Building Community & Reproductive Freedom Through Burlesque

By: Performer Justin Uranus

My name is Andy, but my stage name is Justin Uranus. I have been a performer for my whole life, but my burlesque journey started out as a drag king in the St. Cloud community. Eventually I found my way to burlesque as I worked to find my comfort zone when it comes to gender.

Defining Gender on My Terms

As a king I saw others do gender-bending performances and it gave me permission to feel more comfortable messing with the binary.

Photo credit: Nakita’s Kittens/ B. Sens Photography

When I first started burlesque, I was trying to balance femininity as a nonbinary trans man. When I started living as a man, there were a lot of expectations for me to be hyper masculine—and I knew that wasn’t who I was.

As a king I saw others do gender-bending performances and it gave me permission to feel more comfortable messing with the binary. Seeing other people being their beautiful nonbinary selves, especially in St. Cloud, helped me recognize, “Oh, there is nothing stopping me from also doing that.”

That is why reproductive justice is so powerful to me, because it helps me navigate the boxes society has put me in and decide what is best for me.

Burlesque & Reproductive Justice

Reproductive justice is not just deciding whether or not to have children. It’s got to do with your wholeness as a sexual being and as a person in general. It goes beyond when the “bun is in the oven”—it’s also can you support your family and your community? Can you feel safe here? Can you live a dignified life?

Reproductive justice is not just deciding whether or not to have children. It’s got to do with your wholeness as a sexual being and as a person in general.

As a performer in Central Minnesota, laws force performers to cover certain parts of their body, often with duct tape. It feels incredibly stifling and can be unsafe for us in performance spaces. And it affects gender nonconforming people and people with various body sizes differently—another example of how those who make the laws don’t understand our experiences.

Many of us are sexually harassed while in performance spaces and also outside the venues where we perform. There’s little protection for our own safety, and part of that is because people see us as objects and not human beings using burlesque to express ourselves and find joy in what we do.

If we could make the laws, we would be able to have more say on how we are treated as performers.

Visions for Reproductive Freedom

When I think about what our society would look like if reproductive justice was actualized, I feel like it would just be easier to exist. There would be a lot less fear because we would have a better understanding of consent. People wouldn’t be afraid to just go out at night. In this world, I wouldn’t feel scared to walk around the corner from the venue I’m performing at to get something to eat while in costume.

I would be able to just exist.

Burlesque has given me the ability to say, “This is my space and you can’t take that away from me.”

Liberation and reproductive justice to me looks like safety. It looks like comfort. It looks like stability.

Burlesque has given me the ability to say, “This is my space and you can’t take that away from me.” Our troupe is so affirming of each other’s work which helps me and other people break down our internalized uneasiness with our bodies, with taboo, and with our own autonomy.

It’s healing to be around people who have similar experiences, with so many other performers who have similar stories to mine. Through burlesque, we have found joy in what we are doing, in ourselves, and in the community we have nurtured and built.

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Posted in Our Blog

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