JuJu MinXXX Spreads Self-Love Through Burlesque
Written by Vocalo Radio on October 26, 2023
JuJu MinXXX is a burlesque performer, advocate for sexual liberation and, at their core, a champion for self-love.
As a suburban high schooler, JuJu MinXXX was unhappy and was always searching for a way to express themselves. Always a creative spirit — as the child of a fellow “weird art kid,” filmmaker Vici Howard — they found their outlet for creative self-expression in burlesque.
They first discovered a love for burlesque performance at 18, when they participated in — and won — a local “Burlesque Idol” competition for new performers. It was the perfect combination of their love for art and their fascination with pin-ups. Looking back, they saw the art form as a means of empowerment by immersion.
“I think [it] was an opportunity for me to really throw myself into something that would force me to see myself as beautiful and powerful and strong,” JuJu said. “Like, if I force myself to do this very public thing, it will kind of force me to confront my fears about my own body image.”
Now, JuJu is still a performer dedicated to spreading the self-love they were searching for throughout their teenage years. They project their personality and fluidity outward with the things they wear, noting getting dressed is their most comfortable and frequent practice of everyday creative expression.
“I love to use dress as a way to experiment with the different sides of [the gender] spectrum,” they said. “It’s just a little all over the place! I love being able to mix and match these different things … and I love to take two [identities] that sound very opposite and combine them.”
Moving to Chicago five years ago, JuJu has forged their identity through a melting pot of influences from the city’s varied queer communities. They’ve found their chosen family in Chicago, using the love and acceptance from their biological family as their guide.
“One of things I always say, I’m like, ‘It takes a village to raise a JuJu,’” they said.
For this segment of “This Is What Chicago Sounds Like,” JuJu MinXXX describes their burlesque origins, sexual advocacy and love for queer community.
Introduce yourself, and describe your work in a few words.
Hi, my name is JuJu MinXXX, they/them. I am a performer, a vibe dealer… I’m queer. [Laughs] Professionally!
What do you do?
I think I am somewhat of a performance artist. I think all of the different forms of performance art that I do are just different mediums that I use to express myself. But ultimately, I am my art, and I think so much of my art is about self-acceptance and self-expression. My outfit or my vibe, the way that I adorn myself, how I put my armor on for the day. My jewelry and everything about who I am… I try to project that outward, and I feel, I don’t know! Getting dressed and fashion was my first love … with using myself as a medium as probably my most comfortable form, my most everyday form of art.
I’ve always been gender fluid, I’ve always felt staunchly both. And so I feel like I love to use dress as a way to experiment with the different sides of that spectrum. Someday I might be feeling a little more of a femme daddy, and some other days I might want to be in my baby God bag. It’s just a little all over the place! And I love being able to mix and match these different things. I think that there’s a lot of assumptions to what a dom is, what a top is, what a fem is, what a man is, what a woman is, and I love to take two that sound very opposite and combine them.
Where are you from?
I am from the burbs, but I have lived in the city of Chicago for five years or so now. And even being a weird suburban kid, I’ve been running away to the city to be gay for my whole life. I was in Little Village first. I’ve lived in Little Village, I’ve lived in South Shore, and currently I’m in Gage Park. I like to keep it South!
How did you get into performing arts?
I’ve always definitely been an art kid. My mother is a filmmaker and a weird art kid as well. So I guess the weird apple didn’t fall far from the weird tree! And when I was in high school, I hated it. I hated everybody there. And I was just looking for a way to express myself. I ended up getting into burlesque. I was a little skater kid or whatever, but I definitely was into pin-ups and just the idea of pin-ups and burlesque. I had a Bettie Page sticker on my skateboard, and I used to love thrifting and fashion and things like that. And so I would thrift all of this vintage lingerie but not know what to do with it. I’m just like, “I’m not wearing this for any raggedy little boy, gross!” And then I found online, I think on Craigslist or something, they were doing instead of American Idol, it was like “Burlesque Idol.” And so… new burlesque performers would come and perform. I was like 18, and I did “Burlesque Idol” and I won. And then that’s how Juju was born!
Getting into burlesque, I think, was an opportunity for me to really throw myself into something that would force me to see myself as beautiful and powerful and strong. And baby me was like, “Okay, I got a belly, but I’m gonna just put some glitter on it, and yeah!” Like, if I force myself to do this very public thing, it will kind of force me to confront my fears about my own body image. And so it really did end up being a very empowering thing for me, and helping me just find myself attractive on my own standards, within myself. And I think that definitely carries through everything that I do.
What does your performance represent to you?
I definitely consider myself to be a sex educator, and an advocate for people to really explore their interests. I think that sex is something that we hide from a lot. And what I have learned in being involved in burlesque and being part of the sex work community as well… Sex is so important because, as adults, it’s the only time we allow ourselves to play. And when we’re children, we play all the time! We go outside, we play pretend, we play make-believe, and we become adults and then we forget, we don’t do that. We work, and then we try to disassociate from going to work and then get ready to go back to work. I think there’s also a lot of shame around it, around, not just sex, but gender and all of these things. I feel like sex can be such a powerful tool to learn more about yourself and your desires, or even allowing yourself to be in a role that you might not normally let yourself do without shame. It allows, I think, for intimacy and self-discovery, and I think that so many people are scared of it, or don’t let themselves. And I feel like I’m just here to be like, “It’s okay, bro. Just just try it out. And if you don’t like it, you’ve learned something.”
I’m friends with so many different kinds of queer communities. And I feel like straight people think there’s just gay people and that’s it. But I’m like, there are so many different kinds of gayness. We’ve got our we got our garden gays and our drag queens and our leather bears and stuff like that. And I’ve always loved to dip and dabble in different communities. I’ve learned different lessons and found different connections in all of these different forms of queer communities I’ve been in. And so… one of things I always say, I’m like, “It takes a village to raise a JuJu.”
Chosen family is very important to me. I come from a family, I’m very close to my bio family as well, which I think I’m very fortunate. I think we hear a lot of stories about queer people who get turned away or not loved by their bio family. And so chosen family becomes a replacement for that. Where for me, I think my bio family helped me be able to recognize my chosen family. I’m like, “Oh, I know what love feels like, I know what acceptance feels like.” I’m definitely a sucker for communities and friendship and chosen family, and being able for us to create that for each other.
Since 2016, we have been profiling people who give their all to Chicago and enrich us socially and culturally by virtue of their artistry, social justice work and community-building. Take a listen. Read their words. Become inspired.
Interview and audio production by Ari Mejia
Photography by Ari Mejia, edited by Morgan Ciocca
Transcription and editing for length and clarity by Morgan Ciocca
Written introduction by Morgan Ciocca
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