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I have been thinking about blogging about my journey as I do Kitten of the Year. I am not sure how I will go over time in terms of regular blogs, but here we go with the first post.

I have been involved with Miss Kitka’s House of Burlesque for three years now. I first became involved as a drag king performer. As a drag king, there have always been few places to perform in Canberra and those places had dried up. I had been to a Kitka show, The Sheriff’s Daughter, which was the first local burlesque show I had seen. I went because a friend was in it. In this particular show, it followed a story line and there were male characters in it. Cowboy types. At the time I had thought it would be awesome and bring something extra or different to the show if it was a drag king. So when my performance opportunities had dried up I contacted Miss Kitka and told her a bit about myself as a performer and ended up in the next show as a male character.

For me this whole experience and story is also about gender. I had been doing drag king performance for a while and had pretty much made my own way with this. I had had no tutors in it, I just learnt off my own bat. I had never performed before this in any kind of way. I had become interested in drag king performance as I came out as a lesbian, and my world was changing dramatically. I could be who I wanted to be, or this is how it felt. I had always felt that I had a masculine unexpressed side and this was a way to do it. My first king performance was a couple of years after I had decided that I would do it somehow in some way and that was about 8 years ago.

A woman in the lesbian community had moved to Canberra from Melbourne and was putting together a drag king performance for a women’s only queer event. This is what I had been waiting for. A group of us got together and she showed us some basics and we did a one off show for the event. After that I kept going, taking every chance I could to perform, which wasn’t often and always within the LGBTI community. I entered drag idol competitions and eventually someone convinced me to run a drag king workshop. Which I did. From this, a few of us formed a group for a while and performed reasonably regularly over a few years. People came and went from the group, but I loved it and continued to look for opportunities to perform.

This gave me the opportunity to express a part of myself. I was celebrating the masculine. Doing this taught me a lot about gender and how people respond to it. I nearly always had a ‘straight’ woman come and try to self consciously flirt with me in the early days. This always threw me; I never really knew how to respond. A lot of the lesbian community like drag kings but many also don’t. Lesbians, gay men and straight women have all fancied Mr Teal. Straight men often laugh, but in a good way and give me advice and tell me what I am doing right and what I am doing wrong. Mostly they laugh at my accuracy because they see themselves in the character.

Mr Green Teal is very much a part of me and how I see myself. I have learnt that gender binaries don’t sit comfortably at all for me. I am more of a gender fluid person.

For the most part of this time, I became more masculine in my everyday appearance. Wearing mostly men’s clothing and vowing a few years ago that I would never wear a skirt again. This was shifting slightly as I became involved with Miss Kitkas. I had been completely immersed in the LGBTI community until this time as I had ‘lost’ a lot of my straight friends when I came out. Not because there was any real rejections, (okay there was a couple), but because my life was vastly different and I couldn’t relate to them anymore. We had the past in common, but not much in common in the present.

When I did the first show with Miss Kitkas I was very wary about what the women in the show would think of me. First of all I was a lesbian; secondly I was dressing like a man. I had been sitting in a place of relative safety about my identity and didn’t have to fear rejection over sexuality. The added detail here was that I was sharing a dressing room with these women, who for a good part of the time were practically naked. I was very careful when staring randomly into space that no one was in my field of vision for fear of them thinking I was perving at them. I was in a position that many women loving women and men would be extremely envious of. But I wasn’t allowed to perve, it would be most disrespectful. To be one of the ‘girls’ (sitting in the corner dressed as a man) I had to behave respectfully, not like someone in a lolly shop.

So I was quiet at first. I had joined the rehearsals for the production at a later time than them which meant they had already had time to form bonds with each other. It felt a bit tricky. By the time we had done the show I realised they were all lovely and very open minded. In fact much more open minded than the queer community which I was used to. They were very encouraging of Mr Green Teal and didn’t hold back that they thought he was a spunk. This was different from the queer women, who I could never really tell what they thought. The burly ladies had created a very safe, supportive environment for each other to be women in, to be people in, and I had just joined that environment, so why wouldn’t they be forthcoming with support and encouragement.

Just as I had joined Miss Kitkas to do that first production I had been thinking about accessing my feminine side again. It had been a while and I had never done this as a queer woman, which is different from doing it as a straight woman. When I use these labels I use them loosely, I don’t believe that sexuality and gender fits neatly into boxes, it’s all fluid. I speak very generally and use these terms to create a narrative about my experiences.

It was very interesting watching the women in that first production and just how much they changed and grew in confidence, even in such a short period of time (maybe two months). It was fantastic seeing them celebrate and be happy with who they are and their bodies. This same thing happened with subsequent productions and lessons. In my experience as a straight woman there was a whole lot of pressures to be female in a particular kind of way and I believe in some ways this is getting even worse/harder for women. Feminism is definitely not an out dated way of being.

When I came out as a lesbian many of these ‘rules’ no longer existed and I thought I was free to be something more. Which, I was for a while... I soon discovered that many of the ways of dressing or things I thought were really cool fitted the lesbian uniform(s)/stereotypes. Who knew there were bunches of women just like me. I began to not feel less like the wallflower I had been all my life, but someone who fitted and had ‘stuff’ going for me.

The only problem here is that queer women also feel a whole lot of pressure to conform in particular ways. If you are ‘too feminine’ you may disappear in the eyes of other lesbians or not be recognised. You may be seen as not ‘enough’ of a lesbian. If you are too butch then surely you really want to be a man. There is also pressure with both butches and femmes to do and look, and be a particular ‘thing’ to fit what is called butch and what is called femme. There seems to be some lesbian mafia somewhere that dictates the correct behaviour and look.

Watching that first production and wanting to extend on my performances skills, and explore my femme side lead me to do the beginner burlesque classes, which was followed by the intermediate classes. Then there was an end of year show, Kitten of the Year, which I participated in, in drag. This was because I had a major art exhibition on and didn’t think I could manage so many new things. Again, I saw a group of women go through the process and really bloom. A number of them were women who I had also done my beginner and intermediate classes with. I vowed I would do the next show ‘girly burlesque style’, because I wanted to grow that part of me.

At the beginning of that year 2012 my health started to decline. I had already been experiencing some problems but it continued. The doctors didn’t know if it was peri menopause or something else, but the main experience was that it felt like my uterus needed ripping out of my body because it was giving me so much pain. Going to burlesque lessons and participating in that first production as Arachne Phobia kept me partly sane. I really felt like I was faking it the whole time. I felt like crap, I was supposed to be feeling great and energised and feminine and alive from doing the burlesque lessons and the show. But I felt old and peri menopausal and in pain. The very parts of my body that are supposed to be physically sexy or those that are connected to sexuality were hurting me. I didn’t really get any kind of buzz from that show. I enjoyed it in the moment, but the next day any joy was gone (that is impact of depression).

I know so many of the women who I have done burlesque with, have amazing stories of facing their own fears and feelings of adversity and more recently we can add men to this experience as well. This is why most of us keep doing burlesque. There is the beautiful lady who bared her scars after having breast cancer; there is the woman recovering from a serious cancer of the cervix scare; there is the mums who deal with pooey nappies every day; there is the women who see themselves as overweight and definitely not sexy; there is the performers that deal with mental health issues daily...the list goes on. In some ways my story is not unique, but one to add to the stories and experiences that exist. It’s the companionship, the laughing, the facing our fears about our bodies, about stereotypes of what men and women are meant to be. It’s the being daggy together and the getting dressed up and being glamorous that brings us all together.

I had wanted to continue with the burlesque that year but my health was declining and I had to give up a number of things in order to look after myself. I did go to the end of year Kitten of the Year Show.

Kitten of the Year is annual production Miss Kitka puts on. People enrol in this as a course (as with all her productions) and can negotiate how much they want to be involved in the show. Kitten of the Year is a ‘competition’ for Kitten of the Year, although the competitive element really does not exist in such a supportive environment. Each performer who chooses to compete is to research a vintage burlesque performer, pre 1965. They are to find out about the performer, find pictures of them and a clip of them performing. In this process they also need to contact the performer and ask permission to pay tribute to that performer. Part way through the course each performer ‘copies’ the photo they have chosen of the performer. These are used as later publicity for the show and also for the performer to get a ‘nice’ photo of themselves, a bit like vintage glamour shots. The performer then works towards copying the chosen clip of the performer as closely as they can. The performances are judged by a panel of judges and there is also an audience choice winner.

The winners then become Miss Kitkas bitches for the year. Seriously though, the winners become the face(s) of Miss Kitkas business for the next year. This includes being the poster girl/boy of the productions and performing at various events and hosting hen’s parties.

I was very disappointed that I could not do that production but went along to support the performers and Miss Kitka and of course have an awesome night out.

I think about my childhood and how I loved pretty dresses. I wanted to do ballet just so I could wear a tutu. I did a couple of ballet lessons then didn’t want to go anymore because I realised I would have to work real hard to get that tutu.

I see the ladies in the Kitka shows, as so beautiful and the little girl in me and the grown woman wants to be just like that, they are grown up versions of that little girl I wanted to be wearing a tutu, but never got there. If I have known them at all, that only adds because I have known what they have had to overcome to be part of the show and to be as glamorous and pretty as what they look. Having said that the burly ladies are always laughing at how glamorous it is. For the last couple of years this has felt like something I can’t be, but someone that I want to be. My health continued to decline last year and coming into this year it seemed to be resolved. Then I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression, which was actually the cause, or so it would seem of all the pain.

This has continued to have an impact on me for the last 9 months. All together I’ve been unwell for at least 2 ½ years and not really known how unwell I’ve been, until now as I slowly get better. I was suicidal last year, and told no one. It’s a very wearing experience in the least. I have felt anything but attractive, any confidence I have gained in myself as a ‘grown up’ has dwindled away and I feel like an old woman who should be leaving this ‘stuff’ to the younger women. That’s on a bad day. On a good day I feel empowered to show the world that I still have ‘something’ and that ‘older’ women can be attractive as well.

I don’t know how to be a femme queer lady and I want that, and I want to access that part of myself and express it, as it’s as important as being Mr Green Teal. The masculine side of me is more the default me, but I am learning I like to be feminine and ‘girly’ sometimes. This still feels clumsy and I am hoping by doing Kitten of the Year I will feel better about it. That I will feel the performance buzz everyone else talks about. I did feel it in the last show, which was Mr Green Teal’s biggest show, but it was as a man/masculine me. This is much easier and more comfortable than feminine me. I believe that playing homage to Betty Howard ‘The Girl Who has Everything’ will teach me how to be more feminine and how to feel comfortable with it.

It has become one of my goals to enter Kitten of the Year and be the beautiful femme woman I have always wanted to be, but never felt like I have been, and even wondered if I could.

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