Disclaimer: This article was not requested or commissioned by the burlesque performer concerned and care has been taken to highlight this issue in a way that does not go against her wishes or jeopardise her legal battle.
I was disturbed to read an announcement from Bourgeois Betty concerning her friend and fellow performer Ida Claire, who has been banned by a judge in Alabama, USA from participating in burlesque in any way if she wishes to maintain joint custody of her children:
“I’m writing this post on behalf of my friend Ida Claire who is no longer allowed to discuss or participate in the burlesque art form as directed by the judicial system of the state of Alabama. In order to maintain joint custody of her two children the judge declared that she was no longer able to participate online, perform in any capacity, or publish videos/photographs using either her legal name or stage name … Somehow burlesque, the satirical comedy it portrays on stage and the sensual exploration of sexuality that does occur in some performers’ numbers, is somehow horribly disgusting and therefore nullifies a mother’s right to her children…”
According to Betty, the alledgedly bad conduct of the father of the children has not been challenged or penalised by the judge.
To those in the USA, particularly in the South, who are aware of or have encountered similar judgements, reactions and restrictions, this may come as no surprise. But it highlights the fact that burlesque is an art form that is still not widely understood or accepted, and reminds us that not all members of the global burlesque community are as free to honour, participate in and contribute to the art form as others are. Many of us have followed recent news stories regarding battles with venues and local councils who have formed negative, uninformed views of burlesque and discriminated accordingly, but depriving a mother of her children is something altogether more chilling. Betty explained to me that other people have described similar experiences to her since she published the above statement, and it troubles me that the distressing and concerning actions of this judge could be used as a precedent elsewhere, in the USA or further afield.
I welcome the views of the community below. Should participation in burlesque and cabaret – or, while we are at it, pole dancing, nude or semi-nude modelling, hard or soft pornography, or any form of sex work – be used to discriminate against a capable, responsible and loving parent, or any other decent human being for that matter (and I mean genuinely decent, rather than the way a judge in a case like this might define the word)? Do you believe that burlesque is still widely misinterpreted and discriminated against? Please feel free to share your views and experiences and build a discussion in the comments section.
UPDATE: I want to add the following message from Betty that was added to her original statement, for those who have left comments about taking action:
“…it needs be said that do not fight for the previously mentioned individual’s civil liberties. Any actions that can be attributed to her could end her custody battle. What can be addressed is the insanity and stupidity that is consistently displayed by state and federal government. This discrimination is not the only issue that happens as I’m sure we’re all aware of. The purpose of all of this was to raise awareness and I think that has indeed happened!”
Quoted in major international newspapers and held in high esteem and affection by the international burlesque community, 21st Century Burlesque Magazine has documented the contemporary burlesque scene since 2007. Founded and edited by Holli-Mae Johnson.