Trans Male Burlesque Dancer: “We Should Embrace That Men Are So Diverse.”

by Lawrence Gullo

My name is Lawrence Gullo. I am from New York, New York.

So I had just graduated university and I came back to New York, having done a little bit of cabaret theater, but really wanting to get into burlesque. I had a burlesque gig in New York for a charity show. I had this burlesque concept in my head for awhile – it was to do a song from “The Tales of Hoffmann,” which is an early nineteenth century opera and the aria in this opera is sung from the point of view of the mechanical woman.

I had been wearing a binder since I was about fifteen, so doing burlesque where I got completely naked from the waist up was not part of the equation. I had to figure out a way to do a beautiful, affecting burlesque number that allowed me to keep my binder on at the very end, as the “final reveal” we call it. So I got a leotard and I put it on over my binder and I painted on all of these metal gears so that it would look like the inside of a doll’s body. And the concept was I would have this beautiful, historically appropriate gown and a stuffed bra and I would strip out of it to this more masculine silhouette that I had with the binder on, and the final reveal would be all the mechanical parts.

Doing this act made me feel even more excited to get top surgery and to be able to perform without wearing a binder and not be restricted to having to make a character that required full coverage, and be able to do burlesque like my colleagues do burlesque, where they get down to pasties and a g-string.

The date of my surgery comes around and I take a break from burlesque. I recovered from my top surgery. I went out and bought special makeup to cover up the scars. And I had my first show. The producer is a friend of mine who said, “I want the first show after you get top surgery,” which was amazing. And I was like, “Of course.”

It’s in Philadelphia. I don’t – I hadn’t performed in Philadelphia before, I don’t think, so it was a whole room of people that didn’t know me. I got to the end of my act and I show my naked chest to room full of people, an audience full of people, and it’s an incredible feeling, not just “I’m doing burlesque properly now like my colleagues do” but an incredible feeling of showing my body to people and showing my interpretation of maleness to people and having them cheer me because of it.

It’s completely changed the way I am as a performer. I’m less about hiding things about me and more about finding ways to expose my body in the narrative, which is really cool and super interesting.

One night, I had finished a show where – I wasn’t wearing any makeup on my scars anymore because they’re so light, there’s no point. And it also doesn’t matter to me anymore whether people see the scars.

After the show, a young person comes up to me and says, “I’ve seen you perform a few times. I was sitting close and I saw just the edge of your top surgery scar and I just wanted to let you know that I’m trans. I haven’t come out to anyone yet but I really want to let you know that your performance really spoke to me and it’s incredible to see somebody that I can identify with on stage. Not being a curiosity but being a thing of beauty. And that is really important for me to see.” I’ve gotten a few conversations like that and it’s always the absolute best thing to hear after a show, and it’s also a really good reminder that what I do can mean something to someone and that’s the whole point of being a performer to me.

Not all trans men need top surgery. If you need to augment your body in a safe way that helps your image and that helps your comfort with your gender, then you should do it. And if it doesn’t, then you don’t have to do it.

I think it’s important for both cis and trans people to acknowledge that our interpretations of our gender can be totally different and our bodies can be totally different and it doesn’t mean that we are battling against each other. We should embrace that men are so diverse that there can be these very different types of men.

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