In the game of shade, Houses are a group of people brought together and united under the name of a House Mother or Father. At the ball they compete, in lots of different categories, against rival houses to win the judges’ favour.
Many houses, from far and wide, will compete at next month’s Vogue Ball. The legendary House of Suarez based in Liverpool, will be joined by various Houses from numerous cities around England – the fresh on-the-block House of Noir (Manchester based woo), House of Flava, the fierce House of Babs, House of La Porta, House of LIPA, House of Korrupt and House of Viva Brazil. All ready to WOW you with their costumes, bringing fire, energy and creativity. Phew!
Houses are the family you choose.
Houses were the original framily (friend family) on the ballroom circuit, also called “drag houses” or “drag families”.
Let’s take a quick trip back to 1940s Harlem and the origins of drag-ball culture. In this setting, houses served a greater purpose than only to compete at the ball. Houses were mostly made our of gay, gender-nonconforming, genderqueer or transgendered people who had nowhere else to turn. For many people, houses were their only family, having been rejected by their biological families, or marginalised by their community.
Today houses are much more diverse, which is to say they don’t exclude non-LGBTQ+ performers. At its core is the universal message of acceptance, which the Fab Five drill home in every episode of Queer Eye: the community that accepts you for who you are, are your family.
Contrary to the famous adage ‘You can’t choose your family…’ (you know the rest), you CAN choose your family and they can even be your friends.
WHAT MAKES A HOUSE… A HOME?
Houses are run by mothers and fathers. Betcha knew that, didn’t ya?
But wait… in drag-ball culture mothers and fathers are different. Just like Mama Ru, they rule the roost and usually, a “house mother” or “house father” is a drag queen, queer or transgender person. How does RuPaul put it? “Order in the courtroom, HUNTIES!” (hunty = friend).
Under the parents are the “children” – to whom the house mother or father provides wisdom, guidance and care. According to Michael Cunningham, author of The Slap of Love, a house is made up of ‘a big raucous band of… drag queens, butch queens, transsexuals, a few non-trans girls and one or two straight guys. The smattering of girls and notwithstanding, the house are, essentially, cabals (groups) of young gay men obsessed being fashionable and fabulous’.
The family brand
This isn’t matching knitwear and cute family photographs lining the stairs. This is about the business brand – about representing your house and their values. Many drag families today are united by a brand aesthetic and by a defining message.
Darren Pritchard, House Mother of House of Ghetto says:
‘Usually, when a mother gives birth to a House in a city, it becomes a chapter of the main house, i.e. my main house is House of Ghetto so, in turn, new houses would be House of Ghetto Newcastle Chapter [etc.] Ever the maverick I gave each house its own identity, its own spirit, political stance and undeniable talent.’
House of Ghetto, according to their website, was ‘formed in the ashes of the 2008 financial crash and was made up of young black females: the demographic hardest hit by austerity measures, refocussing Vogue’s original mission of black empowerment to fit the modern-day narrative’.
Performers who establish themselves as a house have often worked on the same gig-circuit, and whether performing with their house or solo, often represent their drag-family. In addition, some artists even go as far as to take the surname of their houseparent, for example, Pepper La Beija, changed her last name to represent the House of LaBeija.
Certain drag queens and houseparents’ are legacies and idols within the community. House of Suarez, ‘The Mother House of the North’, has provided support for many vogue houses as they starting up. Their mission is ‘to raise the profile of Vogue Dance styles by creating new works and opportunities for performance’. Darren Pritchard, once a walker for the House of Suarez, is now a proud mother of many QTIPOC houses around the country, including, House of Ghetto, House of Babs, House of Ghetto and House of Noir. Their combined work has revived the Northern ball-circuit and continues to be an important part of the LGBTQ+ community.
Pepper LaBeija says in Paris is Burning, that ball fame ‘is the closest to the reality that [they] will get to fame and fortune…Becoming a legacy is the ultimate fantasy”. No doubt, House of Suarez and House of Ghetto will go down as legacies.
House of Suarez + Contact: Vogue Ball 2020
Now you’ve got the language why not pop to the ball and drop below the waves to the lost kingdom of Atlantis? Or is that kweendom of Atlantis?
Also look out for our blog dropping next week which features Darren Suarez – House of Suarez Father, giving us all the goss on the beginnings of HOS and his fav moments of the past Vogue Ball events!
Saturday 29 February, 7:00 pm
Manchester Academy 1, Oxford Road M13 9PR