I don’t recall the first time I met Marc Kenison, but I’m pretty sure it was at the old Kaladi Brothers coffee shop on Pike, before they moved to their swanky new digs. He’s a quiet man, with an uncanny ability to blend into a crowd of coffee patrons that belies his tall lanky frame and superb trucker ‘stache. Marc is unfailingly sweet, polite, and personable, possessing the demeanor of an elementary school teacher, perhaps.
I recall quite well, though, the first time I saw Waxie Moon perform. It was a performance filled with verve and vigor. And boy does Waxie have some dance chops. It was also the first time I’d witnessed “boylesque,” the alt-gender version of the normally female bodied burlesque. So how does the mild mannered Marc transform into the carefree character of Waxie Moon.
“It’s the unapologetic, audacious part me just amped up,” he explains. “I take that little part of my personality and crank up the volume and there it is. It many ways I feel like it’s informed who Marc is. Like Marc has become confident, and comfortable, and articulate, and even more joyous because of the persona of Waxie.”
They are pretty different personalities, he admits, and he’s normally still a little shy and soft spoken when he’s out of character.
I was lucky because, being in a dance environment, I always had gay role models. I always saw older gay men, who were dancers, who were comfortable and out. So always was like ‘So I’m like that, I’m gonna be okay.’”
But burlesque wasn’t always on the radar of the 43 year old Southern California native. He’d originally set out to be a dancer, even going so far, as a teenager, to attend a boarding school in Michigan that featured immersive programs on the arts. I immediately get visions of Fame running through my head.
“It was a good place for me to grow up,” he says, describing his experiences at boarding school, “because I was a scrawny little boy with braces and glasses who just wanted to do ballet all the time.”
So what was it like, I wonder, being a young, gay man in the late 1980’s in an environment where being a young, gay man was actually accepted.
“I was lucky,” he admits, “because, being in a dance environment, I always had gay role models. I always saw older gay men, who were dancers, who were comfortable and out. So always was like ‘So I’m like that, I’m gonna be okay.’”
Despite that, though, the shy youngster didn’t actually choose to come out of the closet until his freshman year at Juilliard. And even then, it took a little coaxing.
“My close friends could tell I was gay,” he admits, “but they could still see that I was nervous. They could see how I was not sure how to share it. So they pulled me aside one night, and they all started telling sexual stories about their sexual orientation and about being gay, and being comfortable with it, and they all turned to me and they said ‘Hey, what’s your story?’”
So essentially, his close friends staged a gay intervention.
“It was great,” he confirms. “I’m still very, very close to them. One of the people is one of my closest friends. And they admitted later on that they had a mission that night. Thank god.”
One of Marc’s earliest inspirations, though, was the admittedly not-gay, but still amazing, Mikhail Baryshnikov.
“When Baryshnikov starting becoming super visible as a fantastic male dancer,” he explains, “and people started to respect dance as a possibility for men, that was significant.”
He was also a good example of someone breaking through traditional stereotypes of gender roles, of violating traditional views of masculinity. Those are pretty relevant concepts when you’re talking to a gender-blending performer like Waxie. According to Waxie, though, the idea of a burlesque persona that blurs the gender lines was as much an accident of circumstance as anything else.
“I discovered the persona in a burlesque class,” he tells me.
It wasn’t until a few months later, though, when Marc was starring a play that required him to have a mustache, that Waxie’s current look was developed.
“I couldn’t shave it,” he says, referring to his ‘stache, “and I was invited to perform as Waxie, so I just put glitter in it. I said to my teacher, Miss Indigo Blue, ‘Oh, is this ok?’ And she looked at me wide eyed, and nodded, and said yes!”
That’s when he realized that it was not only ok, but that it was the character Waxie needed to be.
“From then on,” he continues, “it was clear that the blending of the genders was interesting to me.”
What started as essentially a wardrobe necessity, then, has really become a statement about the nature of gender identity. As today’s discussion of gender politics continues to evolve, as more and more people begin to question the importance of assigning labels and roles to a particular gender presentation, a persona like Waxie’s can truly be an eye opening experience for someone who isn’t regularly a part of that discussion.
“For many people,” he claims, “myself included, gender as a construct is super limiting. That they’re really prescribed in tiresome ways to be male and to be female, to be masculine or to be feminine. It drives me crazy. When people talk about masculine behavior, I always object and say ‘You mean stereotypically masculine behavior,’ because there are many ways to be masculine and there are an infinite number of ways to be feminine as well.”
“I think that’s part of my mission,” he adds, “to allow for possibility.”
I think sex is funny, and I think that’s something I’ve learned from Waxie, that sex can be playful. It’s a very serious thing, but it also has elements of absurdity, playfulness, and humor, and I think I’ve learned that from this art form of burlesque. I feel like I’m more connected sexually because I allow all that to be part of my sexual experience.”
Living in a place like Seattle allows Marc a lot of freedom to explore possibility when it comes to gender, as the Seattle queer community is generally very open to people offering individual interpretations of what gender means to them. It’s this kind of open mindedness that has allowed for a thriving drag community, a large and vocal trans community, and mixing of the different communities that make of the queer spectrum.
It’s not like that everywhere, of course, and that’s when a persona like Waxie’s can really serve to change people’s minds about how they understand gender.
“When I go other places,” he shares, “people are even kind of shocked by Waxie. I don’t think Seattle audiences, while they embrace Waxie, are particularly shocked by the gender complexity that they see immediately. Whereas, I just came from Edmonton, AB, and clearly there was an element of surprise with the non-burlesque performer aspect of the audience.”
But it’s also part of the mission for Waxie, and Marc takes that kind of reaction in stride.
“I actually really like that,” he agrees. “It feels like outreach. It’s fun. It’s exciting for people to have moment of confusion, and then go on a ride, and by the end be excited by what they’ve witnessed.”
Part of the appeal of burlesque, of course, its inherently titillating nature. After all, Waxie’s performances usually finish up with her wearing only a g-string and pasties. This type of public performance must require a streak of exhibitionism, then. Given that Marc still describes himself as shy, does that streak infect the other parts of his persona, beyond Waxie?
“I definitely feel more comfortable in my body,” he confirms. “And I think I feel more comfortable being overtly sexual. I think it manifests itself in a certain kind of use and certain kind of fun flirtatiousness that was not particularly present in Marc prior to Waxie.”
It stands to reason, of course, that spending us much time as Marc does in the practice of titillating audiences would have an impact on how he approaches being sexy, and sex, in general. Marc agrees.
“I think sex is funny,” he shares, “and I think that’s something I’ve learned from Waxie, that sex can be playful. It’s a very serious thing, but it also has elements of absurdity, playfulness, and humor, and I think I’ve learned that from this art form of burlesque. I feel like I’m more connected sexually because I allow all that to be part of my sexual experience.”
So would Marc recommend burlesque as a way to become a better sex partner?
“Explore burlesque,” he laughs. “You’ll become a more complete lover!”
I’m sure most local fans of Waxie, and burlesque, will take Marc’s words to heart. Waxie has many fans, of course, which is one reason why you can now see a 1000 ft tall mural featuring the iconic burlesque performer gracing the north side of the Stewart Building at Seattle’s historic Pike Place Market. The mural was commissioned by Pink Door owner Jacqueline Roberts to highlight the Market’s after hours entertainment, and Waxie’s glittering visage (and mustache) exemplifies it perfectly.
You can also catch Waxie as the special guest performer at GlamourPuss, an upcoming event billed as a queer, cabaret, dance party, happening on Friday, September 26 at Chop Suey.
For more information on Waxie, or to follow along with her many exploits, be sure and check out her Facebook page: facebook.com/waxiemoon