Healing sexual assault through cabaret

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On a recent Saturday night in Hollywood, a bar was packed with 20 and 30-somethings drinking, talking have having a good time. They were here to see a variety show, but one with an unusual theme for a club act- the importance of sexual consent.

Called Cabaret Con-Sensual, the show was started three years ago by a woman who goes by the stage name of Bitsy La Bourbon. A victim of molestation and rape, La Bourbon wanted to create a space where performers and audience members who’ve experienced sexual violence and harassment could come together for mutual support in an environment that wasn’t like a traditional support group

“It’s definitely a show that I didn’t even know I needed until I made it,” said La Bourbon before the evening’s performance where she’s the host and a burlesque dancer. “I didn’t really know that survivors were a group of people that needed it that needed to be together.”

Bitsy La Bourbon founded Cabaret Con-Sensual as a place where survivors of sexual assault and harassment could come together in a different kind of environment and not feel guilty about have fun. (Photo: Saul Gonzalez) (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

But La Bourbon is clear that the cabaret performs, who range from singers to dancers to comedians, are about providing entertainment, not therapy. And everyone who comes is expected to leave their troubles at the door while there.

“It’s a place where survivors can come and be acknowledged but not be sad, like not be depressed, not be like, ‘oh my gosh we’re broken, we can never have fun again,'” said La Bourbon.   

Juanita Chase Delamonte started coming to Cabaret Con-Sensual first as a member of the audience, then as an onstage assistant to LaBourbon. She credits the cabaret with saving her life

“I was going down a very dark path with drugs and alcohol, trying to escape and run from things I think I never had to talk about,” said Delamonte. “Here, I was able to salvage a life, salvage my marriage, have a baby and be in a very happy relationship now.”

Lucy & La Mer perform at Cafe Con-Sensual. (Photo: Saul Gonzalez) (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

Jackie, who doesn’t want her last name used, is an actress who attended her first performance of Cabaret Con-Sensual the night we visited. She said she’s had to fend off many sexual advances over the years in casting calls and is happy a show like this exists to draw attention to the issue.

I’m glad that finally there is a light shining on it,” said Jackie. “The more that people talk about it, the more people open up about it, the more people know.”

As the cabaret continued on into the evening, the acts got racier, with many of the performers, including Bitsy, showing a good amount of skin during burlesque routines.

La Bourbon said such acts are empowering and reinforce the message of consent and having control over one’s own body.

A burlesque performer at Cabaret Con-Sensual. “Let me have my journey and let me reclaim my sexuality for myself,” said La Bourbon about the importance of such acts in the show. (Photo: Saul Gonzalez) (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

“For me, burlesque stripping, sexual, erotic, sensual performance of any kind is the exact opposite of rape,” said La Bourbon. “I’m picking the place. I’m picking the time. I’m picking the clothes I wear. I’m picking how I show my body. When you are sexually assaulted, you are not choosing anything.”

La Bourbon believes even if you’ve gone through something awful in your life, like sexual assault, it doesn’t have to define you. And there’s nothing wrong with having a good time, especially if it helps you heal.