This past week Maryland became the 7th state to pass an equality in marriage bill. While many of the LGBTQ community celebrate this triumph, I remain skeptical that this gesture will bring any form of substantive change, particularly to those who are most marginalized—queer people of color. Marriage is nice, but will that bring more resources to those queer individuals that have been cast into homelessness. Marriage is nice, but does that mean the homophobia, transphobia and hate that have been a generational curse for thousands of youth will go away? Marriage is nice, but does marriage mean complacency for larger more important issues in queer politics? I believe equality in marriage is a good next step, but I hope this (LBGTQ) entrance into American norms—mostly taken advantage of by those who are middle and upper class— does not distract us from more radical issues that the most pathologized individuals are experiencing even after all the marriage rallies have ended. I find hope in the ballroom scene, a controversial, yet consistent subculture, that has been used by queer people of color as a safe place.
What queer people of color know today as the “House Ballroom Scene” has developed its roots from Harlem Drag Balls—and similar gay subcultures that were having balls around the country during the same era. (I will keep referring back to Harlem and in particular the Hamilton Lodge Ball, simply because we have the most evidence to prove this event could substantively be located as far back as the early 20th century.)
I am only able to structure a kinship between the Hamilton Lodge Ball and the Ballroom Scene today because of the near exact communities and purposes of the activity—things that Sydney H. testified were present nearly one hundred years ago, can still be found in the contemporary Ballroom Scene. Things like “display, rivalry, dancing, and advertisement” are still core facilities that take place in modern day Balls. Furthermore, semantically it is difficult for one to segregate the cultures from one another simply because the name “ball” has remained evident in the title of both the current events and the culture itself. However, the ball has transformed and taken on much more complex artistic, cultural, and familial forms.
One of the most important aspects of the Ballroom scene is that of the “House” system. In this subculture, “Houses” are voluminous, usually same-sex groupings of individuals who call themselves “children,” and who take on a family name—usually derived from a prominent pop-culture figure or clothing designer — and abide by regulations set by the “mother” and/or “father” of the “House.” Houses remain as a mirroring of the traditional idea of a family, reflected in an LGBTQ Ballroom Scene sub-cultural context. Often these Houses are viewed as the only family some of the participants have.
Dorian Corey in Paris is Burning (a 1991 Documentary spotlight the Ballroom Scene) described them as “families for kids who don’t have families. Not Man, Woman, and children families but a new idea of family. A group of human beings in a mutual bond… or a gay street gang who fight by walking in a ball” The mother and father (not correlated with gender) of a House are appointed by its members, this is usually a person who has gained status or experience in and outside of Ballroom Scene Culture. Participating and decisively winning competitions facilitates the achievement of rank or status in the ballroom scene. In these competitions that take place at each Ball, there are various categories that one can compete in and master to become what is called a “legend.”
While the issue on Marriage seems more and more likely to go to a Supreme Court decision, I think for many in the LGBTQ community of color, the marriage battle is not on the top of our priority list. Many are just trying to get through the days and weeks. Perhaps we should focus an equal amount of our efforts on a movement dedicated to stopping systemic mechanisms that continue to push already oppressed groups, even further into the margins.