Some of my friends have started writing 2015 end-of-the-year assessment posts, blogs about what they want to change in 2016, and I’m sure more reflection on the past and hope for the future will come over the next few days. I’d be lying if I said I haven’t been deep in my own mental review of the past year. What I liked, what I didn’t, what I want to change. But for now, one thing that’s affected deeply me throughout this year came screeching into the forefront of my brainmeats as something I want to phoenix the fuck out of in the coming year.
Earlier this year, I had to interact, directly and indirectly, with someone who opposed and belittled multiple facets of who I am, who I love, and what I do and in the course of a few days, total, managed to cast a pall of shame on things that I had previously been proud of: my ability to entertain, my sexiness, my kinkiness and the kink lifestyle, the self esteem I had built so carefully over the years and put back together over and over again. This person managed to also denigrate the sexiness of some of the most amazing performers I’ve ever been privileged to know and work with and, for some, call my friends and lovers. I’m not comfortable going into more detail but the experiences of this, and its aftermath, affected a large part of my life this year and continues to impact me in ways I’m still discovering.
For the most part, I’ve managed to make some sort of grudging peace with it and the fact that it will continue to nick at my skin for the foreseeable future because of reasons. Then I read this article entitled “My Right To Be Sexualized” by Little Bear. Who is now my goddamned heroine.
Y’see, I co-founded a burlesque troupe which I then co-directed for six years. The troupe is still going fabulously and about to hit its tenth anniversary being a body positive, all-gender-positive, sexy smorgasbord of theatrical awesomeness. For various life reasons, I took a hiatus/temporary retirement about two and a half years ago. Part of it was semi-planned, though not the specific timing. I knew I’d want, at some point, to be less involved because I eventually wanted to start a family. That took many twists and turns from 2012 through 2013, and all of them hit me full force in one heart-breaking day in the spring of 2013. Since then, I’ve worked on putting pieces of my heart back together, working towards a new life and new love, figuring out what I wanted, and working to make things I believe in happen. But in many ways, I wound up putting way too much energy in making things happen for other people than for myself.
The other part of the reason I left was because I was no longer feeling sexy as myself, only when I put on my character. And that scared me. I know RuPaul has told drag queen contestants on Drag Race to use their alter-drag queen-ego to enhance themselves, but I couldn’t find a way to do that so I wanted to take some time to rediscover me. What I discovered is something I’m still battling. Basically, I found that my dreams felt unreachable and unrealistic, that I haven’t been dealing with my anxiety and depression well at all, and that the self-esteem I’d built so carefully over the years was torn to shreds.
Shades of the past haunt me, even now. In my head I hear a previous partner who, during a fight, said all he could see when he looked at me any more was my double chin and rolls of fat. Or I hear another partner who thought it was funny to poke me in the stomach and insist I giggle like the Pillsbury Doughboy. I hear the people who used to serenade me in school because the funniest thing they could think of was to sing to the fat girl, telling her how “beautiful” she was, laugh hysterically, and ask her to marry them. Or the ones who used to pretend there was an earthquake happening when I walked by.
I’ve been told, more than once, that I have a great face, wonderful bone structure, a lovely sense of rhythm and movement, but that I’d be prettier if I lost a few pounds. And I’ve been looked at pitifully while enjoying a piece of candy or a cupcake, as if I shouldn’t be taking joy in it, because I shouldn’t be eating it at all.
The mixed messages have been fun, too. From the people who openly criticized my eating habits while they, themselves, were neither thin nor healthy eaters, to the family member who bought me a gift bag full of candy for my birthday…and then handed me a diet book…to what? Round out the present? She was also a leader in the “you’d be so [pretty, attractive, beautiful, insert adjective of choice here] if you lost some weight” brigade.
There are times when I can’t stop hearing these things, happening over and over in an endless loop in my head. They come up when thinking about wanting to do a sexy dance for someone I care about makes me want to crawl into a hole because I know he’ll laugh at me, yet there was a time when I used to be excited to do that sort of thing. When thinking about how I look or various positions to do during sex send me into a panic. “I can’t do that,” I think in a blind terror. The next thought is either “I’ll look like a blob folded like that.,” or, “I’ll kill them if I try that position!”
And I realized, sometime last year, that this also impacted how I felt about getting back on stage. I felt afraid. Afraid of how I’d be perceived. Afraid to be heckled. Afraid that I’d lost even that last vestige of sexiness I was able to feel, character or not. And then, as the situation I spoke of in the second paragraph unfolded, I felt a dying gasp of fight within me.
I tried to articulate it. Tried to do something about it. I didn’t get far. There were a few, select people who agreed with me. Who supported me. But ultimately, I’ve only been able to put words to it recently, after reading Little Bear’s post.
It’s because, “no one wants to see that.” It’s because “that’s not what people like.” “That’s not what sells.”
Therefore, our low “market value” (a phrase neo-masculinists actually use free of irony) doesn’t elevate us.
It neuters us.
In that one sentence I realized that feeling I couldn’t put my finger on…I felt neutered.
Others, from strangers to lovers to public figures, have looked at me and deemed me unsexy and unworthy. Said no one wanted to see people like me taking my clothes off on stage. Said people who looked like me weren’t “what sells.” That was the message I heard, that was the message I felt, and that is the message I have had an incredibly hard time overcoming.
And along comes Little Bear, who also has PCOS (poly-cystic ovary syndrome) and is in therapy for anxiety and depression from emotional abuse and eating disorders, all things I also deal with. And my heart sang with the recognition of crossing paths, even if it’s just on the internet, with a familiar soul.
But as I read on, my heart practically leapt out of my chest with gratitude for a stack of reasons. For her writing and for putting herself out there. For reminding me that, “sexiness is for anyone that wants it.”
And for this, especially:
I didn’t wait to love my body to strip. I began stripping to slowly learn to love my body. In doing so, I am being sexy not by “retaining a mystique” or showing you “flattering” shapes. I am showing you my shape—in all its soft, chubby, hairy, sweaty glory. I have told “mystique” to go fuck itself.
Amen, sister. I’m about to tell “mystique” to go fuck itself, too. I have a few ideas about how to get back into burlesque, a little at a time. We’ll see how they go. But I’m no longer going to be held hostage by vocal oppressors. As Little Bear said:
“No wants to see that?” Tell that to the audiences who cheer for every pastie I pop and stocking I pull.
With that one sentence, I was reminded of all the cheers I got, the praise and compliments, the heartfelt thanks from people who never thought of themselves as sexy until they saw me owning my own sex appeal on stage. The people who thanked the troupe I worked my ass off on with Viktor Devonne, its current director, to go beyond simply sexuality (which, of course has its place and is wonderful) to deal with issues of abuse, fear, aging, death, love, longing, transformation, BDSM, alternative sexualities/genders/relationships, personal growth, and so much more on stage. I was reminded of performers of all stripes (like Amanda Palmer, Brian Viglione, Dolly Shot, Viktor Devonne, and so many others) who support diversity on stage.
And recently, as if to help usher me towards this decision, there have been the random people recognizing me when I haven’t been in character who ask me when I was going to be back on stage, friends who said they miss seeing me perform and wondering if I’ll do so at the last Wicked Faire, and the one special, unexpected message I got from a dear friend a few months ago who just wanted to tell me how amazing they thought I was and linked me to one of my own performances.
“No one wants to see that.”
Tell that to the over 50,000 people who’ve seen the video of me that Amanda Fucking Palmer herself called “two hot buxom girls in what looks like a stolen insurance board room doing burlesque” when she re-tweeted the link to it.
Tell it to the people who’ve cried with laughter (because it was a cheeky number, not laughing *at* me) and sadness (because I’ve done some heavy shit, y’all. Give the peoples the *feels*) over numbers I’ve done. To the people I made feel. Squirm with desire. Cheer. Tell it to the people who’ve complimented my voice. My body. My choreography.
And while you’re telling people that, I’m going to get back to practicing some numbers. I don’t know when they’ll see the light of day, but I’m sure as fuck getting back on stage again.