At first, I have to admit, I couldn’t help but laugh. There I was, face-to-face with myself in the bathroom mirror: cleavage-popping corset, thigh highs, garter belt. Mustache. And a damn good mustache, if I say so myself, considering it was only the second one I’d ever drawn. It looked like my father’s: the real deal. Four carefully-picked shades of gold, red, black and brown.
It was Tuesday night, hours before my performance with Consume: A Grotesque Burlesque Revue, a drag/burlesque/performance art variety show being performed this month at a theatre in Logan Square. Deal – friend, fellow cast member, and director of our show – stood at my side, leaning close to the mirror to examine the makeup work that had been done.
“This eyeshadow look all right?” I nodded. She had transformed from man to woman before my eyes in a record-setting time of less-than-ten-minutes, and I have to say, she looked damn good. I stuffed a handful of paper towels down my pants (a modest bulge), and before I knew it, we were off to the show.
Hours later I stood onstage, stripping down from a business suit to girly skivvies in front of a full house of both strangers and friends. The last time I was onstage was as a chorus member in my high school musical. Oklahoma, of all the shows: how perfectly dreadful.
But half a decade later, when Deal asked if I would be a burlesque dancer in his show, I immediately said yes. I have no idea why. I also have no idea why I decided to genderfuck my whole piece, setting the scene as a man cross-dressing in his home. Those parts of the whole are total mysteries to me, but what I do know is that, gladly, I will do it again.
Why? Having never performed in a show whose audience wasn’t entirely proud parents (who have to like whatever you do by default), I had initially expected to shit myself onstage. I had never before performed either burlesque or drag in any professional capacity, let alone I hadn’t performed professionally, period.
But in that suit – and later on, in that garter belt – I felt more comfortable on that stage than I sometimes do in real life.
A woman, performing as a man, performing as a woman with a bulge that is not real is a messy act, and for me, it’s not the kind of act that is limited to the stage. I sometimes wear skirts; I also sometimes wear a cock. I play the part of Susie homemaker just as well/poorly as I do John Smith (but more often than not, it’s a strange hybrid of both). I want to be everything – and nothing – that is gendered and defined, but all at once. And call me crazy, but I doubt that I’m alone.
Fucking with gender has allowed me to realize my full potential: how confident, empowered, and attractive I can be, not necessarily as a man, but as an openly queer person exploring herself unapologetically at the forefront of a public space. There is no clean-cut, right way to exist in this world, and there’s no reason to pretend there is, either. It’s only until when we can explore that truth that we can realize the extent of our potentials, not only as points on the infinite gender spectrum, but as people existing with poise, in the best and most fulfilling ways that we can.