Living and Performing ‘Femme Queen Joy’

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Rosa Isabel Rayos, 28, is an Afro-Latina transgender rapper whose goal is to make music that uplifts, supports and encourages Black transgender women — including, at times, herself.

“Everybody who raps only raps about what they know,” said Ms. Rayos, who goes by Ms. Boogie when she performs. Her motive just happens to be very clear: to connect to other trans people who need a reminder that they deserve to feel safety, love and joy.

“It’s imperative for me to center my work around spreading that ‘femme queen joy,’” Ms. Rayos said. “It seems like the right thing to do, to create on an emotional level, to make the things I needed and continue to need to hear. I am gifting myself, too.”

Black transgender women live under such constant threat of violence that the American Medical Association declared the wave of murders of trans people last year an “epidemic.” “We are at the very bottom of the totem pole,” Ms. Rayos said, “right next to the cisgender Black woman.”

Born and raised in the East New York neighborhood of Brooklyn, Ms. Rayos began performing in the warehouse rave circuit in New York City six years ago and found that she felt empowered onstage. She had previously walked in New York’s ballroom scene, and used that experience to develop a distinct physicality and presence that melded rap with ballroom. At the time, Ms. Rayos performed under the name Jay Boogie.

As her popularity grew so did her success. She began touring to different cities and countries and was the subject of admiring profiles in Vice and other publications, but the life she was getting to experience did not match how she felt.

“I was in a very divisive place in my life,” Ms. Rayos said. “I was torn.”

Performing provided an outlet for her gender expression. “In many ways, before, it felt like getting ready for a performance and stepping into the glamour was an opportunity for me to feel closer to my womanhood,” she said. “I would really look forward to it.”

In 2018, Ms. Rayos came out publicly in a letter published in Paper Magazine, writing: “In a practical world, I would be a ‘trans woman,’ but in the world that I have built for myself and my loved ones, I am simply myself.”

What followed, onstage, was a transformation to an effervescent performer that Ms. Rayos conjured by mixing a bit of her mother’s tenacity, a punch of Grace Jones’s confidence and several spoonfuls of Foxy Brown’s Brooklyn pretty-girl aura.

The extreme self-assuredness she hopes to embody is not meant to mask the reality of the dangers she and other trans people face disproportionately in the United States and around the world, but to fly in the face of it. “My joy and determination of self does not exempt me from being targeted in any way,” Ms. Rayos said.

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