FUCK YOU, I’M PRETTY
Interview with Veronica Viper
by Bradford Scobie
Veronica Viper has been performing burlesque since she made her debut in the fabulous Fuck You Revue in 2017. Since then, she has been entertaining, titillating and infuriating audiences throughout New York and beyond. She is self-described as “Trans, Queer, Poly, Kinky, Angry and Consistently Censored.” I describe her as a dear friend. I met with Veronica in New York City, at the historic Slipper Room bar (off hours, completely sober) to discuss what it’s like for her to be transgender in the world of burlesque…
BT: As we prepare to have this discussion, let it be known that I am going to do everything in my power to not shove my foot in my stupid face. So please, be patient & be gentle, Veronica Viper.
VV: I am always gentle. And I love shoving my foot in people’s faces. So this is a match made in heaven.
BT: I’ll give you a shrimp job when we wrap up. So, let’s just get right to the…
VV: Crack the egg.
BT: What are your pronouns? There’s a start.
VV: She/her. That’s a great place to start. Good rule of thumb, never to assume someone’s gender. Especially if you’re in a space that you know is going to foster a safe environment. Maybe it’s not going to happen at the grocery store, but in creative safe spaces, it’s a good idea to go with they/them until you determine. I’m getting a lot of emails these days, most of them say, “Send your name and your tag line and your pronouns.” And I think we’re well on the way for it becoming part of the standard course.
BT: Do you find the burlesque scene to be a safe space?
VV: Absolutely not. (laughs) Yeah, sure. It’s a safe space depending on where you are and who you’re with. And I think that’s true for everything. I was having this conversation with Frankie Starship who used the phrase, “brave space”. Meaning that whatever you’re going into, even if you’re going into a scene that you know is going to be 100% queer, you’re always masking. And you’re always putting on a persona. And you’re always trying to navigate social circumstances up to and including what seems to be complicated for people. Which is pronouns. Even for queer people in queer spaces. So universally, you’re safe when you create a safe space around you. Or when you have people who foster that deliberately and specifically. So, yes, there are places I can go in the burlesque scene that are wonderful, safe spaces. And there are places that aren’t.
BT: Have you performed outside of New York?
VV: Yeah, I have. I’ve been lucky. And I’ve had great experiences. Once I get in front of an audience, and if I do what I’m attempting to do, which is win people over. Towards the end of it, I have definitely experienced my reception go from uncertainty, (being nice) to being widely accepted. I performed in Savana where it was a wonderful, queer community and it was a super-safe space. And that’s in the South. It’s Georgia. But in that moment, in that microcosm, it was a safe space. It’s more of an experience when performing brings me outside of the box. What goes on around the performance. Being in a different town or travelling to and from a show or something like that. Those things are much more complicated than the actual shows themselves. The shows are bastions. That’s the oasis.
BT: Also, when you are a performer, you are elevated.
VV: Yes, and there is a safety in that. There is an implied sense of authority in that, even if there isn’t. If I am feeling threatened or whatever, I can go hide in the dressing room, I don’t have to stay with the crowd. There is maneuverability.
BT: When you, Veronica Viper, first step on stage, there can be some confusion from the audience. But then you are so fantastic, that by the end of your act, you have won them over. Hence the applause feels more loaded. When the audience comes out the other side, they are relieved that they love you. I feel that people learn from that and take away from that. So my question is: is that just exhausting?
VV: You’ve approached something from another angle which is fantastic because it’s something that exists with any marginalized person. A person of color, a disability, whatever it is. Whatever marginalizes that person. Whenever they get involved in something that elevates you, or puts you in a spotlight, whether it’s figuratively or not, you immediately get this responsibility to not fuck up. You have the weight of the world on your shoulders in that moment. Depending on where I am performing, 70% of people in the room might be tourists. Might be some people from outside of New York City. And they have never seen a trans woman. Let alone a non-passing trans woman. Let alone a non-passing trans woman who refuses to wear a wig because, fuck you. And then I get naked. And you can’t fuck up in that moment! (laughs)
BT: No bloopers here.
VV: No bloopers there, because you know those people are going to walk away with an impression that is more specific to me, and someone like me. Aside from any number of beautiful people that were dancing in a show, everyone’s going to remember “this.” (Points to self) And that responsibility’s there. I think you see it with racial things. I think that there are stereotypes that bleed into that. So, yes. It’s fucking exhausting.
BT: Now, in that you go full junk…
VV: Not always. You told me, “I thought you were all-junk all the time.”
BT: All junk all night, folks!
VV: Yes, I do have acts in which I go full nude. There are very few places where I can go full nude. And one of those places happens to be the historic Slipper Room. Because this is a theater.
BT: So, when you get fully nude…
VV: It’s a transgressive act.
BT: Is that a pun?
VV: Fuck you.
BT: Is it a political statement?
VV: Unfortunately, yeah. I am a pretty girl getting up on stage getting naked. But unfortunately, because we are who we are, and we are the world that we are, that is a transgressive, political act of defiance. Or in a more positive light, there’s a portion of the audience that have never seen a trans woman and you can damn sure bet that they’ve never seen a trans woman naked. And they’ve never seen a trans woman naked outside of the guise of hardcore porn. Which I love. Porn’s fantastic. That’s not a knock on porn. Because I make porn too. It’s just a different circumstance and a different context to see trans bodies. And we’re trying to see it more in advertising. And we’re trying to see more in this & that, and here we are. But for me? I’m aware. I know what I look like. I know what the world perceives me as. I know the experience that this group of people are about to have. But the reality for me is I’m just another girl getting naked on stage.
BT: That seems to be the statement you’re making. Fuck you, I’m pretty.
VV: That’s exactly fucking correct. You boiled down my whole fucking act. (rolls eyes) Great, thanks.
BT: That should be your tag line.
VV: Fuck you, I’m pretty: Veronica Viper.
BT: Now, as a homo-normative person myself, I wonder how you feel performing in front of an all-queer audience.
VV: It’s a totally different experience.
BT: Is it all good?
VV: Being in front of an audience, as the person I am, as the performer I am, as the exhibitionist I am, any audience for me is good. But the dynamic changes from me being, “Fuck you, I’m pretty, and you need to understand this”, to a room full of people who are aware that I’m pretty. I can let all of that go. I can just be pretty for them. And I can just tell my story to them without having to set the context. I don’t have to build the world for them because they’re part of it. I just have to tell them my personal story. Whereas, in non-queer spaces, which is where I almost exclusively perform, it is not like that. Because of my appearance. Because I’m challenging. Because I’m transgressive. But I have the strength of will to deal with it. To deal with the ignorance. To deal with the questions. To deal with the laughs. To deal with the stares. Because I know that there’s a benefit to it. I have to believe that. I don’t know if it’s true.
BT: It is true. I see it with my own eyes. You’re educating people. You’re changing their minds.
VV: I pray that that’s true. And I hope that that effort is seen. Because it is conscious. I consciously make an effort to be in spaces that wouldn’t normally have someone like me.
BT: That’s very brave of you.
VV: Well, I don’t know about that. It’s because I’m angry. And I’m pushy. So book me. Fuck you, I’m pretty.