Happy Mother’s Day with Ayanna Armstrong-Robinson, House Mother

For this upcoming Mother’s Day, Sunday, May 10, we wanted to highlight a staff member at Howard Brown Health who is also a house mother. House mothers are integral to the ballroom and LGBTQ community, so we spoke with Ayanna Armstrong-Robinson about being a house mother in 2020.

1. First off, what is a house mother and what does it mean to be one?

A house mother is the matriarch of an organization/ballroom family that is oftentimes the backbone of that entity. Mothers are the nurturers for the children on and off the ballroom competition floor. They are the teachers for the generations after them – uplifting, shaping, inspiring, and preparing their children for success in winning a trophy and winning in life.

Being a mother means to love, care for and help raise (within community) someone who may or may not have been devoid of a mother figure due to being abandoned, disowned, or misunderstood for being different (LGBTQ).

2. How old are you and how long have you been a mother?

Ha, a lady never tells her real age. I always make a joke that I am #forever29 (by transition standards), but I am in my late 30’s I’ll just say that *wink*. I have been mother for almost 10 years I want to say, and I have been a member of Balenciaga since 2002, so 18 years this year. As a participant of ballroom, 22 years.  

3. How did you come to be a house mother? Were you always a mother in your heart or did it happen over time?

I would say a little of both; I had always been a mother figure even before accepting the ballroom title. Prior to, I had had several children who would approach me and say, “I really look up to you. Would you please be my mom? I love how you carry yourself, I love the class and sophistication you exude, and I think I can learn something from you.”  What they saw in me is what I can attribute to the mothers that I had, whom I looked up to, and who poured into me. Now, here I am years later being a vessel to others, pouring that same love into my children. The ballroom title came just a few short years later, and I am happy to be known internationally as Midwest Mother Ayanna Balenciaga.

4. Could you expand on your experiences as a member compared to being a mother now?

Well, I started as a founding member in 2002. And being a member was just as rewarding. We were the upper echelon of ballroom houses then, and the structure/family dynamic was the same as it is today, because I helped to create and shape that even as a member. Stepping up in recruitment efforts, traveling with members, walking and competing around the U.S. That is why we are still here today. Those same values exist today.

5. What would you like the public to know about house mothers that they might not know?

Those who may be oblivious to this fact, it was the mothers (femmes) who helped to start many of the revolutions in our community. It was Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera to ignite Stonewall, and for ballroom specifically, it was Crystal LaBeija, Dorian Corey, Pepper LaBeija, Paris Dupree, Octavia St. Laurent, and Angie Xtravaganza who helped birth and shape ballroom culture to give it the foundation we are standing on today. Whether they were drag queens or transvestites back then, or trans women and Butch Queens today – this community is not complete without the mothers. Ballroom would NOT and CANNOT exist without the mothers!

6. What does Mother’s Day mean to you?

Mother’s Day is a day to feel appreciated for all the pouring into one’s life you have done over the years.  To have your kids tell you that your love and your teachings have meant the world to them is special. To know that everything, all of the love, guidance, and even the stern lessons you gave them were heard, received, applied, and appreciated – that really is a joyful feeling.

7. In what ways have you seen your children flourish?

Balenciaga children have an obligation to not only be great ballroom walkers by winning trophies state to state, but they also must be great in their day-to-day lives. I have seen many of my children attend prestigious universities and go on to graduate college, work in various fields, and at Fortune 500 companies, to become first time home owners, travel the world, start families, and give back to the communities around them. Our children excel and thrive because the leaders of this house help to push them all toward their goals.

8. Would you share a moment when you were proud to be a house mother?

I am proud any time one of my children excel in life or in ballroom. However, I remember a time around Fall 2009-2010 when all of my children came together to strategize how to win this one particular ball where grand prize was house with the most trophies for $2,000. To see each of them helping each other get ready and prepare for categories, walking and chanting our house slogan as each competitor walked was a night to remember. It was our first time winning (at that time) that big of a grand prize in this region as a house – and it was because of all of their hard work and determination. Mommy was exuberantly proud!

9. What is a specific trait or characteristic of the House of Balenciaga that makes it unique or special?

The House of Balenciaga is an Iconic ballroom organization and here is what I think sets us apart; it is our family structure dynamic that many see, are drawn to, and admire from afar. Many on the outside who seek membership always lament how when they see us all in social settings, we are always a unit. Yes, individually we are strong, but as a collective, we are unstoppable! Our bonds far exceed ballroom. We are a family. We have been in each other’s lives since teenagers, and now into adulthood – we have shared some of our highest of highs with one another, as well as our lowest of lows. Our leadership is a board of forward thinking individuals, always making space for the next generation. In addition, helping to elevate our members to the next level. You cannot get that anywhere else but Balenciaga.

10. What are your hopes or plans for the future of your house?

Well, prior to COVID-19 and sheltering in place, the father and I had made some plans to start recruiting more talent in hopes of reemerging as the top house in the Midwest, because many of our members are seasoned vets who have taken a bit of a break (some retired) from ballroom and that is understandable. As you get older in this, your focus changes, and we support all of our members, but in order to remain relevant, we have to pick fresh talent to help carry the torch. That is our plan for the later part of 2020 post COVID-19.

Tags: Q&A


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