Today we’re joined by Hana Li. Hana is an exciting first for Asexual Artists: she’s a burlesque dancer. She specializes in nerdlesque and queerlesque, as you’ll soon read. Hana has written on her blog a couple times about how asexuality factors into her art. Aside from burlesque dancing, Hana also participates in drag performing. She has so much passion for her art and I learned quite a bit reading this interview, as I’m sure many will. My thanks to her for taking the time to participate in this interview.
Please, tell us about your art.
I am burlesque dancer. For those of you who don’t know what it is, burlesque is striptease for a broad audience rather than one individual tipping. It often has elaborate costumes and a storytelling element. My specialty is nerdlesque, a sub-genre that references pop culture and fandom, and queerlesque, burlesque from a queer POV.
I also perform drag as Tony Fo-Hawk. He’s my failed self-cloning experience since my tagline is “lab teched my way through striptease school.”
What inspires you?
As a burlesque dancer, I’m inspired by my fellow Asian performers, past and present. We are often out of control of our bodies and sexuality with our culture wanting us to be modest and reserved while Western media depicts us a exotic flowers and dragon ladies. Learning about the dancers in Chinatown’s Forbidden City and about my contemporaries gave me the courage to start performing. I’m also inspired by good stories, characters I connect with, music that makes me want to move, and action sports. I’m an X Games fanatic and the “go big or go home” attitude that the athletes live by push me to always give 110% and take risks.
What got you interested in your field? Have you always wanted to be an artist?
In my adolescent years, I was drawn to sensual forms of dance. I was actually a belly dancer first, but when I got my own place, there weren’t any classes near me. Before my partner moved in, I took classes at a studio near his apartment, and that was where I decided to try burlesque. At that time, I had seen performances at a show and was really inspired by the confidence of the dancers. The teacher, Ginger Valentine, later moved to the Ruby Room, a burlesque studio that I could get to. By then I had seen some shows sand was getting interested in the history of burlesque so I signed up. I never intended to be a performer, but the community was so welcoming and the teachers at the Ruby Room were so encouraging that I got sucked in.
Do you have any kind of special or unique signature, symbol, or feature you include in your work that you’d be willing to reveal?
I don’t really have something in all my acts, but I have what I call “ace pride” socks that have made a couple of appearances. I wore one in my solo debut act since that performance was supposed to embody me. Then I decided to add them into my gender-bending Tuxedo Mask number for the Texas Queerlesque Festival as a statement that we do belong in the queer community.
What advice would you give young aspiring artists?
Stay true to yourself while remaining open to change. It’s easy to get caught up in doing what sells best, but you have to believe in what you do. Although I studied classic burlesque, inspiration pointed me in the direction of nerdlesque. I fought that label since nerdlesque wasn’t too popular, but I figured out how to incorporate my classic bump and grind skills with nerdy themes. The same happened with drag. I figured doing queerlesque was enough, but one day it wasn’t, and I decided to hand over some routine ideas to my drag self.
Where on the spectrum do you identify?
I’m grey-asexual. I’m heteroromantic, but my aesthetic attractions are primarily towards women and androgynous individuals. Aesthetic attraction plays an equally important role in my identity, as I feel that’s what shifts me from being strictly ace to somewhere in the grey area near ace. It’s hard to explain so I tend to tell people I’m a “genderqueer grey-a”. I do wish there was more conversations about all the forms of attraction, not just sexual and romantic.
Have you encountered any kind of ace prejudice or ignorance in your field? If so, how do you handle it?
People don’t think that I can be ace and a burlesque dancer because in their minds, burlesque is sexual. Depending on the situation, I’ll either wave them off or educate them about the difference between “sexy” and “sexual”. An on-line conversation, plus some encouragement in a burlesque social justice forum, led to me writing my thoughts out in this blog post: http://hanaliburlesque.blogspot.com/2016/02/burlesque-for-me-is-not-about-sex.html
What’s the most common misconception about asexuality that you’ve encountered?
The number one is that aces don’t have a libido or engage in intercourse. For a while, I bought into the idea that I was “too horny” to be asexual.
I do have to bring up another misconception I frequently encounter: that my grey-asexuality is the result of either my day job or my culture. Both make me go WTF?! because they lump me into a stereotype, and it’s actually kind of offensive. I did have a conservative upbringing, and I suspect that at least one of my parents is ace (unfortunately I don’t have the vocab in Mandarin to talk to them), but that doesn’t mean Asians are asexual. Likewise, working in science doesn’t make me ace, just like doing burlesque doesn’t make me sexual.
What advice would you give to any asexual individuals out there who might be struggling with their orientation?
Know that there isn’t a simple definition. Yes we say “lack of sexual attraction” to make the conversation easier, but there’s an entire spectrum and sometimes exceptions happen. I’ve known lesbians who became attracted to a man and pansexuals who don’t love all orientations. You don’t have to have a check list to fit into an orientation, and you shouldn’t let people try to make you feel like you don’t belong. Sometimes I still wonder if I’m “queer” enough even though I perform and produce queerlesque shows. It’s important to recognize your privilege, but not at the cost of denying your identity.
Finally, where can people find out more about your work?
I blog about my shows and experiences here: http://hanaliburlesque.blogspot.com/
You can learn about upcoming appearances and see performance (and cosplay) photos on Facebook, Instagram, and Tumblr:
Thank you, Hana, for participating in this interview and this project. It’s very much appreciated.