In an excerpt from her new essay collection Naked, a burlesque performer considers the complications of desire.

Fancy Feast
October 5, 2023

In the murky basement of the sin-themed party, two feet from another atmosphere performer, who was locked in a cage, screaming obscenities at a gaggle of onlookers, is a drunk man explaining to me, a naked fat woman in a rope harness, that he is trying to eat less gluten.

Do you know what it’s like to be the only naked person at a party of a hundred strangers? It feels like you didn’t read the RSVP instructions on the invitation and now you’re in a Hawaiian shirt at the Oscars. It’s a nightmare to slide through masses of people, to interrupt conversations, to fear, even irrationally, that your pussy is going to make a snail trail on someone’s Paul Smith suit as you scoot past them. I wanted so badly to crawl back up onto the bar, where I was comfortable, where I could see over the crowds of people. But barefoot and fully naked and just clearing five feet tall, I felt incongruously and improbably invisible.

For this set, a producer had handed me a big round cake, dripping with custard and topped with chocolate ganache. “Hi,” I cooed as I walked by people, “would you like a bite of my cake? I promise it’s delicious.”

You would have thought I was walking around the party with a loaded gun. My nudity was not offensive to the partygoers, but the cake was obscene. The cake was a big red pulsing butthole on a platter, a baked Piss Christ, a chocolate cartoon bomb from the ACME corporation. People actively shooed me away.

“I’m on paleo.”

“It looks great, but no thank you! Too much sugar.”

“I’m drinking my calories tonight, babe.”

“Oh my God, I can’t. I’m doing a cleanse.”

Someone nearby offered to eat the maraschino cherry off the top. I felt like screaming. You rich pieces of shit would snort rails off a puke-encrusted toilet seat but you’re drawing the line at a fucking chocolate custard cake?

I felt dejected, and the mood in the room was changing to that surly, restless kind of drunk energy, the moment when the low pressure hits and the clouds wait to unclench their torrents.

My body sent me the signal to bail on the basement, so I headed back up to the main atrium where I had started my evening. I spotted an unoccupied leather chaise in the back corner of the room. Nearby, another performer sat on a podium in a pig mask, admiring her own reflection in a mirror. Okay, I thought, this is as good a place to set up shop as any. I reclined on the chaise and took a fingerful of the cake, scanning the room for receptive eyes as I ate. The cake was delicious, and the first couple of mouthfuls transpired in complete anonymity. I felt, for the first time that night, like a voyeur. But one man who I had met earlier at the bar turned and saw me. His eyes lit up and he walked toward me.

“Can I eat some cake off of you?” Ah, so I’d broken the seal.

He dug his fingers into the cake and spread it across my neck and nipple, then slowly sucked it off. I closed my eyes and tilted my head back in mock arousal, wondering how much of my body glitter he had consumed. He slid down to the floor onto his hands and knees.

“Thank you. It is an honor.”

As he slunk away, I returned my attention to the dessert. By this time, several people had taken notice of me and were standing in dumb transfixion, their eyes shiny and focused on the slow descent of my fingers first as they plunged into the cake and then as they rose again to meet my open lips. I reacted to each bite with focused pleasure, digging my nails into the flesh of my thighs as I ate, furrowing my brow, letting my fingers rest against my mouth for a few extra seconds. I curled my toes, twisted my neck, gathered a fistful of curls, and pulled my hair from my face.

More and more and more people began turning around, nudging their friends, stopping in their tracks to watch me eat. Sometimes I would pause just before I took a bite, just to see how long I could drag out the anticipation. A man in a suit had started to sweat watching me. A straight couple followed every move of mine with their eyes, settling into a full-bodied experience of transference, eating through me, shuddering upon the completion of every swallow. One woman stood ten feet away from me, the next fattest woman in the room, a woman perhaps fifty pounds lighter than me but still too fat for this party. I held her gaze with mine, tilted my head, and let a big wide smile break across my countenance. She smiled, too, shaking her head.

A guest who’d been brave enough to heed the event’s dress code adjusted his black feathered wings behind his suit, sat next to me on the chaise, and offered me some cake in his open palm. I bowed my head in benediction and ate the cake out of his hands, taking his fingers into my mouth.

“Holy shit.”

By then a sizable group had gathered around me to watch. I felt giddy and strange. Were these people thinking about feeding me or feeding themselves? Were they thinking about fucking me or being me? Did someone just realize they had a feeding fetish or a thing for fleshier women or women in rope, or was it just this singular moment that we were all in together, where I was enjoying my body—this thing they have learned to be afraid of—and food—this thing they have learned to deny themselves—and I was embracing them and it and myself together, folding their desires into each fingerful of the dirty cake I ate, absolving them of their sins by taking it into my own body. I was consecrating the profane, the things they have taught themselves not to enjoy. Their no met my yes, my indulgence, my gluttony, my abundance, the reality of my body, my mouth—a mouth they coveted; a mouth they wanted to possess, to kiss, to feed, to fuck; a mouth waiting to receive them, selfless in my greed, bottomless in my appetite, hungry.

I watched a group of people get turned on in front of me. They watched me and I watched them watch me. I floated back into my body and realized that I was full, that I was empty, spent. I stood up and swiftly carried the cake out of the room. Several men followed me back toward the dressing room.

“Come back! I’m ready to feed you!”

Excerpted from Naked: On Sex, Work, and Other Burlesques, published by Algonquin Books. Copyright © 2023 by Fancy Feast.

Fancy Feast is a Brooklyn-based burlesque performer, writer, and sex educator. She has performed at venues including The Whitney, the Brooklyn Museum, St. Ann’s Warehouse, the Metropolitan Opera, and Meow Wolf in Santa Fe, and has been profiled by NPR, Refinery29, and The Huffington Post. She is the author of Naked: On Sex, Work, and Other Burlesques (Algonquin Books, 2023).