HEARTTHROB :: KITTY VON QUIM, WHAT A HOTTIE!

By Caitlin Donohue; All photos by Jenna Riot unless otherwise noted

Kitty is a burlesque dancer by trade. Her routine is a shimmy and shake that leaves milky curves exposed and tassel-twirling tits as triumphant as a majorette. Her dance is a chance for the world to revel a phenomenal body, a body that you won’t see retouched and lounging out on the cover of Vogue. Kitty often performs at San Francisco drag shows, where she brings the feminine form to a stages largely ruled by cis men performing feminine characters. Unlike most of the queens on these stages, Kitty’s not big on lip syncing. But then, who’s watching her lips?

Not me at least, as my favorite part of the album surged over Some Thing’s soundsystem: the Nigerian-born writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s spoken word interlude, embedded by Beyonce like a hidden gem for her feminist fans deep inside of “Flawless”. On stage, sparkling black nightie discarded, Kitty shook her tits out of her bra as the crowd screamed so loud you could barely hear Bey’s words:

I look so good tonight …

Weeks later, my life momentarily became everything when Kitty and I met up for mani-pedis at the salon near her flat in Russian Hill. Out of face, she retains that quiet sweetness cut with steel will that allows a plus-size woman to captivate clubs full of gay boys and burlesque fans alike. When we met she was mentally prepping for the next day, when she planned to tell her religious mother that her daughter takes her clothes off onstage for art. That Friday, she intended to bring her mom to watch her perform for the first two times, at a burlesque show and then again at weekly SF drag show SOME THING.

“Basically I want my mom to do exactly what I would do for her in church, which is sit there and accept this important part of her life,” Kitty said once we settled into massaging armchairs and selected our polish shades (she: glittering pink-red she brings from home; me: animal product-free electric fuchsia selected on a whim from the salon’s racks.) “This thing makes me really happy and I want you to see that before you start making judgments and hemming and hawing about it,” she continues, gameplanning the conversation for both of our benefits. “Just watch it. And think about it. And yes, we can talk about it tomorrow over brunch, or you can tell me I’m going to hell, but I just want you to watch it and maybe you’ll think about it a little bit differently.”

“I find the best form of activism is just living your life,” Kitty said.

Kitty Von Quim performs for Red Hots Burlesque at supperclub; Photo by Amber Gregory

Six years ago, Kitty — nee Bernadette Harris — started performing with Rubenesque Burlesque, a plus-size troupe. Her first strip happened in front of 500 people at the DNA Lounge. She lost her wardrobe, the crowd lost its mind, and she was hooked. These days she performs with Dottie Luxe’s Red Hots Burlesque, in addition to her drag work. She commissions elaborate costumes from her dressmaker fans, brown satin-white fur gingerbread numbers and bright ‘70s-style swimsuits.

I asked David Glamamore, SOME THING matriarch and beloved grandma of the SF drag scene why he booked Kitty at his club. I received an answer via effusive text message one evening: “The most seemingly sweet cupcake of a performer sashays onstage,” he wrote. “First one cute and seductive wink … Then she thrusts one commanding hand out and grabs the entire audience and refuses to let go until she says so! It is majic [sic]! Charm personified.”

Kitty largely performs to music that she said earns her the adulation of mainly straight white men – Weezer and other representatives from the rock ‘n’ roll world that she loves so much. Kitty tells me these rock dudes are her primary groupies, but giggles when I asked if they hit on her. “It’s like, high fiving and fist pumping all over the place. I don’t think any of them have the urge to sleep with me.” Her modesty is cute. Being a large woman who takes her clothes off onstage, Kitty is constantly navigating the ways that our society codifies beauty. “There’s being told you’re pretty, there’s being told you’re not pretty,” she said as a top coat was applied to her nails. “Then there’s getting up onstage and hearing people just react to you.”

The backstage at some burlesque shows, she said, is awash in women seeking reinforcement against their own insecurities. “I’m like, that’s what you bring on stage, don’t you see that?” Kitty wondered. “But those performers don’t usually get very far. If you have a insecurity on stage you’re going to get eaten alive.”

For whatever reason, she finds that drag queens have less outward waver in their appearance. Kitty takes joy in her relationship with performers like Dulce de Leche, who wears jaw-dropping, skin-tight dresses over her bangin’ big girl body.

Perhaps, she guessed, queens simply don’t have to hold up to the same hegemonic beauty norms your average burlesque dancer is subject to. “[At drag shows] I just have to get up there and try to be as fierce as [the queens] and aspire to that kind of ferocity. I hope that I do it. I think that I do it.”

Days later, I stood in the front row at Club Some Thing, nervously watching an older woman in glasses who can only be Kitty’s mother watch her daughter rhythmically disrobe from a costume designed to look like a Shirley Temple cocktail. A Folsom Street dive bar full of screaming gays cheered her on. Mom’s expression shifted between a proud smile and an embarrassed grimace, turning her face away at times but joining in the applause, at least, when the number has done.

The next day, Facebook told me how it went between them:

But if MOMA wasn’t 100 percent swayed, it matters but little. Kitty Von Quim is not a woman who tends to let any opinion, maternal or not, shape her actions. When I asked her at the nail salon about the future, about what Kitty Von Quim’s career goals are, she told me that she wants to alter perceptions of what a heartthrob can be.

“How can I change someone’s perception of what’s attractive?” Kitty said. “How can I make someone realize that – it’s so cheesy but – as long as you love yourself and carry yourself in the world that way, you can be just as sexy as the next person?”

The question, of course, is rhetorical. Her fans are already there.

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 ABOUT THE PHOTOGRAPHER Jenna Riot has been singing/DJing/event planning/ photographing/designing in San Francisco for seven years . By night, she helps throws the infamous Tuesday night queer-girl dance party in the Castro, Switch. She also works in an event collective The House of Babes. When not multitasking in her other areas of expertise you can find her posting favorite fashion pieces to Instagram and scouring the Internet for hot party jamz.

About 4U Mag (264 Articles)
A lifestyle magazine by Kelly Lovemonster and Caitlin Donohue. Not a total vanity project.

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