With last night’s episode, Viceland’s My House ended its debut season as the first television show to center the ballroom community. Preceding Ryan Murphy’s fictionalized FX series Pose, My House remains the only documentary-style show about ballroom, and in just 10 episodes, co-creator and executive producer Elegance Bratton has elevated a new generation of performers, examined the community as it stands today, and put some messy, but ultimately real conversations on screen.
For the final episode, Bratton and his team depicted what should go down as one of the most moving exchanges of the season: Tati 007 and her birth mother discuss how Tati’s transition affected their relationship. While cooking Tati breakfast, her mother gets really honest about her mental and emotional state as Tati began to explore and state her gender identity.
“I was thoroughly embarrassed,” she says bluntly. “I wanted a son.” She goes on, noting Tati’s strength during that time, through what was undoubtedly a lot of isolation and uncertainty. She points out that lack of support while transitioning can adversely affect people, sometimes leading to trauma and/or suicide. But Tati persevered and her mother finally came around.
“We never talked about it until just now,” her mom says, laughing. “I wanted to but I couldn’t do it; I felt like because the love was there, words didn’t have to be spoken. But they do. They do!”
“You need to at least know,” she continues, “that mommy loves you.”
It’s a moving scene and brutally honest. It’s not something often seen on television, though it may be commonly felt or experienced. Not all familial stories with queer people of color end with the complete dissolution of relationships. To see that is important and can help others know that there is a possible point where “it gets better.” But this scene hearkened back to another biological parent-child exchange on the show.
In episode three, Jelani Mizrahi spoke with his father in Harlem.
“I had little hints and there, some people would tell me,” Jelani’s father says, referring to whether he knew his son was gay. “And I can embrace that on our terms.” The clause seemed to hang ominously in the air: “on our terms.” When asked by a producer to expound, he went on.
“Right now, because I’m married, I couldn’t force that on my whole new life,” he says. “Hypothetically, if we was to have a Thanksgiving, and I invite him over, you come by yourself. Christmas dinner, come by yourself.” Jelani’s facial expressions of surprise in the background of the shot are genuine.
“I didn’t know that,” he says later.
It’s a messy conversation but not uncommon. While in an ideal world everyone can and should accept everyone else as their complete selves, some refuse to do so. And while that could be the end of the relationship, other times we are forced to suture together something that works “on our terms.” It’s not always “all or nothing,” and while people certainly have the right to take those positions, it’s just as valid to figure out what works personally for you and your family. Queer people should not be forced to code-switch and divvy themselves up, minimizing parts of their identity for the approval of others; no one should. But some of us choose that as means to a specific end. Either choice (to code-switch or not) is valid and should be respected as such.
Minutes later, Jelani’s face is alight in surprise again. While his father says he has not been to a ball to see his son vogue, he says he has seen him on YouTube and Facebook.
“Oh, you have?” Jelani responds.
“The most important part for me was I still had to realize that’s my son,” his father says. “I still have to love him and still have to take care of him.” He wipes a few tears and Jelani goads him calling him soft.
“Nah, this shit is real,” his dad says.
And that’s been the key importance of My House throughout the whole season. These are real people, exposing actual, lived experiences from today. Hopefully that’s significant enough for the show to be picked up for another season.