences. Prom’s mission is to “aid in the transition from youth to adulthood for LGBTQ youth.” With strong guiding principles – “Excellence, Community Service, Self Betterment, and Guidance” – the house is growing at a steady pace. Addressing the obstacles that challenged its members in the “traditional’ ballroom scene, the WBT Coalition signifies unity.

Father AJ Prominencia’s knows first-hand the hardships many of the coalitions members face: homelessness, joblessness, lack of health insurance. His quest to live fully as his true identity placed him at the mercy of predators. Without shelter, he trusted community members who voluntarily opened their home to him. No health insurance complicated matters and forced him to stop hormone therapy. During this time he began to experience the symptoms associated with stopping hormones, which for trans men means female body composition returning, reproductive system activity, anxiety, and depression. Then his greatest fear was realized: he was assaulted. Later he learned that the incident was planned and his life remained in danger after the assault. Jolted into rigid survival mode, a WBT Coalition member helped him find a safe haven and gain his bearings. He recalls finally returning to Baltimore, walking from the Greyhound bus station to his home four miles away – “The walk to freedom.” When he stepped onto his block the neighbor said, “It’s good to see you!” He recounts, “Home never felt so good.”

Mr. Scruggs openly shed light on the realities of men of trans experience and crimes committed against them. He tells us men of experience often do not report crimes committed against them because they do not want to deal with law-enforcement bias, or the stigma of being perceived as weak or deserving. He desires to maintain privacy and as much dignity and respect as possible. With many healthcare facilities not being trans friendly, many of the men would be re-victimized while reporting the assault, like mis-gendering, and classification uncertainty due to binary gender forms.

Why does AJ prefer to use the term man of trans experience? “I am and always have been a man first. My journey to manhood is secondary.” Another hot-button topic in the community is the decision for some persons to live ‘stealth’ – no one knowing of their past life experience. When asked if living stealth is a form of lying, Mr. Scruggs simply stated, “My history or another person’s history is no one’s business.” He explains that protecting one’s identity is not about being shameful or secretive, it’s about not feeling obligated to reveal personal matters because someone else misunderstands, is biased or unwilling to respect me as a human being.

Recently being outed at school caused him to take time off from his educational pursuit and wait until things settled down before resuming his studies. These types of incidents can be avoided if people would take the time to think about the repercussions of their actions. Father AJ resorts to his WBT Coalition family for support and guidance during trying moments of being a black queer trans man of experience.

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