Birthed in the bogs of Gainesville, The Boheme Coven conjures a chosen family from the surrounding swamp of sawgrass and muck.
The Coven doubles as a drag family and a group of entertainers based in North Central Florida. Rachel Boheme, mother and Supreme of the Coven, founded the group in 2016. The Coven hosts its weekly show Sinister Sundays at the University Club, Gainesville’s first and only gay club located at 18 East University Ave.
“These are my people,” Boheme said. “It's just a safe place for us to be around each other. It's a place for my kids and all the weirdos to come and just have a normal, fun time.”
The concept of drag family was born in the queer ballroom scene. It refers to a collection of drag queens and other queer artists who perform and socialize while creating a chosen, familial network of support. These families, often referred to as houses, are led by an experienced house parent.
Despite doing drag for 15 years now, the 31-year-old Boheme reminisces on her origins, when she opposed the art form initially, she said.
“I started on a dare,” she said. “Then I did it one time and I think that there has never been a weekend since that I haven't been in drag.”
For Boheme, the feeling of performing is intoxicating. People can feel the power in the air and for about four minutes you black out and become this “thing,” she said.
“Drag just takes a hold of you very easily,” she said. “It's addicting.”
She’s extended her mentorship toward other aspiring performers within the community after years of perfecting her craft.
This comradery organically developed into the coven’s creation, she said.
“We were the darker people,” Boheme said. “The ones that were doing the weird stuff, so we became the coven. It came very naturally, it was never planned.”
The Boheme Coven’s small start transmuted into something even its creator couldn’t have predicted.
“It just kind of grew from there,” Boheme said.
Boheme revealed how the chosen family came together after she chose to take in her drag children.
“You don't find them, and at first you're very apprehensive to even take them in because that's a lot of work to take someone under your wing,” she said. “It comes slowly.”
Boheme wanted to foster a home where every point of view is spoken for. As a performer, she fashions herself after Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, she said. However, she isn’t bound to one aesthetic, admitting she isn’t always “dark.”
“Something that’s great about our city here is that we have a very open-minded community to all types of drag,” she said.
This versatility allows Boheme to live up to her role as the horror hostess of the coven. In turn, she’s able to platform and display the talents of her spawn.
“These are my monsters,” she said. “Please come see them and enjoy. Open your mind and see that it can be a beautiful thing to be a little bit uncomfortable.”
Among the coven’s cast of distinguished creatures is 30-year-old J’adore Lagore. Originally from Boston, drag allowed her to find her creative footing in Florida with support from her chosen drag family. July will mark her seventh year as a drag performer.
“Drag in a sense helped me embrace the fact that I'm weird,” Lagore said. “It made me just not give a f--k about what anyone had to say about who I was or what I was into. It gave me this sense of confidence that I didn't have before I started.”
Beyond bolstering one’s confidence as a performer, The Boheme Coven connects queer folks within a larger community, proving the blood of the covenant is, indeed, thicker than the water of the womb.
“We’re [an] actual chosen family and it just goes beyond just drag and performing,” Lagore said.
Violet Primadonna, 23, is one of the newer additions to the coven, having done drag for more than two years.
“I’m technically like the youngest baby,” Violet Primadonna said.
Because drag houses value support and community they can often provide respite for queer folks to find kinship in chosen connections.
“My biological family are not people that I turned to about anything,” Violet Primadonna said. “But [the coven] are, they've been shoulders for me to cry on.”
“They’ve been stuck with me ever since,” she said.
Now more than ever, the idea of community becomes central to queer survival. In the face of increasingly anti-LGBTQ legislation being passed, the Human Rights Campaign has declared a national state of emergency for the LGBTQ community. According to HRC.org, over 540 bills anti-LGBTQ have been introduced nationwide this year alone.
Florida isn’t an outlier, proposing legislation which aims to target issues ranging from gender-affirming care to transgender bathroom bans.
Among those laws is Senate Bill 1438, an anti-drag show bill aimed to limit “adult live performances” and block venues from admitting children. Last-minute amendments expanded the bill, including vague language which will likely be weaponized against queer people and businesses.
“It's a weird dynamic that they put us into,” Boheme said. “They reduce us down to sex and that’s it. Like we don't advocate and work hard for our community.”
Probing and prying from the government and the public alike can lead drag artists to feel like they’re in a circus, Lagore said.
On top of a hostile legislative landscape, the queens note how even a seemingly supportive audience can commodify them.
Primadonna notes how there’s depth to their craft which might be overlooked by cis bachelorette parties and queer audiences alike.
“Our culture isn't just something that you can experience for two or three nights a weekend, this is our life,” she said. “This is what we love. This is our community. We're more than just little dolls that dress up and dance around for you on stage for $1 bills.”
In spite of the obstacles, all members of the coven are performers at heart. Above all, they aim to entertain, Boheme said.
“I hope that when you leave our show you feel like you had a fun time,” Boheme said. “Whether we change your life or not. If you were here and had a good time and were in the moment with us, that's all we can ask for.”
Contact Valentina at email@example.com.
Valentina Sarmiento is a UF journalism senior with a specialization in photojournalism. She is an Avenue staff writer for The Alligator. Aside from storytelling, she enjoys binging horror movies, cats and the occult.