Trans showgirl Fantasia Royale Gaga has proven she’s more than just her nickname, "the Body," after snatching the Miss Miami Beach Pride 2023 crown. The South Florida entertainer leaned on her chosen family and spiritual journey to earn the title and, quite literally, survive as a Black, queer woman.
"I'd probably be out on the streets strung out somewhere at a time when you don’t feel love from your blood," she says. "When I was old enough, I learned being a trans individual won’t stop me from going to heaven."
According to host and Pride board member Tiffany Fantasia, the tenth annual pageant on April 4 celebrated “female impersonators and drag queens” through fashion, beauty, talent, and Q&A categories. Local queens CC Glitzer and Dasha Sweetwaters made for fierce competition. As the new ambassador, Gaga fills the heels of outgoing queen Malaysia Babydoll Foxx, who competed on the current season of RuPaul’s Drag Race.
At 35, Gaga only recently returned to pageantry after about eight years of focusing on live entertainment at venues like her home bar Palace in South Beach, Georgie's Alibi Monkey Bar in Wilton Manors, and Royal Carribean's Harmony of the Seas. Her success also landed her stints on Out TV’s drag docuseries Miami Dolls and queer reality competition Hot Haus, which she won.
While most of her performances give body, burlesque, and glamour, she lip-synced to an upbeat gospel song for the talent segment with the refrain "only God can do it" as an ode to her religious upbringing.
“Growing up, you have generational pass-downs, like Christianity. I got told so much as a child, ‘You’re not supposed to do this,’” Gaga says. “But I don’t feel like me being a trans individual is going to stop me from going to heaven.”
“I was like, I want to express myself, but if I can’t do that under your roof, then I’d rather just not be here,” Gaga says. “This is who I am.”
The Jacksonville-born and -raised artist practiced theater in high school, which inspires much of her showgirl persona today. She clung onto a few seniors who introduced her to her drag parents, Sasha Saint James and Lamont Royale when she first went by Latoya Saint James Royale.
“Just going around introducing people to other queer people is really what gave me that strength, especially because at home, I couldn’t be who I was at school,” Gaga explains. “It was all about community."
Gaga began to perform and medically transition around then, which at the time required parental permission — something she couldn’t retrieve. Instead, she bought hormone replacement therapy estrogen from older trans women, as was the norm for trans youth in the '90s.
“Our goal every week was to hustle up, get our pills or shots,” Gaga says. “They would teach us how to take them since they got them from a licensed doctor, and we’re all our beautiful trans women now.”
She noticed a lack of discourse on hormone replacement therapy, especially among those who tested negative for HIV and AIDS. She recalls that many doctors mainly prescribed HRT to trans patients only if they tested positive for HIV or AIDS — before they found there was no correlation.
“There was no representation. I couldn’t just turn on a TV or go on YouTube. If I didn’t see it in person, it didn’t exist,” Gaga adds.
The performer became the representation her best friend needed while developing his gender expression.
"When people see Fanny, it's like walking into an airplane, and everyone's eyes go big, and their mouths drop," Gonzalez says. "She's a beacon of courage for me."
Now she worries that future access to gender-affirming care could be limited and mirror her past experience.
"We're not doing any harm to anyone. We're just some brave people who go out there and express ourselves," Gaga explains. "It sickens me that they're trying to come up with all these bills to erase us."
A recent Texas ruling to ban a safe, FDA-approved abortion pill nationwide could also set a dangerous precedent for banning other drugs, like those of gender-affirming care. If upheld by the Supreme Court, the "ruling by this one judge overturns not just access to mifepristone, but possibly any number of drugs," Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra told CNN.
"When it starts to affect my career and who I am as a person, that's when I really have to step in," Gaga says, pointing to the Florida bill (SB 1438) that would ban minors from attending drag shows. The Republican-controlled Senate approved the bill last week.
To combat these restrictions and continue serving drag, Gaga calls on all allied voices to join the fight, not just those with close ties to the community.
"It's time for the men that secretly sleep with trans people, our allies, and the straight bachelorette girls who come to our brunches to finally stand as one with us and fight," Gaga says.