…are you a boy or a girl?

Photo by David Denofreo at Black Opal Images.

…neither. I am a woman. Let me ask you this – does it matter?

I was indeed born, raised and am presently living as a woman.
Yet I get asked this question from men and woman alike.
About once a month.

It used to bother me the most when I first started performing burlesque. It came as a harsh blow. I had finally embodied my feminine side and was ready to delve into what it felt like to be more soft. More Lola, less Frost. I grew up quite a tomboy. I loved getting dirty and not caring if I was acting like a lady, but still wanted to be a girl. I was the one in the pink fluffy dress with dirt on her knees hanging from the monkey bars.

After my 3rd Burlesque show, I felt so good about my performance. Boom, here I was showing the world my newly developing art form, my body in all it’s glory and flaws. The few body hang ups I had dissipated when I got on stage. How interesting that being mostly naked in front of people would free me from the constraints I felt before I started burlesque. I had gotten over my small boobs many years ago. My mother had so delicately told me in grade 9 that “more than a mouthful is a waste anyway”.
Wise woman.

After the show a man came up to me and told me how much he liked my act, describing it as strong, passionate and well thought out. I smiled. I could tell he had something else to say, he then asked if I was a boy or a girl. Strangely I was shocked. I was not expecting that. I answered without thinking, trying not to be reactionary. “Well, I was born with a vagina if that helps.” His eyes grew large and he fumbled over words trying to apologize and tell me he was just confused about my muscles and height and lack of…”Tits”, I helped him. “Yeah.” he finished. The discussion went on for a while and I was reminded while listening to him, of my time dancing overseas. Many of the men there asked why I wanted to look like a boy. I kept short and sassy hair, wore pants and had, as they described, “big arms”. There is not much I can do about my Viking roots, boys. I understand that mainstream advertising construes the many glorious shapes and sizes of the female form, but what year is it? Let’s move forward shall we?

I could go on for far too long detailing the encounters I have had with strangers and the apparent confusion about my gender. But I will keep it short. Some are upsetting, some liberating and some I just have to shake my head at. It all depends on the context of the question or how it’s directed. It is often meant to be an insult, a degrading comment based on someone’s narrow views. But when the question is posed out of wonder and amazement the context has new meaning. Example A – After performing my transformation act to Glory Box by Portishead at a QueerBash event here in Vancouver (I strip from a Man to a Woman, mustache included) two lovely queer woman ran up to me holding hands. Wide-eyed they asked me if I used to be a boy. It made my heart swell – I took that as a complement. I was channeling the right energy to translate the hard to soft, the male to female, and because of my performance that was what they took away. It was a not meant to be degrading. However, the man that told me to look up at the mural on the ceiling so he could touch my throat, invade my space, and check for an Adams apple, was frankly – obnoxious.

Backstage before Glory Box.

Androgyny is sexy. Straight up. In fact I am in awe of it and love dressing that
way. Not as a political statement or having something to prove, but
because it is hawt! You can channel emotion clearly through a
character, emotions that your every day life might not always provide. In our
glorious world of the stage we have the power of exploration; our own
investigation of what it means to reverse, incorporate, change or meld
genders. We use them as an inquiry into how role reversal might shift
power and strength, giving us insight into another part of ourselves. It
is a fascinating examination into what it may feel like to embody the
power of another gender and what our own interpretations are around
that.

I have been fascinated with this concept for as long as I can remember. I
grew up in the 80’s where we had the magic of Much Music and the first music videos to come out. It showed quite predominantly a screen
full of strong, talented women incorporating ideas, clothing and symbology
previously only dominated by men. Although this was not the first decade
to incorporate this into art, fashion and lifestyle, it was sure influential. The power-suit and slicked-back hair boasted manly strengths but
kept the innate softness of our feminine side. The image is pure femininity, just dressed up in a pair of pants, like a Boss.

Madonna and her male harem.

This decade was quite similar to the 1920’s. It was truly the first wave in which we saw women finding their voices in a male dominated society. They broke the mold in so many ways. Not making themselves into men, but finding strength to express themselves as more than a submissive woman: I want short hair, I want to vote, I don’t want to wear a dress, I want to drive, I want to smoke, I want to drink, I want to dance, I want to work outside the home, I want to go out without an escort, I want to travel, I want to fly. For some reason woman behaving independently always stirs up controversy, even after all this time.

Dietrich and one of her signature looks.

I have come to embrace that I embody both sexes. All of us do to some extent. I find it utterly fascinating to look at someone and question their gender, question how they are choosing to express it and explore it. I look on with a fascinated awe knowing why drag is so powerful, and why gender identification is so valid. This world is not just black and white, not just male or female, not just tits and ass. My femininity, sexuality and womanhood was not defined by a pair of breasts, like a typical calling card for mating. My femininity comes from my heart, from exploring beyond the physical and looking into what it takes for me to feel whole. I allow both sides to come up as needed. I will forever be a cute, fun and silly 4 year old girl who likes to play dress up and a super pervy 14 year old boy who checks out grrrls and likes it when they don’t wear bras in the summer.

April O’Peel and I for Dirty Dancing.

I have had a drag character for about 4 years now, Alec. Alec Towatch. On a fine summer afternoon this year the incredibly salacious Evilyn XThirteen and I explored our masculine side. The talented Teresa Bussey did an amazing job with makeup and Patrick Parenteau captured it all…

To see more from this shoot ~Click Click~

17 Comments

  1. I enjoyed this article and it made me think of the years from when I saw you as a little girl to now and all the pieces in between that brought you to this time. Your mother has always been in my thoughts and it is a pleasure to connect with her again and to hear about your success. Keep growing, dancing and enjoying life.

  2. loved this! I too was very much a tomboy! I’d wear dresses and then go off to play sports with the boys and get all bruised up and dirty from playing in the dirt… You, my dear, are so intriguing and you play both roles so effortlessly. Keep up the amazing work!! I love what you do! 🙂

    PS. i still have your gloves 🙂

  3. I can never tell you enough how absolutely gorgeous you are. What people might say you lack, I feel fits your form perfectly. There’s such a jaded image of what a woman is to society’s standards. I love your strength to show the world how wrong they are and continue to break the mold with your mind, body and soul. ❤ ❤ ❤

  4. I too, have been asked many a time whether I am a boy. In fact – just this past weekend a girl told me that when she first met me, she thought I was a man.
    Thanks for this article, Lola. You are a bright, beautiful, strong person, and I needed to read this. Hopefully one day I will learn to take that question with as much grace as you have learned to. xo

    1. Thank you Abby, you are a stunning woman and this is something we will face all the time. It’s up to us to educate and be strong. We know what we are about. 🙂
      PS- Remind me to tell you the story of how my sister almost started a bar brawl in Alberta defending me…you will laugh.
      xoxo

  5. Dearest Lola, you are so achingly beautiful, no matter which gender you’re portraying in the moment. As I wander happily, slowly feeling my way down the path burlesque takes me, you and many others are providing a gorgeous blueprint for what this journey can be: no limits, no templates, no rules. I send you my deepest thanks for that!

  6. I had to share this here so it would not be lost. VIa FB –

    By -Bowen-Michael Osoko
    The very first time I saw you on stage – which was some years ago now – you had so much raw power that I literally stopped in my tracks and stared, agog.

    Yours was a very different kind of burlesque. You had all the feminine power of a Bunuel vixen, or a Fritz Lang heroine. And when you are on stage, you knew it.

    The beauty of burlesque is the ability it affords people – women mostly – to rewrite the story of themselves with their bodies in a way that reclaims who they are. The writhing hips and twirling tassels are the sentences and paragraphs that recreate, each night, the enduring legend emerging feminine legend of who that woman is choosing to be. As with all good stories, the best ones are born of a kernel of truth. The truth of one’s body is a particularly hard one to deny.

    On that Lamplighter stage years ago you were dark, mysterious, lithe and dangerous. You had a small chest and powerful arms but riotous hips and a come hither look that screamed “I’d kiss you, but I just washed my hair”. Even then you carried a raw feminine power to your audience in the palm of your hand. And you made them see it. It was undeniable.

    I’ve never thought of you as one who bends gender, but more as a woman who simply will not be denied. Some, as your post attests, mistake that as masculine. I think it’s very possible it’s a not-oft-seen rather powerful feminine.

    And it’s awesome.

  7. I’m no psychologist but I would think that with the way some people define themselves by their sexuality some of it would be people checking that it was OK to have enjoyed your performance. That is to say that if you have been a male, and they found entertaining they would be “gay” cause they enjoyed, so they’re checking to insure they’re not gay. But i’m a cynic so there definitely a bias in my assessment of people.

    1. Hi Mangnus,
      Thank you for your comment. I have considered this and it makes me sad to think that just because a man enjoyed something another man did that it would in turn make him gay. Arousal and entertainment have no way of suddenly making someone gay, but there are stereotypes that get fed to men that would show otherwise. Finding another man attractive does not make him gay, it makes him a human having appreciation of another. Hopefully these potential harmful stereotypes can one day be deployed.
      Thanks for reading!
      Lola

      1. It is a sad state of affairs and in my little corner of the south, that sort of ignorance is exceptionally rampant. I’ve seen people do and say crazy stuff in defense of their masculinity. I would very much like to see it changed, but I’m not to optimistic on that front.

        1. Thank you Magnus, I understand your view, it is a hard front to see. But my little heart and voice will do it’s best to educate, stand up and be heard among the chatter of those not strong enough to open their eyes and be accepting. Scars and all.

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