Recently several friends (people performing or related to the burlesque community) and I went to a “dinner and dance” show. The dance consisted of the “hostesses” who came and took orders and then went to dance on a long bar-like stage, removing usually one or two items of clothing, but remaining 100% clothed. (My definition of that is they were wearing far more than a bikini bathing suit and outfits that I would wear in public (but probably not to the office). Therefore, fully clothed. People were screaming. They were titillated. Except our table, which was looking around in wonderment like it was a sociology trip. And I think it was a sociology trip: How the “normal” half (or ¾) lives. The performers were overtly sexy, but it was like watching a bad music video. And I mean bad music video. All the performers lip-synced. All but one did it badly. The numbers were supposedly professionally choreographed, but consisted of a lot of standing and walking and not (with the exception of the one talented lip-syncer) any spectacular movement or dancing. Pretty mediocre. I mean, I would have been thrilled if this was a group of brand-new burlesque graduation students, but not too impressed to see as a touted professional level show. To top it off, during the non-show times, the hostesses were putting whipped-cream covered shots in their bosoms and getting reluctant but drunk ladies to grab their tits and drink from the small glass between their cleavage. It was oh so high-school experimental girl sex, but not as much fun and a little more creepy. Please note that in this interesting sociological foray, most of the audience was women. A very few tables included men, and even with those, the men were in the minority.
So, I asked myself: “Velvet, why aren’t these crazy drunk women screaming at our burlesque shows?” They are obviously not part of the normal burlesque audience. If they are titillated by some clothing removal and bad lip-syncing and alcohol shots in the cleavage, then why aren’t they coming to burlesque? And, it is back to the old idea that sexy is scary. Bodies are scary. And admitting we are turned on by bodies – especially cis-gendered women by other women’s bodies – is apparently the scariest of all.
So, we play pretend. Ladies get drunk. They look at this partial clothing removal as safe, because it is relatively. They could never go to burlesque because it is too much body, too much sexy, too scary. I MIGHT LIKE IT TOO MUCH. Of course, they don’t admit that to themselves. Because it is only okay in the commercialist, advertising cis-gendered world to touch another woman’s breast if you are her doctor or nurse, you are experimenting in high school (because that doesn’t count, does it?), if you are doing it for your boyfriend because he wants a threesome, or if you are doing it to get a whipped cream covered hangover.
I am not judging these women negatively. It is the society we live in and the norms that most people deal with. We have to play at sexy, because most women feel we can’t own sexy. We feel we can’t claim sexy or appreciate sexy. So we go for faux sexy. Even though people that are ‘commercially’ sexy (I keep thinking tiny teen insidious blonde pony-tailed girls in skimpy 666 cheerleader uniforms for Halloween – which makes me want to puke) may not really be sexy to a great many of us. Preferably, at least in women, I will go for voluptuous curves, trim and fit older women in a great suit (and with great power), or a butch in well-cut jeans and leather jacket.
So, what is sexy? Sexy is different things to different people, but sexy can be surprising. And sometimes sexy can be scary. Can less sexy actually be more sexy because of the intimidation factor? In the case of this dance club, I think it was. It was an opportunity for people because this happens: “I don’t really think this is sexy because I actually like men, so I can go because it is safe, but underneath I really really enjoy this stuff.” Where a more overt display of bodies and sexuality may be waaaaayyy too discomforting for some women. Of course, that also includes the “I am not supposed to be feeling this factor…” Can we feel more because we feel safe? Are our sexual repressions holding us back from being sexy, enjoying sexy, or even recognizing non-consumerism non-commercial sexy? I think in common society, they definitely are.
And who decides what is sexy anyway? I mean, other than commercials and advertisements and other commercial means of making us personally feel like crap so we will (hopefully) buy their product and feel better about ourselves (they don’t really care about this part since they are trying to make us feel bad about ourselves in the first place.) I think my butt and thighs are too big. Mr. Velvet thinks they are sexy. A student recently did this floor move that I thought “Wow, that is hot!” She took it out because she thought she was too big and it looked not sexy. Nope, that was way sexy – put it back in pretty please! Who is right? In this case, the beholder. Obviously. Because they are having the feelings and they are not letting self-doubt invade on that visceral reaction to what they see.
Of course, as I said, sexy is definitely in the eyes of the beholder. Once at Folsom Street Fair in San Francisco a guy asked me if he could lick my boots. He totally thought it was sexy and really got off on it. And he was legitimately licking the sole of my boots. The underside. That part that touches the ground every time you walk all day in the grimy, beer-spilled, walked-on, driven-on, probably-peed-on, god-only-knows-what-else-on, dirty, filthy streets of San Francisco. Eeeewww. Not sexy. More throw-upy than sexy. And then throwing up is also not sexy. To me. But everyone has got their own thing…
And, of course, that can change over time. My sexuality and the things I find sexy have certainly changed over time. To an extent… I have preferences. They don’t include licking shoes, but they do encompass a fairly broad panoply of experiences. But part of that is because I am more confident in ME. I am more confident in what I can admit I like. I can take time to admire and decide what I like. I am not just reacting to the question of “What should I like?”
Case in point, I remember sitting in the locker room after gym class my freshman year in high school and one girl brought in some soft porn and was reading about a woman giving herself an orgasm. All the girls feigned disbelief and shock! Ew! Why would you bother? I look back on that and think really? We said those things? But it made sense at the time: 1) peer pressure and 2) orgasms and who had experienced one? I had certainly had sex by then, but I had not had a single orgasm.
So, you might be asking: “Well, what do you like?” I like a lot of things – depending on the person or persons and the mood I am in. But my biggest turn ons are (does this sound too much like a dating website?) confidence, intelligence, and vulnerability. Confidence alone might be okay, but they would have to promise NOT to talk to me if they were not intelligent. And vulnerability tells me that the person is willing to let me inside. The physical package is nice, too – but older, younger and specific body shape make less impact on me sexual interest than character and personality and the way they hold and represent themselves. Yes, I find your personality sexy… or not. Depending…
But, the point of all of this is that there is not one sexy, not one definition of sexy. While people do often stereotype sexy, I often find those stereotypes to be unsexy. So MANY THINGS ARE SEXY!
But we still often feel unsure (at least as women – I can’t speak for men) about what we think we SHOULD find sexy, about whether we are sexy, and even about our sexuality in general.
So, sexy can be scary. Why wouldn’t it be? As Kathy Acker writes in Blood and Guts in High School. “For 2.000 years, you’ve had the nerve to tell women who we are. “ Now we are trying to figure it out and it is not like we have a clear and direct road map. We are not property, but we are still told insidiously every day in every way around us in commercials and comments and misogynist ways, who we SHOULD be. We are so tied into commercialism that if we have a different view on ‘sexy’ it can make us question our judgment, question our identity, question our thought processes. And goodness knows questioning ourselves and thinking are the most scary things of all. What if we don’t like the answers we give ourselves? Who are we then?
When we figure out what we want and stop questioning what we are, then we become the person we should be…