For queer people, to be passable, unclockable or “real” can be in some ways beneficial. While in the ballroom scene “realness” is a competition where those who are the most cis-heteronormative take home a trophy, that same community (and queer folk at large) have to deal with the issue in much more precarious situations. That was illustrated in part in the latest episode of VICELAND’s My House.
During the episode, Tati and a friend of hers, both trans women, get stopped in Harlem by an overly aggressive man. He hits on her but in the process says “You’re a man ain’t you?” and berates her until she promises to take his number and call him. It’s an incident that gives rise to a conversation about being “passable” and the privilege that can afford. It’s a conversation that carries over to Jelani Mizrahi’s story.
“I don’t wanna be getting clocked all the time and getting glass bottles thrown at me,” he says, while lacing up sneakers at a sneaker shop. For him, realness is not about being trans but instead about passing for heterosexual. That helps him pass through the world in a much easier way. Ballroom categories are a riff on this, allowing competitors to either show how well they have honed their “passing” skills or sometimes flipping those ideas on their heads. And though the episode doesn’t include a formal ball, the importance of another type of communal space in the ballroom scene is put on display: vogue nights.
“I remember skipping school to go to Vogue Knights and stuff to know what the culture was about,” Precious says in the episode, talking about a recurring event started by Jack Mizrahi and Luna Khan back in 2010. “Vogue Knights is definitely a place to see the culture and be seen in the culture.” Vogue Knights is one of a few vogue nights in New York City that serve the ballroom community.
Originally hosted in Club Escuelita, Vogue Knights was a weekly event where the community could gather outside of a big ball. “The idea for [Vogue Knights] was to have a space for people to come and practice on a weekly basis,” DJ MikeQ told INTO in an interview this week. MikeQ is a resident DJ at that event. “There was nothing going on in New York City at the time on a consistent basis since the Club House back in the early 2000s.” So people would gather here, reconnect with other members of the community and practice before a series of mini-balls that would get started around 2am.
“What I appreciated about that space is that over the night you come to meet a lot of the dancers that were going to be in the battle,” quest?onmarc, a DJ and voguer said.
As time passed, the event changed. Escuelita closed and Vogue Knights moved to XL. The event went from weekly to monthly to sporadic. In its place House of Vogue, a monthly event thrown by MikeQ began at House of Yes in Brooklyn. And though there are differences, the community still frequents this new gathering spot.
“Vogue Knights was super into ballroom so everyone there was there from the community and everyone was coming just for the categories where house of vogue is kind of different,” MikeQ said. Vogue Knights still continues from time to time and according to some may resume a weekly scheduling in the Meatpacking district soon. “I’m really trying to gear [House of Vogue] towards the club vibe. I want it to be a fun environment and still a safe space for everybody to just enjoy themselves [set to] ballroom music and that vibe.” And that plays itself out in the music.
“I’m really eclectic with my stylings,” quest?onmarc said. He has DJ’d in the past for House of Vogue. “I don’t just play straight up ballroom so what I enjoy about playing to that crowd is that it’s super diverse; it’s not all ballroom people. It’s mostly white kids that fill the room up actually [so I’m] able to kind of add other genres and inspiration and move that through the night but also still keep it within the ballroom vernacular. That’s where that’s fun for me.”
“A ‘gay mother,’ ideally, is a mentor.”
MY HOUSE, tonight at 10:30pm. pic.twitter.com/ydDXi5ztOV
— VICELAND (@VICELAND) May 2, 2018
Elsewhere in the episode, we get an insider’s view at house politics. The revelation that Tati left the House of Miyake-Mugler because another voguer, Tamiyah, had joined the house and she felt like she wasn’t getting her due makes it blatantly clear how much egos are at play. But her gay mother, the legendary Leiomy Maldonado who made history as the first trans woman on America’s Best Dance Crew and started her own house with the House of Amazon about two years ago, gives her some sage advice about perspective, reminding her that maybe she should be thinking of her next steps outside of the ballroom scene.
Watch My Houseon VICELAND on Wednesdays at 10:30pm EST or stream it online.