Proposed Panel for ASTR on Trans*

I am so humbled and honored to have been asked to put together a proposal for a conference panel at this year’s ASTR together with inimitable burlesque and striptease experts Kirsten Pullen and Jessica Berson. (Don’t miss Jessica’s new book The Naked Result: How Exotic Dance Became Big Business which promises to be a field-changer!)

The conference for this year’s ASTR conference is Trans*, and our panel specifically presents recovered narratives (through paper presentation) and then brainstorms how we might use them in our scholarship, teaching, and academic service (through a managed roundtable). Together, we will investigate how and why contemporary articulations of trans* performance rewrite narratives of drag, queerness, masculinity, and heteronormativity.

My own contribution is recovering, recontextualizing, and re-centering a Bobby Morris’s herstory. Here’s my part of the abstract:

In 1937, Bobby Morris, lead comic in a burlesque show at the 42nd Street Apollo Theatre who had been known since vaudeville decided to fill a spot for one of the sick strippers. He put on her gown, picked up her big red fan and went out on the stage to strip. As Bobby Morris was performing, the pansy craze was raging outside. David Dressler’s 1937 dissertation on the burlesque audience confirms that the borders between the alleged heterosexual inside of the burlesque theatres and the queer “underworld” on the streets of Times Square were permeable if not even non-existent.

I argue that we should interpret Morris’s performance within the gender system set up by the pansy craze, and (with the help of Dressler) conjecture a different performance and reception of Bobby Morris’ performance within a trans* framework. While we could consider Morris’s performance part of the history of female impersonation, female impersonators such as Julian Eltinge often created diva performances of a “good,” middle-class femininity. Morris and other stripping men on the stage, chose a different form of feminine performance; a monstrous working-class femininity, borrowing from the longer history of female burlesque performers.


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