Coming Out / Feminism / Gender / sexuality education

Why I Had to Do Both

It was March 2016 the first time I performed burlesque in New York City. Having grown up in a small town in (yadda yadda literally it doesn’t matter, you know the story) this was a life-changing benchmark. It would also prove to be foreshadowing.

The event was an abortion rights fundraiser and I was there in two capacities: to speak as a PhD in Human Sexuality and to perform as HoneyTree EvilEye, my burlesque persona. When the organizers had reached out to me about being a part of the event, I said “yes!” and then realized I didn’t know if they wanted muggle me or burlesque me. Both of them were bookable, but they did very different things.

The organizers basically said, “why not both?”

Why not both? Well, for one, I had been warned my whole life that if someone finds out you’re secretly a sexy, fun person- well at least a sexy, fun woman– you’re no longer perceived as a competent, professional adult. It’ll hurt your job prospects and kill any hope of life in public service, they said.

Taken by Chris K in 2009. I was writing my dissertation at the time

I had struggled with this question as a graduate student years earlier, when I was working the weekends as a gogo dancer. “Do you think it would disqualify me from a job?” I asked my mentor. “I think people will understand that you had to pay bills and it’s in your past,” he reassured me. “But what if it’s not in the past?” I thought.

Do I have to choose between two things that fill my soul and satisfy different parts of me?

The resolution was somewhere between a decision I actively made- to live a life of my own design- and the economy picking for me. 2009 was a hell of a time to finish a terminal degree. Despite having an incredible amount of teaching, volunteer, conference and organizing experience under my belt, solid grades, and stellar mentors, I never could land a full time job in my field. Instead, I found stringing together a bunch of unrelated income streams was a better use of my time and energy.

One place where I consistently found that hard work translated into results was burlesque. I fell in love with the artform and found the industry far easier to navigate than academia, non-profits or government.

See, I can still wear business attire. Courtesy WC Photo

I was able to produce shows around my personal interests, starting up a monthly devoted to metal music and BDSM, another one all about politics. In burlesque, I also found community: a huge swell of rad misfit toys- people who didn’t quite fit in traditional theater and dance or who wanted to create their own original content. And all of those people were fucking interesting.

Flirt Vonnegut is a particularly interesting human and frankly, the reason Get You a Babe Who Can Do Both exists. We met in our muggle lives when he invited me to speak at Ignite Philly, an event where people give 5 minute talks about something they know.

Photo of Flirt Vonnegut, courtesy Roger Gordy

Around that time he was also getting into burlesque. We connected on multiple levels *wink wink* and over brunch one day, we came up with the idea for this show, Do Both.

We realized everyone we know in burlesque has something cool to talk about. These are super sexy humans, but they’re also fascinating and weird. And like me, had multiple facets to themselves, many that we don’t normally get to see in public.

Our first show was a blind experiment. The cast hadn’t done much public speaking before and we were all far more nervous about the talking than the stripping.

The subjects were incredible: how the Snow White fairy tale has changed over time to reflect cultural shifts, using yoga to treat depression, dental hygiene, the Head Start program, using cellular immunotherapy to treat HIV, and the history of how sexual orientation had been categorized by science (that last one was me!). Surviving the talks portion feels like jumping off a waterfall into a lake: exhilarating, terrifying, refreshing. Everyone, including the audience, is so revved up by the energy that the burlesque part feels somehow entirely new. It’s like I imagine it felt a hundred years ago to see burlesque, when you didn’t have a million options for entertainment.

The cast of #DoBoth in Cambridge, February 2019, courtesy Roger Gordy

Since then we’ve done the show in Philly 6 times and expanded it to a number of other cities, including the Boston area, New Orleans and next week: New York. I can’t even comprehend what 15-year-old small town me would think about that.

The premise behind Do Both is not just that burlesque performers are dynamic, or that audiences are interested in being both intellectually and erotically stimulated, but a very basic idea that you don’t have to choose between being sexual and being competent.

As a millennial, I was misled about a lot. We were told we had to go to college if we wanted to succeed, that home ownership was a necessity for adulthood, that loyalty to an employer would be returned with a long career, among other things. Our generation is all about surviving and thriving despite being handed a shit economy, and about discarding the maxims of the past that are no longer serving us (if they ever did). I hope with this show we’re taking a hammer to the sexist and sex-negative ideas we’ve been sold and celebrating the fact we are now able to be so much more than we ever thought possible.

For more information on Get You A Babe Who Can Do Both’s 2019 East Coast Tour, including casts, talk topics and tickets: check out this page.

3 thoughts on “Why I Had to Do Both

  1. Pingback: John Oliver Mason

  2. Pingback: The "The Bronx is the City's Sickest Borough" Edition

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