The House Of Constantine: A Look Into Toronto's Underground Ball Scene
Its the late 1960s in Harlem. In bars, in dance halls, and in basements, a community of mostly trans and queer Black and Latino New Yorkers have started gathering under the cloak of night. Many of them are very poor. Many struggle with homelessness. Many have not felt accepted by their families for a long time, if ever. But in this secret world, those identities are pasted over with sweat and high heels. In this world, you have a family you can count on, gender is deconstructed and reconstructed, social stratification is turned on its head; anyone can be the CEO, the all-American macho man, the high fashion model from Paris. On the runway, anyone can be anything but you better bring it.
Welcome to the ball.
A Ball is a form of competition where people compete on a runway. Drawing its inspiration from the worlds of fashion, hip hop and dance, it includes categories such as "Butch Queen Realness" judged on a participant's ability to pass as a straight male, "Face" an assessment of the beauty of the face, and "Vogue" a highly stylized form of dance, most famously featured in Madonna's music video, "Vogue".
But for many, this isn't just a genre or side hobby. The culture of the Ball scene is inextricably intwined with politics of race, class, gender, and sexuality, and its structure reflects that.
Groups, called Houses, formed to compete against one another. Each House has an appointed mother, father, and sometimes even grandparents and godparents. This structure provided many members of the Ball scene with people they could count on and be accountable to. Families cared for each other on and off of the runway.
Though the Ball scene bruised badly with the AIDS crisis of the 80s, it has been growing and evolving ever since. Today, despite its widespread popularity around the world, the scene remains largely unknown, even in queer and trans communities it is shrouded in mystery and misconception.
I reached out to The House of Constantine, who agreed to let me visit during one of their rehearsals at the 519 Community Centre in Torontos Gay Village, to interview them.
Father Dutch Constantine
is the father of the House of Constantine
Each House in the Ball scene is structured like a family.
FATHER DUTCH: Theres always the father and the mother of the house. Houses formed as families to give a name to the kinds of relationships that were already forming.
He explains that the House of Constantine is part of Torontos Kiki scene.
FATHER DUTCH: Theres two levels of the scene. Theres the Ballroom scene, and then the Kiki scene. The Kiki scene started so that people just getting into Ballroom would have a platform to cut their teeth before they went and walked the real scene.
He takes his role as father very seriously.
FATHER DUTCH: At the Ball, I advocate on behalf of my kids. Its funny, like, I never would get angry or steamed at a Ball when I was just walking for myself. But if your kid gets chopped you kind of have to make a stink.
But hes definitely not doing it alone.
FATHER DUTCH: Legacy is the Godfather of the house. He has a lot of experience so he helps instruct. Father Danger is the one who brought us all together. Hes the founder and heart of the house. Then theres Mother, whos a motherly figure and also a figurehead.
He came to the Ball scene by way of his other love: writing.
FATHER DUTCH: At one point I was interviewing the House of Monroe for their five year anniversary Ball. I was like, Whats it feel like to walk a ball? Because, you know, Ill never walk a ball. And Mother Monroe looks straight in my eye and says, Oh, were waitin on you.
He has found it to be something really special.
FATHER DUTCH: The ballroom scene has been a simultaneous opportunity to nurture and be nurtured, and also to bear witness to, and be a part of, forging really important relationships that are aware of dynamics around race, gender, class, but which also have a platform that transforms it.
In some ways, the Ball scene is expressly political.
FATHER DUTCH: One of the really famous lines from Paris is Burning is you know, you cant make it really far in this world if youre a black gay person. Now, thirty years later, We have a sort of visible conversation happening going on around those identities, and I find the ballroom scene as like a platform to acknowledge those things and expand them, to make them more capacious.
But let's be clear: not everyone in the Ballroom scene is interested in politics.
FATHER DUTCH: Theres so much more nuance to it, and sometimes politics isnt even really at the surface. Like its happening, but its not the conversation. The conversations like, Where are you gonna get your hair done tomorrow night before the ball? Thats just as important.
He is very aware of his position as a white person in the ballroom scene.
FATHER DUTCH: I was invited into this community, as much as I play a leadership role. If I ever feel like that invitation doesnt stand, its my obligation to back off.
If youre looking for a friend to watch RuPauls Drag Race with, Father Dutch is not your guy.
FATHER DUTCH: Theres a misunderstanding that drag culture is the same thing as ball culture. I say Im involved in the Ballroom scene, and people are like, Oh my god! RuPaul! And Im like, No. I dont know anything about the RuPaul scene. Theyre great, but its just not my thing.
is a baby of the family.
The first ball Spectrum went to was a breakfast ball, hosted by the House of Nuance.
SPECTRUM: The commentator was like Face! Anybody walking? And nobody was walking, so I was like, I guess Im just gonna do this. I ended up winning.
Growing up, Spectrum didnt know this kind of community existed.
SPECTRUM: I was 16, stuck in North Etobicoke, in Catholic school. It wasnt the greatest environment to be in. We didnt have a gay straight alliance. When they had that whole wear purple for bullying against LGBT day they just said it was for bullying. They cut out the gay part. Their excuse was that people might not want to donate if they know its for gay people.
To Spectrum, the ballroom scene is about more than just performing.
SPECTRUM: I had been involved in queer communities before. People were more likely to include you if you conformed to what their idea of non conformity was. That wasn't me. A big part of this is being able to genuinely be myself around other people.
Spectrum finds that people from outside the community are quick to judge the way gender is articulated in the Ball scene.
SPECTRUM: Im non-binary trans. Theres a tendency for people to see my House calling me girl and saying she and they say, Oh theyre misgendering you! Its like, No. Everybody is called girl. Everybody is called she. People would know that if they got to know the scene more. But they just see whats there and they decide not to look any further.
"We're real people. We have real lives."
SPECTRUM: Its not this outrageous, fringe thing that weird people are doing. Were real people. We have real lives. Theres different things about us. Im disabled. Theres so much more to us than just this. When people see it from the outside, theyre just like oh this is just fun party people. But weve got a lot in our lives, in general. This is like letting go. For me at least. I cant speak for everyone.
Before I can interview
Madame Scarlett Constantine,
she stops me.
MADAME SCARLETT: Wait. I need to put on lipstick first.
A proud mother of twins, Madame Scarlett usually walks runway, but shes hoping to branch out into the body category.
MADAME SCARLETT: Certain categories are misinterpreted. Body, its not like youre naked and showing off your body. Its like an art form, you show off the curve, what you have and what you dont have. Its fun.
Madame Scarletts cousin, Danger, is the founder of The House of Constantine. He plays an integral role in taking care of his family.
MADAME SCARLETT: We have fun like a family, we chill like a family. If theres no practice, sometimes we just go out together and chill.
For Scarlett, and many others in the Constantine family, this feels more like family than the one they were born into.
MADAME SCARLETT: Its weird to say this, but sometimes the family you pick other than your own bloodline family is more like your bloodline family. We fight like brothers and sisters. But at the end of the day, you cant touch one of us, because the whole of the group is beyond you.
JoJo and Yovska Constantine
ask to be interviewed together
Jojo was afraid to join the Ball scene at first.
JOJO: I knew some people in the scene and I had already been to two balls, but I didnt want to walk. The scene seemed to have a lot of drama, and I get scared of drama.
But now, theyre all in.
JOJO: Theyre like, my gay family. I cant talk to my biological family about stuff like this, so having Mommy and Daddy here has been great. Theyve helped me through some really, really rough times. My confidence since joining has gone up a ridiculous amount.
The first time Yovska walked in a Ball, it wasnt planned.
YOVSKA: The first time I walked in one, I wasnt planning on walking, but they had a category called Fag Out which was like, be as gay as you can, sort of thing. And I remember that category called for glitter, so I was like fussing around, like
JOJO: Give me some glitter!
YOVSKA: Yeah. I ended up winning when I poured an entire bag of glitter on my head. People were excited. I loved that energy.
Jojo loves the vast variety of categories people can participate in.
JOJO: Its like, this equalizing thing because you know no matter what theres gonna be a category for you.
Both of them agree that its important to acknowledge the political landscape of the scene.
YOVSKA: Mainstream media constantly borrows from gay culture and doesnt acknowledge where its coming from.
JOJO: I see those campaigns and theyre like, Oh, voguing, cute. It takes away a lot of the political agenda of it. Theyre just trying to make the scene palatable, but if you want to be in the scene, youve got to accept all the parts of it.
When I interview Godfather
he offers me a cookie.
GODFATHER LEGACY: Girl, what's mine is yours, what's yours is mine.
Hes been walking for close to five years now.
GODFATHER LEGACY: When I started in the scene I used to walk All-American runway, then I changed to Butch Queen Vogue Femme, and now I walk European runway.
As the Houses Godfather, he is known to be a little bit tough.
GODFATHER LEGACY: I speak with passion, and they might take passion as anger. I would never attack them. I am a lion to my cubs. Anyone else tries to yell at them, Im the first one to jump in and rip their neck off. If theres a problem, WE will deal with it. Dont baby them, dont sugar coat it.
But he maintains that its important to have fun.
GODFATHER LEGACY: The wolves will bite you, but as long as youre having fun, its like getting bit by a toy shark.
There is a common misconception that the Ball scene is very flamboyant.
GODFATHER LEGACY: Its much more than that. If you look at, for example All-American Runway, is not a flamboyant type of runway. Its an all male, masculine runway. For people to be like, This is flamboyant, and then look at All-American Runway and go, Oh, well I didnt know this existed, Im like, You didnt know cause you never asked. You just assumed.
To Godfather Legacy, the closeness and cohesiveness of his family are what set his family apart.
GODFATHER LEGACY: People are like, Where do you come from? Who put you all in a box together and sold you for one price? People enjoy looking at us doing what we like to do.
He wants everyone to feel welcome in the House of Constantine.
GODFATHER LEGACY: I want to bring in new people, new types of personalities, people that are afraid. Anybody, bring them into the family.
Thank you to the House of Constantine for welcoming me to their practice.
Whether we like it or not, the fact that each and every one of us will expire one day and go off into whatever the next phase of existence is is a harsh reality.
So we might as well make the most of the time we have while we're here and leave our mark.
What kind of legacy would you want to leave for the succeeding generations?
Curious to hear from strangers online about how they want to be remembered posthumously, Redditor D_And_R_Gaming asked:
"What do you want written on your tombstone?"
There is still humor in death.
"I asked to be cremated what the hell"
"I was going to say 'Bacon Cheeseburger' but then realized that’s Jack’s, not Tombstone."
Life Is A Crapshoot
"I've made many dumb decisions in my life, and only one of them got me killed."
"Russian roulette without the roulette."
People got creative.
"A Steam review of Life:"
"309,936 hours played 'It's OK.' 👎 Does NOT Recommend "
"1964 - 2137"
"My spidey senses tell me you are from Poland."
Careful What You Wish For
"Slightly off topic….but I saw a picture of a headstone once that had a cookie recipe on the back of it. The poster said that while grandma was alive, they’d ask her for her famous cookie recipe and she’d say, 'over my dead body'. So, when she died, they found the recipe and put it where she always said - over her dead body."
"I don’t care if it’s true or not; that’s savage and I’m here for it!"
There seems to be no limit to what you can have on your epitaph.
We Have Options
[ ] Continue
[X] Save & Quit"
[ ] Continue
[ ] Save & Quit
[X] QuitI don't have to be saved"
"My body lies but still I roam."
"Roamer, Wanderer, Nomad, Vagabond, Call me what you will"
Message To Mortals
"GET OFF MY DAMN GRAVE!!"
"In really small writing... 'you're standing on my balls'"
Only The Strong Survive
“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”
"Evidently you didn't get stronger."
"A short melody in sheet music carved into the stone that causes bad weather and time travel paradoxes when repeated."
A Lasting Impression
"I dunno but when I was a kid I came across the tombstone of a world war 2 vet. And on the tombstone was his picture. He has very long canine teethe like a vampire, on the stone was a poem that read"
“'Beware kind friend as you pass by. As you are now, so once was I. As I am now, you soon will be. Prepare for death and follow me.' It’s just something I’ve never forgotten."
I remember being amused as a kid waiting in line to ride Disneyland's iconic Haunted Mansion attraction.
Up on a hillside adjacent to the Antebellum-style manse were a series of headstones with darkly humorous epitaphs.
One that particularly drew my attention was one that read:
"Here lies good old Fred. A great big rock fell on his head. R.I.P."
At the time, I really did think gravestones explained how the deceased perished, and that this one was intentionally funny.
Can you imagine?
People Confess Which Articles Of Clothing And Accessories Make Someone Instantly Unattractive
Legendary fashion designer Coco Chanel once famously quipped, "before you leave the house, look in the mirror and remove one accessory."
Indeed, sometimes it is truly remarkable how one item, be it a wrap, a hat or a brooch, can ruin the whole effect of an outfit.
In some extreme cases, it might also result in making someone's physical appearance seem worse than it is, by inadvertently emphasizing one of their less flattering features.
Then too, there are various accessories or types of clothing which simply never look good on anyone, under any circumstances.
"What is a piece of clothing or an accessory that makes a person immediately unattractive?"
In Case You Needed Reminding...
"Any shirt that has a long statement about how the person wants to be viewed."
"'I'M A BEER DRINKING, HARD WORKING, GUN OWNING REAL MAN WHO EATS MEAT AND NEVER MAKES EXCUSES OR TAKES SHORTCUTS IN LIFE'."
"'IF YOU'RE TRIGGERED, TAKE A NUMBER. I'LL GET TO YOU IN ABOUT A YEAR'."- Delica
"I'll bet Gas Station Kino shirts, with the angry flaming skeletons pointing two guns at you, declaring I'M A FORKLIFT OPERATOR WE WORK HARD AND WE PLAY HARD."- MontrealChickenSpice
"Any of that aggressive STOMP MY FLAG ILL STOMP YOUR A** sh*t."
"Makes me feel like they’re just stupid and angry, a dangerous combination."- neermifbart simpson episode 22 GIFGiphy
A Sight No One Needs To See
"Pants worn below buttocks."- anonnautilus
"Pants that are their size they just don't hold them up with a belt and show their whole underwear, or shrugs."- Jaceie
Million Dollar Smiles Shouldn't Be Taken Literally...
"They look f*ckin ridiculous."- DavosLostFingersold lady smile GIFGiphy
Can They Even See Through Them?
"Eyelashes that are too obviously fake."- LawInevitable2213
No One Really Wants To Be Compared To A Vegetable...
"The thing I find most disgusting currently is the broccoli haircut."
"Looks so bad."- Guilty-Ad-2762
Well Worn, But Not In A Good Way...
"Those God-awful jeans dudes wear with the random ribbed patches on the thighs."
"You know the ones."
"ABOLISH THEM!"- muffinbaby000
No Matter The Interpreter...
"Anything with the joker on it."
"Double that if there is an edgy quote on it as well."- Maleficent-Elk-3298
Bigger Is Not Always Better...
"Giant, long fake fingernails."
"And dinner plates in the earlobes."- sam_the_beagle
"I Am A Material Girl"...
"I'm not a fan of clout-chasing branded clothing."
"It screams materialistic consumerism and that is not cute to me."- coddiwomplecactus
Dude, Where's The Boat?
"The preppy frat man/boy style."
"Salmon shorts, a pastel vineyard vines button-down, and Sperry’s."
"Sorry but it makes some people look like overgrown toddlers at Easter mass."- Mirrorflute88
Unless You're Diana Ross, Maybe...
"Anything with the word Supreme on it."- ILLogicaL_FALLacies
It Must Complicate Eating...
"The older I get, the sillier tongue piercings seem to me."- deltree3030Sexy Temptation Island GIF by RTLGiphy
Needless to say, one's taste in clothing is a personal decision.
But as the saying goes, true beauty comes from within, and those who make a determined effort to improve their appearance, often end up doing just the opposite.
The Absolute Best Things About Being Single
I've embraced the single life.
It's been a decade, so I really had no other choice.
And I can tell you there are plenty of pros to the situation.
When we're single, it seems like we're addicted to focusing on the cons.
But if you start by appreciating yourself more, the pros list grows.
Not watching rom-coms is a big one for me.
And, of course, having a plethora of pins and voodoo dolls of your loved ones and their partners.
I kid. A little.
Redditor thunderchild10 wanted everyone to count all the ways not having a life partner is great, so they asked:
"What's the best thing about being single?"
That's my favorite part.
I just spend it on me!
Peace OutSneaking Out Betty Cooper GIF by Lili ReinhartGiphy
"You can leave family functions on your own terms."
"I’m a huge advocate of the Irish exit. Why do you need to say goodbye to everyone if you know you’re going to see them again in a few days."
No Food Sharing
"I can eat whatever I want for dinner. I don't have to consider anyone else's opinions. I can plan out whatever I want."
"Legit one of my concerns. I have what I call a peasant’s palate… I like simple meals, and I will easily eat the same thing over and over again. I made a chicken and broccoli casserole thing on the weekend and ate that for four days in a row. Sometimes I have chips for dinner. I’m happy with my weird menu, and I’m not looking forward to accommodating someone else."
Ah, yes... silence
"Peace and quiet."
"This is the big one for me. I spend all day listening to people talk, often distressed. So it's nice to come home to quiet. No more talk. Just the ambient sound of my local neighborhood, markedly muffled by double-glazed windows and soundproofed walls."
"The occasional quiet grunt from my dog. The quiet whirl of the refrigerator motor. My own thought as to why it's spelled refrigerator, but when we shorten it, we put a d in there, and make it fridge. The sound of me typing these thoughts on the keyboard in front of me. The quiet eeeeeeeeeeeee of my tinnitus backed all of it. Ah, yes... silence."
So much space...
"Of all the perks I think the best one has to be getting the bed all to myself."
"My partner and I sleep in different beds and I would 100% recommend if you have the space. Started out when we were working different shifts, stayed because we both had AMAZING sleeps."
"Can confirm. Haven't had the bed to myself in 7 years. Have upgraded to sharing with the partner AND toddler now. King-sized bed never seemed so small."
Everything!Happy Well Done GIF by Top TalentGiphy
"Loads of things. Mostly around being able to act exclusively for your own betterment without having to consider anyone else."
The list just gets longer and better.
Just Mefree freedom GIFGiphy
"That you can do whatever TF you want without having to answer to anyone."
"Not living in fear that my relationship will fall apart."
"God bless anyone who is going through this. It sucks really hard when you try to make things work but you just don't get enough assurance from your partner."
"After a few years of marriage, I actively did everything to make my relationship with my ex fall apart. Granted he was abusive and I was terrified that he would kill me for asking for a divorce because he frequently told me that he would, so I just made his life as uncomfortable as possible until he was the one who asked for a divorce."
"Knowing exactly what to expect when you come home and open the front door."
"Holy s**t, this resonates. I'm recently divorced and I can't explain how much anxiety I had when coming home and opening the door. The even keel of the emotional landscape now is pure bliss."
"Saaaaame. That moment I would hear the garage door open when my former partner was getting home: most anxiety-inducing moment/sound. I would go into panic mode: hell did I clean enough/do enough/be productive enough so that I don’t catch some shi**y attitude from the partner."
"Not being a slave to someone else’s emotional state."
"Deada**, this is the first time I’ve been able to focus on my emotional state in forever! My mental health has never been better. And I was even able to wean completely off of SSRIs. My ex was quite literally one of the biggest triggers of my anxiety and depression."
"As someone who is recently single, this is a big one. Sometimes I felt like my partner's emotional state was too chaotic for me and I was a sponge to it. Not being a slave to it anymore has made my anxiety calm down a lot."
You FirstLook At Me Reaction GIF by WWEGiphy
"You get to put yourself first. Take care of yourself. You're your own biggest fan, and the only one you've got. 100% learn to love yourself."
Well sounds like some of us should embrace being alone.
Apparently, it ain't all that bad.
Do you have anything to add? Let us know in the comments below.
People Confess Which Things Meant For Kids They Still Enjoy As An Adult
Too many of us were told to grow up or that it would be wrong to continue to enjoy the things that made our childhoods worth remembering.
But now as adults, some have figured out that there's nothing wrong with enjoying a nice bowl of sugary cereal while watching those Saturday morning cartoons. Quite frankly, it feeds the soul.
Redditor iStoleurvalor asked:
"What is 'for kids' that you continue to thoroughly enjoy as an adult?"
"Playgrounds in general. Since becoming a dad, I can bring my kids to the playground and have fun with them on the slides, swings, monkey bars; most things."
"I wish there were public/free adult-sized playgrounds. It'd probably encourage us to get out a lot more. It feels like everything geared for adults nowadays charges admission, and it's not cheap."
The All-Fours Climb
"Going up the stairs on all fours will always be fun."
"I’m a huge advocate for climbing stairs on all fours, but I’m now imagining how horrifying it would be to see that in a public setting, lol (laughing out loud)."
"'LOOK OUT, KIDS! SHE'S COMING!'"
"I need to try this. But the only steps I regularly take are at work, lol (laughing out loud)."
"I race up the stairs at work on all fours to assert dominance."
Animated Movies as an Art Form
"Animated movies in general. I can still enjoy them. When I've had a rough day or if I'm just feeling down, I can put on something wholesome, funny, or nostalgic and it makes me feel better."
"'Emperor's New Groove' is my favorite feel-good movie."
"Never enough stickers. I had a s**tty childhood (like most of us) but stickers always made me happy, especially the fuzzy ones. Suddenly understanding why I'm still bonkers for stickers."
Gotta Catch 'Em All
"Pokemon. Started with Red when I was five and haven't stopped since. Doubt I ever will. If anything, my enjoyment of Pokemon is becoming more childlike."
In Cracker Form
"Goldfish. It's hard to resist when my niece is having them for a snack. I make a big show about me being a shark and eating them just so I can have some."
"I really thought you meant actual fish at first..."
"Fish are friends, not food."
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
"Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. Of course, it isn't solely for kids, as he made each episode with a mind towards parents watching them with their children, but he's so wholesome and kind, so deliberate and thoughtful with everything that he put on the show."
"I’d never watched it before and my husband wanted to watch the Tom Hanks movie. But he wanted me to see the real Mister Rogers first. So there we sat, two adults over 30, watching episodes of Mister Rogers. And I loved it!"
"I remember a Reddit post from several years ago where this guy who was in the army or Marines or whatever gushed about his plush Magicarp. He even sent a picture of the Magicarp next to an automatic rifle."
"I'm almost 40 and not ashamed to say I still have my teddy bear, Wally, my mom made when I was two. His arms are lopsided, his ears are wonky, and he is made from upholstery fabric from a 70s couch cushion, but I love that dude."
"I did eight years in two branches of the Marines and Army and did three deployments, and you bet Wally was with me. Either stuffed in a pack or seabag, but he was there because I needed him."
Gotta Love Disney
"Disney animated movies."
"I am a big, mean-looking 40-year-old man. I drove to work listening to the soundtrack to 'Moana.'"
"Second big, mean-looking 40-year-old man here. I may or may not have sobbed on my way to work while kind of singing the soundtrack to 'Encanto' this morning through my tears."
"I'm with you, bro."
Who Lives in a Pineapple Under the Sea?
"Not me, but my 55-year-old dad still loves SpongeBob. He'll wake up on a Saturday morning and have his juice and breakfast while watching Spongebob."
"Dude, same. Almost every time I go over there, he's always watching SpongeBob. He recently found out he gets Boomerang on his Roku, so he's just been watching 'Tom & Jerry' and 'Loony Toons.'"
"I also love those cartoons so I'm definitely not talking s**t."
Chocolate Milk, For Sure
"Who says chocolate milk is only for kids?"
"Ice cold chocolate milk is amazing."
Skipping Down the Sidewalk
"Skipping. If you haven't skipped in a while, do it. You'll realize how much faster it is than walking, and how much more ground you cover."
"Not with craft paper and high-end pencils adult coloring, either."
"Nope. With a 'Moana' coloring book and the 64-count Crayola box."
They'll Never Go Out of Style
"I cannot stop making summer camp-style knotted friendship bracelets out of embroidery floss."
"It keeps my hands busy while I'm working/watching TV/traveling and I don't get sucked into my phone."
"Now I just leave piles of bracelets everywhere."
Breakfast of Champions
"Breakfast cereals... all of the fruity, sugar-filled candy-like cereals. It is totally my weekend treat. Nothing during the week."
"Fruity pebbles (Dino bites now. Post changed the recipe a while back) is totally my jam. Who doesn't like destroying the roof of their mouth on some Cap'n crunch?"
These are great reminders of some of the good things we had in our childhood, but it's an even more important lesson that there's no harm in doing something for our inner child every once in a while, maybe even every day.