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How One World-Famous Burlesque Dancer Defied Definitions Of Gender (NSFW)

12/04/2013 07:45 am ET | Updated Jan 23, 2014

The World Famous *BOB* is no stranger to the spotlight. Since the 1990s, the Neo-Burlesque icon has been part of a new performance movement, bringing together components of striptease, dance, comedy and theatrical mayhem in one bombastic one-woman show. She describes herself as a “female-female impersonator" -- an ambiguous identity fit for an ambiguous performer whose fame has soared atop her ability to blur the lines of gender and sexuality.

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Fishing for Martini Olives in Her Panties, Shoot the Arrow: A Portrait of The World Famous *BOB* , All photographs Copyright © Amy Touchette

A new photography book is paying homage to the burlesque enigma in "Shoot the Arrow: A Portrait of the World Famous *BOB*." Featuring a selection of black-and-white photographs by Amy Touchette, the work gives a rare glimpse into *BOB*'s life on and off-stage, with or without pasties. From a girl growing up on a 115-acre farm in California to a drag queen named after The Cure's Robert Smith and known to concoct martinis in her décolletage, the photos give a bit of insight into an underground figurehead who turned to performance as a method of detangling her own identity.

"I was extremely ambiguous when it came to my gender, because I had just come from San Francisco, where I strongly identified as a New Wave fag during the day, and a Drag Queen at night," *BOB* explained in an interview with BlackBook Magazine, recounting her early days in New York. "When I moved to NYC, it was an attempt to live out my biggest dream -- to be a fancy freak in New York. I still wasn’t sure of my gender, but was very inspired by the trans community."

"It’s hard to answer the question, Are you a boy or a girl, when you’re not sure yourself," she added.

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Home, in Bikinis, Shoot the Arrow: A Portrait of The World Famous *BOB* , All photographs Copyright © Amy Touchette

Burlesque turned out to be the necessary outlet *BOB* needed to challenge and embrace her own femininity, Touchette writes in a statement about the project. For a woman who aspired to be a drag queen since she was younger, it wasn't until *BOB* threw herself into a world that accepted her gender-bending ways that she came to form an identity unconstrained by conventional notions of a self.

"It crept into my mind slowly that woman was a choice I could make. I'd been flirting with the idea of having a sex change to become a man so that I could be a real drag queen at night," *BOB* explains in the book. "So I was going to go from being a woman, to being a physical man, to dressing like a woman at night. It kind of didn't make sense to me anymore. But there was this brand new shining option of taking this male-identified self and slowly transitioning into woman as if it were a choice, instead of a gender that was just assigned to me. I refer to this experience as 'spiritual transsexualism.'"

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The Limelight, Chelsea, No. 2, Shoot the Arrow: A Portrait of The World Famous *BOB* , All photographs Copyright © Amy Touchette

Touchette spent as much as 24 hours at a time with the performer to finalize "Shoot the Arrow," calling *BOB*'s story the "ultimate postmodern gender story." Check out a preview of the book, available through Un-Gyve Press below, and let us know your thoughts on the striking photos in the comments.

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Makeup with Karl Giant, Shoot the Arrow: A Portrait of The World Famous *BOB* , All photographs Copyright © Amy Touchette

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Marquee Night Club, Chelsea, Shoot the Arrow: A Portrait of The World Famous *BOB* , All photographs Copyright © Amy Touchette

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Protégées, Shoot the Arrow: A Portrait of The World Famous *BOB* , All photographs Copyright © Amy Touchette

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Film Shoot, Chinatown, No. 3, Shoot the Arrow: A Portrait of The World Famous *BOB* , All photographs Copyright © Amy Touchette

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National Arts Club Drawing Class, Gramercy Park, Shoot the Arrow: A Portrait of The World Famous *BOB* , All photographs Copyright © Amy Touchette

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2 a.m., No. 1, Shoot the Arrow: A Portrait of The World Famous *BOB* , All photographs Copyright © Amy Touchette

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At the Mirror, Shoot the Arrow: A Portrait of The World Famous *BOB* , All photographs Copyright © Amy Touchette

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