“I always had hopes of being a big star. Then I looked… as you get older you aim a little lower. And I just say, ‘Well, yeah, you still might make an impression.’ Everyone wants to leave something behind them, some impression, some mark upon the world.
Then you think: You’ve left a mark on the world if you just get through it. And a few people remember your name, then you’ve left a mark. You don’t have to bend the whole world. I think it’s better to just enjoy it. Pay your dues and enjoy it. If you shoot an arrow and it goes real high, hooray for you.” – Dorian Corey, Paris is Burning
Paris is Burning is a cult classic documentary about the “underground” and often appropriated subculture of Black and Latino queer talent competitions called “balls” (or a “ball”) and referred to as the “ballroom scene.” I want to point out that not every queer Black and Latino person participates in, or attends, balls.
Something in me is always affirmed, and at the same time, shaken when I hear those words spoken with a particular kind of wisdom-tinged nonchalance by Dorian Corey. What really moves me, in an uncomfortable, yet necessary way, is the melancholy in the undercurrent of her statement.
The melancholy of having the high hope of being something very big, very grand and very great in a world that wants you to be the opposite, in a world that can do that. A world that is bigger and more powerful than you. It’s the kind of reality that can sober even the most hopeful.
On the other side of the coin is the affirmation. I feel empowered with a sense of agency when Dorian says, “You don’t have to bend the whole world. I think it’s better to just enjoy it. Pay your dues and enjoy it.”
What that statement says to me is that even though there is pain in being ostracized, marginalized and left out, it just might be better to not try to live up standards not meant for you, to not try to think you are going to win by playing by rules meant to work against you.
That ultimately, it’s up to you to figure out the worth of either path and figure out which one is more worth it for you. Whichever you choose, “pay your dues,” put in your work and try to enjoy it along the way, because if you don’t then what’s the worth?
The choice is yours and yours only.