By AARON GETTINGER
Last Saturday, the first weekend of Pride Month, the Back2Basics Ball was held at The Promontory, 5311 S. Lake Park Ave. W.
The Ball—part fashion runway, part costume party— is a predominantly black and queer competition for contestants showing off appearances and attitudes, embodying archetypes.
Dr. Maya Green, who works at the LGBTQ community-serving Howard Brown Health network of healthcare clinics that sponsored the Ball, said it is a safe space that builds community.
“When you walk in there, there are 100 people, you’re going to have 100 different looks. It’s as if whoever you are has just exploded on the outside of you,” Green said. “The ball community for years has been a safe space for those of us that belong in that space. I liken it to where people go to worship or be themselves or be among friends or be among family.”
Located in the overlap of two marginalized groups, blackness and queerness, Green said engaging with the ball community for the first time and undoing a lot of “training and societal pressures” takes courage. “It’s a different world; it’s a different space. And the rules of life are different,” she said. “There are no rules; there are no powers. There’s only you.”
Accompanied by a DJ’s driving rhythm and energetic commentary by two emcees, contestants would posture and vogue down the aisle. “One thousand one, one thousand two, one thousand three—and hold that pose for me,” an emcee would call out in beat, after which the judges would show their assessment with a number of extended fingers.
Contestants compete, or “walk,” for different Houses in the ball community. Zolie Miyake-Mugler, who leads the House of Miyake-Mugler, compared them to something like a fraternity or family. “Being gay, trans, lesbian—you’re ostracized from family and friends. Ballroom houses become your family. These are the people that you cry to, that you go and sleep when you need a place to lay your head, if you need food, if you need support of any kind, that’s what your ballroom family does.”
He called Hyde Park “the Harlem of Chicago” as a center of black cultural life.