“New York and Los Angeles!”
Nyla Foster had opened the office door and called these words out to me. I turned and looked back as I left the offices of the Kansas City Anti-Violence Project (KCAVP), where she is employed as an advocate and where we had just finished the interview.
“NY and LA,” Nyla said with a smile and then walked back inside.
Foster performs around town as the entertainer Angel Iman, and she has been entertaining since 2010. She explained the connection to both of her names.
“I transitioned way before I came to the stage,” she said. “I transitioned when I was 14, and I didn’t start doing drag until I was 21.” Now, Foster said, she is “28 and waiting.”
As a trans woman who does drag performances, Foster says, she runs into situations where people object.
“They don’t feel that you’re the real thing,” she said. “They feel that you have an upper hand or you cheated because of your presentation. My response is, ‘I’m a woman, but I’m a different person on stage.’”
Foster said some pageants can be different than drag entertainment venues.
“There are systems that exclude trans folk. Those are systems that I don’t compete in,” she said.
Foster laughed and said that with the LGBT acronym, the “T” is often “being on the end.”
“I feel like public figures increase the visibility, and we are coming into the forefront. We have always been there. Folks like Marsha P. Johnson have always been there. We’ve always been in the background supporting others. It’s so funny that we’ve been supporting the others for so long when it comes time for us to get support from the people that we supported, it’s like ‘Oh, you’re a freak and we don’t understand.’
“Just educating others and letting people know that with trans identities, we’re just people. That will help dismantle transphobia in the LGBT.”
Foster said she has performed in other venues besides gay bars and at colleges or straight venues.
“My comfort level was still the same.” Foster said that they’ve always been very welcoming and tips were good.
“It takes straight people to make trans folk,” she laughed.
Foster said she was lucky because her single mother was very supportive. Her high school in Kansas City, Kan., on the other hand, was a different experience.
“My high school basically expelled me. They said my gender identity was a disruption to the learning process.”
In college, she said, it’s much better.
“I just feel that people have a more open mind,” in college, “where you can just let that stuff go.” Foster went to Johnson County Community College where she majored in fashion design.
She described how she came up with her stage name.
“I love the letter A, so I knew it would be some type of A-name, and Angel just kind of happened. I think my performances are always light and fun and girly, and to me, Angel personifies that. Iman comes from Lady Iman, and she is the mother of the House of Iman. The House of Iman is a Kansas City LGBT family drag house. Lady Iman has won many pageants.
“Drag is art. And art, to me, is an act of healing. So whenever I am going through stressful situations or dysphoria has gotten the best of me that day, I go to my art to process that. When I sew my costumes, I put all that energy into that work.”
She creates her own costumes and gives her friend Moltyn Decadence, who was just crowned Miss Missouri Continental on May 28 in St. Louis, the credit for her hair.
Foster said that as Angel Iman, she was a former Miss Black Pride and former Kansas City Gay Pride simultaneously in 2015. Foster credits her friends Korea Cavalli Gleason and Gary Carrington for their work with Kansas City Black Pride.
Foster has worked at KCAVP for two years, first as a volunteer and then becoming a full-time employee in 2016.
They were talking about starting a trans person of color group in response to the murder of Tamara Dominquez, she said, and they invited her to join.
“In a way, I was almost like a community consultant to a group that was just starting out.”
Foster said the murders of transgender people, primarily women and people of color, must stop.
“We had 21 in 2015, 27 in 2016, and 10-12 so far in 2017. We need to have these conversations in the straight heterosexual homes. You go to church and they’re telling you it’s an abomination, so people are being murdered because they think it’s wrong.”
Foster said she sees the situation gradually getting better. “We are getting a lot of inclusive black Christian churches.”
When she joined KCAVP as an intern in 2016, it led to her staff position as an advocate.
“I am also a coordinator for the Kansas City Transgender Empowerment Program (KCTEP),” she said. “It is open to all transgender and gender non-conforming people.”
She won first runner-up in this year’s Miss Black Trans International (www.blacktrans.org) in Dallas.
“The mission of that system is to advance black and transgender folk through the art of pageantry, by doing work that is rooted in health advocacy that provides visibility and education to create social change.”
Foster spoke of how she was honored to be styled on the June cover of Camp as the transgender Stonewall activist Marsha P. Johnson, who was among the first to resist police that night in 1969.
“Marsha P. Johnson was coined as throwing the first brick of the Stonewall riots. To me, Marsha P. Johnson lets me know that we have always been here, fighting for others. We were fighting for others when people didn’t understand what trans folk were or what it looked like. Now that we all know what trans people are and we have women like Marsha P. Johnson who marched and fought and did all that, I would just like to see a little support from others who are not trans, whether you are gay, straight, lesbian, bisexual, to utilize your privilege to make space for those who don’t have access.”
Foster said that the work they do at KCAVP helps build confidence.
“People see that confidence when you walk into spaces. When you’re confident, you speak things into existence in a universe that gives back. When you’re doing positive things and you’re on the right track, it only goes up.”
Angel Iman will be performing at:
• The June 2-4 Kansas City PrideFest.
• Missie B’s shows on Sunday, Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday nights.
• Kansas City Black Pride at the Arts Asylum on Aug. 12 as part of the entire weekend of events.
The Kansas City Transgender Empowerment Program meets bi-weekly on Thursdays, from 6 to 8 p.m., at the offices of KCAVP, 4050 Pennsylvania Ave., Suite 135, Kansas City, Mo. For information, call 816-561-0550.
About The Cover
The Camp cover is an homage to Marsha P. Johnson, a transgender activist who was among the first of the Stonewall Inn patrons to resist police in the 1969 riot.
We thank Nyla Foster (aka Angel Iman), our model; Andy Chambers and Alan Dunham of the Wonderland store at 307-309 Westport Road in historic Westport for styling, makeup and hair; and P.S. Linden Photography (PSLindenPhoto.com) for photography.