Victor’s storytelling can speak for itself (and then some).
This has become one of our favorites.
“Baby I was born this way”. Blasting Lady Gaga in the car on the way to the venue is an almost ceremonial affair. The lyrics speak of being born who you are: trans, gay, fat, thin, black, blue, green, bruised. Songs are a good first step in shaking off the anxiety that comes along with getting into a character and costume, only to attempt peeling articles of clothing off in a way that will seduce with deliberation and intent. My stage name is Cinderfella, a play on words denoting an alternate universe where the humble blond princess is a male burlesque performer. I’m doing 65 in a 50 to get to the Lodge on time, but this part of route 40 is quiet and rarely sees police. An inconspicuous and almost creepy venue from the outside, the Lodge is a small cabin with a big parking lot that sits atop a mountain. The only gay bar for half a state’s distance, it’s a cherished location and a stronghold for the last bit of queer performance art in our region. I park my car and make my way to the door, striving not to stumble on any of the props I’m lugging along the way. Before grabbing the knob it’s time for a deep breath. Here we go…
Like a moth to the flame I somehow always seem to find myself in a line of work that includes stress in the job description. By night an illusionist of the art of tease, by day an ER registration clerk. I’ve worked in the medical field for 6 years now. I always think I’ve seen it all, but each day brings a new set of drama and emotional turmoil for the family and patients surrounding me. I take a deep breath before grabbing this door handle as well, then I make my way to my work area. It isn’t the sites that shake you. Many an outsider would imagine blood and gore, and surely every once in the while we have our fair share, but if you close your eyes and listen, it’s the vibrations of the airwaves that will come for you here. Two screaming babies, it’s the smallest people that we try to protect the most. A man’s voice cursing at a nurse wondering when their child will be seen, “What do you mean there are 10 people ahead of us?! This is a baby! My baby!” translate: “We are the only patients here! I’m blind to other people’s problems! I’m not in the cognitive state to realize this wait is a result of a broken medical system and isn’t in any way of direct fault to you, the triage nurse that just checked all of my baby’s vital signs and found that it’s probably just an ear infection!” The whispers of “I’ll die out here before a doctor sees me.” The primal screeching and wailing of a teen girl who has just tragically and unexpectedly lost her guardian to the hood of a vehicle. “I CAN’T DO THIS WITHOUT HER!” Cynicism from police and EMS as they bring in a drug overdose. “Maybe he should have taken a little more, haha. Am I right guys? We don’t need people like this.” My boss. Ohhhh my boss. A thick Caribbean accent with an attitude problem that only gets sweeter with the knowledge that you’ve collected copays. “Victuh! What do you mean you aren’t available! I need you to work on the third of September!” Except she pronounced “third” as “turd”, a tiny sliver of immature humor that I tuck away in my pocket for rainy days. A voice overhead requests my presence at trauma room one, so I can check a new ambulance into the computer system. I haven’t lost my mind though, it’s just an intercom broadcasted from the ceiling. Nonetheless I look to the ceiling and reply “God…. God is that you? It’s me, your favorite stripper.” I tuck that one in the other pocket.
I open the door to the Lodge and quickly make my way to my work station to begin my makeup. This act calls for something abstract and ethereal. I’m going for a nearly monochromatic alien-type vibe and decide to use varying hues of pink as my eyeshadow and contour shades. My costume for the night is everything opalescent: a series of reflective straps sewed into the shape of a body harness that shifts between pinks and blues and silver depending on the angle of light, a baby pink sequin loin cloth to cover the no-no spots, tear drop shaped pasties strung together by a chain of pearls, a medical mask from the ER that I’ve decked out with white and pink lace, pearls, white flowers, and butterflies. Lastly is a large, white, cape-like covering cut into a revealing robe shape with a slit down the side. Think interplanetary extra-terrestrial temple slut that is slave to a powerful alien drug lord that she sits to the right of and fans all day long while he’s on his throne. All she really wants is to strangle him and go free to return back to her galaxy of origin. But the fans are more than just part of the concept or imagination, I HAVE them! My white ostrich feather fans are precious to me and will assist me in my motions tonight by granting me control over what and when I reveal portions of by body. They cover me and hide me from the crowd until I’m ready. My performance calls for revealing this body, but my instincts tell me to stay behind the fans all night.
Similar to the shrouded comfort of my feather fans, this tiny office in the ER permits me a moment of escape from the scene outside. The resource nurse just paged us reminding us that a trauma patient is 10 minutes out. An older man has fallen down his basement steps and isn’t doing so well. “Deep breaths”, I remind myself. I make my way over to the trauma room bay and wait for the EMT’s to arrive. We know from the paramedic consult over the radio system that his health is quickly declining. The man-made impact with his head at some point it would seem, an event that could make for anything from trivial concussion to an all-out brain bleed. When the ambulance left the scene, the man was still responsive. That’s the last thing his family saw. The family will likely still be expecting his condition to be somewhere around the same as before, but it won’t be. The worst reactions are always like this. If the patient was already in such a decline at the scene, the family would know what to expect. It’s events in which the doctor is like “Surprise! He’s dying!” that yield the most gut-wrenching reactions from the family. I’m thinking about it way too much, and now my gut is beginning to tighten a bit too.
I wouldn’t call these “butterflies”. Butterflies float on air, softly beating their wings and delicately landing on surfaces. Butterflies are not what you feel in your tum-tum before you’re about to take your clothes off in front of a crowd of 200 people. Many of the onlookers will be other gay men; men with “better” bodies than me, men without beer bellies or chub rub discoloration as a result of my thick thighs chaffing in the hot summer sun. Some of them will judge me, but if just one of them looks at my pasty white curves the way I look at cheesecake, I’ll be pleased. Our troupe displays a smorgasbord of body types. Most of our performers are biological females ranging from lean to big. The neo-burlesque community has grown to be very body-positive, and with that comes a sense of confidence for me. It isn’t my body type that makes me feel anxiety before a show, it’s my level of performance. I want to be in control of the stage, not let the lights and sounds control me. None-the less, doors are open, and patrons are flooding in. Its 2155 and at 2200 MC Commodore Bailey will announce the start of the show.
The familiar sound of a large vehicle backing up, “beep-beep-beep,” alerts us to the fact that the ambulance has arrived with our new patient. The stretcher turns the corner revealing a piece of machinery that is never a pleasant site to see. The LUCAS chest compression system is essentially a large arch with an automatic compression piece that is placed over a patient’s chest to alleviate the crew of having to perform manual CPR. The machine punches down into the patient often breaking ribs and sternum to effectively reach the heart. I’ve been in this situation many times, but something about this moment made me look away as the stretcher pulls into the room. Deep breaths.
Deep breaths. I’m up next. The performer currently on stage before me is none other than Bearcat Betty, the sideshow spectacular. She’s doing her classic sword ladder act tonight. With each barefoot step up her incline of machetes, my gut wrenches a little more… bats. There are bats in my stomach. Bats carrying bats. Fast, hard, recklessly beating rats with wings wielding Louisville sluggers. I’m concerned about Bearcats safety, but with each step I come closer to going on stage. Her act ends, and Commodore Bailey begins my intro. Something something “If I had a taste for boys, this one would certainly be it!” something something “All the way from back stage and with booty to boot, its Cinderfella!”. My humid palms grasp the curtain in a death grip as I pull it aside and make my way on stage.
I grab the curtain to the room and swing it aside. I have to get this man into the computer system right away, so doctors and nurses can begin ordering medicine. The LUCAS has been pulled off the man and manual CPR has begun. Orders are being shouted, staff are moving quickly but deliberately to complete life-saving tasks, and I’m grabbing an EMT holding a clipboard in hopes of identifying our new patient. His name and birthdate are revealed to me and I get him into our computer system.
Lady Gaga’s “Speechless” begins, a fitting song for the illusionist special effects makeup of a stitched mouth that waits under my mask for reveal time. My back is turned to the crowd and I begin spinning in place. My movements start out smooth as the song progresses, my feather fans covering my face in preparation for the first reveal of my mask and makeup. On the “James Dean glossy eyes” lyric my eyes peer over the border of my feathers to meet the crowds. It’s so bright. The spot light obscures most of the faces. If I weren’t so instinctual, I could use this comfort to my advantage; I can’t see them. They aren’t there. I’m sweating bullets. Epinephrine and norepinephrine are the kidney’s automatic hormonal response to fight or flight, but the body doesn’t know there is no real threat, it just perceives what my animal brain is going through as one.
“Another shot of epi!” the doctor cries out. Epinephrine is used to jumpstart the body. It is like a dose of life, a spark from a flint stone to kick the heart into gear. After several rounds, there is still no response from the patient.
The song kicks up! My fans pull away from my face and slide down my body. I feel the fibers of each feather on my skin, and I want my audience to imagine the feeling too. I want to share in it.
The family comes in and are taken to a conference room. The doctor has called it. Time of death. The family is worried but remember, he was talking when the paramedic left. Soon the news will be given to them. I don’t want to know that feeling. I don’t want them to share that with me. We hear the wails no matter what though. Our office is just down the hall from the conference room and you can’t help but hear the wails. A light has gone off for them. A flame in their family has been blown out.
The spot light goes out. A black out moment for a buildup for the finale. I take off my mask and the light comes back on. I reveal a mouth stitched shut, powdered with shades of greens and blues and brown makeup to portray infection. Thus far my look has been angelic. White feather wings, shimmering shades of pearl. This is why I’m speechless. I’m speechless in this environment. My stitched mouth portrays my anxiety towards sex. I want them to see me as a sensual symbol. Feel my fans. Ponder on the texture of the skin of my exposed hips and ass, but now I want them to know that beyond the sights and sounds of sensuality, I’m afraid. I’m afraid of sex. Monsters of my past have taken the right to one of the simplest pleasures of life from me. I land on my knees. At this point I’m wearing nothing but thin opal straps and my small sequin loin cloth. “Some men may follow me, but you choose ‘death and company’. Why you so speechless, oooh ohhh”. My back faces the crowd at this moment. My hips are thrusting the air as if I’m riding a bull. My fans fly open as I throw my arms in the air and bend over backwards to finish out the song.
The son’s arms fly open to quickly grasp his mother before she falls to the ground. I’ve never lost anyone I truly care about. Not yet.
I’m sweating hard, but not diaphoretic. My heart rate is elevated, but it isn’t medical tachycardia. I’m alive. I’ve never felt more alive. From my place laying on the floor with my fans over my face in my finishing pose, I hear shouting. I can’t make out any words, but I know its applause. When coming down from a moment like this, applause sounds like static television snow. I’m still here. I did this. It is my moments in the ER that remind me to pursue this fantasy over and over again until I master it. Someone else’s light is going out. I can’t take these moments for granted. I can’t let fear stop me, not with the knowledge of much harder things to come. Relish this moment in the sun, this moment in the spot light.
About Victor: Victor enjoys long walks on the beach. His favorite food is fish tacos. Capricorn. Please swipe right or you’ll hurt his feelings. Victor Cline is one of those people who quickly burns through his interests, diving into the subject as deeply as possible and then just as quickly coming back up for air. Significantly knowledgeable but practically useless and a Hagerstown native, he legitimately grew up surrounded by fancy breeds of show pigeons that his dad accumulated countless trophies for in national title shows. Think AKC Eukanuba dog championships, but sky rats. Google if you don’t believe it. Victor works in the ER and is attending HCC’s RAD Program, but his true passion lies in herpetology. Biweekly, Victor volunteers at the National Aquarium Baltimore taking care of the poison dart frog population of the Amazon Rainforest Exhibit. By day an orchid hoarding, frog keeping, patient caring guy, but by night a burlesque tease by the name of Cinderfella.
Too many pies and not enough fingers. Somebody help this man!