By Lil’ Buddha (he/him)
There’s a scene in “Paris is Burning”, the documentary chronicalling the lives of New York house-ballroom subculture by Black, Latino, gay, transgender and the queer community, where the iconic Willi Ninja introduces the House of Ninja. Willi explains how queer youth are often cast out of their “biological family”, and how “houses” (chosen family) are formed to fill this void. He chooses the title of “House Motha” because mothers are the backbone of the family. It’s a defining moment in the film that speaks to the importance of chosen family.
As queer people, especially for BIPOC, we are fortunate in that we are able to choose our family. Our chosen family is often our most authentic connection with our “people”. Sometimes our chosen family is the only family we have. Our relationship with our “family of origin” is tattered or irreparably damaged because of rejection based on cultural values, expectation and heterosexism.
Growing up as a Hmong immigrant in my small Midwestern town I often faced multiple minority stressors. It’s undoubtedly one reason I felt “at home” outdoors high up in the Rocky Mountains. We were never wealthy, but somehow each summer my parents saved enough for vacation. For one or two weeks I’d spend warm summer days exploring mountain ridges, swimming in alpine lakes and gazing up at stars against the blackest of night sky. It was during these trips I learned wilderness skills that I still use today, and found sanctuary and refuge outdoors. The wilderness–I learned–welcomed and never once judged me.
Years later I would leave the midwest for New York, where by chance I met Willi Ninja outside Club Escuelita. Willi was a respected leader by all houses, and a welcoming presence in nightlife. Eventually, I would join the House of Avon. On one occasion I ended up taking several members of my house on their first backpacking trip, north of Manhattan, to the Appalachian Trail. How absolutely fabulous we must have looked–our black and brown bodies taking up space outdoors–voguing, “walking” and kiki’n while white thru-hikers looked on in shocked silence.
Thru-hikers use the term “tramily”, an apt portmanteau to describe our trail families. Instead of tramily I refer to my chosen trail family as my Haus, because my intention is to honor the iconic voguing houses that embraced me when I first arrived in New York. It’s these friendships, and being painfully aware that my childhood experiences are privileged, often not accessible to many immigrant and BIPOC communities, that I’ve dedicated myself to advocating for and mentoring Hmong and BIPOC adventurers. It’s the reason I formed Haus Buddha. Our Haus is a collection of thru-hikers, backpackers, writers and other creatives that support and uplift each other and our work.
I’m Lil’ Buddha, and I’m the Father of Haus Buddha.
Now walk for me!
Follow Lil’ Buddha’s adventures on Instagram at lilbuddhahikes.