Saturday, August 21, 2010

Just to Fill A Little Space

I'll be blunt... this entry is filler. I figure it's extremely important for me to make this blog a weekly thing (at the very least) otherwise it'll just end up fading away just like every other time that I've tried my hand at this. So what do you talk about when you nothing to talk about? Yeah well I kind of suck at that. I'm not a good blogger in general because I censor myself too much. Good blogging seems to be about just letting whatever's on your mind flow free. I don't think people have any interest in my idle thoughts so if there sin't much going on I dont' have much to say.

So with that in mind I thought I'd share a couple of images for the heck of it. Folks might have noticed that I usually say under the picture who the photographer is... and there's just blank space under these ones. Well that's because each is from my earlier days of modeling and performing when I wasn't keeping a great record of who was taking pictures of me. My only concern was that I got copies of the shots that were taken and after that I lost touch with many of the photographers. Having gotten a better appreciation of what photographers do I keep much better track of this stuff now, but there's still these old pictures that I like but can't give credit for.

If anybody is wondering the first image was taken in New York when I performed in a competition show called The Ultimate Drag Off. I performed there twice, I never won but I always had fun. The other was one of my first shoots in Boston, taken in the apartment I was living in at the time. It's funny because that sword rack is completely full now. There's also the deluxe rat cage on the ground where Nicodemus and Mrs. Robinson were living (not sure if they'd had the babies yet at that point.) Brings back memories. Anyways I think I'll leave it at that and wish you all a great week.

Monday, August 16, 2010

How'd a Girl Like You End Up in a Job Like This?

It occurred to me after my last (slightly ranty) post that not all of the readers of this blog might be familiar with my experiences as a performer and why I got into burlesque over more traditional drag shows. So I think this is as good a time as any to get into a little bit of background to give some context to what I do and why I do it (at least as far as performing goes, I may tackle the bigger "why do you dress as a woman at all?" question at a later date.)

Photo by Banafsheh Ehtemam

Without getting into an overly detailed history of how I ended up on stage in a dress in the first place, I started performing in drag shows when I was living in Boston. I actually had a rather easy time getting on stage because I happened to be working (in drag) at a gay bar called Machine that had a weekly drag night. I had an easy way into doing shows and the performers I met at the bar got me into Boston's only drag bar, Jacques Caberet. I did several very fun shows there but it wasn't long before Laura and I moved to New York City, which turned out to be a whole different beast.

Once in NYC I realized how easy I had it in Boston because I got to know people at the bar and that functioned as my foot getting in the door as far as performing went. In New York I didn't know anybody and I had switched from late night bar work to full time day job. The thing about New York is nobody really cares what you've done anywhere else, they only care if you've made it in NYC yet. And until you do "make it" getting any kind of venue to perform is quite a tricky proposition. That is unless you know somebody who'll vouche for you, and I didn't know any one. I got a few sporatic gigs such as the "Ultimate Drag Off" competition and a little modeling but these were very few and far between. Drag performance seemed doomed to slowly slip away from me in the big city.

Photo by Efrain Gonzalez

Then a revelation. I had a friend that I knew through MySpace who was graduating from a burlesque workshop, and the graduation was getting to perform on stage. To show support I went to my first ever burlesque show. Now aside from the teacher of the workshop (Dottie Lux) all the performers were amatures, and of varying levels of skill and talent. However what I saw there was eye opening. In that one night I realized that the type of performance that I did was much closer to burlesque than traditional drag. Most drag queens do one of two things: they either stand and lip sync in over the top hair and make-up and glamorous dresses (just not my thing,) or they are amazing dancers who happen to be men dressed as women (I dance alright but I'm not in this league.) What I did right from the start was try to tell stories with the pieces that I would do, which (along with a certain amount of clothing removal) is what is at the very heart of burlesque performance.

After seeing those amatures I started looking into burlesque shows and immediately found burlesque to be far more accessible and welcoming to newcomers than drag. In the drag world you need a connection, a friend or a drag mother who will get you in with the people who will book you for performances. That just isn't the case with burlesque. As unusual as I was (to date I've met some transgendered burlesque performers but not another drag burlesque performer) I was welcomed with open arms and open minds. The beauty of burlesque is that it really will take any and all comers, as long as they have an idea and the guts to get on the stage and show a little skin. Drag queens feel like they're always competing with each other, whereas I've always gotten more of a family vibe from fellow burlesque performers. There is a certain amount of backstage politics as with any performance art but they are nowhere near as cut throat as I've seen in other art forms. That is something I cherrish deeply.

Photo by Millie Acosta

And there you have it. That's I refined my particular approach to performance at burlesque shows and to burlesque audience. By the time I moved out of New York I hadn't done an actual traditional drag show in years and had been performing exclusively at burlesque shows or LBGT themed events. Thus I'm a drag queen with barely anything in my repertoire that is what most people think of when they imagine a drag queen. And I love it that way. I'd rather be unique and confuse people than fade into a sea of other people doing the same thing. But what continues to amaze me is how few people are confused and instead get what I'm doing. That is something I would not have expected but I'm grateful for it every day.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Trailer for "Burlesque" Has Hit... and I Might Puke

Burlesque as a performance art is extremely close to my heart. Deep down I identify more as a burlesque performer than I do as a drag performer. Most shows that I performed at in New York were burlesque shows. Most of the people I felt I became friends with backstage were burlesque performers. When I was producing and hosting "Drags and Dolls" it was half drag and half burlesque. I adore the art form, both as a performer and an audience member. To say that I'm revolted by the trailer for the movie Burlesque, which is being released this November, is frankly an understatement. I want to shove a sequined pasty so far down the throat of whoever approved this that their crap is sparkly for a month.

Photo by K. Walter

For those of you who don't wish to be subjected to actually watching this trailer it breaks down like this. Christina Aguilera is the bright eyed girl just off the bus in LA. She starts working as a waitress at what Hollywood imagines as a burlesque club. She sees the girls on stage and wants to be like them. Club owner Cher reluctantly gives her a chance. Christina freezes on stage and when they're about to pull her off she starts singing and then a world opens up for her. So your basic generic small town girl goes big story (ala Coyote Ugly.) You know now that I look at that description on paper it doesn't seem that bad (not great but not bad) so maybe you should actually see this trailer to get a better sense of what pissed me off about it.
First problem: all the burlesque girls are skinny as hell. One of the true beauties of burlesque is that it truly is a "takes all kinds" art form. Many of my own favorite performers (The World Famous *BOB*, Jezebel Express, Agent N and JZ Bitch of HyperGender Burlesque, and Dottie Lux amongst others) are not as skinny as these girls and some would even be considered fat by Hollywood standards. But they are all brilliant performers. That's not to say there aren't some great thin burlesque performers as well but my point is that being skinny is not a requirement. In fact with so much emphasis being on hips, breasts and curves being too thin can really be a detriment. But not in Hollywood's version of burlesque.

Photo by Gothic Goddess Media

Second problem: PG-13 rating. I'm very sorry but while burlesque isn't usually X-rated it is most assuredly not PG-13. True that there is rarely full blown nudity in a burlesque act (most clubs won't allow it) a good act can still be extremely naughty in the story it tells. That's right, burlesque is about telling a story. It's not about stripping. Yes getting naked is always going to be a part of the story that the performer is telling but the stripping is not the point in and of itself. The removal of clothes it the vehicle for the character or story the performer is telling. That's what distinguishes burlesque dancers from strippers. Strippers take off clothes for money. Burlesque performers tell stories by removing their clothes, and are very lucky if they get to do it for money. Like most artists burlesque performers are generally not well paid and very few are able to make their living from this art. It's something that is done out of love, not to cash in. If a performer is paid at all it's unlikely that they'll actually turn much profit once you factor in what they spent on make-up, pasties and outfits.

Then there's the singing. Singing? Really? While there are some burlesque performers out there who can carry a tune this is not a vocal art form. I really feel like the problem is that this movie is built around burlesque as presented by the Pussycat Dolls. While the Dolls might have had their roots in burlesque it's at best a general flavor of what they do, not a representation of the art (for the record I'm not a fan but that's because I just think their music sucks.) Maybe my problem is that my experience with burlesque is on the East coast in New York City. Maybe burlesque in LA really is all skinny dancers prancing around in corsets. If that's true though I'll pass and stick to the NYC version I know and love.

Photo by Melina Malice

To be completely fair I'll admit that I'm judging this based only on a trailer, and they can be misleading. This movie could potentially be better than it looks based off what I saw. However I can't believe for a moment that my big issues (skinny performers, PG-13, singing) aren't still going to be there. In any case if I ever hear anything good about it maybe I'll rent it. When it hit theaters though I think I'll head down to New York and watch a real burlesque show as my own private form of protest.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Enjoying the Country

Sometimes the best way to appreciate where you're living is to have somebody visit who lives somewhere totally different. This weekend my best friend (and A-list photographer) Syd London came up to visit my wife and I for a three day weekend from New York City. Her total awe of the environment in which we were living made it me just appreciate being here all the more. And she pointed out things that I didn't even think of. She kept commenting on how big the sky is. In New York the sky is something glimpsed in narrow patches between buildings. Here it stretches on endlessly. The thing she was most excited about? Cows. Seeing and taking pictures of cows (because even on vacation you can't seperate a photographer from her camera.) How awesome is that.

Photo by Laura

It was a pretty laid back weekend really, which is what we all wanted. We took Syd to Burlington and of course made sure the got to see the scenery on the way there and back. Overall though it was just a chance to spend time with a good friend that we left behind when we moved. Laura and I don't play host all that often but it's something I'd love to do more with our friends from out of town.

Photo by Laura

Syd and I did do a little mini-photoshoot (I say mini but she took over 500 pictures.) I'm very excited about it and to be honest for me to mention it here is a bit of a tease. I won't have copies of the pictures for quite a while as Syd has a full plate of work waiting for her back in NYC and I would never expect her to put paying jobs on hold to edit our just for fun shoot. But I'll be sure to let everybody know when the pictures are ready and direct you to where they can be seen and fawned over.

Photo by Laura

Also there's something I had forgotten to mention in my Pride post. Coming back from performing at VT pride I was still all done up, the only thing I took off was my corset. Other than that I was still in complete drag. It was just easier to get changed at home then in the backstage tent. Well when I walked through the door my mother was fixing her dinner. Now my mother has never seen me in drag before. She's fully aware of this side of my life, she knows I perform and that I model. However she had never seen it, either in person or in photographs. So there I was, coming through the door in a mini-skirt, tank top, fishnet stockings, long brunette hair, full make-up and knee-high platform boots. The first words out of her mouth when she saw this was "You're really tall." I don't think I could have asked for a better reaction.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Settling on a Label

I hate labels... I really do. They box you in and try to define you within a narrow field. And of course anybody who is born male but dresses as a female is bombarded with a slew of labels: crossdresser, transvestite, transgendered, androgynous, drag queen, weirdo, etc. And those are just to cover the dressing issue, when it comes to sexual preference there's a whole new list: gay, straight, bisexual, trans-lesbian, sex fiend, and so on. So many tiny little subdivisions so as to assign me a bar code and file me away on a shelf. As much as they agrivate me I have to admit that there are times a label would help, it certainly saves having to give a full personal history everytime somebody asks a question about me. So what do I indentify as since I don't really properly fit into any of the categories as I understand them? Well I've finally found the answer: queer.

Photo by Laura

Of course to many out there "queer" just means gay, but I want to take back the traditional meaning. Odd, different, just ever so slightly off from the norm. The notion of this label and embracing it's real meaning was introduced to myself and my wife (yes I'm married to a woman, see what I mean about not fitting most labels?) by a friend of ours in New York. She had said just off-handedly that the two of us are "the quintessential queer couple." This really clicked because we both certainly are different yet we don't fit comfortably in the usual gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans categories. We're just a little different, both individually and as a couple. And that's ok. Hell it's better than ok, it's great.

Photo by K. Walter

I've never encountered another person quite like myself (or like my wife) and that's really the way I like it. We're a queer couple and have no shame in it. If you're going to label me at all (aside from "drag burlesque goddess" of course) then I'd prefer "queer." Nothing else feels quite as right.