My Body’s not a Cage

“My Body is not a Cage” was written for “Burlesque and Why”   a stage play produced by Dottie Lux, the founder of Red Hots Burlesque.  Her goal was to give the audience an insight into what is beneath the glitter and glam.  A chance to see that our performances are deeper  than the foundation that goes on our faces.  I was incredibly honored to be a part of this production which included: Burlesque Legend Ellion Ness, POC powerhouse The Lady Ms. Vagina Jenkins, Queer creatrix Lay si Luna, hilariously talented Alexa Von Kickinface and the amazing Dottie Lux herself.

We were supported by an amazing team of people including Kitty Von Quim, Ava Lanche and many others.  I am so happy to have had my voice heard and lovingly received.

I think I was nine. We were parked outside of an old brick building. I was dressed in a black leotards with pink opaque stocking underneath.  (Alexa enters… doing a bit of ballet) Crushing cotton candy colored ballet shoes in my hands as I strained against my seat belt ready to run in. My mother put a calming hand on my arm. She looked worried and she said.

“You don’t have to do this.”

“But I want to”

“There are a lot of girls in there and with your… you just don’t have to do this”

I insisted.

I walked into that building with my head held high and full of wonder.  (Alexa moves puppets) All day I watched women and girls older than me move across polished wood floors with perfect form and flow. They were my dream. Twirling delicate clouds flying through the air and plucked from the sky. Caught in the arms of their partners. Precious. I wanted to be that.

When I walked out of that building five hours later I had been cast. I had a part in Ballet Hysells annual production of the Nutcracker. This was no after school special either. This was the real deal. This show had a fancy opening party at the Museum of Art. People would come dressed in their Sunday best and opera gloves. And I was going to be there on the Sangaer Theater Stage in Downtown New Orleans for one show a week, two on weekends for a full holiday season as one of the rat kings lackey’s.

The costumers were thrilled that they didn’t have to pad my costume with a belly because I already had one, I was thrilled that I made it in and my mom was thrilled that she didn’t have to have the you’re just as good as everyone else conversation.

I didn’t understand then. It was before I learned that I was too fat to dance. It was before my body had become a cage. Founded in fear. Forged in anger.Sealed in shame.

I was nine years old and it was my mother’s fear that encouraged her to tell me I was fat when I wasn’t.

She was so afraid that I would end up depressed, requited, undervalued, irrelevant and invisible. Her angst surrounding her own body image was poured into my veins like some dominant hereditary gene. I’d rather have her perfect teeth than this disease.

I was eleven and angry at my elementary school peers who raised white cotton blouses and heavily starched pleated skirts to compare bellies and thighs to pictures of airbrushed models in Cosmopolitan and 17 Magazine. It was a test none of us could pass teaching us to stick fingers down throats to achieve mass media regurgitation of what was pretty

and we were supposed to be oh so pretty.

I was twelve and ashamed because anorexia and bulimia were considered a vicious malady and its bearer’s victims to be loved and looked after while my obsessive compulsive over eating disorder was considered MY CHOICE a self-inflicted, disgustingly gross weakness of character.

I was pissed at every doctor who refused to believe that my period went away before the weight gain. They saw my fat first and not my affliction. It would be six years before they found the cysts lining my ovaries and tubes. Cysts…a string of bright wet pearls across my ovaries. It would be another four years before they would find the tumor in my brain.

I was  17 and so scared of rejection that I would not let her make love to me; I would not let him see me with the lights on. I went seven years without photographic evidence that I indeed exist. Pictures or it didn’t happen. I wanted to pretend I never happened.

I was 22 and  shamed by every colleague and coworkers for their pettish pats on the back

when they saw me at the gym, when they congratulated me for “finally doing something good for myself”. I’m incensed by the audacity of complete strangers spewing their condescending concern for my health and well-being. They were never worried about me. They were afraid of being like me, of being trapped in this body, afraid of touch me as if I were contagious and in some cases…

in the worst cases afraid to love what society as deemed as unlovable. Fuck me all night but won’t hold my hand in the sunlight, abuse me, assault me.

I was 25 and I  stayed because I believed I wasn’t precious. I measured my worth in weight and was found wanting.

I wasn’t skinny, or blonde, I didn’t have blue eyes or white skin. I am completely the opposite.

No one will love me. No one will catch me if I fall. I’m too heavy. My issues are too heavy.

So Burlesque? Why?

Because they were wrong.

I was wrong.

This body is made to dance,

to be seen,

to be beautiful

to be feminine.

I’m 32 and every time I take the stage it is a free fall comprised of blind trust. It is a leap that tests my faith of the sacred within the sensual and 100 hands (and lets be real… on some nights only 10) reach out and catch me every time.

I dance to exist, to break through glass ceilings, shatter concrete beliefs, reshape worlds and retake space.

I burlesque because there was a part of me that hated me and sadly still believes even to this day that I could never be what I am now.

Every time I shimmy I shake this loose… and I welcome those around me to do the same.

From head to toe this is my body. Within it lies boundless joy. Monumental motion. Voluminous love

Fathomless fierceness. I will not let anyone shame me away from it. I will not listen when anyone tells me to hate it. This is my body. It is not a cage. This is me. I am precious. And I am free

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Werkin It Out

I want to say that it started as a massive screw you to every magazine, every movie, every bully on the school yard, every very concerned stranger and condescending asshole.

I want to say that my decision to dance burlesque was an exquisitely executed physical “bite me” to that girl that giggled when I walked into the gym.I want to say that I started stripping in defiance of every single music video and popular retail clothing store in existence.

But that wouldn’t be true.

The truth is that I had fucking issues.

I believed all those lies society told me.  I believed that fat was the worst thing that I could be. I believed that because of my body I was less than, unworthy, ugly, repulsive. Maintaining this belief was absolutely exhausting.  I was so worn out from holding my breath in anticipation of someone making fun of me, judging me, and rejecting me that I actively sought it out.It wasn’t bravery.  It wasn’t fierceness.  It was a satin covered swan dive.

I figured that if I stood on that stage in nothing but pasties and panties, I could finally get it all out there: a massive public humiliation that was the equivalent of quitting the job before I got fired.  I’d be free to crawl back in my cage and die.

But that didn’t happen.

It is difficult to explain what did happen.

In verbalizing this I am attempting to express the ineffable feeling of clarity in spirit, mind, and body.  Standing there on that metal chair next to Kitty Von Quim with my arms upraised, my hips twisted, my fat body exposed to the whole wide world, I became sinfully sacred.  I gained defiant acceptance of self.

I was set free and all my excuses of not living a thoroughly well used life were stripped from me.  I was set free to appreciate the complex beauty of those around me without the degradation of comparison because I was fast rooted in the belief of my own beauty, worth, and value.

I was reborn.

I dance because being part of something larger than yourself that challenges you and forces you to grow is a singular soul shaking experience.

I dance burlesque because this community is comprised of artists.  Twisted, creative, compassionate geniuses and it is a pure fucking honor to be among their ranks.

I strip because years ago someone told me that I was ugly, that I couldn’t dance, that no one would love me, that no one would listen to me that I wasn’t special… and every time I step on that stage I’m sending them the bestest, biggest fuck you ever.

And most importantly I dance for the person I was, the person that disappears in the crowd, the person that despises their body and lives a life painfully devoid of the truth of their own worth and value.  With every shake and shimmy I sing a siren song in hopes that they find their way home, too.

My Body

Haunted

I have been for the past three years a woman haunted.
Haunted, followed, shadowed by this shade that refuse to let me go. This thing that screams look at me
see me
avenge me

I did not know this until yesterday
3 years ago I misdiagnosed myself as crazy, unhinged and simply bitter… needing for education in the fine art of processing
guidance in the rituals of letting go.

I prayed, sang feverish songs, made smoke offerings to my gods to make the anger fade
Sometimes a few months would go by peaceful and then it would come back
You would come back
I was frustrated with myself
Angry that I was letting you get to me
get in me
I wanted you out of me
Yesterday I realized that it was not you
it was me

Tyler Perry recently butchered a brilliant play by Ntozake Shange… seriously if the woman were dead she would be rolling in her grave over what Perry did to her amazing choreopoem. I winced my way through the horrible things that struck too close to home. I put up shields and focused on his flaws at directing. The way he made black women into broken empty shells.
I bitched and nagged instead of listening to the prolific prose but towards the end a phrase reached right through me and into me and shattered me thoroughly “Somebody almost walked off with all my stuff… Somebody almost walked off with all my stuff and didn’t even know they had it”

The freshest of the scabs ripped back
and I poured out
That’s me
That’s me running behind you screaming: Hey give me my stuff back! You tread all through me and that thing you have dragging at the bottom of your shoe
that’s mine
that’s me
give it back

I became a new person to fill the space of the person that I no longer was
I made new stuff.
Instead of going back to salvage the tattered bits of me I left the person I no longer wanted to be behind

I demonized her. I told myself that she was weak for staying so long, that she was stupid for taking all that shit for so long that she deserved everything that she was dealt that she asked for it though an ill conceived notion of love and it was her punishment for not listening to her mother and the wise women who had gone before her, suffered and survived.
Stupid, silly, bitch.
Now had this woman not been me I would have been softer. I would have been kinder. I would have rallied to her, swept her into my arms, been harbor in the hurricane, nurtured and loved but it was not another woman. It was me. And I did not at that time in my life have the grace to forgive myself so I killed myself.
Buried myself in an unmarked grave.
“You’ve changed” a friend would say “You are not who you used to be” and I would always respond. Of course not. This is the new me I killed the waste of space that was here before.

I was proud
And haunted.
Unable to sleep, to dream, to slow down to be still because she was at my heels demanding that I see her, respect her, save her, reclaim her.
She was still being drug across hot summer cement on the back of his fucking shoe.
I was still being drug across hot summer cement on the back of his fucking shoe.

I was not weak… I was strong enough to withstand with myself intact
I was not stupid… I was smart enough to leave.
I did not deserve what happened.
I did not deserve what happened.
What I do deserve is to give to myself to same compassion that I would give to someone else.
What I do deserve is to understand deep in my soul that I am not the solely to blame.
What I do deserve is to claim this broken piece of me and remake myself whole.