“To lose confidence in one’s body is to lose confidence in oneself.”
— Simone de Beauvoir
Well, this week’s portrait is determined to help women gain back that confidence. Kathy Pacheco, aka Kitty Devereaux, is the co-producer and host of Sister Bear, a body-positive burlesque show for women. A spinoff of the popular Bearlesque shows, Sister Bear focuses on plus-size women and self-love. Sister Bear is a fun-packed show with “a little extra hubba, hubba.” You can catch the show every first Sunday of the month at Toasted Walnut.
PGN: Tell me a little about yourself.
KP: I’m originally from Bethlehem, Pa. I just moved to Philadelphia this weekend, but I’ve been performing in Philly since 2015.
PGN: Bethlehem is in Amish country, correct?
KP: No! Everybody says that and I don’t know why. Amish country is out near Lancaster; we are in a different direction. It’s near Allentown, about an hour out of Philly. Bethlehem is smaller than Allentown but it’s not like there are cornfields or anything like that. It’s so weird that any time I say that I’m from Bethlehem, people automatically think it’s Amish country.
PGN: Ha. Maybe because the name is very Biblical-sounding, it seems like it should be part of the Amish territory.
KP: Yeah, it sounds Pennsylvania Dutch and people associate that with the Amish. But I actually never saw an Amish person until I was in my 20s and went to visit Lancaster.
PGN: Are you an only child or do you have siblings?
KP: Well, that’s a complicated question. I have a brother who’s a year younger than me — he’s a full brother — and I have a lot of step- and half-brothers and sisters. All together I think there are nine or 10 of us. I’m Puerto Rican so I come from a large family, lots of nieces and nephews and cousins!
PGN: That must make for fun holidays.
KP: It does, fun and rowdy ones for sure!
PGN: What’s a best holiday memory?
KP: I’m really nostalgic so I enjoyed them all. I’d probably have to go back to when I was young in the early ’90s to find a favorite. I lived with my grandparents; they were my legal guardians and raised me. So I was like an only child because I was the only one raised in their house. All my other siblings were with either my mother or father. [Laughs] I was the first born too, so my grandparents gave me all the toys. I got way more than the other kids did. I was a big doll fan so any holiday when I got a Barbie was a good time for me.
PGN: Really? I was fairly femme, but my lesbian giveaway was that I never liked dolls!
KP: Not me, I just loved them. I remember one Christmas my cousin, who was like an older sister to me, revamped her Barbie house with a cool interior and new furniture and gave it to me. It was a hand-me-down but it was really nice because she took the time to personalize it for me. I enjoy presents with a personal touch.
PGN: You were raised by your grandparents. What brought that about?
KP: My parents divorced when I was young. My father was in the military at the time so he was gone a lot and my mother was deemed unfit so my grandparents were given legal custody of my brother and me. My brother had some ADD difficulties so when my father came out of the Army, he took custody of my brother. I stayed with my grandparents. But I saw my father frequently and spent summers with him. I didn’t see my mother until I was 12.
PGN: Tell me a cool story about your grandparents.
KP: Oh, there are so many. Well, my grandmother ran the house, as many grandmothers do, and my grandfather worked. He was born and raised in Puerto Rico and had a really thick accent, and now he has Parkinson’s so it’s even harder to understand what he’s saying. My grandmother is Irish. She married my grandfather when I was 3 so she’s not my biological grandmother, but I was raised by her. We didn’t go on a lot of vacations but when we did it was interesting. They didn’t like to drive far because they were older. Driving to Ocean City, N.J., was our first big trip. I was about 14 and it was one of those car rides that was just horrific. They had no idea where they were going and back then there was no GPS. I mostly remember my grandmother in the passenger seat with a huge map yelling at my grandfather. I was in the backseat crying; I think I had my period and was afraid we were going to be lost forever somewhere in Jersey. When we got there, the hotel room where we were supposed to stay didn’t have our reservation so we had to find another hotel. It was like one of those National Lampoon “Vacation” movies.
PGN: What kind of extracurricular things where you involved with at school?
KP: I think my first woman crush, or maybe I just wanted to be her, was Rita Moreno. I saw her in “West Side Story” when I was 5 or 6 and she was my vision of the perfect Puerto Rican woman. I was in plays all four years of high school. I played piano when I was very young. I went to Catholic school and that was horrible, but yeah mostly theater, art and music, I definitely loved all that stuff. I drew a lot and used to cut my Barbies’ hair. For a while I wanted to be a fashion designer. I was definitely a girly girl.
PGN: Did you go to college?
KP: I got as far as registering but then decided it wasn’t for me.
PGN: What was your first big job out of high school?
KP: T-Mobile. I was their customer-service rep for about six to seven years. But I went a little crazy after high school. I was very sheltered and coddled by my grandparents. I couldn’t go out or to a lot of parties and things. Partly because they were Catholic and also because they were older and kind of felt like I was their only child so they placed a lot of restrictions on me. So when I turned 18, I went wild a little bit. I got pregnant and had a child, so for a long time my focus was solely on work and my son. I didn’t really have time for much else or to focus on myself. Then a very good friend of mine suddenly died at 30 and I had a revelation. I realized that time doesn’t wait for you and it was time to start doing things for myself, to practice a little love and self-care. His passing was my inspiration to get off my ass and do something with myself.
PGN: Where did you start?
KP: I think I worked with almost every theater company in the Lehigh Valley area. [Laughs] There are only about three or four. I even took theater classes at Walnut Street Theatre. Then in 2011 I got involved in a serious relationship that I was in until 2015. When that ended abruptly, I was in a big slump of depression and that’s when I decided to try out for the Faux Drag Wars competition. I wouldn’t have been able to do it with my former partner. I first tried roller derby for a while, but I wasn’t tough enough for that! But the drag really clicked and I’ve been performing ever since.
PGN: What was your first performance or character?
KP: I was the Bride of Frankenstein and performed to a Nicki Minaj song. There were several mentors and they each chose a contestant to work with; I didn’t know anyone in the drag scene in Philadelphia so I was the last one picked. It was down to me and one other person and people in the audience started chanting “Allentown!” That was cool, so I got picked by Mr. Fahrenheit, who is my drag mother. It was a wonderful pairing and from there I met Josh Schonewolf, who is co-producing the Sister Bear event with me.
PGN: Was your ex your first female partner?
KP: I’d had a lot of relationships before that with women but it was my first serious one. My father is an ex-military man and he loves me but he’s very strict and has always been very particular about certain things, so I always had it in my head that it would be problematic. I didn’t want to say anything until I was in a serious relationship, though since puberty it was very obvious to me that I looked at girls more than boys. I knew my grandparents wouldn’t care because I had an aunt who is lesbian and they were accepting of her, but my dad was a different story; partly because of him being strict and partly because when my stepmother left him after they broke up, she got involved with a female partner and came out as lesbian and he was very bitter about it. In that bitter stage, I remember him talking negatively about lesbians, the way bitter men do, so I was very leery of coming out to him. When I finally told him, I cried but his first words were, “I already knew, I was just waiting for you to tell me.” [Laughs] Then my first thought was, Wait, how did you come to that conclusion? Based on my girliness, how could you have known? But I guess he saw something.
PGN: What is it they say in poker, you had a tell?
KP: I guess so. But it was good timing. He told me that had I come out a few years earlier, he might have disowned me, but he changed his mind because one of his sisters came out to their mother. When she did, their mother disowned her. He remembered thinking, How can our mother do this? That’s her child. He was very sympathetic towards his sister and it changed his mind about how he should think about the situation. So when I came out to him, he was ready for it.
PGN: Three things you’re loving right now?
KP: I am loving my life right now. I am loving my new partner right now. And I am loving performing right now.
PGN: Tell me something about your son. When was the last time he made you belly laugh?
KP: My son is very tall, completely the opposite of me. He’s almost 5-foot-8 and very skinny; he takes after my grandfather and my brother. The other day, he had this big red sweatshirt and managed to get both his arm and his leg into each of the sleeve of the sweater and covered his head with the hood. I could hear him in the hallway cracking himself up, and I was like, “What are you doing?” He comes waddling into the kitchen with his arms and legs in the sweater and just nonchalantly says, “Hey, Mom … ” and keeps walking into the living room like it was no big deal. I could hear him in there dying of laughter to himself.
PGN: He sounds like a character.
KP: Yes, he doesn’t want to be a performer but he’s very sociable. His teacher said he’s the class clown and is good at keeping people entertained. He’s naturally theatrical and funny.
PGN: What’s your favorite theater moment that you’ve seen?
KP: It wasn’t in a show but it was about a show. My favorite play is “In the Heights.” I enjoy anything that shows Latinos in a positive light. When Lin-Manuel Miranda won the Tony Award, he gave his thank-you speech in a rap and at the end of it he pulled out the Puerto Rican flag. It was awesome.
PGN: Your biggest mishap onstage?
KP: I fall all the time, all … the … time. So much that I’m not even embarrassed anymore. I’m down, I’m up, I’ve broken an ankle, I’m just always falling.
PGN: Tell me about the show that you’re doing at Toasted Walnut.
KP: Sister Bear. I competed for “Miss Everything” and the producer, Josh, approached me about doing Bearlesque. At the time, I was only doing bio drag queen stuff. I said, “OK, I’ll try it but I’m not going to take off my clothes. Maybe I’ll do one reveal, but that’s it.” He said it was fine with him and my first show I wore a bodysuit underneath my clothes and just did a small reveal. [Laughs] The more I do it, the more clothes come off! I remember saying, “I’m not going to do pasties” and now I perform in full pasties. My butt was out in the last show so …
PGN: That’s funny.
KP: Yes, so after doing Bearlesque for a while, I approached Josh about doing a show with women, for women and he agreed to co-produce it at Toasted Walnut. I just really wanted to do something about body positivity. It’s odd, I have people coming up and telling me that I inspire them or that because of seeing me on stage they feel empowered and feel like they might be able to do it. Which is what I want to have happen — to let people, especially plus-sized women, know what they’re capable of doing. This is a show where everyone comes together to celebrate their bodies and their womanhood and who they are. I believe everyone should feel comfortable in their own skin. I was always comfortable with my body and being naked at home but not exactly out in public. I’m building so much confidence — I can’t lie, I’m not completely there yet; I still get nervous but it’s so freeing — I want other women to feel that same confidence and exuberance. There’s no reason why you shouldn’t be able to wear a bikini, “F” everybody who says you can’t wear that because you’re 300 pounds. I want to say, “Hey, I have stretch marks, a big butt, a hanging stomach and I’m still up here doing my thing and you can too.”
PGN: What did it feel like the first time you went from that fear to feeling empowered?
KP: The Bearlesque crowd really empowers you. The first time I went up I was very scared, I was shaking and I wasn’t even taking off my clothes! But Pussy von Weiner has been doing Bearlesque for a long time and she’s up there taking off her clothes and not giving a shit, just doing her thing, which helped give me confidence. That and two drinks! And it was great, I performed to TLC’s “Red Light Special” and the crowd really responded well.
PGN: What should people expect?
KP: A bunch of talented, badass women who love their bodies and aren’t afraid to show it. Some acts are on the lighter side, some sensual, some classic burlesque — whatever the women want to do. We’ll also have one boy in each show. The artists we have will really blow your minds!
Sister Bear will be held the first Sunday of each month at Toasted Walnut, 1316 Walnut St. Doors open at 9 p.m. and the show starts at 10. For more information, visit https://www.facebook.com/bearlesquephilly/ or https://www.facebook.com/KittyDevereauxBurlesque/.