Episode 6

Published on:

26th Feb 2020

Lady Blue Phoenix - A force of nature - 006

In this episode of Queers & Co., I’m joined by Lady Blue Phoenix, burlesque performer and member of the Rock with the Foxes troupe. When on stage, she's been described as a force of nature!

We chat about Columbia - the long-forgotten personification of the USA, our power to make social change, creating safer spaces in burlesque, learning to live with mental ill-health and what happens when we can no longer vault our pain away, embracing our shadow side and her experience of coming out as bisexual.

CW: This episode contains a description of a racist incident.

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Find out more about Gem Kennedy and Queers & Co.

Podcast Artwork by Gemma D’Souza

Image by V’s Anchor Studio


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Rock with the Foxes Troupe

Lady Blue Phoenix will be performing at the following events:

Full Transcription

Gem: Hi Lady Blue.

Lady Blue Phoenix: Hello.

Gem: How are you today?

Lady Blue Phoenix: I'm good. I'm just relaxing after a busy week at work.

Gem: So, we've just been chatting about quite a lot of interesting stuff already actually, so we haven't recorded it. But I've got a few things that I am keen to ask you, but it'd be really cool first if you could introduce yourself so we can learn a bit more about you.

Lady Blue Phoenix: Okay. Well firstly, my name is Lady Blue Phoenix. I originate from Seattle, Washington in America. I've lived abroad now since 2008 - five years in Japan and Oh God…  eight years here. I did a lot of dance in the States, so fire belly dance, things like that. I've always loved the dance industry. I'm never actually majored in it, but I just loved that freedom. So when I came to England, after living in Japan for five years, I got into burlesque. Me and my partner went to a show. I saw these amazing people on stage bearing their souls, baring their bodies to the world. And I was literally floored. I was like, I want to do that, but then in the back of my head I had the whole, but I'm not a size zero. None of the girls on this stage were like size zero. Even in my head it was that whole, I have to be small to do it. And my partner, he just kind of looked at me and said, can you please just go ask about it?

Gem: Amazing.

Lady Blue Phoenix: And I asked about it and got involved and have been doing burlesque now since, well 2016, when I decided to start doing solos. Beforehand, the first year and a half I was doing lots of lessons and little bit of troop work and things. But then 2016 I decided to branch out and do solos. And that's how Lady Blue Phoenix was born.

Gem: Amazing. And does your work have any kind of themes or are there specific stories that you tell when you're on stage?

Lady Blue Phoenix: It's a variety. Some of my acts have a story. Some of acts are just me kind of expressing that freedom of movement that you don't get to see in daily life. Some of my acts are just me being free on stage and just showing the world that freedom, but some of my acts or really just showing the confidence that anyone can do it and kind of letting people see that no matter who you are you can do it and it's safe to do it.

Gem: Yeah, it's really powerful to see. I guess if you weren't seeing yourself represented as well when you went to see it, giving that representation to other people who might come along and be empowered to try it themselves?

Lady Blue Phoenix: Yeah, and that is one of my acts, as I am, it's what I call my neoclassic, cause it's not the classic of burlesque. It's kind of classic with a twist. That act is pretty much, I'm bearing my soul, I'm bearing my confidence, I'm burying, well, I bear everything pretty much. I think that act is pretty much, let's just say it's as close to naked as possible without being naked. But that act was inspired by me just wanting people to realise that everyone has natural beauty in them and that you have to love yourself and it's okay to love yourself. It's okay to show the world that you are confident, that you are powerful, that you love yourself and how you don't hold society standards on yourself, that you don't care what the world thinks, that you're just free and happy to be in your own world and showing that world to everyone.

Gem: Yeah. And you mentioned that when you kind of first saw burlesque, you saw that people were all different sizes, but you were feeling that you weren't a size zero?

Lady Blue Phoenix: That was I think especially when I first started to do it, it was a lack of confidence in myself. Society, media, you know, the stereotypes are you have to be a certain shape and size to do lots of things. And for me it's that this is beautiful. This is beautiful, this is beautiful. This is not. And trying to break that mould in my head, trying to be willing to get through that glass ceiling that's been put on us from the young ages of youth and from when we were little up to the teenage years where you're trying to figure out who you are to then come out the other end of adulthood and be like, okay, so if I want to be beautiful I have to be like this, but I don't want to be like this. I want to be like this, but that's not going to make me beautiful in the eyes of the world. And just coming to terms with it, coming to terms with the fact that no matter what the world says that I am beautiful, you know, I am confident, I am fierce and just wanting to share that bit of me to other people and say, look, if I can do it, you can do it.

Gem: Yeah. And we were talking before about one of your acts that I'd seen kind of an advertised on some of your posters and posts online, and it's called Columbia. It'll be amazing to hear more about that piece. It sounds great.

Lady Blue Phoenix: Columbia, was born out of the lovely political events from 2016 and it was just the angst of watching the world kind of just go in this odd direction from where we've been quite equal, quite kind of like morally sound. If this is wrong, this is wrong. And kind of coming to that whole turnaround of where everyone's equal and seeing it kind of start going backwards for some reason. It was from seeing, obviously Brexit happen and that vote and then it was seeing Trump get elected in America. And I mean, that hit me the hardest because being an American, we always screamed out how America is equal, how you know it's free and how we're able to express ourselves. But then seeing that slowly get taken back over the years kind of just shocked me and I kind of wanted to make people realise that you can't just sit and watch. You can't just sit and be an observer and not do anything because the more we raise our voices and say, look, this is not okay, the more we'll be heard. And I remember sitting in my lounge and thinking to myself, I want to make an act that's going to ring that strength to stage and want to bring an act that's going to hit that message home. And well, there's other statue of Liberty acts out there. There's loads of Trump acts and political acts and things like that. And I said, I want my act to be different. And my partner found out about Columbia who is actually a historical figure who's been forgotten over time.

Gem: Okay. Yeah. I've never heard of Columbia before.

Lady Blue Phoenix: She was before Lady Liberty, Columbia represented America and the truths of America, the justice in America. She fought for those people who were in the minority. Most pictures of Columbia, you see her actually defending people who were the minorities or standing up for women's rights and things. And she was either in armour or in very feminine clothing, but she still looked very fierce and she was an inspiration. And sadly when we hit world war, I think it was two, she disappeared. They got rid of her and it was Lady Liberty and Uncle Sam.

Gem: Do you know why it was that they got rid of her?

Lady Blue Phoenix: There is no actual reason why. I think it's just because obviously Lady Liberty got put in America as this massive statue and obviously people start to associate Lady Liberty with America more so they kind of changed the dialogue.

Gem: That's so funny, isn't it? Because it feels like it's always been that way, but it obviously hasn't.

Lady Blue Phoenix: Yeah. Phillis Wheatley, who was a slave back in the times of slavery wrote about Colombia. There's poems about Colombia, there's songs about Colombia, but in school we learned nothing about her. I didn't even know about her. Columbia is based on her actually coming back to speak to a politician, to make him listen, to make him realise what he's doing is wrong. It's not the American way, it's not the way politically forward, that it's quite corrupt and dark and that instead of doing it, he needs to listen to the voices of the people and the politician ignores her completely. It was very interesting how that came about. Originally I was going to do the act by myself. Then my partner kind of said, you can't, there's no way the message will hit home. You need a villain. And I sat there and I said, well, I don't trust anyone to be a villain. The only person I would trust is you. And he sat there and he's like, well then I'll do it. And so I've done the worst thing ever. I've cast a British person as a villain in a political act. Every time we've performed this piece, we've done it, I think about five or six times now. It moves the audience to either tears or silence and the message hits home. Everyone understands the message by the end of the night. And the thing is, cause I don't want to give too much away. The ending though is not Columbia broken or down or beaten. It's her coming back from what happened in the first bit where he's actually at, to then her saying, you know what? I'm not gonna let that hurt me. I'm not going to let that keep me down. I'm going to come back and stand up and be fierce and keep going forward. But I need everyone in the audience to join me. I need everyone in the audience to agree to come forward with me, to stop this hate, to stop this evil. It's that whole, I can't do it by myself, but I'm willing to lead the way. It ends on that note, and oddly enough, I don't get a full naked strip and that one I actually stripped down to a tank top and some utility trousers or utility shorts. And it's the whole, looking at the audience and it kind of making them realise, you can help me stop this. You can stop this. You have the power. And giving them that power and that knowledge in hopes that they'll use it.

Gem: Yeah. So powerful. I've got goosebumps just hearing that. It sounds amazing. So because your work or certainly some of it at least sounds really political. I just wondered, I know you said that some people are maybe a bit reluctant to book that act because of how powerful it is, how do you kind of navigate doing such powerful work and also looking after yourself at the same time?

Lady Blue Phoenix: Well, usually when I do get a booking for Columbia, I do try to pair it up with one of my less political acts. So I will do my classic act, which is kind of seen as a very body positive, very, you know, standard burlesque act. Or I will do it with my mad hatter act which is called 'Fractured Imagination' which I use LED play. But again, that one touches on a bit of the mental health battle of going from this. "I'm so happy" to inside- I'm in turmoil, but I'm fighting it off. I usually take care of myself by just meditating, especially after Columbia. I will go and take a few minutes to breathe to get some air to just relax from it because it is such a hard hitting act. But what we've also decided , as this is a duet, me and my partner, have decided and it's great idea, that we are actually going to start advertising and tell producers, Hey, if you book one of my acts and you let me bring Columbia, half the fee that I get, if not the majority of the fee that I get will go towards the charity 'Hope not Hate' because that's how much we want to get this message out. Because it sounds sad but with the rise of social media and stuff and the rise of the white right wing thoughts and everything else, we need more people to be aware that they can help stop this kind of rise. They can stop this hate.

Gem: Yeah. I think people feel so powerless, don't they?

Lady Blue Phoenix: Yeah, and the act does point that out. I mean the act points out the whole, you feel powerless but you're not. You can do something.

Gem: Yeah, and I'm wondering where you find all of that power? You're giving your power away to these rooms of people, showing them that they need to make a difference and they can stand up and make a change. Where do you get your power from?

Lady Blue Phoenix: I get my power from a lot of the experiences I've been through in life. I mean being black American, you kind of at an early age sadly realise that you are different and that those differences be played up to you. Those differences will be tested and how you deal with them is going to decide your path in life. And I come from a military family and my dad, bless his heart, he helped embed in me a lot of power. He helped embed in me the whole, you know, there are people who are going to treat you wrong but pay them no mind. Instead pay mind to the people who are going to be there to have your back. Who are going to be your voice when you don't feel like you have one. Who are going to be there for you and support you when you do have a voice, when you do have your strength. I have this collective community of friends in burlesque. Like I just became a member of the 'rocks with foxes' troop and they're an amazing group of ladies. I've been performing with them on and off since, 2016, at different shows and events. And they asked me last year to join and become an actual troop member. And I've been with them now since December. And honestly, I couldn't ask for a better group of girls. We had an incident recently, which kind of made me realise how the community is really trying to work around how to be good allies. Cause there are some people who do want to be allies to the community. They just don't know how, it's not explained, it's not talked about and such. And the incident we had was we had just finished performing a show and we went out, packed the car up, we're going to go back and have a few drinks and such. And the troop leader went in and came out and said, I'm not gonna let you go back into a place where someone's doing blackface. And I looked at her stunned and I said, what are you talking about? Because we had seen a gentleman earlier who was dressed as prince, not in blackface. I was totally down for that. I was like, ah, yeah, you look awesome and I'm loving it. And I saw another guy come in who looks like a guy from the blues brothers, James Brown character from the blues brothers movie. And I'm like, Oh, that looks good again. He did really well. I can see him as that character. And sadly it was him who decided to go into the bathroom and black up. The troop leader. Madeline Solei, bless her heart, she pointed out to the security guard. The security guard went in and talked to him. We went in cause it was cold and he kinda just looked at me sideways and I kind of looked at Madeline and my husband was there at time. I said, I'm going to go talk to him. And they were in shock. And they're like, what do you mean? I'm like, I'm going to go ask him why he did it. Cause these are conversations that people don't have sometimes and I think it's important that we ask people, look, what was your reasoning for doing this? Because sometimes when you get that reason, it's still explained to them, well the one that was a good reason, it's still kind of wrong. And do you see how it's, how it can affect me sometimes that's the best way to tell people versus the screaming, the yelling, the "Oh my God, it's wrong!" Being kind of neutral versus combat it as all right. So I talked to him and he explained to me why and said, James Brown is his idol. And I said, well that's great. But when you walked in the door the first time, I understood who you were. You didn't have to do this to yourself. And he understood and he left. No fights, no nothing. He understood and left the pub. His friends, however, did not. Immediately after he left, I was ganged up on, I was called racist. I was called "the problem of this country are people like you because it's people like you who are too overly sensitive about thing". "It's a costume, get over it" "If you walked around in white face, we wouldn't care" "There's reverse racism" blah blah blah. And the other thing that got me was the woman who's birthday is, because she was having her 40th, I explained it to her and she understood. So she then tried to explain it to the friends and it wasn't working. It got to the point where I had 30 people screaming at me and telling me how horrible the wrong guy was even though I wasn't the one who reported it. My troop leader reported it, yet, she was also standing there...

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About the Podcast

Queers and Co.
A podcast for queer folks and allies on self-empowerment, body liberation and activism.
Hi, I'm Gem! Join me as I chat to queer folks and allies about self-empowerment, body liberation and activism. My guests are at the forefront of change-making, working in areas like fat activism, sex positivity, intersectional feminism, drag/cabaret, LGBTQ+ activism and children's rights.

I'm a transformational coach, activist and founder of the Queers & Co. zine, podcast and community. Through my work, I support LGBTQ+ folks and allies to reclaim their personal power and take up space so that they can impact the world in ways they have only dreamt of.

Find out more about my work: www.gemkennedy.com
Find out more about Queers & Co.: www.gemkennedy.com/queersandco

About your host

Profile picture for Gem Kennedy

Gem Kennedy

I’m Gem. I'm the founder of the Queers & Co. zine, community and podcast, as well as a transformational coach and activist. I’m also queer, fat positive, an intersectional feminist and Mum to two free-range children.

I help LGBTQ+ folks and allies to reclaim their personal power and take up space so that they can impact the world in ways they have only dreamt of.