Jeanne Smith


Bloomington, IN

JEANNE :  “ When I first came out, I was at a drag show in a gay club. A woman was taking up a big table and I asked her if I could sit down next to her because there wasn’t much room anywhere else. I sat down with her and she got up walked out the door, went and bought another drink and left hers with me. As soon as the show started she was stuffing dollar bills into the costumes of the queens. I thought to myself, “What’s wrong with me? Why did she leave a whole drink just to not share a table with me?”


I went to the back patio where people liked to smoke and I met these kids, ya know they were hipster kind of looking. I thought, “Oh, these people will accept me.” So, I sat down with them. They ended up being the roller derby group and I became best friends with them. One of them was into burlesque. I went to a show of hers in town, and I was hooked. I wanted to do it immediately.


I love the community. The people in the know with burlesque are respectful. At a performance, you’re cheering for the person’s self-love and acceptance of their body.


I’ve been doing burlesque for five or six years now. I was one of the earliest trans people in burlesque. I also own a bike shop. I kept my Jeanne life separate from Tea, my burlesque name, for a long time, until I produced my own show. It was sort of like a second coming out. I posted on my Facebook, “By the way friends, I do burlesque and please come to my show!”


My identities are not a complete secret but I don’t connect the two much. The bicycle industry is a pretty conservative group. I got into the bike scene because I am a really good mechanic. The only drag I’ve ever done has been with gasoline, my foot to the pedal, slamming the clutch, and screeching the tires. With burlesque, I feel like an artist and I spent most of my life working and not doing much art. I’m basically retired now so it allows me to be able to do something in life that I never really had been able to dream, well maybe I did dream, of being able to do it. ”