(Full article written by Aaron Pierre Brown. Please do not copy and paste in part or whole without express permission from the author at

The ideas for categories can come from anywhere, but are usually developed around the basics: "Face", "Body", "Realness", "Runway/ Model Effect", "Bizarre" and "Vogue Performance". Themes are taken many times from present popular culture, and most of the categories will reflect this in some way. The House of Avant-Garde once threw "As The Ball Turns", with a handbill resembling a TV Guide, and categories numbered like channels. All the categories made some reference to television shows. One category was "...looking for Plain Janes and Neat Nicks that turned into TV heart-throbs by the time they reach the judges' table", while another wanted you to endorse your choice of product or sponsor in a mock commercial.

It is important to keep category requirements concise, but often it is the clever rhymes, s(n)ide comments, footnotes, call-outs and rival-rousing that help spark the anticipation, as well as participation. Hector Xtravaganza and RR Chanel's "ShadeFest" flyer stated for their "Male Body" category: "Be it short, tall or stocky, which one will make us lust for the cocky?" In this case, the objective was sex appeal and not just physique. The result was a runway flooded with candidates in their birthday suits, hands strategically keeping their "jewels" covered.

Categories are generally
broken up as follows:

Male (Men's or BQ) Face-
"Masculine" (allows groomed facial hair) vs "Pretty Boy" (smooth and clear complexion).
Sometimes "Face" is further divided between "Light and Lovely vs Brown and Lovely vs Dark and Lovely".

Women's (Female) or FQ Face-
"Painted" (allows makeup) vs "Unpainted" (no makeup).

Male (Men's or BQ) Body-
"Muscular" (body builders) vs "Model's" (not as beefy- magazine quality).

Women's (Female) or FQ Body-
"Luscious" (full-figured, but sexy) vs "Model's" (swimsuit quality).

role playing down to the smallest of details. For example, if the category is "FQ Realness", all traces of ones biological maleness must be virtually erased (or at least hidden). In contrast, "BQ Realness" requires complete camouflage of anything remotely perceived as "gay": you appear to be a straight man.

offers the widest range of creativity and display
. From "Futuristic" to "Fantasy", the objective is to always present an elaborate costume and effect. There are specific favorites like "Foil vs. Plastic", but often the category is more general in scope.

Runway/Models' Effect-
requirements vary greatly, with contestants displaying home sewn garments ("Designer's Delight") or high fashion ready-to-wear like Prada or Gucci ("Labels").Sometimes the contestants are judged solely on their walking ability. In these instances, you are free to choose any outfit that will make you "feel it".

stylized jazz dance created by the african-american gay community, with its own separate divisions and requirements.

Grand Prize
- usually requires the efforts of 3 or more people per entry. You may have to create a skit or put on some type of production in the theme of the event. Close attention must be paid to costume, music, props and overall showmanship. This is one of many categories that can bring a ballroom to its feet, when you consider the lengths that contestants will go to satisfy a frenzied crowd.

Whatever categories are offered, contestants must adhere to the requirements given, to avoid disqualification or low scoring (getting"chopped") before an eagerly cheering and jeering audience (a vicious"Gong Show", if you will). This brings about the question of "shade": who's throwing it and how much (see glossary below). Judges can be quite finicky when it comes to exact interpretation, and its up to the emcee or a head judge to settle disputes that may erupt from time to time. Generally, everyone's a good sport, but you do get poor losers here and there.

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