Sunday, February 28, 2016

Burlesque, For Me, Is Not About Sex

 "Sex is more exciting on the screen and between the pages than between the sheets." - Andy Warhol

I talk about my orientationgrey-asexual—a lot.  That's because many people still don't know that asexuality, much less grey-asexuality or greysexuality (I go with grey-a because I lean towards the ace side of the spectrum), is an orientation and not just a mode of reproduction.  Furthermore, it gives me a unique perspective on burlesque.

Recently two articles have inspired me to revisit the subject of asexuality as it relates to striptease.  The first is The Irresistible O's "Sexual Orientation and Burlesque: The Dirty Word", which is about how burlesque is still not as open to queer performers as one might think.  We may be more accepting than the mainstream, but the need for a queerlesque festival highlights the fact that there's much more work to do.  I had commented that I sometimes question whether I have a place when my fellow performers emphasize the sexual aspect of burlesque.  O encouraged me to share my view, and that's what I have decided to do after I saw another article, "Burlesque Performer: You Are Not a Sex Worker" by Mary Cyn.  When I tried to share why I agree with many of her points, I noticed the connections with asexuality and thus this post was born.

That sock I'm removing has the colors of ace pride.  I couldn't resist.
From Tuesday Tease: Dirty Nerdy
By Arctic Fox Photography
Now I don't deny that burlesque is inherently sexual.  Whenever I see discussions on burlesque, I see attraction get linked to sex though.  It's expected since that's how it works for most people, but it's time to stop assuming that there doesn't exist a small portion of population who do not experience sexual attraction.  Sex can be broken down into scientific steps without any positive or negative connotations.  If I show you a video of two fruit flies engaged in courtship and mating, you're not going to think about lust or desire because they're flies.  Nevertheless, they're still having sex. 

I approach burlesque in the same way I would approach those fly courtship videos: with careful analysis of the specific steps.  This has nothing to do with my scientific background and everything with the fact that I don't typically experience sexual attraction.  It's easier to treat this aspect of human behavior as a research topic because I don’t have much else to go on. 

What I present on stage is sexual in that it typically has something to do with sex—be it the moves, tone, or politics.  That's it.  In a way, I'm going through the motions, but I have enough understanding of human behavior to know what the audience will think I'm suggesting.  Plus there's other emotions and intentions being expressed in my performance.  It becomes a game.  I present an illusion and try to get the audience to see through it into the many non-sexual emotions and concepts I've layered into the routine.  Burlesque, to me, is about power.

I thought this was fitting.
Artwork by Alice X. Zhang
This is where I draw the distinction between me and a sex worker.  Although sex workers can undoubtedly be empowered by what they do, there is an exchange.  At some point, it is up to the client to determine what will happen.  You can argue that burlesque performances are partly influenced by producers and paying audience members, but for those few minutes during which a dancer is on-stage, they are in total control.  It's like the difference between giving a speech in front of a large crowd and having a one-on-one conversation.  You can be great at presentations or acting and yet be socially awkward.  The two situations call for different skills that occasionally overlap.  I have skills and the willingness to do one (burlesque) but not the other (anything that involves an exchange that is sexual), and so I don't consider myself a sex worker at all.

If you're still confused, then perhaps you can take comfort in knowing that I struggle to understand the appeal of sex.  It's not that I don't like it or don't have hormonal urges, but when you don't have that attraction driving you, there's not really a motivation to seek it.  Then you start wondering why sex is everywhere and on everyone's minds.  Some people are just wired differently from the majority of the population, but that's why it's important to listen to their perspectives, as they can broaden your view of the world.

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