Hello Comrades! Explorers!
As one of the newest members of the network, and the new editor of the new(ish) monthly blog, I thought I’d start by introducing myself.
My name is Dame, and I grew up in the small town of Oswego, NY. I’ve known our fearless leader Malcolm since we were little kids, and I’ve been following the network ever since it lifted off the ground, and I’m so excited to now be a part of the network, and contributing to its success!
I’d like to share a little of who I really am, not just the things I identify with.
There’s a lot of interesting things I could share with you about myself—I’m trans/non-binary, a metalhead, a lover of seafood, a druid, a tattooed wearer of skirts, a football hooligan (the other kind of football), a friend to spiders but nemesis to house centipedes, an anarcho-socialist antifascist, a femme, etc—but all of these things, listed off like that, are forgettable. They’re labels, markers, identifiers; useful to an extent, but not really part of what makes me an individual. I’d like to share a little of who I really am, not just the things I identify with. I’d also like to get to know all the rest of my fellow travelers here at the network, as I’m sure you will too. In the spirit of What Are You Into Tuesday, I will be asking members of the network to share the things that they are passionate about, what they’re “into”. But the twist is that I want to know why. It might be big, it might be small, it might not matter at all, but it has to be important and special to them. Here, I’ll start.
I am head over heels in love…with burlesque. It was love at first sight. I never stood a chance. Let me tell you how it happened. Last summer, in 2017, I was facing the most difficult decision of my life—whether to come out as trans, or to continue living my life as a lie. When I put it in those terms, it sounds like no choice at all, but I had “successfully” been living that lie for nearly 28 years at that point. What’s another 40 or 50 years, amirite? Anyway, that summer I went to the kickoff event of Pride weekend in Buffalo, which was Ambush, Buffalo’s migrating lesbian bar scene (more on that, perhaps, another time). Performing that night at the venue they’d chosen were The Stripteasers, Buffalo’s premier burlesque troupe. At the time, I had never seen a burlesque show. I’m not sure how many of you have seen one either, so let me lay the scene.
A small woman in a business suit and a tattered pink ski mask walks out onto the stage in handcuffs.
Imagine a huge dance floor, packed with loud, happy, drunk people (mostly lesbians—if you’ve never gotten drunk with a bar full of lesbians, you’re missing out), screaming in unison as the opening performer is announced. A small woman in a business suit and a tattered pink ski mask walks out onto the stage in handcuffs. If the audience was loud before, then the noise they made then must have made it all the way to Toronto. The music starts, but the woman hardly moves at first. Suddenly she rotates her wrists and deftly releases the clasp on one of the cuffs. She moves another way and makes the same motion—but the other clasp doesn’t release. She deftly tugs, but the clasp doesn’t budge. I see a brief moment of panic cross the woman’s eyes, from inside that mask, and she glances off stage to one of her colleagues. Then her eyes make a different decision. She starts moving with the song again, stripping off pieces of the suit one by one. Finally she gets to the jacket, but the cuffs are still dangling from her wrist—and she slides that jacket off like a silk glove, as though the cuffs weren’t even there, and didn’t make a difference. Eventually, she’s down to nothing but black pasties with tassels, lingerie bottoms, the pink mask, and a body full of tattoos. And then, with tassels swirling in perfect concentric circles, she starts twirling the empty cuff from her bound wrist like a flail.
I was in love. In love with what I had just witnessed, in love with how it made me feel, and in love with how much better I knew it could make me feel.
It was only at this point that I realized I had been screaming with the entirety of both my lungs, and was close to passing out. I hadn’t noticed because I literally couldn’t hear myself over the cacophony of screaming all around me. They loved her. I loved her. I wanted to be her. I wanted. To BE. Her. I wanted to be that woman, right there in that exact moment. To feel the exhilaration of all of those voices screaming—for me. I wanted to love my body so much that sharing its every roll, dimple, and imperfection as it jiggled in front of a club full of strangers would give me the same unbridled joy that I saw on this woman’s face as she tore off the mask and waved it in the air like a fucking battle flag. I wanted. To BE. Her. I was in love. In love with what I had just witnessed, in love with how it made me feel, and in love with how much better I knew it could make me feel if I could just. Learn. To do. That.
The woman who performed that set goes by the stage name Mistress J Kiss, but I know her better now as Jamie. She owns and operates the Buffalo Burlesque Studio, where she teaches several classes every week. A few months after that night last summer, I started taking classes at the studio, and she has quickly become a beloved friend and a dear mentor to me. Jamie took my passion and love for the art, and has showed me how to pour that love back into myself, to let that feeling take over my body and my movements. But this story isn’t over yet. It’s only just beginning…because on November 17th of this year, I got my first chance to perform.
I moved, and the crowd’s eyes followed me. I stroked my skin, and they whooped. I shook my ass, and they screamed. I held them in the palm of my hand. I was their goddess.
The day passed in a haze of nausea and anxiety, but finally I was standing in the darkness backstage at Nietzsche’s, the club where the Stripteasers perform, watching the opening acts through a gap in the curtain. Then it was my turn. Jamie came to the front of the stage and gave my introduction. I heard my stage name, and knew there was no going back. I took a couple tentative steps onto the stage, and the music started. Suddenly, I wasn’t Dame anymore…I was Saint Paulina. And I was beautiful. Each step I took and every movement I made drew screams from the people below me. Every part of me felt sexy, and there wasn’t even a shadow of dysphoria left in my heart. For the two minutes and 52 seconds it took for my song to play, I was positively glowing with pride, confidence, and raw power. I moved, and the crowd’s eyes followed me. I stroked my skin, and they whooped. I shook my ass, and they screamed. I held them in the palm of my hand. I was their goddess.
I’m in love. With burlesque.
The song I performed to, Schüttel Dein Speck, by Peter Fox: