Originating from America, the terms and spirit associated with being part of a drag family or ‘haus’ have become more and more popular on the UK drag scene over the past few years.
But why? Have drag families always been around in one form or another? Are they solely a force of positivity? And why are they so important to some and not to others?
Jason Reid was eager to find out more, so he asked the experts, the drag artists of the London cabaret scene, about their experiences and drag families…
Anything and everything goes in art. Personally however, I would never be a part of a drag family, or seek one out. The best thing about art and drag is discovering things for oneself. I work in a very solitary way, and the only person I really collaborate with is my husband, Dusty Payne, who helps me with concepts for my song parodies, looks, themes for shows, and general career direction as an artist. Dusty has a theatrical background, so it was a natural process to involve him in what I do and his help to me is invaluable. I’m hoping one day he’ll take me up on the offer to join me onstage as either Gawd or Joseph Xtravaganzah…one can only pray.
I didn’t set out to be a drag queen specifically, but an entertainer. And the other acts thirty years ago were the same. So there weren’t ‘families’ as such. I see a lot of young queens now wanting to do drag and looking for a ‘drag mother’ to help them. I never had that, but there was encouragement from other acts. Of course there were some queens who wouldn’t give you time of day, never mind an eyebrow pencil. To be an act, you’ve got to go it alone at some point and not rely too much on other people.
The cabaret creatures of RVT were my first drag family. Through Duckie and Bar Wotever, I got support and space to grow in so many ways. If family is a sense of warmth and acceptance, then that’s really my family there. I think I have too many bonds to be able to single out one, and each bond provides different if sometimes dysfunctional additions to me. To that end, drag families – and by extension support – are extremely important.
Belonging to a specific haus or family is cool, as long as it doesn’t function like a clique that excludes and oppresses others, or thinks that everyone outside of the family is lesser. That’s just cunty. There are three queens that I first considered family: Frankie Fantastique – she taught me how to do make-up; Son of a Tutu – she mentored and supported me through Drag Idol; and Dr. Woof (my drag dad) – he gave me my first cous cous cock, so I owe him big time.
Sum Ting Wong
I think without drag families we’re all orphans to drag. Then people start to stray towards popular culture: the “yaaaaas qween, tongue pop, deathdrop” they see on TV. I wouldn’t say I’m a part of an official drag family. The first queen who took me in and really gave me a good beating was Rose Garden. I’ve not officially had a drag mum, but I’ve been fortunate enough to have a lot of drag sisters like Rose, Miss Penny, Son of a Tutu, Martha D’Arthur and Sandra.
Ingo Cando from Wotever World has had a huge impact on my drag career. I met them in May 2016 when I first performed at Bar Wotever. They offer me advice, they give me feedback on my performances, and they’ve taught me so much about cabaret and life, and I will be forever grateful. Ingo is incredibly important to me. I wouldn’t be the performer or person I am today without them. I think having a drag family is great: you can ask them for advice, bounce ideas off each other, and support each other on and off stage.
Drag families are important as they offer valuable support and advice on dealing with the ups and downs of the job. Costumes, make-up and backing tracks are all shared, as well as juicy gossip of course. My first family member was a drag queen called Jessie Biscuit, who looked after me and introduced me to performers and venues. I am forever grateful and this is the reason I’m very protective of some of the younger queens.
I’m very much a lone wolf and work with different ‘packs’. Many current drag families are quite frankly a joke. There was a time when drag mothers genuinely took in their children, fed, clothed and homed them as their blood relatives had rejected them. Now you have privileged kids who’ve been doing drag for five minutes, dishing out a few lipstick tips, declaring themselves matriarchs. It seems they do it to boost their own fragile ego rather than to help, encourage and teach the next generation of draglets. It makes a mockery of its heritage. That’s why I’m not a drag mother to anyone but an aunt (or cunt) to several.
Son Of a Tutu
A drag family is a special kind of ‘family of choice’. Being African, I have a large Irish family which includes: the one and only Countess Malitza Von Hove (aka Michael Topping), drag mother Titti LaCamp (she gave birth to me and many others during Drag Idol), big sister Sandra (whore), baby sister Baga Chipz (slapper, no I meant ‘slap her’), nephew LoUis CYfer (what a hunk) and many drag daughters including Divina DeCampo and Tracy Barlow.
It can be scary trying to find your path when it’s about ‘who you know’ and not ‘what you know’. I don’t think I would have had half of the opportunities if it weren’t for The Family Fierce and their support. Meth really pushed me and gave me a platform when I needed it most. I still go to her for advice and help if I need it. Lolo Brow, Scarlett O’Hora, Maxi Moore, Ruby Wednesday and Bourgeoisie are also my Drag Family, and they have been incredible these past five years of my career.
The first artist to become family was Lolo Brow, my first born child. We met at drama school and like all good first time moms, I taught her how to be a stripper – sorry burlesque artiste. I think any kind of queer family is important in our community. Some need it as a means for survival in our fucked up world, some for the simple connection with like-minded folk, some so that they are constantly (and constructively) challenged by their peers. And some for all of the above! Now if we could just allow drag mothers to claim child benefit then I’d be very grateful. Signed, Meth – exhausted mother of too many.
Not so long ago I was going through a period of sickness and the drag fraternity organised a huge fundraiser for me. I was so incredibly touched. To me, that is family. When I started out as a young performer, Regina Fong was the matriarchal figure – she gave me good, honest and constant advice. Since then my close drag family of Millie Turner, Titti La Camp and the gorgeous Dave Lynn has remained solid and loyal.