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3 min

Stilettos & Strap-ons

Infusing burlesque with queer femme flair

FEMMES FATALES: Stilettos & Strap-ons, are Shivaughnna Dooyu, lil' Miss Vin Dicktive, Mel Evolent, Miss Pussy Liquor, Edward Malaprop, and Kristy Kreme. Credit: Xtra West Files

When local performer Kate Price couldn’t find enough femme visibility within the queer community, she decided to do something about it.

Having participated in amateur burlesque shows like Hot & Horny fundraisers for the Vancouver Dyke March, Price soon founded her own six-person burlesque troupe, Stilettos & Strap-ons.

“I was always feeling so invisible and so frustrated,” said Price over a beer at Sugar Daddy’s in the Davie Village. “I love this community very much, but at the same time, the internalized sexism that I can see everywhere really bothers me to the point I didn’t know what to do with it. I started this troupe to give us the venue to be satirical, give femme visibility, and give us a voice to say what we want to say.”

The troupe’s last show, The Good, The Bad & The Femme, had the community buzzing for weeks afterwards, and performers were knocking down Price’s door wanting to get involved in her next project. Although burlesque-an expression of sexuality through sketch comedy-is making a revival, queer burlesque certainly adds a unique spin to it.

“The response has been really good,” adds Price. “I’ve talked to people from the older generations who were saying, ‘yeah, there used to be great leather dyke shows 10 years ago where there would be more femme visibility on-stage; we just haven’t seen it for the last 10 years.’ A lot of my femme friends have voiced how happy they are to see femmes on-stage and see femmes in the queer community. We’re not just allies in the bar with our gay friends. We’re just as dykey. We just happen to like stilettos.”

As with any celebration of women’s sexuality, there’s bound to be a backlash. Price admits some lesbians have complained about having “bio boys”, or straight men, in the audience, but don’t seem to mind transgendered men being there.

And Price-an advocate for all-inclusive events-argues that performing for a straight audience is equally liberating.

“Bringing queer politics to a straight audience is an amazing thing,” says the SFU student. “To bring sexually empowered, female-bodied women on-stage, seeing positive sexuality, seeing safe sex-we always use condoms on-stage. That sounds like we’re doing sex acts, which we’re not,” she laughs. “But anytime there’s reference to sex acts, there’s condoms, there’s gloves, there’s lube-we’re so clear about it.

“We’re not subtle and we’re not docile. We want people to come into the show knowing that it’s not a sit-down show, where they sort of applaud silently. We want it to be a safe space where people can feel sexually empowered and mock sex at the same time… I like seeing that debaucherous side of the community, where people are relaxed with their sexuality without it being that dark secret we can’t talk about. Not all dykes are into ‘let’s have a bath and discuss the relationship.'”

In her Stilettos & Strap-ons’ alter-ego, lil’ Miss Vin Dicktive, Price plays a superhero dressed in vinyl who wrestles her suitors. “She’s just a heightened version of myself -everything I would love to do in real life as an exhibitionist. She’s the bad-ass. I wanted to have that physical strength on-stage, not just the ‘hey, I can walk in stilettos’, but I can also wrestle at the same time-with stilettos. That took practice!”

Likewise, Price’s drag king persona, Ash Hool, “is the image of every bastard who’s ever hit on me while I was wearing a miniskirt. He has these huge fake eyebrows. I like to go up and be a dumb-ass on-stage. It’s not actually that opposite from my burlesque character because she’s very comedic and ridiculous.”

Price says the troupe especially enjoys pushing the boundaries by transgressing traditional gender roles and witnessing people’s reactions.

“I love seeing female-bodied people really showing a bad-ass attitude, showing empowerment and strength. Quite frankly, I love seeing everybody do that, but it’s really refreshing to see someone who is female-bodied do that. With gender roles, we’re trying to show an interpretation of femme that we enjoy, which is two people who identify as femme together and how that looks and how that can be just as powerful as a butch-femme dynamic. We do a lot of drag, a lot of gender fucking. It’s very liberating.”

One of Stilettos & Strap-ons’ mandates is to demonstrate multifaceted femme visibility, which they acknowledge is open to tremendous interpretation.

“For myself, honestly, my definition of femme is always changing. Femme is something that’s been used against me for so long-like femme jokes about taking so long to get ready, someone assuming that I’m someone’s arm candy, or that I’m the submissive one in the relationship because my hair is long. Femme is something I decided to claim for myself. I decided if people are going to use it against me, be lame about it and be completely sexist about it, I wanted to claim it so that I can use it back.

“Femme is an interpretation of someone’s gender presentation. It’s an attitude… It’s so unrelated to clothes. I identify as femme because I want to be able to use that and work that. It’s an attitude you can put on, or a schtick you can perform… If you’re gonna assume that someone is butch or femme based on their physical attire, clothes are just something you put on. It’s no way related to who you are or who you fuck.”