Helgi Saldo: family is who we turn to in pain and in celebration

Updated: Oct 14


Helgi Saldo with Kristiina and Eva Marta at the birthday of the Estonian LGBT Association, 2019. Photo: Eke Allikvere

If I was to define a family with my own words, I would say it’s a deep relationship between a pair or a group of people who share something — anything from a bloodline to an identity or a goal — that is based on a mutual trust in that particular something. If that sounds too vague then that’s because I believe in all kinds of families. Both those we can’t pick and the ones we do choose for ourselves. I believe in them as necessary support systems that help us grow and feel connected. I have had more luck than most and I’ve been a part of many families in my life. Yet if I’m completely honest, for some reason I never felt like I belonged to any of them until I had to face a crisis.

I was brought into this world by two cis-het 19-year olds who both survived abusive childhoods. They in turn provided me with everything I needed and more all throughout my life, even when they didn’t understand what I was going through or didn’t know how to support me emotionally. In other words, they tried to be a family despite the things that built barriers between their world and mine. Not everyone gets the privilege to experience this. As queers we are often misunderstood by the families we are born into. It is a disconnect that can require a world of patience from both the caretakers and the child, and may be a life-long struggle without a conclusion. Sometimes the people we look to for support are not able to deal with our realities. In worst cases, instead of acceptance and celebration, they disown, abuse or murder us. This is why the families we can create and choose for ourselves hold so much meaning to the LGBTQAI+ community. We can hope these chosen families understand a core part of our identity, and make us feel like we belong somewhere. Like we have someone or something to turn to, not just in pain, but also in celebration.


Helgi Saldo at the birthday party of the Estonian LGBT Association, 2019. Photo: Eke Allikvere

When speaking about what I do I am wary of calling myself a “drag queen”, because it’s mostly just random gender play without any royal aspirations. For all intents and purposes, I will accept the term. Drag queens are traditionally born at costume parties on birthdays and Halloweens, but also a variety of Pride events. While my gender troubles and exhibitionism go way back, the first time I did drag in a public setting as an adult, was also while working in a bar during Pride. At it’s core, drag as a queer art form is very much a revolt. An empowered exploration and defiance — or affirmation — of one’s sex and gender. For those who take drag more seriously, there are usually drag mothers or fathers who guide new queens through the process of becoming. For me it was never just one person I could single out as a drag mother. I do very much have a single drag parent (their preferred gender-neutral title) who has been my crutch since day one, forever judging my make up and hairline. And I do belong to a house — the House of Common — with an elderly cis gay man who has never done drag and just occasionally indulges in my meltdowns as sort of an older brother. But in the end of the day, it has always been a much larger community experience for me. Whether it's asking to borrow heels from other queens, friends booking my amateur DJ sets or me sending catalogues of dressing room selfies to unsuspecting straight girls, it's the most wonderful experience to share my insanity. I didn't choose all of them and not all of them chose me, but those are the people who make me feel loved, supported and connected. Like a family.


MEIST

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