If you wanted a fun carefree post, please skip this one. The subject matter is a little more heady than usual. It’s about to get meta.
Still with us? OK then…
Earlier this month, Trixie Little posted a video with her take on The State of Burlesque on youtube:
Trixie Little: The State of Burlesque
In this video, Trixie goes into what happened after a situation in the New York Burlesque scene in 2017. Since I’ve really only heard second hand information on what happened from a few performers, I’m going to stay away from commenting on what happened because I don’t have any of the facts.
Trixie’s video leaves me feeling conflicted.
First of all, let me state the obvious – Trixie is an amazing Burlesque performer, consistently bringing humor, creativity, athletic ability and innovation, pushing the envelope of what people think Burlesque is.
It’s frustrating not to know the facts of what actually happened. On the one hand, it sounds like Trixie went through hell as a result of defending people that others think have behaved questionably. From what little I know, I agree that those people behaved questionably. But I also agree with her that defending questionable deeds is different from actually doing the questionable deeds. It feels like Trixie was ostracized disproportionately. I agree with her – as I think most people would – that we should be forgiving, and that all humans make mistakes, and that we shouldn’t be too quick to judge the mistakes of others.
On the other hand though, not seeing Trixie address what actually happened in the first place makes it difficult to take some statements at face value. I read a lot of these statements coming from a place of good intent, but not understanding the potential bad impact.
As a first example: “I believe capitalist patriarchy has hurt men as much as women.”
As a man, I don’t believe that men were hurt in equal amounts by patriarchy. I think it’s clear that women suffered more. I’m not saying men were always better off thanks to patriarchy – certainly patriarchy hurt some of them. But claiming that both genders were hurt equally is minimizing how women were hurt disproportionally.
I truly believe this statement is well-intentioned. I don’t believe Trixie is in red pill territory, although the same argument is used there. But this statement feels very similar to questionable ideas in other discussions: it’s similar to believing that meritocracy is how the world should work, thinking that it is enough to live “colorblind” and pretend to not see race, or saying “all lives matter” in response to “black lives matter”.
Now, I don’t believe that Trixie would actually *say* “all lives matter” – in fact, I really hope and think she wouldn’t. I”m just not sure whether she’d recognize the parallel. In a desire to pursue “why can’t we all get along as equally oppressed people”, the end result is that the oppressed are even more unseen and oppressed as a consequence.
Another statement that irked me: “Sometimes a catcall is a compliment.”
First of all, most catcalling is not even intended as a compliment. It’s just simply sexist and intended to be intimidating.
*Some* catcalling might be intended as a compliment. But intent matters less than impact. You can be well-intended but still do bad things. And what matters is how recipients feel, not how well-meaning the catcallers are.
Just because it’s probably ok to catcall from the audience at a burlesque show, doesn’t mean that all catcalling is ok. And insisting to point out that there are good examples of catcalling while not mentioning how most times catcalling is not ok, is enabling catcalling. Again, it’s equivalent to saying “all lives matter.”
Trixie traces the issue she sees back to when the term “safe space” was introduced into the public vernacular.
But I’m seeing three kinds of safe/unsafe spaces in Trixie’s story.
One is when she talks about the front row and the assumption of implicit consent. I agree that Burlesque should push boundaries, and if you’re sitting in the front row you’re likely to get splashed, worked into the performance, or see things that push your boundaries. (There are ways to make that consent more explicit though, and that would certainly be thoughtful) Trixie is arguing that the front row shouldn’t be a safe space – but I don’t think that’s what people are arguing for to begin with.
A second kind of safe space touched on in the story is the one for performers (and to some extent, the complete audience). And I do think that is valuable to have, and I don’t think that it makes burlesque any less vital or transgressive. Blackface performance destroys a safe space for performers of color as well as audience members. The idea of safe spaces have made things better for minority performers, not worse.
A third kind of safe space is one that Trixie doesn’t label as such, but ends up asking for herself towards the end – the safe space in the community and the conversation: “I’m asking for balance, for forgiveness, and for respectful conversations that can happen without fear of punishment.”
The video leaves me wondering whether she sees the parallels between these kinds of spaces that can be safe or unsafe. To me, it is strange to cast burlesque as an inherently unsafe space, to be against the idea of a safe space, to not realize the value of it for people who are not like her, but then effectively ask for one in the community.
This video raises more questions than it answers. The comments aren’t helpful either, because they are as polarized as the unexplained original problem seems to be.
I feel like I’m being overly critical by focusing on a few of these points, and I feel that is because I don’t have the facts of what actually happened, so I only get to comment on what I see in this video. I am a fan of Trixie’s work, of her risk-taking, of her cleverness, and of her art. That doesn’t automatically make me support everything she says, even though there is plenty in this video to agree with that I’m not quoting.
Ultimately though, I would like to see the same thing happen that she wants to see – some balance, forgiveness, and respectful conversations. I would like to see Trixie discuss what happened with someone she trusts but is also able to respectfully challenge some of the notions that I have trouble with, but that I as a man have already gone too far in sharing my opinion about. I want to see whether Trixie can see at least partly where the people she disagrees with are coming from.
Without either side trying to understand the other side, it’s going to be hard to heal any rift.
I am sad that whatever happened, happened, and affected amazing performers on both sides to the point where it stifles them and causes them to share less of their art. I am sad that it ultimately drove Trixie away from New York. She is one of my favorite performers.
As an audience, we all are worse off for this situation to persist.
I welcome criticism on this post – as I said, I am badly informed, not part of the community, and not in any way oppressed or part of a minority.
(Two side notes: 1) I liked hearing the lines that Trixie attributed to Hedy Lamarr, but I had heard them attributed to other people, and looking it up it turns out that we’re both wrong:
The quote was read by Hedy at the end of Bombshell, which I still have yet to see.
2) to get a suggestion of what originally happened, here are some links to something that happened in 2014. I’m still unclear as to whether that story is part of the situation, followed by the use of the N-word in 2017 on stage at the Slipper Room, or if it is separate but similar. Make of it what you will: https://amusingthezillion.com/2014/03/03/brooklyn-rubber-skin-man-sparks-furor-with-blackface-act/ and https://jezebel.com/man-says-its-okay-to-do-blackface-if-you-sleep-with-bl-1534651074)