Queer persons have always made their families. To understand the dynamics and to learn how queer families form, we joined a funny Hollywood family for dinner.
In season five of RuPaul’s Drag Race, Roxxy Andrews and Alyssa Edwards lipsync for their lives. After breaking even, Roxxy broke down, explaining that she has no family and was abandoned as a child. In response, RuPaul shared one of the most important adages in gay culture. “We as gay people, we get to choose our family,” Ru said. “We get to choose the people we’re around.”
The idea that LGBTQ persons get to pick their family is important: when our own families abandon us or do not understand us, when society turns us away, we turn to each other for support. If we don’t have a brother, we find a brother. If we don’t have a mother, we find a mother. If we don’t have people who love us, we find people who will.
These families come together in the most interesting ways, too. Take the group of Shaughn Buchholz, Drew Droege, Jordan Firstman, Jim Hansen, Tim McKernan, Sam Pancake, Bryan Safi, and Jeffery Self. The group of very close friends found themselves in their friendly familial unit after intersecting and connecting through working in Los Angeles.
A group "prayer" before dinner.
“Sam and I met at a mutual friend's house,” Drew explains as the bunch sit down for dinner at Jim’s house. “I was was wearing large pink sunglasses and being photographed in a tree. You know, typical Tuesday. And I met Bryan at Upright Citizens Brigade, probably in 2005.”
“It was right after I moved here,” Bryan says.
“I didn’t know you, Bryan, but I knew of you,” Jeffery says. “Then we had a weird job at Vh1 together where we were in a creative think tank where we literally got paid to come up with weird reality shows. We had to pitch three a day.”
“Jeffery had the most amazing idea,” Bryan says. “The idea was called, umm, Fabulous House? Is that right?”
“Groove House,” Jeffery clarifies, eyes closed with a smile. There is a collective howl of approval accompanied with claps.
“I’m on board already,” Drew says.
Recounting the details of "Groove House."
Jeffery explains. “It’s a reality show about a bunch of women who are trying to overcome some sort of turmoil they’ve experienced. Abuse, divorce—starting over!”
“To get their groove back, right?” Tim asks.
“Yes,” Jeffery says. “They move into a house together to get their groove back—but wait: there’s more. They all have a great first night in Cancun—”
“CANCUN?!!” Drew yells, spitting some food out.
Jeffery nods. “The next morning, they all come downstairs and they’re having breakfast…and half of them are men in drag.”
“NO,” Sam says over a whooping. Bryan has dissolved into laughter.
“How is that a show?” Jim giggles.
“How is Angela going to get over her abusive husband because of a drag queen??” Drew asks.
“The first night would pass and the next morning they’d be men for breakfast,” Bryan laughs. “The executives were poking holes in it but also legitimately trying to get on board. Every meeting we had with them, I’d tell them that I really thought Groove House was the answer and they’d say, ‘No, we’re really thinking about it.’ These poor women have so much to get over…and then another betrayal!!”
“You’re never safe—not even in Groove House,” Drew conjures a tagline.
“By the way,” Jeffery chimes. “I don’t know what happens in episode two.” The table turns to laughter again.
Drew takes a moment. Bryan at a pause.
Resuming the meetings, the intersections are abundant: Sam and Jim have known each other since 1995, in the days when Sam would throw what he called, “7-To-9AM-In-The-Morning-People-Still-In-The-Hot-Tub-That-Wouldn’t-Leave” parties; Shaughn and Drew met through a mutual friend; Tim and Drew met in Silver Lake, at a party; Tim and Shaughn met when Tim first moved to Los Angeles; and everyone naturally converged through their collective work in entertainment.
“What’s interesting about gay families,” Jeffery winks. “Is that—Truly.—they are a wide range with mini-families within. Especially at this table: Bryan and I made videos together; Jim and I made videos together; Jim and Drew made videos together—”
“Jordan and I made videos together,” Drew adds.
“Drew and Sam; Drew and Tim; Drew and Shaughn,” Jeffery lists. “There’s this weird thing where it all interconnects yet there are these pockets of mini-cultures. It’s very interesting because I don’t think that exists in a traditional family unit.”
Sam agrees. “And we all have our own creative communities that we’re a part of, with different ebbs and flows.”
“And we don’t want or need anything from each other. We just want to work with each other,” Jordan says.
“We just want to hang out,” Tim agrees.
“We really do need to find something that we can all do a reading of, together,” Bryan raises.
“AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY!!” Jordan yells.
“Love! Valor! Compassion!” Drew says.
“We have too many for Steel Magnolias,” Tim says, sadly.
Debating which play is most befitting of them.
The group first started hanging out together, growing close, once they started taking trips to Palm Springs together in 2010.
“It’s the best time,” Drew explains. “We rarely do dinners like this, getting the entire group together, because we’re too busy.”
“It’s usually once a year, in Palm Springs,” Shaughn notes.
“Or it’s in a larger context of a big party,” Sam says.
Jeffery explains. “We huddle in our own group, ignoring everyone. There’s something very interesting about that: we’re always in a large party setting or working on something. It’s very rare that we get together and have a nice dinner.”
“And that’s why Palm Springs is so great because we can get away and do nothing,” Drew says. “We don’t leave the house! We watch movies from the seventies and weird movies that we bet we haven’t seen.”
“And we introduce Jordan to things he should know,” Jim pokes, alluding to Jordan being the youngest.
Jim with a razz. Jordan in giggles.
As small as it sounds, that effort to introduce each other to things and share is how this family and all gay families support each other: it’s a network of helping, of being there for each other.
“Obviously, you support your friends,” Jeffery says. “But I don’t think that’s always the case. There are certain friends who I have who—”
Jordan finishes, “—you do not support.”
“It’s not that you don’t support them,” Jeffery clarifies. “But you get very jealous of them—and at no point in the friendship with the people at this table have I gotten jealous.”
“This is the only group of people that I root for constantly,” Bryan nods. The group corrals around a collective yes.
“That’s very, very, very rare,” Tim says.
“I don’t feel like any of us are lying about anything,” Bryan says. “We know what the score is all the time.”
“And no one here is lazy,” Jim says.
“We’re all ambitious,” Jordan adds.
“Well,” Sam follows. “None of us moved here to sit around. We moved to Hollywood for a fucking reason.” The group laughs.
Sam explains it all.
“For me, it goes back to how it all organically happened, how we genuinely found a bond,” Drew says. “There’s something deeper than ‘You got something!’ I genuinely want you to do well.”
“A lot of us did You’re Killing Me too,” Bryan says, pointing to a joint project that involved the entire group. The horror comedy was written by Jim and Jeffery and directed by Jim. The rest starred in various roles.
“Making the movie and having discussions in places like Los Feliz makes living in LA so real to me,” Drew says. “It makes it legit. The rest of the time we’re sitting and waiting for the phone to ring for bullshit jobs I’m happy to get and happy to cash the check for and, every now and then, you get on a show or movie that is an amazing experience—but when you get to do this stuff with your real friends? It’s truly fun. There’s something not cynical about it and not careerist. It’s coming from a real place and it makes living here feel like home, like a neighborhood.
“I agree,” Sam says. “This has happened to me more lately because I’ve matured a little bit: I want to do well not only so I can do well but so that I can have my own company or whatever, so I can pay my friends and hire my friends. We all think that way. Maybe it’s not a lot of money but eventually it will be.”
“I have to say,” Bryan says. “I can’t think of a better situation than there being a show that we’re all in.”
The table bursts into echoing yeses.
“I can’t imagine!” Drew says.
“It would be so fun!” Jeffery adds.
“That would be the dream,” Bryan says.
“The thing that’s interesting is the rarity of making a movie and casting all your gay best friends as the lead,” Jim says.
“It’s fabulous,” Jeffery says.
“And an extremely rare opportunity,” Jim clarifies.
“For now!” Drew commands. “That’s why it’s our charge to change that. It’s our job to do that.”
Shaughn has a laugh. Drew and Jeffery have a moment.
That change comes from within, from that love and friendship of present company. All of these men have such a fondness for each other that they want to rise together, to be there for each other as friends and family. That’s especially important when so much of the non-LGBTQ world wants to eliminate or make queer stories invisible.
This bond sounds easy to form but, really, a gay family can be difficult to come by since so many same sex oriented persons struggle to find friends since sexuality can get involved. For this group, those dramatics have been mostly excised.
“None of us have dated each other, right?” Sam asks.
“None of us have even hooked up with each other!” Jordan proclaims.
“Ummm,” Jeffery says. “That’s not true.” He looks over at Shaughn and the two laugh.
“Well, for a group of gay friends where only one or two of the people have hooked up?” Jordan resumes. “That says a lot.”
“We’re none of each other’s exes,” Sam adds.
“There is none of that tension,” Drew says. “There’s no wanting. Having been single most of my life, I don’t have a crisis about it because I have friends like this. I have probably been unhealthy in my friendships in terms of how much I’ve put on my friends. I’ve said that to lots of you guys before when I’ve dumped on you—”
“Yes, you’ve dumped on me,” Jordan jabs.
Drew points it out.
Drew nods. “No, you know: I’m saying that there are times where I abuse friendships as a relationship replacement—but I don’t freak out that I’m single. I don’t feel alone.”
Bryan agrees. “I would also say that—and maybe this is unspoken—but in those weeks that we spend in Palm Springs or wherever we’re available to get together, it really is to me the closest thing to family that I feel.”
“We also take that trip after spending time with our actual families,” Shaughn says. “Where we’re not telling the truth, lying, holding things in, scared, and uncomfortable. Then, we take the next week and go to Palm Springs—and that is relaxing.”
“Everything is down,” Bryan says. “All walls are down! We don’t try to look hot for each other either.”
“Clearly!” Jeffery points. “Look at this table: these are their best outfits!! And for a photo shoot!!”
The table laughs.
“This is the kind of group that I feel like I can never get here fast enough when it’s just us,” Bryan says, sharing a smile with everyone at the table.
“But...you were late today!” Jordan breaks. Everyone giggles.
“I know what you mean though,” Jeffery says. “It’s just fun.”