Sunday, February 10, 2019

The Ugly Side of the Sparkle

"When the Stranger says: 'What is the meaning of this city?
Do you huddle close together because you love each other?'
What will you answer? 'We all dwell together
To make money from each other'? or 'This is a community'?"
- "The Rock" by T.S. Eliot

If you've been following this blog, then you know how much of a positive effect burlesque has had on my life.  However, life can't always be rainbows and glitter.  Plus, anybody who has tried to wash glitter off garments or furniture (or themselves) knows that there's a price to pay with the sparkles.

First, there's going to be haters and creeps.  Not everyone is going to have tact, but we still have to be professional.  Nevertheless, that doesn't mean we shouldn't stick up for ourselves and our fellow performers.  We can be firm, and yes, we can teach people a lesson about not slut-shaming or sending dick pics or just being straight-up rude.

Unsavory audience members are easy to deal with compared to the toxins from within.  We can easily say that we'll boycott problematic shows and blacklist performers, but it's another thing to put that into action.  What happens when that person is in a position of power/influence?  Or what do you do about the positive contributions that they have made?  What about their supports, who could easily be victims as well?

Even though I'm not going to go into specifics here, I definitely think we have to start conversations about problematic individuals.  There's so much criticism of social media and call-out culture, but as a loner, I can tell you how hard it is to find out information when no one talks about it publicly.  Of course, trying to confront the problem privately is important, but information that could keep an up-and-coming performer from ruining their careers or being exploited should be made known.  Same goes when those from marginalized groups are taken advantage of.  A community should look out for all its members.

At the same time, remember to look out for yourself.  Learning to draw the line between friendship and a business relationship has been tough for me.  Although there are individuals who can occupy both spaces, I still have to address them based on the situation.  There are some people I want to help because they're my friend, but they are a liability to me as a producer.  On the flip side, there are some—okay, a lot—of people whom are more co-workers than friends.  As a result, I know they're not always going to be there for me, and I don't expect them to show up unless I've hired them.  The ideal of a community is for its members to support one another, but I find that's a lot to ask for so I'll just take what I can get from the people who do show up on their own accord.

This harsh reality doesn't mean we can't try to make our burlesque scenes better for everyone.  We can—really we must— talk about discrimination.  We have to make rules about sexual harassment and offensive acts.  If we made a mistaken, then we should own up to it and move forward with corrected action.  We should hold others accountable while also moving forward.  It's easier said than done.  If it weren't for the instruction, opportunity, or even support (no matter how superficial or disingenuous it actually was) they provided, I would not be the performer I am today.  I've learned that there's a way to move on from them while still giving credit where it's due:
1. mentioning the person or event but not tagging them
2. not working with them in the future
3. telling my own story, which could be positive, while also acknowledging those who have been hurt.

I don't have all the answers, only hard lessons I've learned.  What works for me doesn't work for everyone (or even anyone, given how much of a loner I am).  Despite some of the cynical ideas I have about humankind, I still believe that when we work hard, stay authentic, and do good, things will work out in the end.  It translates into art that people will connect with, and that's how you'll get seen.

Friday, January 11, 2019

2018 in photos

Where did the time go?  I got distracted with a bunch of things so I never resumed blogging after my summer vacation (it didn't help that I've been stumped with a post that's been in the works for almost a year now).  I'm not going to resolve to post more exactly.  Instead I'm working on changing my lifestyle so that I can be productive in all realms of my life without getting stressed out.  It's been challenging since I literally kicked off 2019 with a show (we had a Tuesday Tease on January 1) and have continued to do shows.  However, this is going to be a slow but sure journey.

Anyway, here is my recap of 2018 on Tumblr: part 1 and part 2.  You can also check out my Instagram Best Nine.

Although my selfie resolution stalled for a few months, I got more than in the past.  Overall, in the past year, I did more shoots and shows.  I was even published in Retro Lovely Magazine!  Click here if you want the issue.
Photo by Dynamite Dames Photography
HAMU by Charlie Girl
Tony Fo-Hawk also got a big surprise near the end of the year (beginning of this year?) for being nominated for Best Drag King by the Denton Arts and Music Awards.  Winner is chosen by voting so click here to show your support!

2018 contained a lot of revelations.  Not all were pleasant, but I'd like to think they've all benefited me in some way.  The biggest was learning that if I feel stagnating and start thinking about "going on hiatus", what I really need is a change of scenery; and I am 100% capable of traveling out of the state on my own to a show where I don't know anyone.  D.C. was so much fun (except the part where I almost didn't make it because the stinky President's visit delayed all flights).

I'm currently in Nashville, another place that is unfamiliar..  Tomorrow I'll be a part of a sold-out Harry Potter show by Dirty Nerdy Burlesque and Cupcake Burlesque.  I'm so excited!

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Upcoming shows: Tuesday Tease and Texas Queerlesque Festival

Back from vacation and ready to roll!  Tony Fo-Hawk performs tonight at Tuesday Tease, bringing a little table-top RPG action to the board game-themed show.

Then on Friday, I am performing in the third annual Texas Queerlesque Festival! 

Click here for tickets.  There are many options if you want to join the other festivities.  I'll be helping with workshop setup on Saturday and will be taking classes throughout the weekend.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Body Acceptance series - Hair

"I just wanna be myself, and I want you to love me for who I am
I just wanna be myself, and I want you to know
I am my hair" - Lady Gaga, "Hair" 
It's been a long time since I've done a Body Acceptance post.  This one was tricky because I have a long history of loving and hating my hair.  And hair is covers a lot! (pun intended)

For the majority of my life, people have been sending messages about what to do with my hair.  My classmates talked about how "gross" they felt when they didn't shave their legs or when they couldn't wash their hair every week.  I got bullied for not shaving my legs and having greasy hair. My dad laughed at my hairy thighs, and my mom forced me to shave my armpits after preteen me told her that American women shaved.  A Mary Kay salesperson teaching a friend and me how to apply makeup for prom told me to wax my eyebrows, and one of my friends in college insisted on tweezing them.  The Companion, during a more immature time, once requested that I trim my pubic hair, and to this day, a flash of pubic hair could get a show shut down.

Being an anxious perfectionist, I was doomed to develop a discomfort with my naked body and a terrible relationship with my hair.  I didn't want to do burlesque because I felt too hairy, and thus too ugly.  I couldn't see myself stripping down to a G-string, as those strips of fabric never to covered enough.

Then I started to learn about dancers who bucked societal norms.  It began with the belly dance community, namely Unmata, who had tattoos and unshaven armpits.  In burlesque, I discovered Rubyyy Jones, who stopped shaving her armpits and even wore a hairy merkin for an act.  At Viva Dallas Burlesque's DC vs. Marvel show, I met Shan de Leers who was on her own journey to reclaim her body through not shaving.  I started wondering if I could do the same.

By this point, my dermatitis had me not shaving my legs out of necessity, and thanks to the queerlesque community, I was slowly growing okay with it.  However, I've never truly had hairy legs, just dark hair.  The real test would be when I stopped shaving my armpits, a decision I made at the end of August as I prepared for Glitterbomb's Hair show.  I would be telling my story.

Glitterbomb: Hair
Photo by Kristen Gaddis
The act was a reverse strip based on the premise of getting ready for a show.  I wore my long black wig to symbolize how long and thick hair represents femininity and the struggle I have with my mom every time I want to cut my hair.  Although the inclusion of my samba costume was motivated by a desire to recycle an essentially retired outfit, I must confess other motives.  It was my most glamorous ensemble, and it symbolized a difficult thought that lingered in my mind with regards to all the troupes I joined or considered joining.  Despite the support I received, I still felt pressure to shave in order to not distract from the troupe aesthetic.  In a group, you have to consider everyone else in addition to yourself.  Maybe this is why I prefer going solo— in burlesque and in life.

Glitterbomb provided the perfect venue for this new step.  The audience has always been ultra supportive, and some of my fellow queerlesquers didn't shave.  Plus the hair theme was perfect!  The gods might have been sending me a message that it was time.

Photo by Saraphimart
I never looked back… at least when it came to armpit and leg hair.  It's an extra reveal and a way to challenge audience members who have certain expectations of beauty.  I still worry about my pubic hair making an unexpected appearance and causing an issue, but I can solve that issue with costuming and safety thongs.  As for the hair on my head, it's another beast.

My photos for the Esteemed project cover how complex my struggles with hair have been.  Anytime I wear my long black wig and get a compliment on how good I look with long hair, I start feeling a tinge of regret.  Then I see fellow performers with undercuts and shaved sides, and I wonder if I'll ever be brave enough to do that.  Lately, as I embrace my genderfluid identity and do more drag, I'm more assertive about getting shorter, more masculine cuts.  I also try not to go into hairdressers with too specific expectations because that would lead to dissatisfaction and more angst over being too shy to let them know.  There are always wigs, I tell myself.  We're just working on acceptance after all.

Ironically, my drag self has a hair-related name.  I take the Pink approach with Tony Fo-Hawk in that one's hair does not have to match the name.  Speaking of the extreme dude with perpetual helmet hair, you can catch him tomorrow night at Glitterbomb.

Monday, May 28, 2018

Upcoming shows: Tuesday Tease and Whedonism VII

Tomorrow night, I'm performing in a special Tuesday Tease.  It's our nerdiest showdown ever: Star Wars vs. Star Trek.  This is your chance to catch my Poe Dameron act if you weren't able to make it to Viva Dallas Burlesque.

Then on Friday, I'm performing out of state for the very first time!  You heard right.  I'm heading over to Washington DC to join the Evil League of Ecdysiasts for their 7th Whedonism show.  I'll be debuting a brand new act, along with performing the Black Widow number I talked about in my last post.  If you're in DC or Virginia, this is your chance to see me in person!  Click here for tickets.

There's a lot of prep for the show (along with lots of work to get done in lab) so I haven't updated as frequently as I wanted.  However, I'll be back with new blog posts when I get home.

Friday, May 4, 2018

#NotYourAsianSidekick or Fantasy

As a nerdlesquer, I have a lot of strong opinions about geeky media.  I get particularly fired up about representation—or more accurately, misrepresentation.  Friends have witnessed my rants on social media, but sometimes that's not enough.  Sometimes I have to dance it out.

Three years ago, Avengers actors Chris Evans and Jeremy Renner called Black Widow a "slut" and "whore".  Although they apologized, it was, to me, a tipping point in the mistreatment of this kickass comic book character.  She's often left out of merchandise, and despite having a very interesting backstory, producers refuse to give her a solo movie.  Even in the Avengers universe, she's not free from misogyny (as much as I love Loki, the rape threat was not necessary).

Tuesday Tease: Spy Who Teased Me
Photo by Danny Fox-Trot

All these things gave me an idea for a Black Widow routine.  At the time, I was busy with other acts so I filed it away.  When I finally had the opportunity to work on it, I found another layer to the narrative: the live-action Ghost in the Shell, starring Scarlett Johansson, was playing in theatres. 

My anger at the whitewashing of a Japanese character could be a post in itself, but there's already a lot of exiting commentary.  I took this somewhat personally because my name came from the Ghost in the Shell anime.  Motoko Kusanagi was the hero I needed when I first tried to reinvent myself as Hana Li.  Casting Johansson as The Major, even if The Major's apparently-white body is artificial, sends the message that Asian women are not complete individuals— that our stories aren't worth telling.

Burlesque has given me another way to tell stories, and now I could get my revenge.  Not only could I strip away how the names Black Widow has been called along with her tough exterior, I could strip away her identity as a white woman.  After all, Marvel Ultimate's featured an Asian Black Widow named Monica Chang.  Even if few audience members would make the connection, I'm still depicting an idea of hidden identities.  The last word I take off before shedding the red wig is "unseen".  That's what I refuse to be.

Glitterbomb: Guardians of
the Glitter Galaxy
Photo by Saraphimart
I took the same approach with Mantis.  Although her innocence was endearing, I raged at how the omniscient Celestial Madonna had been reduced to a slave and the butt of jokes.  She reminded me of everything I hated about being called "cute": all those undertones of being helpless, harmless, and docile.  As Hana Li, I've been able to combat the infantilization I've encountered in looking young and perhaps being a little na├»ve due to my upbringing.  I would do the same to Mantis and restore her to her sexy kickass self.  I would dare audiences to call my version of Mantis "ugly" (another part of the movie I could critique).

Glitterbomb gave me the opportunity to make this idea reality with their Guardians of the Galaxy show.  The production also made me realize I could get more specific with my nerdlesque themes, as the audience enjoyed what was presented to them whether they were familiar with the film/comics or not.  A bonus for me was getting kudos for referencing Mantis' comic book costume with my bra and panel skirt (from Risk by Raven).  Original Mantis had her own issues in terms of Orientalism, but I felt like I was able to write my own narrative for her.  You get another chance to see my Mantis act next Tuesday at Tease:

You can also catch me this week as part of Viva Dallas Burlesque's weekend of Star Wars show. I'll be debuting a new act inspired by the newer movies on Saturday night.  There's still a few tickets available at the door, but I recommend arriving early to either of the shows.  May the 4th be with you!

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Upcoming shows: Glitterbomb and Tuesday Tease

Happy International Women's Day!  How about you celebrate with me by coming out to Glitterbomb tonight?

If you can't make it that show, there's also Tuesday Tease.  I've finally put together the ultimate nerdy show, and I'm debuting a new number for it!