Saturday, June 7, 2014

Disability and Burlesque: Interview with Elsa E. Sjunneson-Henry

Last week, I spoke with feminist scholar, disability rights activist, and burlesque historian Elsa E. Sjunneson-Henry of Feminist Sonar. Sjunneson-Henry (aka Lydia Ransom) recently portrayed Mad-Eye Moody in "Accio Burlesque! A Burlesque Tribute to Harry Potter" at Seattle's Annex Theater. As soon as I learned Ransom planned to burlesque Mad-Eye, a character with multiple disabilities, I knew I couldn't miss it.

In a show about Harry Potter, Ransom said, Mad-Eye was "the only character I could portray and the only person (producer Sailor St. Claire) would allow" to play that character. "I was using what I already had (a removable eye) to make the character make sense. I couldn't articulate what it's like living in my body. I had to be both me and Mad Eye and it was difficult to parse." This is something we at Punch & Pills & Pie can absolutely relate to. Is my burlesque aspect, TaTa Hari, alter-abled? If so, how often and when?

Mad-Eye Moody appeared onstage with the dynamic essence befitting a slinky, sensual Auror to "Girl With One Eye" by Florence And The Machine. "I wanted to make the whole audience find disability sexy. Everyone thought it would be funny, but I said it would be 'face-melting hot'." And it was! The audience laughed at first, then took notice of Moody's artful and clever choices in clothing removal, then gasped in awe when (Is he? Can he? Will he?) Moody removed his eye in the knee-weakening finale. Judging by the whooping and clapping and exclamations to seat mates, Lydia Ransom evoked the sexiness of disability as she meant to.

"There was the potential for devotees" due to taking out the eye, Ransom stated. A devotee is someone who has attraction to disability - "a sexualised interest of people in the appearance, sensation and experience of disability. It may extend from normal human sexuality into a type of sexual fetishism." "Two different guys asked for my number, which doesn't usually happen. Since this act isn't a novelty, that makes me feel a little weird." (This blog will be delving into devotee culture in an upcoming post.)

"I pushed the boundaries of crip drag. I had the choice to use the peg leg to amp up my own disabilities. Everything else was legit, so I felt ok taking a bit of license." What may have initially appeared to some as a novelty act proved to be thought provoking, boundary-pushing, and indeed face-melting hot!

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