So maybe you’ve been inspired by my posts so far and started to embrace your sexuality publicly, and now you have a bone to pick with me. While you were performing some sexy moves on the dance floor and feeling oh so good, you noticed a few dirty looks shot in your direction, got some undesirable attention from a few less-than-gentlemen, and you could swear you heard that girl at the bar whisper “slut” behind your back. Welcome to the revolution! Unfortunately challenging the status quo comes with its own drawbacks and sexual freedom has its price, so you must start deciding just how much you’re willing to pay.
Of course, you’re more than welcome to help wage the war for your sexual liberation in the privacy of your own home, and honestly, I think a lot of time should be spent nurturing this side of yourself in private before you put your breasts forward to lead the way. Performing burlesque can be very therapeutic as a process, but it’s a bit like shock treatment in a multitude of ways, and you might need to start with the equivalent of Prozac until you’ve strengthened yourself into the sexual warrior that we need. This can entail everything from dance, to sensual activities, like eating and massage, to sex itself, either alone or with someone special. If you’ve decided you’re ready to take your sexuality public, I have one word for you: Beware. Since you are presenting a publicly sexual image, many people will also think you are selling your sex. In some senses this is the case, assuming you make money for your performances. They don’t call us sex workers for nothing, and assuming you’re okay with it, you can make this work as explicit as you want, no judgment here. However, for those of you that just want to play the tease and dance provocatively, be aware that many people will think they can take liberties with you, including harassing, propositioning, and attacking you. You are getting naked in public after all, so as far as they’re concerned, you’re asking for it. When you’re experiencing the headiness of feeling fully beautiful and sexual and confident, it can come as a bit of a shock when the glittery burlesque bubble is burst. As I discussed in the last post, there’s a sexual war going on out there and your performance is going to provoke some reactions, both good and bad.
In the digital age we live in, this is an even more complex issue. These days, people can take photos and video of you and share them with the world just as quickly as they took them. Maybe you just wanted to get your feet wet with a cute striptease and didn’t expect to become the wrong kind of YouTube sensation, with everyone commenting on your jiggly thighs or advanced age. Maybe you thought that your burlesque premiere would be relatively secret and seen by only an invited few, and now you discover that everyone at your job has seen your video, or worse still, your mother has and she’s oh so disappointed in you – she didn’t raise you that way. Maybe your boyfriend comes home from work pissed because all his friends are forwarding nearly naked pix of you and commenting on your tits. You are now forced to defend yourself and your behavior, and if you’re not prepared to do that, a beautiful experience can tarnish into a demoralizing one. This is why time spent nurturing and embracing your personal sexual identity can be so important. Before you ever set sparkly foot on stage, make sure that you know who you are, what your voice is, and why you’re doing what you’re doing, so even when someone calls you a whore, you can shout back “damn straight!” and get up there again.
Sometimes you will get reactions that at first feel positive, but which quickly become troublesome, namely male attention. When you’ve been working yourself up to feeling sexy and confident, there’s no bigger affirmation of this truth than when a hot guy says he appreciated your performance with a twinkle in his eye ; ) Assuming that he’s an evolved human being who makes sure to laud you on the artistic merits of your act as well as your smoking hotness, then this is a pretty incredible reward for your bravery and bravado. However, given the sexual climate we all still live in, many men view burlesquers the same way they do strippers, porn stars, or even “skanks”: a good time, a good story, and soon thereafter a good-bye. So what you may have thought would be a story to tell your grandchildren (albeit edited) leaves you feeling used. Or perhaps the two of you genuinely hit it off and start dating seriously. Well then, don’t be surprised if your public nudity becomes an issue for him at some point, or if he gets tired of men leering at you, or if he takes the coquettish persona you portray to be whorishness on your part and he becomes insufferably jealous. More common than just the one man scenario, is the everyman scenario. What you are doing is purposefully titillating, and given that men vibrate at this frequency on a 24/7 basis, they are going to be drawn to you and they are going to think they have permission to say or do certain things to you. If you’re not used to receiving this much male attention, especially as obscene as some of it can be, the sudden onslaught can be both confusing and overwhelming.
As jolting as the reactions from men can be, the reactions you will receive from women can be even more extreme, in both directions. Since burlesque is such a personal and enthusiastic expression of sexuality, don’t be surprised if women are very inspired by you and want to join in on the fun. I think you would be hard-pressed to find a woman who attended a burlesque show and didn’t have a positive reaction. When you as a performer dance and strip from your heart in front of them, they realize there’s a little bad girl in them too and they need to let her out. Therefore, they are looking to you for guidance, approval, and encouragement and this can seem like a huge responsibility when you are still figuring this stuff out for yourself. Enter her boyfriend who may have enjoyed watching you take your clothes off, but doesn’t want his girlfriend doing something like that and is none too happy with you encouraging her. Of course, outside the context of the show, women can have a very different reaction to you and your brazen displays of sexual confidence. Suddenly you’re a temptress and a harlot who’s trying to take their man and you represent all the sluts they’re worried their boyfriend will cheat on them with. Also, outside the context of the show, they can feel timid about admitting that they too want to get up on stage and take their clothes off, because they don’t want to be judged the way you’re being judged, so they jump on the bandwagon, clique with their girlfriends, and call you slutty or fat.
Most performers whose art form may be construed as sexual react by distancing themselves from the sexual aspect of what they do and start making distinctions. For instance, belly dancers don’t want to be confused with burlesquers, burlesquers want you to know they’re more than just strippers, strippers want to make sure you understand they’re not prostitutes, and even prostitutes distinguish themselves, declaring some better than and “classier” than others. Read: the more it has to do with actual sex, the less “classy” it is. This makes me sad. It’s like we’re baking, smelling, and advertising the most divine chocolate cake imaginable, but the idea of actually eating it is disgusting and something no one wants to be caught doing. I do think there are distinctions between these categories and a place for all of them, and I encourage each individual to do what suits her best, I just ask that if you are going to present a sexual image, you embrace it rather than disown it after the deed is done. For years it has boggled my mind as actors and actresses alike reject the moniker of sex god/dess. I realize this is because they want to be taken seriously for their craft and not stereotyped, but to me this just indicates how low our society ranks sex, despite its powerful effect and reach. Just because something is basic, it doesn’t make it base. As I’ve stated before, burlesque is all about sex, so if you’re going to participate, do it with pride and expect people to worship at your feet. I personally believe that the title of sex goddess is the highest that I can aspire to, and I’m hoping one day (in the distant future) it will be written on my tombstone.
So now that you know some of the roadblocks that lie ahead on the path to sexual freedom, are you still fired up to attain it? I hope so, even if your lady parts are only allowed the free roam of the bedroom. So how do you wage your war on sex and come out on top? First of all, own who you are, sexuality and all. Learn to accept and embrace your body, your thoughts, your beliefs, and your desires, whatever they may be, and please don’t feel pressured to live up to or to downplay the sexual image you present. You can choose to be as sexually active as you please behind closed doors, assuming everyone agrees and you feel that it’s right for you. After all, taking your clothes off in public and gyrating on stage can be a pretty effective advertisement, so feel free to cash in on the response. Of course, please know that the reverse is also true, and you are more than allowed to be a freak on the stage and a lady in the sheets if that’s who you are. The more you accept yourself for exactly who you are and follow the instincts that feel true, the less you will give a shit about anyone else’s opinion of you. Once you’ve figured out who you are and what you stand for, stand behind it if you make it public. In other words, don’t disown your act after you perform it or “qualify” your actions, i.e. “well I’m this but I’m not that.” Hold your tits high (even if you have to lift them up yourself) and carry yourself with confidence and pride, and make sure that people know exactly where your boundaries are.
Once you’ve found your voice and feel secure using the stage as your battlefield, use the conflict and reactions you experience to feed your art. What you’re creating IS art, even if others don’t see it that way, and what artist isn’t emotional and sensitive? This is the fuel that great art thrives on, so incorporate the tensions, ideas, and emotions that come up for you into your acts, and let this define your stand and reinforce just who you are as an individual in this world. As I mentioned in the last post, performance art is a living, breathing form, so let your orgasmic organism morph and address these new issues in your next act, or revise the existing act and make it more pointed, so that people know just who they are dealing with and that you’re not backing down.
Finally, understand that the majority of this resistance is coming from fear. Most people (including yourself probably) have been raised to believe that what you are doing is bad and dangerous, and they are policing to make sure that the societal norm doesn’t take a turn in a treacherous direction. Some sincerely believe that they are upholding our society’s morality and you are posing a threat (I did mention that this was a war, right?), and so they feel the need to fight back. Some are just jealous. They know that it’s a natural human inclination to be sexually liberated, but they feel if they are denied doing something, then why should you be allowed to do it. For some, being exposed to the joy that bubbles up from the kind of sexual expression that burlesque promotes makes them question everything they’ve ever been taught or believed, and this new landscape can be a scary place to live. And for some, chastising you is a way of parenting their inner child, admonishing themselves (via you) for the desires that are brought up when they watch you. So above all, have compassion, for yourself and for others as you fight this battle. This is our mission, to change people’s perceptions of sexuality, and so resistance and misunderstandings are to be expected. However, if you persevere and stay true to yourself, you can only win. So the next time someone whispers “slut” behind your back, smile and know that you are stirring things up and therefore making a difference.