Houses are an essential component of the modern ball scene. A house, sometimes referred to as a family, are generally a group of LGBTQ individuals who come together under a house mother or father. The purpose is to provide a gathering place for members as well as the home for those in the community who need it.
As Eric Eminence, a Chicago legend, says, “A house is about competition, but firstly it is a group of individuals who come together and consider themselves a family. It’s an alternative lifestyle family who you can talk to and confide in, who can understand the things you’re going through.”
It has been compared to an apprentice system, where the house parents will take on new individuals, who they will help to integrate within the ball community by giving advice and helping with performances.
The members of the House take the house name as their last name, which can derive from fashion labels, famous individuals, or even ball legends. This reinforces the idea that they are all one family. As one house member in Chicago stated, “Within a house, we’re all like a family. We have a sense of community with each other. Sometimes you don’t have that from your original family.”
Many LGBTQ youths come out and are rejected from their families and their own parents. They do not have anyone to turn to so their house becomes their real family. The House parents take on their children with the hope of providing them with the support and advice on the community that their biological parents were unwilling or unable to provide.
The terms mother and father refer less to the genders of the house parents and more to the roles that they play within the house. “For the most part, the division of labor for house parents is very much alike to hetero-normative gender roles. For example, house mothers perform some of the same ‘motherly qualities’ such as cooking, cleaning, and being nurturing. On the other hand, house fathers typically serve as the mentors of their ‘children.’ They provide guidance, uphold the house reputation, and serve as authority figures.” These house parents help their children prepare for balls, educate them, and give them a safe space.
There are rules that for each house that the parents set up. Generally, there are monthly or weekly meetings that family members have to attend. Sometimes these houses charge dues and/or seek people who have special skills or interests. The House of Ninja is known for their fantastic voguing, and the House of Infiniti is known as one of the best Runway houses.
Overall, these houses provide a home for those who have been shunned from theirs. It is not just about the competition, but the relationships that they create.