CREAT­ING LGBT FAM­I­LIES Tens across the board: The iconic House of Mizrahi

GA Voice - - Outspoken -

If there’s one thing black and Latino gay men have mas­tered, it’s the cre­ation of sur­ro­gate or cho­sen fam­i­lies as a means of sup­port and sur­vival when faced with re­jec­tion from blood rel­a­tives. There’s ar­guably no greater ex­am­ple of cho­sen fam­ily than in the un­der­ground ball­room com­mu­nity dom­i­nated by LGBT peo­ple of color and taken main­stream dur­ing the early ’90s in the award-win­ning Jen­nie Liv­ingston doc­u­men­tary “Paris Is Burn­ing.”

Xtrav­a­ganza, Dupree, Pen­davis, LaBeija: some of the fiercest houses to ever ex­ist, that birthed fear­less “chil­dren,” who on one night sev­eral times through­out the year walked balls for grand prizes, leg­endary sta­tus and af­fir­ma­tion, which for many proved to be elu­sive out­side of the walls of the now de­funct Elks Lodge on 137th Street in Har­lem.

“When some­one has re­jec­tion from their mother and fa­ther and their fam­ily—when they get out into the world, they search for some­one to fill that void. I’ve had kids come to me and latch hold of me…like I’m their mother or like I’m their fa­ther…be­cause their real par­ents give them such a hard way to go,” said the late Pep­per LaBeija, leg­endary mother of the House of LaBeija in “Paris Is Burn­ing.”

The fa­ther, the icon

Brook­lyn, New York na­tive turned At­lanta res­i­dent An­dre Mizrahi un­der­stands LaBeija’s sen­ti­ment as the founder and over­all fa­ther of the in­ter­na­tional House of Mizrahi.

Con­sid­ered an icon and mas­ter voguer in the ball­room com­mu­nity, Mizrahi, 48, is no stranger to be­ing a life­line for the mem­bers of his house, which he opened in 1992.

“If any­one has a prob­lem, it’s only one per­son that they call. They’ll call me be­fore they call any­one else,” says Mizrahi. “I used to take in kids for over 10 years who had no place to go. They lived with me and I did ev­ery­thing for them from tak­ing them to the doc­tor to feed­ing them. If I were in the street I’d want some­one to take me in,” he says.

It was this self­less­ness by Mizrahi that caught the at­ten­tion of Ge­or­gia state Rep. Keisha Waites (D-At­lanta) in 2012. Waites, one of the three openly LGBT mem­bers of the leg­is­la­ture, hon­ored Mizrahi for his “com­mit­ment to care for the lives of young black gay men and trans­gen­der in­di­vid­u­als, who of­ten­times have been aban­doned by their bi­o­log­i­cal fam­i­lies, leav­ing them no place to call home.”

April 29, 2016

Above: Mem­bers from the At­lanta and New York chap­ters of House of Mizrahi pose for a fam­ily photo at the ‘Leg­ends Ex­hi­bi­tion’ in 2013. (Photo by Elle Jota/BFA Im­ages); Left: An­dre Mizrahi vogues down at the Ka­maro Blah­nik mini-ball in At­lanta in 2012. (Courtesy photo)

The other side of ball­room

The “chil­dren” who pop­u­late the ball scene and the cul­ture it­self have no shortage of de­trac­tors or stigma as­so­ci­ated, with one be­ing too heav­ily in­volved in the scene. Mizrahi read­ily ad­mits that the pre­vail­ing per­cep­tion is that ball par­tic­i­pants are “club hop­pers with no life that are all liv­ing with HIV and are ready to fight” at a mo­ment’s no­tice. He re­futes this line of think­ing.

“Ev­ery­body thinks that this is just bull­shit when it comes to houses. I’m the man that I am for two rea­sons: my mother and ball­room have taught me ev­ery­thing from styling clothes to chore­og­ra­phy. There’s noth­ing that they have in the en­ter­tain­ment in­dus­try that’s not in ball­room,” says Mizrahi.

Tran­scend­ing the ball­room floor and tak­ing his tal­ent for fash­ion, dance and chore­og­ra­phy main­stream is some­thing Mizrahi and his ball­room pre­de­ces­sors, Jose Xtrav­a­ganza and the late Wil­lie Ninja, ac­com­plished with Madonna and other main­stream pop acts. It’s some­thing Mizrahi’s pro­tégé, June Mizra- hi, 45 and over­all grand­fa­ther of the House of Mizrahi, has also tapped into.

“I wanted to be in fash­ion. I love clothes. When I branched off into the ball­room scene, I got un­der the right peo­ple and they guided me into the scene to make a name for my­self,” he says.

The New Jer­sey na­tive turned At­lanta res­i­dent re­calls the im­por­tance of the an­nual balls in the lives of the par­tic­i­pants and the lengths they’d go to snatch a tro­phy.

“Kids used to save their money just to go to a ball. They prob­a­bly wouldn’t eat or what­ever, but they’d get them­selves to­gether to go live the fan­tasy,” he says.

Like his men­tor, An­dre Mizrahi, both men are well into their 40s, which by in­sane gay stan­dards is con­sid­ered to be a qual­i­fier for an AARP mem­ber­ship. But both are fo­cused on run­ning the House of Mizrahi and be­ing a fa­ther and grand­fa­ther to chil­dren who oth­er­wise may not have parental fig­ures. June Mizrahi in­sists: “Age ain’t noth­ing but a num­ber. As long as I can still pump and walk that run­way, I’m go­ing to do it.”

By DAR­IAN AARON

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