#118. Resilience w/ Jimmie Swagger

1 hour, 12 minutes

Released: December 14, 2020
Recorded: December 6, 2020



For this edition of WEBurlesque the podcast, Viktor has a chat with Chicago’s own Jimmie Swagger, burlesque performer and producer of Boy Toy’s Pocket Cabaret.

The interview starts with Jimmie talking about how despite the pandemic, he has actually had a whirlwind year of buying a home and getting engaged and then married. He actually credits his spouse, Whimsy Swift, with being his inspiration for not leaving the burlesque scene:

JS: “ I’m so happy to be married to another artist which is something I said I’d never do. Sometimes dating within the industry can be discouraged or it can seem like it becomes a competition and we actually compliment each other really well. I was on my way out of the industry actually to focus on work and focus on other things. I was really only going to produce and stop performing and when I met them…they were a new performer so I started going to shows just to support them…and started to see all the faces that I hadn’t seen for a little bit…and it got me re-excited about performing.”

While many performers have interesting burlesque origin stories, Jimmie’s starts with a certain infamous movie most artists aren’t even willing to talk about:

JS: “ I started burlesque in March of 2014…I was inspired to do burlesque through the movie which is the worst way to be inspired but also the best way. Christina Aguilera and Cher, they are great. But it’s not burlesque….I was an international cheerleader, I did choreography and I loved dancing and performing but that was like it…in February of 2014 my partner at the time took me to a burlesque show…and I was like oh my gosh, I could perform too. But also, oh my gosh, they are naked.”

From there, Jimmie eventually started what would become Boy Toy’s Pocket Cabaret through the most unlikely of connections, familial ones:

JS: “ We were asked by a show in the suburb I grew up in by a venue that was a sober bar. And my cousin actually worked there. They said we want something different… would you be interested in doing a burlesque show?… I remember my first show doing half a strip tease and being like you’ll have to come to the next one to see more! But the truth of it was there wasn’t more yet and also it was like 18 and over and most of the audience was my family members. So it was like Hi mom! I’m a stripper now!”

Along with being a producer and a performer, Jimmie is also an advocate for HIV positive individuals and believes in having an open and honest dialogue about what it is like to live with HIV: 

JS: “I actually got a tattoo in May of 2015 which was shortly after my HIV diagnosis in my mom’s handwriting that says ‘Resilience’ and I think the more people get to know me they realize I am one of the most resilient people. I’m used to adversity and i’m used to chaos and I just keep going…My HIV status, there’s nothing I can do, so all I can do is be loud and proud and be visible and be strong because if I’m not then what good is it? I could either let this kill me or I could become a survivor and thrive so I’m very vocal about it…and actually about a week ago I accepted a position as a Grants and Contracts Manager at Aids Foundation Chicago. So for the first time in my life I’m able to take the advocacy I tried to do in my free time…and make it a full time job.”

Besides the advocacy work, Jimmie is also a  website coding programmer and has started his own agency to do coding with a cause:

JS: “I started a company called Queer Coded…our slogan is ‘Resisting the Binary in a Binary Language.’ But really the purpose for me was taking a skill that I love and enjoy and turning it into a business not so that I could profit, but so that I could take these skills and I can make them monetized so that I can donate my services to people who don’t have 

these resources…One of the things our company focuses on outside of web development and being a digital design agency is actually providing opportunities for young queer people to kinda step under our wing and begin training and learning development and put them on a path for a career they may not have had because learning coding is expensive.” 

At the end of the day even with all of this going on in his life, Jimmie wants to continue performing and putting on a show. He isn’t ready to call it quits just yet:

JS: “We just had our six year anniversary for Boy Toy… it kind of lit a fire under my ass…and I think once the new Newport opens up we are going to bring back Boy Toy in this virtual space.”


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