There are everyday heroes living their truth in this world. We at Ohio Burlesque believe in support, inclusion and the celebration of our transgender community members. We conducted two interviews with two fantastic and unique brave individuals that are transcending the gender barriers through performance art. We are pleased that they have taken the time to speak to us.
For our second interview we had the pleasure of speaking with Lewd Alfred Douglas
Gender Identity: Male
Living in New York, NY.
I’m a burlesque performer who goes by the stage name Lewd Alfred Douglas. I prefer he/him pronouns and I am male. I am trans, and very comfortable talking about it as long as I am treated with respect and allowed to speak on my own terms. I can only speak for myself and my own experience, but I hope to give comfort to anyone searching for
trans role models or simply evidence that we exist, are real, and can be happy! I’m 29, and I reside in New York City, NY.
I started doing burlesque in London when I was at university - those days it was really about me revealing a male silhouette rather than skin. It was about playing with historical references and alternate theatre genres like puppetry. When I came to New York I saw that the burlesque scene was more diverse and playful than I could have imagined, and I had a very warm welcome when I brought my skills to the table.
When you perform burlesque how do you transcend gender thru performance ?
I play with gender, I navigate gender, I communicate with gender. Many of my acts are semi-autobiographical. For instance, my 18th century robot character from Tales of Hoffmann is an automaton built to resemble and act like a woman, but when it becomes self aware, it reveals it's own human, male truth. Similarly, my Dorian Gray piece is about transforming what we think we want to be into what we truly are. I would never want a performance of mine to simply be exhibiting a trans body or telling a story of being trans. I can't speak for all trans people. But I can tell my own truth, and celebrate my expression of maleness.
How has burlesque help you in your journey?
Burlesque has given me the freedom to craft a character from the ground up. I can create the character's heart, their face, their expression, their story, their movement, their costume. This is a freedom that you wouldn't get from a casting director - it's all your own. It's a huge responsibility to be trusted with this, but I love it. It really hits home just what you can express successfully and what doesn't work.
are they inclusive?
Trans performers are already seen as oddities if they are visible - so it is certainly a challenge to make it clear that while my body is inherently political, my voice and my talent is more than just my ability to exist. There is also a whole fleet of people who have been told in no uncertain terms that they are not beautiful, that they are not desirable. When people like this do burlesque, it is an act of rebellion and I think that is so amazing. Does the burlesque world welcome people like this? Only if the people watching or producing shows are
not afraid of straying from the status quo.
Any issues you have had in your journey with burlesque?
Some drag culture (and sadly gay culture) has been very toxic or ignorant about trans performers - perhaps because they don't understand that cross dressing performance and trans lives are inherently different experiences. I have been very fortunate to work with amazing people, and people who are intelligent enough to take feedback on board.
Others, not so much. Unfortunately some people hold trans people to an even stricter body policing standard than cis people.
What do you want to say to others looking into burlesque ?
Burlesque can be an incredible opportunity to bring your beauty and your power to an audience, on your own terms. It's also a privilege to have an audience at all, so make sure you honour that, and give them the best entertainment you can give.
How do you wish your bravery be example to others?
I wouldn't call myself brave simply for being visible. That’s a choice I make, but it’s also something I can’t escape if I want my needs to be acknowledged. We're living in an age now where we're often not even allowed to star in our own inspiration porn. We have to fight against all odds simply to be seen, and to have a genuine portrayal. We shouldn’t have to fight for it, but we do, for the people who come after us.
Tell us about your first festival experience?
My first festival was the 2nd annual NY Boylesque Festival. It was pretty special to me, since I had seen the 1st as a very new performer and had one of those “I’ll be on that stage one day” moments. The next year, I was. I was backstage, surrounded by other male burlesque performers from all over the world, bringing their different styles and backgrounds to the show, enriching the air with their artistry and their body odour. I made some incredible friends, including the amazing producer of the Burlesque Festival Vienna, and I just couldn’t imagine what it must be like to be the *only* male burlesque performer in your whole city. It brought me back to the heady joys of performing in London, where people from all over Europe would come to study and perform together, bringing different flavours to the trifle.
I don’t think the producers or the host knew I was trans - it is such a big show, they probably didn’t have the time to get to know me very well. But that was ok with me - while I felt proud to be the first trans male performer in the festival, I still very much wanted my trans status to be expressed on my own terms. I was also doing an act that was more explicitly about my transition (the Automaton act).
as an artist what do you try to get acrossed when your on stage?
I aim to get a character across. Burlesque is an amazing opportunity to have complete control over a character study, and even if the audience doesn’t know every single influence and inspiration I’m referencing, they should at least get a feeling of who I am, what I want, what I’m feeling. Any performer with the luck to have a captive audience owes them entertainment, whether it be truthful, fantastical, pageantry, morbidity - I prefer to show my audience beauty - even if it’s a beauty they’ve never seen or considered before.
what do you do for a living?
I’m a bit of a techy and a bit of an artist, so right now I help media artists with IT issues for a really cool company. I say they’re cool because in addition to working with artists, they allow me to work from pretty much anywhere, so I can perform around the world and still be secure.
There was a time when I’d lost my job in retail and started doing burlesque just to make ends meet - it’s a struggle and it really hit home just how hard you have to work for your money when you’re an entertainer. But I’m very proud that I was able to do it.
I thrive on change, so this is a tricky question. But today is a pretty typical one. I wake up and argue with my lovely husband about where my costumes have gone, feed my fat cat. I go into my beautiful office that I share with a bunch of bonkers filmmakers, and do my shift there. Then I stay at the office and practice for a gig in the evening. My husband meeds me (with the costume piece I was missing) and I perform, surrounded by friends both in the audience and on stage. On days when I can stay home, I work with my husband or one of our loved ones on future creative endeavours. A comic book about the gay mafia, a new burlesque act, a show we’re producing, a Dr. Sketchy’s session, or something else. It’s just our drive that dictates we are always
creative together - often we have to force ourselves to just take a break,
go to the theatre, or read to each other.
what do you think is one of the most difficult challenges in the trans community for you?
Specifically in the trans community, the most difficult challenge is accepting that we are all so different. We all have different needs, interests, and identities. Each man (trans or not!) has his own definition of what being a man means to him. Each man has different hang-ups about his body, some are related to dysphoria and others not. Trans men and trans women have different needs and challenges, even if we share a lot too. Genderqueer or non binary people have different needs than binary trans folk like me. It took me a long time to really recognise the scope of this, because all I wanted was to meet people who were exactly like me.
I think a lot of the tension comes from assuming that there is only one way to be trans, or one way to be queer. We need to stop enforcing identity rules and respectability politics and start listening to each other’s experiences, protect each other from harm, and build each other up.
Lewd also writes a blog that at times focuses specifically in trans issues and being a performer.
This blog might help inspire some to seek information on the art form.
Someone wrote in asking for advice about being ‘pre-op’ and doing burlesque
-The Welfare of His Majesty