It’s been two weeks since my first burlesque show with a powerhouse group of amazing humans, who I am so deeply grateful for. I am still simmering in the surprising amount of ways it has both uplifted and empowered me, and also poked and triggered me, shining a big glitter-infused spotlight into my shadows. With any big experience, I feel myself expand and stretch outward, and then contract and reflect inward. I am aware that people in my world have noticed a bit of an uptick in my sexual expression these days, and that has been met with a mix of support, confusion, and judgement. I admit that my inner angry feminist of much of my 20’s would probably be shocked and dismayed, but I have long since outgrown her.
As a young woman, my sexual expression was never my own. The revealing clothing, the swing in my hips, the way I danced in clubs, even the act of sex itself was very much curated for the pleasure of a man’s eyes (and his cock). I fit a lot of society’s ever-changing socially acceptable beauty standards, and that brought a certain kind of attention from men that made me feel a false sense of self-worth, as well as feeling very unsafe in the world, with the careful calculations required to be sexy and yet not ‘ask for it’. I accepted a lot of very bad behavior and treatment without a sense of personal sovereignty or boundaries.
It also fed into some very strange existing and unhealthy dynamics with other women. There are deeply engrained reflexes for women to meet a compliment with contraction and self-deprecation. ‘Oh, you think I have nice legs? Well I hate my ass. Yours is so much nicer.’ Then we sit and count all the ways the other is superior. There is also a deep river of envy and competition that flows though the collective sisterhood, that has long conditioned us to compete for male attention, for success, and for worthiness, as if there are only a few measly scraps for us all to fight over.
Burlesque is essentially a sacred theater. The performers are uplifting, supporting, and celebrating each other’s sexual and sensual expression with no shame. The audience can enjoy their entertainment, arousal, and sexual desires with no shame. It is a container where it is all fun, sexy, and safe. It still, however, poked at many of my wounds and conditioning. I was nervous to share what I was doing, and dragged my feet on inviting people until we were nearly sold out. I felt the reflexes to compare my face and body to what our youth and perfection obsessed society tells me is beautiful, and wanted to cover myself up. I felt the reflexes to contract when another woman complimented me, and the reflexes to feel like l was less-than when another woman shined. I felt the reflexes to label what I was doing as inappropriate, narcissistic, and asking for the wrong attention, and to feel unsafe under the male gaze.
And yet, it felt incredibly electrifying to be standing fully in my body, in my sexual expression, in my feminine power, in my pleasure, side by side with the rest of the troupe, reclaiming every drop of myself I ever gave away and feeling the response that rippled out from that. We were passing out permission slips for everyone witnessing us to step into the same place of power, whether it be to give or receive this kind of expression. There are old and new beliefs and ways of being that are still wrestling a bit inside me, and there has been years (that echo decades and even centuries) of accumulated conditioning around gender roles and sexual shaming and suppression, and it’s going to take some time to unravel. I am feeling a lightness and freedom in letting it all go.
I would like to say that I don’t care what people think of me; I do. I still feel the weight of expectations and judgement. But my need to express myself as one whole, multifaceted woman has been outweighing that burden more and more. I realize that a burlesque performance, a photo of my bare skin, or even a poem infused with sex could all be viewed in shameful ways, and it may push people away. But each time I dip my toes further into these waters, I shed another layer of shame, another layer of conditioning, another mask, and feel more at home in my skin.
My sexuality, my sensuality, my desires and my pleasure are my own. I want other women to meet me in that place – celebrating and uplifting each other in every way. We are not fighting over scraps, we are tapping into infinite possibility, desire, reclaiming and remembering our immense feminine power. I want men to meet me in that place – standing fully in their personal and sexual sovereignty, expressing their deepest desires, and reclaiming and remembering their immense masculine power. Imagine the alchemy that can be birthed from there?