by J.D. Oxblood
Interviewed August 3, 2011
Part II of my conversation with Indigo Blue, the reigning Queen of Burlesque, from the summer of 2011. Her follow-up from this month is to come.
JDX: There’s been a lot of talk in New York this summer: We passed gay marriage, which is awesome. You know, the blogosphere is funny, the stuff that you see going back and forth –nobody’s ever happy. But one of the questions I wanted to ask, because this has come up so much amongst performers, how important is it to you to be known as the “The Gay Queen of Burlesque?” How important is that to your identity as opposed to your being a performer as your identity?
IB: Well, “gay” is such a happy word. If you want to call me gay, that’s fine, but I really identify as queer. And you know we queers, we can’t agree on anything because, it’s like the queer community is like the burlesque community, it’s a community but it’s also made up of a ton of individuals with completely different philosophies and backgrounds and interests. So, that’s for starters.
In terms of being known as the Queer Queen of Burlesque or the – the Reigning Dyke of Burlesque… It’s interesting because it’s relevant to some of the conversations we have about, around some of the things that happen around change of philosophy. For example, Satan’s Angel talks a lot about what her experiences were like when she was touring with her various partner-slash-manager-slash-butch. When she was on the road in the 50’s and 60’s and how in the 60’s in particular, and how she would get kicked out of clubs. She and her partner would get kicked out of clubs because they wouldn’t allow her dyke-y partner to be there.
You know so much of the history of burlesque is the history of outlaws, it’s the history of sex workers, it’s the history of queers and I think that it’s relevant to be a queer Queen of burlesque only inasmuch as we’re paying attention to the relevance of our history — the identity and the struggles of everyone who has come before.
I think it’s interesting that this year’s court is queer—the King, the Queen and the troupe are all pretty freaking gay.
It’s also interesting because it may bring some more visibility to the Hall of Fame. For me, this has drawn attention to the models that the queer community has for title holding and fundraising. For example, the Imperial Court of Seattle which is a drag court of Seattle has an empress and an emperor. Those title holders have clearly stated duties and responsibilities which include fundraising for the organization. They are representative of the organization and the other folks who do that are the leather community. I’ve spoken with the International Miss Leather 2009 who consulted with me for quite some time about the leather title holding responsibilities. The leather title holders are required to go, to travel almost the entire year. I think she traveled more weeks than she was home to participate in events, judge contests, and do fundraising.
So it’s interesting to think of these organizations that come primarily out of queer communities and how they are potentially translatable to our organization, the Burlesque Hall of Fame. I’ve been doing a lot of research for the organization, writing a lot of draft duties that I think could be applicable to our community.
JDX: Do you have any particular responsibilities as the Queen? I know you’ll do a farewell performance next year, but during the course of the year, do you have fundraising responsibilities or appearances?
IB: Currently there’s nothing written and official. The passed-down duties of the Queen are to appear at the next year’s ceremony to do a step down performance and to hand over the crown to the new Queen crown, the crown that I get to pick for her. Dirty [Martini] had created a set of guidelines the future Queens – one of which was to have a platform and have that platform be clear and understandable in three sentences. Another thing she passed down was always, always, always think about the museum and be a representative of Burlesque Hall of Fame. So many folks have chosen to do that. What I’m working on is actually writing and codifying some of those duties into a Queen’s Manual, a Queen’s handbook and also working on this idea of producing fundraising events and participating in the fundraising events and specifying some guidelines for how that could work, as well as ideas about the Queen’s appearances.
JDX: It’s interesting that more of that isn’t in place already.
IB: Well think about it. You know it’s a bunch of sex workers hanging out in the desert once a year to like, hang out with their old lady icons.
JDX: I know. It’s painful. I hear that all the time. I’m in these conversations where somebody complains, “Oh you know this is so disorganized.” And somebody else says, “It’s a bunch of strippers.”
JDX: This is why we’re all here, and these are not people who are known for having a balanced checkbook.
IB: That is true. On the other hand, I participated in two international conferences on prostitution as part of my check on the sex worker and part of my academic research and sex work and psychology, and I attended these conferences that actually happened in real places with agendas and programs and things that need to get done and statements that are the produced at the end of the conference and press releases are issued at the end of the conference and so, it’s totally possible.
JDX: Like San Francisco’s COYOTE.
IB: Yea, they’re great.
JDX: This is another conversation to have over a cocktail, but this stuff is fascinating to me. A lot of people aren’t comfortable talking about that because there are these imaginary lines now between burlesque and gentleman’s clubs, you know “strippers,” and then sex workers. You know obviously I have these conversations with Jo Boobs all the time, but a lot of, especially the newer performers, they’re not comfortable talking about this shit. They think, “Oh what I’m doing is different.”
IB: They aren’t, but I think that has to do with their focus, which is a current reimagining of classic burlesque, which ignores the history of classic burlesque, which is that it was sex work. So you know, I feel like that’s a really important part of our history. We are what we are now and there are some pretty significant and clear choreographic distinctions and logistical distinctions and financial distinctions and between strip clubs and burlesque halls shall we call it, or burlesque events. But our history is the same. We come from the same lineage. And so while it’s interesting to look at the distinctions between the two forms, we’re folly to imagine we are not of the same origin. We’re strippers. That’s the most fundamental piece of it.
JDX: I feel like that conversation is sort of never ending, that kind of dialogue.
IB: It’s exciting too. It’s exciting. In the same way we can talk about the classic era of burlesque and we can set aside how exciting it was and then we can all do these routines where we’re white girls dressed as geishas and we’re doing PG acts and we’re doing these really, really racist things and we can say, “Oh yea, but that would be the exotica era. I’m just paying homage to the exotica era. “ We have a complicated and sordid history and it’s completely immersed in perpetuating cultural appropriations. It’s stuff we have to think about.
JDX: I just remember this moment. I guess it was last year , the very beginning of the weekend, Dixie Evans threw away some line about you know doing one thing and doing something else and having “a couple of tricks” waiting in the car, and it was hilarious, but, the tittering that went through the audience… That was a great moment, because some people were laughing because it was funny and some people were laughing because they were uncomfortable with what she had just said.
IB: And some people were laughing because they were like, “Yep, that’s exactly how it was.” Yea, totally, that’s real. It’s also super interesting to me as burlesque continues to evolve is how many really amazing intelligent scholars are looking at the history of burlesque that we don’t see. Not just around them being just sex workers, the Legends, you know have a more complicated history than just dancing, having guys on the side or whatever. Also so many stories we don’t know. For example, having the Grant Avenue Follies appear at this year’s Burlesque Hall of Fame was really incredibly remarkable because for so many years, Asian burlesque performers weren’t given the same stage as white burlesque performers.
So to have this conversation begin anew, to have folks researching the history of black, Asian and Latina burlesque performers and start to talk about that cloaked history is really remarkable. It’s not just about, we all came from a sex worker background. It’s like we’ve only seen a certain view of the story.
JDX: Just one more kind of throw away question. Obviously you’re teaching, you occasionally producing, you’re still performing, but what other interests? What other things do you consider pursuing down the line?
IB: In terms of my burlesque-related future interests I continue to work really hard on producing Burlycon, which has now become a nonprofit organization which is really fulfilling. Jo Boobs is also on the inaugural board, nonprofit board. So we’re working very hard at creating an organization that will be self-sustaining and that will accommodate the interest that we’ve had from other parts of the country and the world to have organizational and community development events. So that’s really really thrilling.
I will probably continue, I plan to continue to be the involved in burlesque Hall of Fame museum, because I care a lot about the history and the archives and I really would like to see a capital campaign happen that will allow for a six-year permanent facility for all the archives to come out of storage so that they’re more accessible to people. So people can see them and experience the same kind of impact I felt when I first saw all of the pictures of the ladies up on the wall.
Other stuff that I want to do when I grow up is, you know, own a flower shop and some chickens and a big yard. You know, the usual.
JDX: That sounds awesome.
IB: Maybe have a hot tub? I don’t know.
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