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June 17, 2024 15 mins

The term 'mother' has blown up on the internet, but it has a much longer history rooted in queer communities of color. We trace the history and dig into its current mainstream usage.

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Episode Transcript

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Speaker 1 (00:05):
Hey, this is Sandy and Samantha. Welcome to stuff. ILL
never told you a protection of iHeartRadio. And today I'm
gonna apologize in advance Samanta, because we were once again
tackling an Internet term that has a long history. We're

going to get into but if I make a fool
of myself, I'm sorry. So you can see our past
episode that we did on Daddy, which yes, this is
kind of funny that this episode is coming out on
the day after Father's Day because we're talking about mother today.

A past host have also done an episode on the
etymology of mother, like outside of the Internet slaying slash
queer context. It's interesting to me how the this idea
came about. I have a friend, Katie, friend of the show,

and she's currently making all of these bracelets for upcoming
Dragon con big NERD convention in Atlanta to hand out,
and she was asked. She just randomly asked me one day,
like I can't use mother, can I because it has
another context? And I was like, yeah, I'm not sure,

but yeah, I think that it has another meaning, which
I knew it I had another meaning, but I was like,
I'm not I'm not sure. How cool that would be
to use it. And then later she sent me an
article that was like, oh, as this whole queer history
and here we are, So I thought I would just
break it down really quickly.

Speaker 2 (01:52):
I love it.

Speaker 1 (01:53):
Yeah. So, while the term mother is really trendy on
the internet right now, it has a long his street
in the queer community, perhaps centuries long. According to author
and professor Paul Baker, it's likely that in seventeen twenties,
London gay men called the cishet woman who ran a
coffeehouse that acted as a bit of a safe haven

for them mother mother Clap specifically Clap was her name.
In one instance, she provided false testimony to get a
patron off of sodomy charges. She eventually served two years
in prison for providing this sanctuary. At some points throughout history,
it was also used to refer to older gay men

who had an air of wisdom about them, who had
quote seen it all and could support younger gay folk.
It was used this way in a nineteen seventy one
camp vampire horror movie where the mother like there was
a mother that was being teased throughout, and the mother
in question was revealed to be an older camp be
gay man. The term was especially popular in the baller

scene in nineteen sixties New York City by Black and
LATINX queer communities and drag culture. Essentially, in bal culture,
there was a mother of the house who would take
younger queer folks in sort of a mentorship mentee role,
but a little bit more than that. Beyonce referred to
this in the Queen's remix of Break My Soul from

the Gay Times quote. Doctor Jack Doyle, a departmental lecturer
in LGBTQ plus history at the University of Oxford, tells
Gay Times that quote the term mother is an exclusive
to Black American ballroom scenes, but the way it's used
in those spaces says a lot about how queer people
across cultures and times have built and named chosen families.

He points out that the drag mother is often not
just a mentor, but also literally a parent to estranged
queer kids. She is the nurturing head of a chosen
family unit who makes her queer children feel less marginalized
by providing housing, community, healthcare, and safety. So that does

seem to be the main defining quality of a mother
and why gender doesn't necessarily matter in its use because
it's more about like the nurturing nature. Again, you can
see our Daddy episode where we did talk about some
of this, but that's one of the differences. It seems.
The rise and current popular use of Mother is often

chased back to a Twitter exchange between Lord and Kim
Kardashian in twenty fourteen. Lord explained quote, I retweeted Kim's
amazing cover and wrote, mom, which among the youths with
a Z is a compliment. It basically jokingly means adopt me,
be my second mom. I think of you as a
mother figure. You are so epic.

Speaker 2 (04:47):
Yeah, I was really excited to hear you pronounce that.

Speaker 1 (04:50):
Oh no, I'm so embarrassed.

Speaker 2 (04:52):
I love it. I love it.

Speaker 1 (04:56):
In twenty three the online use of mother and the
LGBTQ plus community really exploded, most often applied to female
pop stars, often straight female pop stars, but not always.
There have been two SNL sketches I saw about that.
One was the one with Pedro Pascal where he was

Daddy and then Sarah Paulson was Mommy he is. And
then another was where Megan the doll from the movie
was Mother in a Queer club. Here's a quote okay
from Gay Times on queer Twitter in twenty twenty three.

Mother is mainly being applied to cishet women with a
certain pop cultural cachet and demonstrable queer appeal, and is
now also used as a verb, So mother is mothering
is frequent frequent way to use it. Quote when Gay
Times is entertainer editor Sam dam Shanas and I hope
I didn't meture that. Asked Sarah Michelle Geller about her

passionate LGBTQ plus fan base at a January launch event
for her new series, Wolfpack, She paused to ask him,
can someone please explain mother to me? Geller has since
fully embraced this term of inqueerment by updating her Instagram
bio to simply read mother. Later discussing her mother's status

in a subsequent interview, Geller said, humbly, it's a huge honor.
This is a community that has supported me and all
of the jobs I've done, whether they've been successful or not,
and so I'm incredibly grateful. People studying this topic think
that the modern use of this term stem from the
ballroom use, but was further popularized by the growth of

things like RuPaul's Drag Race. There's a whole song that
was produced from RuPaul's Drag Race about Mother. Doyle went
on to say, I think what we're seeing with Mother
blowing up Twitter is the latest in the age old
story of white gays borrowing and misusing queer aave African
American vernacular English, which eventually jumps to straight people. This

process has changed and accelerated over the past decade, with
black and LATINX American drag becoming commodified globally via drag race,
which is how we get say, white sis head English
women talking casually about serving realness or throwing shade. But
that is also quote a term of respect for powerful,
confident femininity, and this respect does sometimes extend to sis

had women who are also queer icons. Oh, I apologize again.
There has been other stuff written that I thought was
really interesting in terms of how being like using the
term mom outside of this context of like queer history
or what have you was bad. Like that was embarrassing.

You didn't want to be described as a mom or
as a mother. And they also had kind of a
whole part where they were describing like Beyonce hugging her
daughter on stage, and it was like, not only is
she mother in this context, but now she's mother, she
has an actual child and that's cool. So that is

sort of changing too. And when we compare that to
what we talked about in the Daddy episode where we
were talking about how you know, dads who seem to
give any kind of caring aura in public are given
a lot more of a pass or are scene as
like much sexier. But mom wasn't always the case because

that was just expected, But now it seems to be
shifting a little, at least for celebrities.

Speaker 2 (08:51):
This is from a female gaze. I feel like this
is not you will not see a heterosexual sis man
say that's mother. It would be and honestly it would
be like what what did you just say? Because there's
that conversation. But yeah, it's also like a bigger conversation
about how TikTok and social media like that really is
pushing the appropriation. However, you want to see it of

aave so quickly too, because you will like it things
that I have like just heard and then I'm seeing
straight white women doing it and I'm like, I'm not
doing that. I'm straight Asian woman over here. And I'm like,
I would never like I could. That's not a thing
that comes out of my mouth, and I have to
really check. I'm like, all right, am I doing this
because it seems easy and fun to say, like, there's

not a conversation of course for me as well, being
the older generation as I am, I don't think it's
appropriate for me to look at someone's ay, that's mother,
because I'm like, technically if it was said about me,
it would make more sense, not because I'm great, but
because of the age range that I see it. So
that's the whole different level of conversation in itself that

I see. Julian Anderson is also a big example of
people saying mother. Part of that is because people really
think that she opened up so much queerness for a
lot of young women and being able to be like, oh,
just because of her her ability to like really show
both femininity and masculinity and characters and herself in general
and not being afraid of that, not being offended by

either of those titles and moving on and embracing her audience.
So people have also said that about her, So I see, like,
that's that, Yes, it's that compliment. But again, this kind
of goes into more of that female gaze level of conversation.
It does also feed into that conversation of like, yes,

it came from queer culture. It was made bigger from
what I could gather from black or marginalize gay culture,
so from the black brown community in that area specifically
like queer ballroom culture and again being like appropriated into
that because it was more of a safety as you
were talking about, for like that I knew about the

mother from queer ballroom culture, which is also like that's
kind of sacred. Yeah, So throwing that around like that
because it literally was about safety and trust and getting
that title was an honor from what I gather and
giving that title and finding someone that you saw like
that because that was a part of your chosen family.
So like it is, it's interesting to see like the

expansion in this conversation because it can be funny, and
you know, we have we've definitely seen a lot of
like skits wear, weirdly sis men pulling a character of
being homosexual and using terms like that to make it
a joke. So it's it's an interesting dichotomy words and

terminology like that.

Speaker 1 (11:51):
Yeah, And I I think that you know, it's good
to keep that in mind. Like when you when you
see a term that gets really popular of a sudden,
you just start using it. Maybe look into it for it,
just start using.

Speaker 2 (12:05):
It right because it does seem fun. Also, who would
Katie give this breastless to, like just getting into a
random person they call mother?

Speaker 1 (12:14):
Be like, what well, because she gives out bracelets that
this is what happened. She was like, she gives out
bracelets that say like space Daddy to Darth Vader. And
she was like, I can't do that with mother And
I was like not really, no, Yeah, I was like, girl,
I don't think so. But I didn't know.

Speaker 2 (12:34):
I didn't know, and I don't think people would find
that offensive. Like if you went and found someone who's
dressed up like ah Soka and you gave that to her,
I don't know they would feel like that's offense for
not pad May the character, like if you, I think
like a lot of people would agree if there was
such a thing, pad May would be Mother. Yeah, I mean,
someone tell me if I'm wrong. And I'm doing this

as a person who was neither in the credit culture
nor in the Star Wars luch Con culture. From what
I gather as an outsider, so I could see how
that could be like genuinely appreciated. But it does hold
into context of like the privilege around using that time
of terminology.

Speaker 1 (13:16):
Yeah, and we had an interesting conversation about it because
I feel like Daddy, we've talked, we have so many
episodes about like the connotations of that, but it's less
like it could have multiple meanings that a lot of
people would think of, whereas Mother just feels like it
just feels like as a bigger weight right too.

Speaker 2 (13:37):
Well, like there's just again when we say mother is
a lot more about safety and feeling you're feeling of safety.
When we say Daddy is about dominance in power. So
there's this whole level of like, yeah, who, what do
these words mean?

Speaker 1 (13:51):
Yeah? Yeah, And I think looking at the differences between
it because you know, I when she asked me, I mused,
it was like, oh, I don't know, that's a good question.
I'm glad.

Speaker 2 (14:05):
I love that she had the forethought of that. And again,
this is one of those things that you and I
are not necessarily the authority on. And for those listeners
who are part of the black, Brown Indigenous community QUICK community,
and you have a lot of thoughts on this, those
who are in like ballroom community, because I thought that's
actially still a thing which is beautiful. So like, if

y'all have opinions about this, again, this is kind of
one of those things like better safe than sorry.

Speaker 1 (14:30):
Yeah, yes, and always look into it, do your research,
and it's okay to question it is. I'm glad. Yeah,
and I'm glad I looked into it. Yeah, thank you.
Clearly I'm very shy about using.

Speaker 2 (14:46):
I loved it. Thank you, especially you're reading it out
and you just fill it out to saying what you're saying.

Speaker 1 (14:53):
Oh dear.

Speaker 2 (14:55):
Ze why it's amazing.

Speaker 1 (14:58):
Well, listeners, please do write in. If you any thoughts
or information about this, you can contact us at Stephan
and mom Stuff at iHeartMedia dot com. You can find
us on Twitter at mom Stuff podcast, or on Instagram
and TikTok at stuff I've never told you. We have
a tea public store, We're on YouTube. We have a
book you can get wherever you get your books. Thanks
as always too, our super producer Christina, our executive producer
My and your contributor Joey. Thank you, and thanks to

you for listening. Steffan Never Told You Us. Direction by
Heart Radio for more podcasts, or my Heart Radio. You
can check out the art Radio app, Apple podcast wherever
you listen to your favorite shows.

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