Family can have many different definitions, and in the world of drag, people get to chose who they call family.
Drag performers often adopt drag children – younger performers who look to more experienced ones for advice and guidance. This is a tradition among drag communities that offers people a sense of safety and comradery.
One of these families is The House of Bitches, which includes Alma Bitches and her drag children Ilona, Rich Elle, Eva Scarlett and Jo Durée. Alma has another drag child who is not a member of the house, Dust.
“I’m the mother of the House of Bitches,” Alma boasts. She is 36 years old and has been doing drag for nearly eight years.
“One of my kids is 33, so she’s not too much younger than me, but then there are ones that are like 21 and 20. Some of my kids I’m more just friends with and some of them I’m like full mom.”
Alma adopted her first drag child, Ilona, one year ago, and the rest shortly after. At first they spent a lot of time together, hanging out, making outfits or performing, but it soon became too much. She says that, like a real family, they sometimes fight but they always make up.
“What I’ve learned is that like a real mom, you’ve got to let your kids fly, and cheer them on, and if they fall on their face, you have to be there to pick them back up.”
Alma explains that for some people, being in a drag family can have a lot of business attached to it, such as getting gigs, but for herself it’s more about sharing knowledge. “My kids have a lot to offer me, they teach me lots about makeup, putting together outfits, performing. I offer them advice and hopefully help them deal with problems.”
Alma says that drag families have changed a lot over the years. Before the rise of drag’s popularity, people looked for a drag mother to show them the ropes because you couldn’t get into drag unless someone brought you under their wing.
Nowadays, drag is everywhere, and you can figure out how to do it by immersing yourself in the online culture.
She also explained that in the past, a lot of these young people were looking for families in the LGBTQ+ community because they didn’t have a supportive family at home.
“That’s still happening, but thankfully it’s happening less and less. More people are growing up getting to be who they are,” Alma says.
She says she is lucky to have a family that supports her for who she is. But many people involved in drag are still looking for that sense of community, which is why chosen family is still so important.
Thanks Jem is Alma’s drag mother and mother of the Glam Kids, which includes Rose Butch and Poison Apple. Their drag husband is Ponyboy, who is the drag father of Rose. Jem agrees that drag families are an important way to feel supported by your community.
“I didn’t really have a family growing up, and I feel like now that I have roots in Vancouver, I needed to have connections and diversity and inclusion,” Jem says. “Also, people who I felt safe with because I haven’t always been in safe situations.”
When Thanks Jem started drag 10 years ago, they were not brought in by a drag family. “When I first started, I felt like I was bullied a little bit,” they say. “I was very androgynous, I’ve always been two-spirited, and, with Millennials, they have a [better] sense of [non-binary] gender identities. But when I grew up, there wasn’t as much of that, so I didn’t really have anybody who showed me the ropes.”
Jem chose their drag children based on performers who inspired them, and who they saw reflections of themselves in. “There’s the creativity aspect, seeing something different that you want to incorporate elements of into what you do.”
Alma was Jem’s first drag child, whom they adopted three years ago during the Mr/Ms Cobalt competition, in which Alma and Rose both competed.
“I just really loved [Alma’s] style of performing. She was different, she was inclusive, it was everything that I kind of encompassed, and she was really fucking good,” Jem says. “Same with Rose, that’s why I chose them as my second drag child, they’re so strong and young, and just have such a good personality.”
They adopted Poison recently, having been asked by them to be their drag mother for a long time. “I give new drag queens 14 months because people usually quit by then, so you can tell if they’re serious about drag or not,” they say.
Jem loves sharing information and knowledge with their drag children, as well as clothes.
“What I love about it is the community aspect. I get to share my advice,” Jem says. “Everyone wants to be heard at the end of the day.”
• The Proud Pages (formerly the Pink Pages) are a monthly LGBTQ+ forum, brought to you by members of the LOUD Business Network. Have an LGBTQ+ event or story idea for the Proud Pages? Email firstname.lastname@example.org