In the most breathtakingly candid account 21st Century Burlesque Magazine has ever published from a Queen of Burlesque on the experience of wearing the crown, Poison Ivory, Miss Exotic World, Reigning Queen of Burlesque 2016, has some thoughts to share…
It’s now a week into November, officially 1/3 of the way into my reign as Miss Exotic World, Reigning Queen of Burlesque, and I sit here at the computer wondering what I have to show for it. Four months ago, after unexpectedly being crowned, I remember sitting at this same computer, in my hotel room in Las Vegas, feeling terrified. I remember being afraid to go out to the Sunday afternoon pool party because I was drowning the worst case of “impostor syndrome” that I had ever experienced.
And now, four months later, I would love to report that I am enjoying my reign and embracing this title, but that would not be truthful. If I am to be perfectly honest, the last four months have been emotionally some of the hardest for me, and I have been so scared to talk about it because I am terrified of coming off as ungrateful. I am so afraid that I am letting people down.
“What are people thinking? How is Perle going to take the news? How is Jeez doing? What are the other contestants feeling? Did I deserve it? Did I only get it because I’m black?”
I never won shit growing up. I was poor and not popular by any means. I was not Prom or Homecoming queen and pretty damn sure I was never even nominated. I was a theater kid who only got cast in the background roles, if I was even cast at all. I was pretty much invisible in high school and don’t really have anything to show for the time I spent there. I was pretty much a loser all around.
Yet, in spite of this, high school was not horrible for me. Even though I was on no one’s radar, I was lucky to have a few close friends who got me through the tough times, same as I do now. But ultimately, being invisible meant that no one could see how broken I was. And if no one could see me, then I was safe. Well… I don’t feel invisible anymore, and as a result, I’ve never felt more vulnerable.
Winning the Queen of Burlesque title is the biggest accomplishment of my life. The fact that my image is on display at the Burlesque Hall of Fame is really unbelievable. It is something that I dreamt about, but never thought that would happen, especially only 4.5 years into my career. I am still finding my voice as a performer and at times, worry that people are looking at me under a microscope, wondering what I am actually doing, questioning if I am actually deserving, waiting for me step up to the plate. But I don’t know how to step up because I honestly don’t know what the fuck I am doing. And even though I know that most of this is in my head, because that’s unfortunately how anxiety works, it can be just as damaging and paralyzing, if not more so.
|Photo by MC Newman Photography|
Looking back, many people commented on my reaction to winning the title that night. I’m sure that those joyful two minutes on stage were the absolute best moments for me. I was in a state of pure, authentic bliss…until everything began to sink in. What are people thinking? How is Perle going to take the news? How is Jeez doing? What are the other contestants feeling? Did I deserve it? Did I only get it because I’m black? I didn’t know, but the thoughts just kept rolling in and they honestly have not stopped. It seems that every time I accomplish something special, something happens to steal the little happiness that I was able to muster up, and It’s been like this since day one.
“I am still finding my voice as a performer and at times, worry that people are looking at me under a microscope, wondering what I am actually doing, questioning if I am actually deserving, waiting for me step up to the plate.”
The week following was an emotional whirlwind. Daily, instead of waking up to people being excited that a black woman won the title, more often than not, I was greeted by multiple social media rants and arguments about Rio Savant and how she was the actual first black Queen of Burlesque, not me. That’s fine. I don’t care that I’m not the first black female winner, but I was hurt that it seemed more important for everyone to point that out and fight about it, than it was for people to actually be happy. I not sure if any other winner had to deal with those types of thing, but it was hard.
Even the Burlesque Hall of Fame, who I am very grateful for the opportunity to represent them this year, made it a point to highlight Rio Savant as the first black winner, ultimately taking away any real acknowledgment that something special had even happened. Regardless of Rio Savant’s win, twenty years is still a long time to wait for another black queen, and I think that’s worth celebrating. I don’t think any of this was really intentional, but it all left me feeling like my win was more cause for anger and chaos than happiness and pride.
|Rio Savant; 1996 Miss Exotic World- Burlesque Hall of Fame|
I did my best to make my feeling known and to encourage people to focus their attention on the positive, but with all of the horrible things happening in the world, the mass killings, the police shootings, the need for a #blacklivesmatter movement, it just seemed so selfish to focus any attention on myself. So even though I felt like I started off strong, ultimately whatever fire I had burning was stifled.
Jobs were not flying in from left and right. Not at all. And while I did get offered a few amazing opportunities, my schedule is more open now than it has ever been and I it’s terrifying. I mean… I was never the best at hustling for gigs because in order to do that, you have to be good at selling yourself. That was not a skill I ever really mastered. And even after reaching out for help, it still seems like my bookings are suffering more than ever.
“Will they like me? Are my costumes good enough? Am I a strong enough performer? The self-doubt is never ending. It’s horrible.”
It’s crazy writing this because I am literally getting on a plane in 2.5 days to headline my first international festival. I could not be more grateful for the opportunity, but the inner saboteur in me has made this booking something I am more fearful of than excited about. Will they like me? Are my costumes good enough? Am I a strong enough performer? The self-doubt is never ending. It’s horrible.
I wanna change this. I wanna be proud. I want to actually feel like I am doing something good for this world… like I am making a difference. I had so many ideas of things I wanted to accomplish this year, but as the months pass, I feel so discouraged. I wanted to raise money for the Burlesque Hall of Fame by getting memberships up. I have been doing my part in encouraging anyone, including festivals, who book me as Queen of Burlesque to become members. For the most part, people have been happy to oblige, but that does not mean that it has always gone smoothly.
I’ve recently had an experience with a festival that I was really passionate about, only to be left feeling taken advantage of. Not to mention the times I was called a token and an Uncle Tom by a performer who I really looked up to, even after inviting her to join me on stage at BHoF for my step-down performance. That was one of my lowest points, but I didn’t do anything about it. Maybe its because I am not the best at fighting my battles, or maybe I thought that the “Queenly” thing to do would be to take the high road. But either way, I was hurt. Major lessons have been learned in the last few months. Mainly, that I can’t really trust anyone.
The thing is, I have abandonment and trust issues. I come from an extremely broken home where the people who were supposed to care for me, did not. Because of drugs, my mother was not a part of my life and my father was selfishly living his life, not at all focused on protecting his children. In fact, most of the harm done to me in my early years was from him, but I know there are so many people out there with a similar story.
“I am so sick of this pattern of self-destruction. It’s easy for me to focus on the outside forces that are making things difficult for me, but it all boils down to one truth, that I am responsible for my own happiness. And at the end of the day, if I am not happy, it’s my own damn fault”
I have done my very best to not let my past dictate my future, as hard as it can be. I still try to remain open to people, relationships, love and support, but it’s still so hard to trust people’s true intentions. Because of this, I have felt myself pull back from anyone who has shown me even the slightest amount of being untrustworthy. Yes, I do feel safer doing this, but yes, I feel extremely lonely. It’s hard not really knowing if someone has your back. I’m just grateful that there are handful of people in my life that I can completely trust, no matter how small handful is.
For anyone who has known me for longer that I have been in the burlesque world, they can tell you that I have been on a journey of seeking internal satisfaction for some time. It was the inspiration for this blog because every time I made a post, I would physically and emotionally feel better about my situation. But like most things that are good for me, exercise for example, I tend to run from it when I am feeling overwhelmed with the idea of success. I did it in college when I dropped out during my senior year and I’m doing it again with this title.
“I get emotional every time I put a tiara on some beautiful black burlesque performer’s head because, in a way, I feel like I have helped inspire these women and men to go for it.”
But I am so sick of this pattern of self-destruction. It’s easy for me to focus on the outside forces that are making things difficult for me, but it all boils down to one truth, that I am responsible for my own happiness. And at the end of the day, if I am not happy, it’s my own damn fault. I’m ready to break this cycle. In fact, I have been. I’ve been working very hard on myself and it’s important that I finally start give myself some credit. Being able to do that is proof that I have already grown so much, and that is something to be proud of.
|Perle Noire Presents the House Of Noire. Photo by David L. Byrd.|
A few weeks ago, I sat down with Perle Noire and told her about how I have been struggling the past few months. Like always, she gave me some great advice that is helping me with my insecurities surrounding this title. She reminded me that I’m still just a baby in this industry and that I still have so much more to learn and much more room to grow.
She encouraged me to look at people like Dirty Martini and Roxi D’Lite. These women are phenomenal performers who are constantly working on their craft. They are not the same Queens they were when they first won the Exotic World title, they are continuing to move forward, working on their craft, and that will be my path as well.
She encouraged me not to be so hard on myself and to not let anyone dim my light. She encouraged me to be proud of myself and to embrace the good things that are, and will continue to come into my life. That’s exactly what I’m trying to do.
“ I am a human being with insecurities just like everyone else. And it’s OK for me to be scared. It’s OK for me to be open with you all about how hard this has been. I’m learning that being vulnerable does not mean that I am weak or ungrateful.”
The first part of my journey has been a struggle, but that does not mean that it has to continue this way. I still have eight more months as the Reigning Queen of Burlesque and I don’t want to waste another second of it being afraid that I am not worthy of the honor. I am a human being with insecurities just like everyone else. And it’s OK for me to be scared. It’s OK for me to be open with you all about how hard this has been. I’m learning that being vulnerable does not mean that I am weak or ungrateful. It just means that I care about it so much… and that’s a very positive thing.
The last four months, hell – the last four years – have been a hard transition. But that does not mean that I have not had some of the most incredible experiences. Being able to travel around the states representing the Burlesque Hall of Fame has been a dream come true. I get emotional every time I put a tiara on some beautiful black burlesque performer’s head because, in a way, I feel like I have helped inspire these women and men to go for it. I hope that more opportunities like that continue to present themselves in my life. I am about to travel internationally to a county I have always wanted to visit, and burlesque is what is bringing me there. How fucking amazing is that? How fucking amazing it that? I still can’t believe it.
|Photo by Kevin Blumenthal Photography|
It is a week into November, my favorite month of the year, the month when the things I am grateful for are the most present in my life. It started 27 years ago when my baby brother was born, and has continued on to last year when I married the love of my life. I am hoping that this November will start a new chapter of things to be grateful for, and that I can carry that with me through the remainder of the year, into 2017, and beyond.
Poison Ivory, Miss Exotic World, Reigning Queen of Burlesque 2016.
I wish there was a manner in which I could adequately convey how deeply I appreciate & admire your willingness to be raw, & vulnerable, & human. You have given form to some of my most intimate & intangible feelings tht I struggle with on the god damn daily, & reminded me of the inherent courage in speaking one’s heart.
Thank you, dear. Xo
I think this very true and brave post shows indeed you´re a worthy winner of the title! And I think you’re a wonderful performer. I have only seen you on video so far, but your presence, charisma and technique is beautiful. Good luck with the rest of your year as reigning Queen and thank you so much for sharing these thoughts!
/ Lady Rivet, Sweden
From the day we met I told you, “You have IT.”
You are demonstrating more of that IT with this blog post.
Your authentic vulnerability is a shining light for all of us to tell the truth about our challenges and embrace them.
Thank you SO MUCH for what you’re doing here!
Remember no one can do what you’re doing just like you can’t do what they’re doing. Please, keep being yourself as you’re doing a Great Job of doing so.
<3 – Holiday O'Hara