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Burlesque Plagiarism: Is This Still a Thing?

Updated: Apr 26

A thin white woman with her auburn hair in an updo adorned with yellow ostrich feather puff, a yellow zippered corset, and a yellow skirt embellished with hanging banana peels. Next to her is another photo of a Taiwanese drag queen with her blonde hair in an updo, wearing a sparkly choker, a yellow rhinestoned corset, and a yellow skirt embellished with hanging banana peels.
Our 2015 Miss Exotic World has some choice words for the 2024 winner of RuPaul's Drag Race...

Three years ago, I wrote a blog post called "Is It a Nod or a Steal: On Imitation, Flattery, and Keeping Up With the Burly-Joneses". Give it a quick read if you haven't already -- even though it was 2021, apparently these issues are still hot button topics today (and I think in our industry, they always will be).

Some background: this week in "le monde du burlesque," there were two distinct issues:

  • #BananaGate, where we have our 2015 Miss Exotic World Trixie Little accusing 2024 RuPaul's Drag Race winner Nymphia Wind of outright stealing the costume Trixie won her title with; and

  • #NameGate, where we have a longstanding Texas drag king have his name outright taken by a newbie drag king who not only ignored pleas to not use the name but (gasp!) added insult to injury by trying to perform in the same city with the same name.

While these are two different issues, they deal with the same theme of accusations of "stealing" someone's intellectual property -- a brand via a stage name that someone worked for over 10 years to cultivate a reputation and persona for, and a costume design that someone built and executed with the help of a designer and maybe a seamstress.

#Namegate is pretty simple to understand and resolve -- use a different f name! A burlesque registry has been going around so folx can register their stage names, and it's been long understood that using an established performer's witty stage name is a HUGE slap in the face and a quick way to get yourself blacklisted and not respected by others in the burlesque industry. Just don't do it, friends! Ask your burly mentors and teachers to help you with your name if you're feeling stuck, and do lots of research by searching the name on Google, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, YouTube, and even Vimeo. While there isn't much recourse if someone insists on using your same stage name, at least you can take solace in the fact that they'll be quickly ostracized until they change their name. Also: check international burlesque name registries as well -- thanks to Crystal Mischief for sharing!

#BananaGate is a little trickier.

Full disclosure: Trixie Little has a bit of an infamous reputation as Miss Exotic World, mostly because in 2017 and beyond she made some misguided posts seemingly intended to preach about love; however, in these posts she took very weird shots at Black folx and defended the use of the n-word by white men as long as they apologize, among other very confusing statements that I honestly believe she meant as heartwarming? I don't know what was going on in her mind, but it was highly offensive to many people. That's the backstory, y'all, in a nutshell.

Anyway, now Trixie Little says Taiwanese Drag Race winner Nymphia Wind stole her costume. Some find it hard to believe -- they don't think Nymphia even knows who Trixie Little is -- and posit that the similarities could be a coincidence. After all, banana costumes have been prevalent in burlesque, drag, high fashion, and pop culture for some time*:

Who's to say that Nymphia's designers didn't get inspired by Trixie Little?* After all, if you Google "banana dress," there are for sure images from Miss Exotic World and other festivals that pop up. However, if you read my previous post on this subject, I honestly think creating based off of inspiration is something that simply cannot be helped in any artistic industry --- we all do it, whether we want to admit it or not. And I don't believe that creating art in a vacuum of isolation means that you are any better of an "artist" than someone who openly pulls inspiration from others.

I think it's impossible to claim that a banana dress is one's own innovative concept. It is, however, a bit less of a stretch to say that the banana peels are innovative; but as you can see above, it's a concept that's kind of been done by many people! I understand the gut punch that must've happened to Trixie when she saw a similar costume parading around on an international television show, but if I were her, I would have tagged Nymphia Wind to high-heaven in order to get her attention and maybe milk it for all that it is worth. I definitely wouldn't attack Nymphia Wind... many are saying that Trixie's subsequent comments are transphobic (i.e. saying "can't cis women have anything for ourselves," "men steal everything", etc. while ignoring the fact that femininity comes in many different forms) and lack cultural sensitivity (Nymphia has reclaimed the words "yellow" and "banana" for her culture; these words are often used in a derogatory way towards Asians and I'm not sure if Trixie knows or cares in light of her own feelings right now).

I don't think Nymphia** outright stole this design -- I'm an avid Drag Race fan and Nymphia is one of the most creative queens I've ever witnessed on the show. I did see many designers I highly admire commiserating with Trixie Little, so I know her words must pack some form of truth for these established burlesque costumers to agree with her -- it has to suck to see something you worked hard on being reproduced (and maybe even done - gasp - better) by other people.

But I still stand by what I said in my original blog post in 2021 -- part of why I love burlesque is our connection to history. Balloon pops, tassel twirling, dressing like fruit and animals, etc. -- it's all a part of our history! I'm sure we'll keep arguing over who did it first, but my guess is that NONE OF US ARE THE FIRST!! We just may be the first to document it, and after we document it, we must release it to the world without fear of others being inspired! And if they do "steal" from us, then we must learn to work with our "copycats" :-) so our industry can get more popular. Just my two cents!

Until next time,

Bebe Bardot


*On Nymphia Wind's Inspiration: Nymphia Wind's inspiration more than likely came from Bob Mackie. She said she is heavily inspired by Mackie (she recently did a Bob Mackie Banana Bonanza Barbie tribute costume), and Mackie also has a remarkably similar gown shown above and available for purchase as an art print. Mackie made this gown decades ago. Thank you to Bella Sin of Cleveland Burlesque for sharing this info!

Nymphia's IG post with the banana dress also has commenters referencing other similar gowns that pre-date Trixie's - notably in 2007 by former Miss Continental and Miss International Queen winner Erica Andrews (rest in peace) and Cardi B in vintage Mugler in 2019.

**The original version of this post said "Nymphia and her designers". Nymphia Wind actually created the costume herself, as noted in the caption on this Instagram post! Thank you to Lady Bladie of Honeybee Burlesque for the tip!

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