The rain spatters lightly on Amber and me, but we do not endeavor to leave the bench outside BSP Lounge, where we wait for Daniel. It is a rain only a few degrees below the temperature of air, the perfect temperature for two-thirds through July, fed on days almost too humid to breathe in. Though it dots my red dress shirt - a remnant from work I neglected to change out of - shades deeper, I otherwise barely notice it. It is atmospheric and thus welcomed before the show we are about to see.
I have never been to a burlesque before, though Amber brings up at least once a month the cosplay burlesque she saw at Otakon. My context is television shows and the stories of those inclined to hyperbole, which I know are sure to disappoint. The only applicable phrase that matches up with reality is "pasties and a thong", exactly how nude the performers will get (out of tradition rather than legality). Burlesque, to me, is a far classier version of stripping, one that allows the viewer to feel quaint instead of lecherous.
Though I have known a few strippers in my life (including one who said without sarcasm "I am just stripping to pay my way through community college", who never managed to get that degree in accountancy), I have always seen strip clubs as something a bit predatory and reductionist. Women are body parts, men are open wallets, neither are intelligent beings. No college I attended was more than a mile from a strip club and I knew that was more to do with swallowing up the desperate than the clubs being frequented by freshmen. There was no honor in seeing your biology partner topless unless you earned the removal of her bra through charm and not by being the possessor of a damp seat in the front row. I had heard - both from my stripper associates and from defenders - that stripping is liberating, but that seemed all but drowned out by the men (and media) describing it as the realm of the sexually abused or inadequate. I cannot enjoy seeing someone degraded and miserable taking their clothes off as I associate sexuality with fun and closeness. (This is not to say that there are not adult performers who genuinely enjoy what they do. Stoya, whose blog I follow, leaps immediately to mind and I have known a couple of sex workers who were fully conscious in choosing how they earned their money. However, I have yet to personally encounter a stripper who didn't make me a sad on her behalf.)
The pejorative aspects of a woman sliding out of her clothes would hopefully be absent during a burlesque show, if just because I doubt the women on stage make five percent what those spray-tanned, silicone enhanced woman in strip clubs do. Money tends to segregate.
After Daniel appears and we three drop out $10 in an unnoticed and unprotected wooden box, the drag queen MC explains some ground rules that are both reassuring and a bit overbearing. First, all of this is body positive, meaning that the fun of it is not perfect abs but authentic smiles on the performers' faces; they like what they do. Second, he lectures us on the differences between catcalling and rudeness, a difference I do not see as subtle. Basically, treat the performers as you might your cousin who is trying her hardest and we don't have a problem. But, as the MC has a crop and a helmet, I think better of paraphrasing aloud. He threatens to sit in our laps and teach us manners if we so much as think of being discourteous to the women. I keep my camera in my bag, quite sure I will be smacked in the face for even implying I wanted to take a picture of him, to say nothing of the performers to come.
Here, I would like to say how sexy each of the performers is, how their confidence outshone anything else. I would like to, but I can't. They just were not my type (and, as Felicia Day is my type, I choose not to believe this constitutes body shaming; I like my women a bit awkward). Amber says that this is only their second performance, that their ungainliness on the stage could be attributable largely to this. They seem uncomfortable but rush ahead anyway, like the first few acts at a talent show. Each performer has a shtick for her scene - from transforming from a crazy cat lady to a barely dressed Catwoman to losing a kimono during a "dance" scene (bowing for several minutes while trying not to fall off a DDR mat) and being in a rope truss - but they are not enough to make up for their lack of grace. I do not know if burlesque is explicitly supposed to be sexy - it isn't for me this night - but they do get points for trying to make up for in humor want they lack in moves. Then again, I don't think I could match their courage in even attempting this.
During the intermission, the MC sends around a short woman (who I label Ilsa, She-Wolf of the SS, as she wears what I think it supposed to be a Girl Scout uniform) to collect our tips. However, Ilsa is so severe and humorless as she demands our money that I cannot be sure she will not be rounding up the Jews and homosexuals if we do not oblige her with a few dollars. She is also employed collected the doffed clothes of the performers, but keeps her kit securely fastened for the entirety of the show.
The only performer who seems to have experience on stage is a diminutive man, who performs with oodles of nonverbal humor (in one scene going from Batman's Robin to bondage gear, in another steadily losing his clothes as he tries to lift a strongman's dumbbell) and several years of intensive yoga or acrobatics to back him up. We do cheer the most for him, but the traditionally male part of me is irritated the man deserves our applause more than women who have jiggled their breasts at me.
On the other hand, I leave the bar a few hours later in high spirits, rather than covered in a patina of stripper glitter and fear sweat, so I cannot really complain.
Soon in Xenology: Male friendships.