Viewed through the reductive prism of the male gaze, burlesque might appear to be little more than a highly theatrical form of striptease, designed to titillate and arouse an audience. Certainly, this risqué offshoot of cabaret is about sex.
But, according to the organizers of the forthcoming Legislate This! South Bay, burlesque is about so much more.
For starters, it’s about feeling sexy as much as it is about arousing desire. Whether a performer is a straight white female, a trans woman of color, or has a body that isn’t mirrored in the mainstream media’s traditional depictions of beauty, they are all welcome on the Curtains Cabaret stage. Burlesque has the ability to empower and champion marginalized groups, according to DeeDee Queen, a performer and co-producer with Curtains, which is hosting Friday’s Legislate This!
“It comes from a perspective of celebrating inclusivity,” Queen says of burlesque.
“It’s about celebrating our bodies and what we do with our bodies. It’s about having the right to have control over our bodies.”
For this reason, burlesque is also an effective weapon in the social justice warrior’s arsenal. The Legislate This! event will raise money for a local chapter of Planned Parenthood—San Jose’s Mar Monte Community Clinic.
Queen calls Planned Parenthood “a hugely important resource for so many people,” noting that while the clinic is perpetually in the crosshairs of anti-abortion activists, it provides all sorts of health services to both men and women. “Many people get routine health care from Planned Parenthood, because it can provide affordable access,” Conte adds.
“We have a federal administration that has become much more hostile toward women’s health in general,” says Scarlet Conte, who works with Queen as a co-producer of Curtains Cabaret. “It’s really an open question at this point if and how much federal funding will remain available for Planned Parenthood.”
The event is a spinoff of a burlesque fundraiser first held in Austin by burlesque performer Ginger Snaps, following the passage of the controversial Texas bill HB2, which then Gov. Rick Perry signed into law in 2013, despite major protests and a marathon filibuster by state Sen. Wendy Davis.
In the aftermath of the passage of HB2—a so-called “TRAP” or “Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers” law—Snaps was furious. “I decided that since I couldn’t just follow Rick Perry around flipping him off, this was the next best thing,” she says of her decision to launch the inaugural Legislate This! show. This is the second time a Legislate This! program is being hosted by Curtains Cabaret.
In the whirlwind of executive orders rolling back progressive causes, Queen and Conte say they feel the way Snaps must have felt back in 2013, during the HB2 debate.
“I personally feel much more under attack,” Conte says. “I don’t have trust the powers that be will protect my gender.”
But in addition to promoting positive body image, raising money for a good cause and striking back at those who would strip women of their rights, Legislate This! is simply a good time, Queen says.
“It’s so easy to go online and be upset and scared and afraid,” she says, adding that the burlesque, magic and other circus acts at the upcoming Curtains Cabaret use art to effect positive change. “One of the things I love about art is that it’s been used as part of the democratic process. It’s a tool for democracy.”
Tickets can be found online by searching for “Legislate This! South Bay” at BrownPaperTickets.com, or at the Dragon Theatre box office at 2120 Broadway in Redwood City.
Legislate This! South Bay
Mar 3, 7:30pm, $10+
Dragon Theatre, Redwood City