It’s gay Christmas, Sydneysisters (also known by many as Mardi Gras), and we’re gearing up for the festivities. This year, Absolut is celebrating queer Chosen Families and has enlisted editorial photographer, Liz Ham, to document a string of portraits by notable queer chosen families. Taking part in the series are QTBIPOC collective, House of Silky, award-winning pastry chef, Anna Polyviou and her team (work family), artist Kim Leutwyler and her friends she calls family, and Sydney-based Mangarai First Nations queen Tyra Bankstown and the Blak Moles.
We had the opportunity to chat with Sydney-based model, performer, and House of Silky member, Basjia about the importance of her chosen family ahead of Mardi Gras.
Can you tell us about House of Silky and how you came to join it?
House of Silky is a vogue house in the Sydney EORA ballroom community. In ballroom, you have houses which are basically your chosen family. For me, Silky is my chosen family, we’re a group of queer kids who are all POC, all come from different backgrounds, very different upbringings but we have come together, not just for ballroom, but for so many aspects of our life. We’re pretty much like a family, but we also compete in the ballroom community.
Just before the house mother Miri started Silky we met, and I walked in the 2019 Sissy Ball. It was my first time being at a ballroom event and Miri was there when I walked my first ball. It wasn’t until the 2019 Muva Ball—I actually walked and Miri pretty much led me out. Since then I had become an unofficial Silky member. I was actually the first Silky member—other than Kelly and the house parents Miri and Xander. Kelly was actually one of the founding house members. I started hanging out with them all the time and it pretty much became like, yep, you’re in it.
How would you describe the dynamics of the house? Is it like a community, do you have regular house meetings, or is it more fluid and spontaneous?
It’s very fluid and spontaneous, but it also does have that community feel. We do meet up for our house training, especially when we have a ball coming up, but at the same time we’re also friends so we see each other every week. We go out together, we eat together, we also support each other when anyone needs help through anything like intense life events—which is why it’s about so much more than just being in a house.
It is your family, and we do care about and support each other in a way that perhaps our family has never been able to just based on the fact that we are queer and we are really eclectic. We’re just such individuals—we’re crazy and wild and sexy and fabulous, and we support each other so much for just being ourselves.
House of Silky was chosen as part of Absolut’s Chosen Family Portrait series. Can you tell me more about this and what your chosen family means to you?
The portrait series was about House of Silky being together, being as crazy as we are, as incredible as we are. You can see in the photos that we dress really uniquely but we all look so cohesive as well. At the same time we all really get each other, we have the same sense of humor.
With the chosen family, it’s crazy because we all have just really gravitated towards each other. It doesn’t feel like anyone was really scouted, which is how these things can work sometimes, especially when you scout someone from seeing them in a ball. It doesn’t feel like that, it feels like we all just found each other in different ways, whether it be when we’re out in a club, out in the street. We connected with Akashi—she’s from New Zealand, came here, and joined our house automatically. She’s my sister.
We’ve (all) become so close over time, and I think the biggest thing that has connected us the most and made us realize that we’re more than a ballroom house is that we’ve been with each other through so many difficult times. Whenever somebody is feeling down we really go out of our way to support each other. When somebody doesn’t have anywhere to stay, we are each other’s safe space. Our house father Xander really works hard to get us booked for jobs so that we have financial stability as well. So we look out for each other more than just in a superficial sense, it’s so much deeper, and that’s why it’s a chosen family—we’re each other’s safe space.
How important do you think chosen families are in the wider queer community?
They’re so important. I think about myself and my journey—I grew up in a really privileged area and I am a Black woman who grew up in a really white space, a really heterosexual space—I feel like when I found this queer community I found this place where I could actually be myself and be so comfortable and excited to express myself. It’s opened up parts of me I never knew existed—the performer in me, the sex siren in me, the queer woman in me. There were all these parts that were perhaps suppressed or were made to feel like they were wrong or they weren’t part of who I was, and finding my queer family has allowed me to feel safe and open to doing so.
We see each other for who we are and I think it’s about supporting the person for all the different parts of them, all the different parts that they want to experience. I think the beautiful thing with a queer family is that it’s not about being judgemental, it shouldn’t be about being judgemental, it’s about being open and understanding, which is what queer is all about. It’s about seeing past beyond what society expects of people, living freely, living in your truth, being happy and joyous and loving. That’s why it’s so important to find people who allow you to do that, who guide you as well through all your trials and tribulations with yourself, with understanding yourself, and just accepting you along the journey.
I feel like, for me, the person, the woman that I am is because of the chosen family that I have surrounded myself with so many different ways. Not just my ballroom house, but also my friends are my chosen family which is why being in this house is more than just competing in the balls, it’s about the people around me who just appreciate me for who I am, and I appreciate them for who they are and who they want to be.
The photo series of House of Silky looks like so much fun! What was going on behind the scenes?
We’re just really funny. There’s just so many people in the house who have quick humor, who are crazy—we always have fun when we are together. We’re really cheeky—I feel like we’re the sex house, nasty, a bit ratchet but also a bit chic and tasteful. We’re such a multifaceted house. People just feel our energy when we’re together. We were just giggling and laughing and teasing—just being our crazy selves. We all love a photo op and we all love to dress up. We got to choose our own outfits from Distal Phalanx who stocks a lot of really great designers. We were just being our fab selves!
What are your plans for Mardi Gras this year?
I honestly love Mardi Gras so much. I miss the old days pre-COVID—there used to be this party on Crown Street that Silky would always take over. Mother Miri would always be DJing and we would take over the booth, stand on top of it and look out over the people—be like unofficial hosts. I miss those days and am a bit sad that’s not happening.
Mardi Gras this year, there are a few things that are happening. There’s a mini ball at the Bank Hotel that will be happening, it’s a vogue night that people can see, which will be cute.
There’s a lot of queer parties on that I could make my way to. My friend is a DJ so maybe I’ll follow her—I don’t want to plan it because when it’s spontaneous it ends up being the best night ever.
That’s true, I love random Mardi Gras adventures. I miss the days when you could walk on the streets and have the parade.
Yeah, you could just find a party anywhere and it would be the best. You wouldn’t know anyone but you would still have a great time. I miss that so much.
Excited for next year, World Pride, for that reason!
Absolut’s Chosen Family series will be showcased at the Absolut x Heaps Gay presents The Roast, taking place on March 6, a Sunday afternoon of queer food, drink, comedy and theatre to be enjoyed with your crew. Get your tickets here!
Photographer: Liz Ham @lizhamdotcom
House of Silky:
Blu Jay @it_b_limerence