Starr was up, her jaw set with the determination of a boxer entering the ring. She started her moves down on the floor before strutting up the steps and moving down the runway, getting in a good two or three back dips before the judges dismissed her with a shot of Silly String. Chopped. Kool-Aid didn't contest it, instead resting his hand on Starr's shoulder and saying her hair looked like she'd taken a dunk in the pool.

Starr gave a laugh like she was in on the joke, then pooched her lips into a showy pout and padded down the runway, hips out front and feet flopping out under her, returning to Nikki and Angel.

Some say the "productive critique" from peers of the ball scene is better than being judged daily for your identity in the outside world. But in the outside world, Starr has honed her defenses. If Kool-Aid were some kook in Harvey Milk Plaza, Starr could have socked him in the lip; if someone laid a hand on her like that in Union Square, he probably would have gotten pepper-sprayed with the dented can she keeps ever-ready in her purse. In the outside world, Starr says, "there's a way around everything" — rules are to be bent and subverted, group homes escaped, identity tweaked — and the stinging words would have bounced off her. But here, Starr respects the ballroom hierarchy as if it were a religion, and for all her later shit-talking about "shady" judging, while on the runway, Starr accepted her elders kicking her off, even insulting her on the way out.

The sole voguer in the category who didn't get chopped was named the default winner, and the competition moved on.

Starr certainly wasn't the only one dissed that night, or "thrown shade," in ballroom parlance. At one point, Kool-Aid smacked a towering femme queen on her ample rump hanging out of a stripper dress, yelling, "What's not real about her? What's not real about her?" ("Real," as applied to transgender women in the ball world, means passing as a biological woman. The category has supporters who find it validating, and detractors who say it is insulting and out of date.) Later, a runway walker in a natty gold 19th-century-inspired outfit blew white powder in the face of a competitor as he sashayed past him. Kool-Aid denounced the show of unsportsmanlike shade — apparently only he gets to hurl the insults — and said he hoped the kid would show at the next ball, because "when it's my turn to get to the runway, I'm gonna get you!" The gold-clad guy nodded his head fiercely back as he descended the steps, in the "Bring it!" manner usually associated with basketball players being pulled away from a fight.

But the relative peace didn't last. During the voguing competition, as the time passed 1 a.m. with $500 on the table, a Flintstones-styled character in a leopard smock — whom people would later identify as Enyce Chanel up from Los Angeles, who knew he was about to lose — grabbed the wig of his competitor, a 17-year-old Oakland 007 butch queen called Maliyha Brown, who was dressed up like the Jetsons' maid. He yanked her hairpiece around a couple times in an apparent attempt to snatch it off, but, since it was bonded on by some heavy-duty glue, instead ripped Brown down with it.

That was all the provocation needed, and the fight was on: Spectators lunged up on the runway, while others stampeded to the ballroom's edges. Maliyha was hustled up onto the stage ("because I'm known to fight," as she would later explain). Security men streamed onto the runway to separate the brawlers. Skirmishes erupted down on the floor, overturning two tables, the goody bags of condoms and dental dams skittering across the floor.

Jack Mizrahi channeled his stern authority through the mike, his apparent disappointment called into question by his other hand holding a camera recording the chaos for posterity, possibly for YouTube. "The ball is over!" he shouted. "Thank you. We are constantly labeled as a subculture community because of things like this. Get your trashy asses out!" The crowd eventually obeyed his demands and trickled out into the rain, while the Mizrahi house members grouped around the stage. Jack told them, "The revolution of this house starts in Oakland tomorrow night at 5 p.m." at a house meeting. West Coast chapter father Duke Mizrahi screamed, "The way you motherfuckas carried on tonight ... is fucked up! It's fucked up! It's fucked up!" He continued like a profane broken record until Jack calmed him down.

Starr missed all the chaos she had predicted. After she went outside to console an upset friend, the security guards wouldn't allow her back in, a parting insult to stack up with the night's others. Back in the Castro by 2 a.m., she was already planning to head home — to New York. "I'm really sad about how this ball turned out," she said.

By the next afternoon, her gloom had morphed into anger. The ball "was a piece of shit. Someone who's walking virgin vogue shouldn't be chopped, period. Unless they're just beyond ridiculous, but nobody there was beyond ridiculous, so I don't know why they were expecting to just see the next hottest thing."

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