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From the moment I found out I was pregnant, I swore that becoming a parent wouldn’t change me. As a burlesque hostess who wrote and performed an autobiographical show called How I Became a Drag Queen Trapped in a Woman’s Body, I’ve always let everything hang out — literally. I dress like I’m going to a Renaissance Faire every day, wearing low-cut, push-up tops with floor-length velvet skirts and tiaras.
When my 10-year-old daughter was younger, strangers would stare at us wide-eyed — yes, even in our hometown of New York City. I certainly wasn’t the only goth mom around, but the juxtaposition of our styles was jarring: me decked out Addams Family– style and my daughter wearing pink from head to toe.
What I never truly considered was that one day my over-the-top fashion and lifestyle might embarrass my daughter or, worse, worry her. Once she started grade school, she began to react. Whenever I left the house showing cleavage, she’d pull up my shirt or zip up my jacket so “men besides Daddy won’t talk to you.” She goofed on my penchant for wearing skulls by asking if I was a pirate. And she started doing a hilarious (but G-rated) impression of a burlesque act. (For the record, she’s never been to a burlesque show, but she does know that they involve performers taking off their costumes.)
My tween daughter is becoming an individual and exploring her own style and morality so it’s natural that she’s mortified by me. Still, I wanted to learn whether her feelings stem from the specific way I express myself. So I asked her. Here’s our candid conversation on the matter:
When I was your age, I thought everything about my mom was embarrassing — and she was a regular looking and acting mom! So I can’t imagine what it’s like to have me as a mom. But let’s start with my style: Does the way I dress embarrass you?
Sometimes. I remember when I was little, I would pull up your top a lot, and be like, “Mom, you’re married. Stop dressing like that! Not everyone needs to know you have a tattoo on your breast or the color of your bra.” I don’t do that as much now because I know you’re not going to change, but I think about it. There’s that one lace sweater you wear all the time. I like lace too, but an undershirt might be helpful.
Do you think I wear these clothes just because I like them, or because I want men to notice me?
You want everyone to notice you, not just men. You like attention, just like me! But men do notice you. They honk their horns or try to chat you up on the street. When I was little, I found that super-confusing. I thought everyone who had a kid was married, so I wondered why men would bother you when you were walking down the street with me, your daughter. I thought they thought they could take you away from dad.
I know you don’t like it when men flirt with me on the street. But does it actually worry you? Are you concerned something bad could happen to me?
I kind of wonder when men hit on you, what do they expect to happen? And what would they do to get to that point where you’re flirting back? I’ve never seen you flirt back though. That would be kind of cheating on dad. I know you’re not going to do that because you keep your promises.
You’re right. I would never cheat on dad. And it makes me sad that you worry about me. The fact is, even if I dressed more like other moms, men still might flirt with me. And one day they will probably flirt with you, too. Great, now I’m giving you even more to worry about!
[Acting grossed out] Do we have to talk about that now? I thought we were talking about you.
Yes, we can save that conversation for another time. I’m curious — do your friends ever make fun of me or comment on how I dress?
They’re all used to you now, but in the past, some of my classmates would come up to me and be like, “Why does your mom dress so cool?” And I would say, “Why, doesn’t your mom dress cool?” And they would say, “No, she wears like, jogging shorts and stuff.” They probably think your black clothes and skulls are cool.
Ha! I didn’t know they thought I was cool because you’re always saying how embarrassing I am. Do you ever wish I would change my style?
Well, it would be kind of weird if it changed, but when you’re an old lady, maybe you shouldn’t be like a goth grandmother. You shouldn’t wear all your skeleton rings because you’ll know that the end is near, and it might be really sad for you, and really sad for me too, because I don’t want you worrying about that stuff. All the skulls bother me because I feel like they might bother you someday. But it would be really hard to get rid of all of your skull stuff. It would be like throwing away a third of our apartment!
I always thought that my low-cut tops were what upset you the most. You do bother me a lot about that. And you’re always complaining about the fact that I sleep in the nude. Why does that bug you?
It’s disgusting! In the middle of the night, you’ll get up and walk around the apartment naked, and you’re like, “doo-de-doo-de-doo.” Dad is always complaining about it, too. I wish you’d wear pajamas! You should only be naked in the shower.
I think it’s hilarious that you’re such a prude.
What does that mean?
That you’re so easily shocked at what Mommy does or doesn’t wear.
Mom, don’t call yourself “Mommy.”
For years you’ve known that I sometimes host burlesque shows. Although you’ve never seen one, I’ve never hidden that from you. When you were 5 or 6, you started doing this really funny burlesque impression. You’d pretend to take off your top and go, “Ooooo, Hot Mama Burlesque!”
It’s so embarrassing that I did that! Back then I did it because it made you laugh, but then I started to do it in front of your friends. I thought I was making people happy, but it was kind of inappropriate. I really shouldn’t have been doing that.
I thought it was really funny, but, yeah, I told you not to do that at school. I haven’t done a burlesque show in a while. How would you feel if I decided to go back?
Did you feel like you had to do it, or did you feel like, ‘Oh, this is really fun. I’m just going to take off all my clothes now’? Or were you just doing it for the money?
Just for fun. Burlesque doesn’t make you a lot of money.
It’s just kind of embarrassing to think about you doing burlesque. The idea of all those people in the audience sitting there, that aren’t related to you, going “Oooooo!” and looking at you. To think my mom is getting naked in front of an entire audience of people is kind of weird — even just topless. I know that burlesque made you happy, but when people ask me, “What does your mom do for a job?,” I’m not going to tell them that she gets naked in front of people. Nope.
So do you ever wish I looked and acted more like a typical mom?
I had a daydream once that I was trying to dress you up in cheerful, colored clothing, and everybody was like, “Your mom looks so weird in those clothes! Why did you try to dress her like that?” You stand out from the crowd, and then I get a lot of attention too. I like that we’re unique.
If there was one thing you could change about me, what would it be?
That you didn’t yell as much. That bothers me a lot more than how you look. So that, and I want you to wear pajamas. Can you start that tonight please?
(Photos: Raven Snook)
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