House of the Brave: chosen family in the drag community

Catherine Garrett, Jesse Day, Owen Simpson & Austin Czerwinski / April 12, 2019

A drag queen may either pick or be given a drag name by a friend, sometimes called a “drag mother”, the so named thus becoming known as a “drag daughter”. Drag mothers and daughters have a mentor-apprentice relationship. Drag ‘families’ were part of ball culture and drag ‘houses’ until the 1960s.

(@Unicornriverchild/Instagram)

What is chosen family?

A chosen family is exactly like the name suggests: a group of  people who deliberately choose one another to play significant roles in each other’s lives. This is a common dynamic in the queer community, stemming back to the days of Stonewall and Paris is Burning. Often, a person would come out to their biological family and be disowned or thrown out of their home. They would find support through their community, and often more prominent members of the community would ‘adopt’ people who found themselves in dire circumstances. Dust explained how the history behind ‘chosen family’ plays a part in her own relationships.

Chosen family or Queer family is a group of people who love you for one hundred percent of who you are. Dating back to the 80’sand the AIDS crisis, it was people who literally needed to be taken care of. They didn’t have a home, they didn’t have a sense of direction, they didn’t have any of these things. And so, your queer family who took you in, you would take care of each other. You would live under one roof with a set of rules and values and pitch in.” 

In a modern sense, familial terms are sometimes used by drag performers to describe their mentors, people in their closest circle, and the person who first exposed them to the art form.

“When you go about making a drag or queer family, it takes work. You have to want to have them be your family and to have them in your life.” – Dust