Lessons Learned From Taking Off My Clothes On Stage

Going into your freshman year of college is pretty much always a stressful experience—it’s kind of a given. You try really hard to seem cool and comfortable when in reality you’re kind of floundering. But, not everyone spends a good portion of their first few weeks of school in their underwear, in drag, in front of 300+ people.

If you meet me in person, chances are you’d have no idea that I’ve spent a big part of my four years at school rehearsing for a show where I show my bits to hundreds of people, kiss two girls and have a sex scene as a guy. Everyone looks pretty shocked when I tell them I play Brad in our school’s production of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. But, I do. And it has been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

No one would ever dream of calling me thin. I’ve had adults from the time I was about 14 complain that I had a bigger chest than they did and I definitely got the Italian birthing hips. So, why in the world would I ever dream of showing even a little of this body off to have more criticism thrown? Well, no one told me that being in a loving and supportive body-positive environment could change how I felt about the world in general.

When you hate your own body, you learn to hate others’ as well, whether it’s because yours doesn’t look like theirs or you’re projecting your own insecurities onto them. You can start to view scantily-clad people as people who should cover up and try to find a little bit of superiority over them. And it’s wrong.

I never even realized I was doing that really until the first day of rehearsal for the show that we were told to take our clothes off. I was dreading it for the obvious reasons, but I think in the back of my mind I was honestly expecting one of the cast members to make a snide comment about my body or someone else’s.

But, as soon as I was standing there, almost nude in our rehearsal space, freezing my ass off, I felt a whole lot of, well, panic at first. It was like when you say something rude and you’re just expecting a slap. But, then I felt a whole lot of nothing. Well, I felt someone adjust my bra strap, then compliment the black, sparkly bra I’d made sure to wear and then we all moved on to the rest of the show.

As we moved on to perform the show in front of people I’d only known for about 5 weeks and many I’d never meet, it never got any less extraordinary that I was doing this. It probably took me ‘til about closing night to just say screw it and feel totally exhilarated to be baring (almost) all for an audience that just thought it was awesome.

When I took a step back once when I was onstage, I saw everyone in their corsets and fishnets, some male, some female, others somewhere in-between, some big, some small, some very very tall and I saw how being in a show where everyone is presented as being hot and is cheered for could do so much for your confidence. All these performers I was so lucky to share the stage with truly knew they were hot (or are very good at faking it) and because of that, it made me think they were hot and envy them, their amazing confidence and how lovely they all are.

In my three additional years doing this show, my experiences with the more intimate scenes and parts has totally changed. I can’t say I walk out on that stage or in that rehearsal room and totally feel like hot stuff every time. I can’t say that people have always thought it was cool that I do this show. I lost a few friends in the process because as I’ve said, I don’t seem like the “typical” person to bare my body (which is BS because sex workers, exotic dancers and burlesque artists are people just like you!).

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But, I’ve learned the biggest lesson I possibly could and that’s to let it go. No one thinks about you as much as you think about you, so I give myself as much agency over my body as I possibly can. I treat every performance like a treat (who likes wearing pants anyway?) and view myself differently every time.

I no longer feel like I’m subjecting people to looking at my body. I feel like I’m doing a really cool thing by putting on this show that will hopefully push people a bit out of their comfort zone. I feel like if there is one person out there who sees how comfortable we all are (or at least pretend to be) then they’ll feel more freedom to love themselves radically and not see being sexual as anything they should be ashamed of or hide, no matter how they look.

And it’s trickled over to my personal life too. I became a much more accepting and comfortable person, started writing a sex and relationships column and made some of the most amazing supportive friends on the planet.

So, if it takes dressing in drag or showing a little booty to show yourself some radical self-love please, please do it. Because as our unconventional host once said, “Don’t dream it, be it.”

View Comments (2)
  • Our community theater is doing a production of Lend Me A Tenor and my character, Diana, is on stage in lingerie and, at another time, in just a towel. Needless to say, I’ve been panicking. This article has certainly made me reevaluate my view on this role. Thank you!

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