Most people are not their jobs, but high up on list of occupations that most would just assume are matched up perfectly with the personalities of those who work them are burlesque performers. (Right alongside film critics, no doubt.) But their commitment to, as so many who work nine-to-fives are prone to quipping mordantly, “living the dream” doesn’t just begin and end with exhibitionism. According to Exposed, a new personality-driven documentary by Beth B, their art carries with it the import of an undressed mission statement, and more than a few practitioners could be said to be hiding in plain sight behind the nakedness they use to convey fearlessness and honesty. Nice work if you can get it? Not so nice if you have to.
Of all the subjects profiled, Mat Fraser ponies up the sunniest spin on his trade. Born with phocomelia, which left both of his arms underdeveloped, he learned to use his physical shortcoming as a tool to rope in his audience. “Being imperfect on the stage, you channel everyone else’s perfections. And if you can absolve them of any bad feeling about that by accepting yourself as the imperfect, then they have to do that. And so everyone comes away feeling better about themselves, and not in a schadenfreude kind of way,” he explains in the dulcet tones befitting someone totally comfortable in his own skin. “It normalizes me, and I become more normal by highlighting my difference.”
Meanwhile, most of the rest of Exposed’s rogues gallery are making their living by wrestling with, rather than embracing, their differences from the norm. World Famous *BOB* explains that, as a teen runaway, she found solace within a den of drag queens, which served as both a lifeline as well as a source of confusion. “I thought that I had to be a man to be a drag queen,” she says, before arriving at the conclusion that her exaggerated T&A routines represent an empowering choice to be female. Acting as the ersatz opposite side of that coin is Rose Wood, a unique “trans-aggressive” force of nature. Unlike a number of other genderfucking superstars, she doesn’t seem particularly interested in blurring the lines between male and female, but instead has pushed toward the extreme signposts of both, undergoing surgery to affix sizable breasts to his sinewy, muscular body.
The most economical and amusing routine encapsulating the performer’s struggle to own his or her own body may come from Julie Atlas Muz. In her famed “The Hand” routine, she mimics what it would be like to be molested and then choked to death with what is, in actuality, her own right hand made up to look like Thing from The Addams Family. Her performance embodies both the danger and the comfort burlesque thesping offers its players in a way the not especially well-organized Exposed only occasionally matches. Beyond the forthright identity politics and titillating theatrical misdemeanors, one still comes away wondering about the things that remain concealed.