Rebellious Sisterhood: Jade Yip Foley aka Madame Rouge, Burlesque Performer
Jade Yip Foley, aka Madame Rouge, is a stylist, the founder of Madame Rouge's Burlesque Theatre - the first and only authentic, neo-burlesque theatre in Bangkok - and the owner of Maison Rouge, a women-focused, multi-purpose space that provides a safe, supportive community environment for people to learn, heal, share and explore.
Past Maison Rouge events have included pelvic floor workshops, self-defense classes, women-only speed dating, all-female comedy nights, and more.
As part of our Rebellious Sisterhood series, Jade shares with us her personal journey of overcoming bullying and sexual trauma, and how she used her experiences to grow into the person she is today. Now, her mission is to help others. This is her story.
Trigger warning: discussion of rape and suicide
I'm a third culture kid. Born in Hong Kong, I moved to Canada with my family when I was six years old after the handover of Hong Kong to China. Canada was a great place to be raised. After six years, we moved back to Hong Kong and I started at a prestigious international school, in the middle of the year in 7th grade.
I couldn't fit in and didn’t want to fit in. It was very cliquey. I was going through an awkward phase. I was bullied terribly, to the point where the friends I made were bullied because they were friends with me. It was not just verbal or emotional; it was physical.
I hated going to that school. I was there for three years. I felt bad that my friends were being bullied because of me, so I pushed them away. In my mind, I believed I was saving them.
I couldn't fit in and didn’t want to fit in.
By the third year, I decided to be a goth. It's a natural progression for a lot of kids that get bullied, who are ostracized and feel like outcasts. I believe a lot of kids who turn to goth culture choose this lifestyle because, in your mind at least, you choose it.
No one wanted to be friends with me, so I'd rather be the person that made this decision. I don't want to be friends with you, I'm pushing you away, you're not pushing me away. I'd rather people be scared of me than think I'm weak.
So the bullying did stop, but I had no friends. I was miserable. And I hated that school. I talk about bullying now because a lot of people go through this and I wish that someone would have been able to talk to me.
I think there are five coping strategies for people going through bullying. Suicide is one. There were times that I was suicidal. Sadly, some people choose this option.
The second outcome is accepting that this is your life. I've always been confident, even as a kid I was that sassy kid. But if every day someone is telling you that you are ugly, or you're so weird and disgusting, you will start to believe it. All you can hear is that, so you believe it and start to doubt yourself. I can't imagine what that’s like for someone who didn't start off confident like me, and then had to go through that. At one point, I thought this is my life. I'm going to be ugly forever. My life is just going to be like this.
I talk about bullying now because a lot of people go through this and I wish that someone would have been able to talk to me.
A third way of coping is anger. People can get stuck in this phase, and can lash out as revenge: “You will see. I will teach you. You will regret doing this to me.”
The fourth outcome is to push people away. For me, that was a big part of goth culture.
The fifth coping strategy is to reinvent yourself. This is the one that I chose in the end. Making yourself so successful, so different, or so much better, the bullies will want to be friends with you. I’m going to grow, I’m going to change and you’re going to stay the same.
I sent myself to boarding school. I researched the school, made the decision and informed my parents. You can't reinvent yourself in the same place. It wasn't about changing my personality. It was just about starting over, where I can be who I want to be. I wanted to go somewhere where nobody knew me.
At 14, I went to Connecticut. I went from a school with thousands of kids to one of the smallest boarding schools I could find. There were 300 kids in the entire high school. It worked. It reconfirmed that it wasn’t my fault. It was them. These people can like me. There were still bullies in the new school, but they didn’t target me. And I wasn't a goth anymore.
Not everyone has the luxury of being able to make those choices. I understand how lucky I was to have a family that supported me.
Fashion has always been part of my identity. I was always someone who pushed boundaries. I was weird. I have always been like that. That is one of the reasons that I got bullied. My sense of fashion is so out there.
I was always someone who pushed boundaries.
I was also into the Harajuku girl fashion, the “more is more,” which is my life. I am a maximalist. I went from all pink to all black - go big or go home! I was always supported at home. During my Harajuku phase, my mom took me to Tokyo for shopping.
For many girls who are bullied because of their looks, it teaches them that they are only valued for their looks. As we get older, everything around us supports this narrative. You see how easy the pretty, popular girls have it. From the moment that you hit puberty to your mid-20s you're just trying to please.
That's why when you ask most girls how they lost their virginity, it's usually because they were trying to please the guy and didn't want to seem like a prude. It's for validation.
I thought I was so ugly, I felt so ugly, and then I reinvented myself and suddenly I was getting attention for my looks. I never imagined that would happen to me. It led me to promiscuity because I wanted validation. Just anybody wanting me was already amazing.
Because of this vulnerability, I lost my virginity to the first guy that I dated when I was a goth. He was a lot older and I was super vulnerable. I didn't have any friends. I had pushed the world away and he recognised that. I would do anything for him because I was thinking “Wow, someone’s talking to me.” I thought this guy liked me because I acted so mature. I was 14.
Growing up, I never thought he was a predator. It was only recently when I really thought back about it after the whole #MeToo movement that I realised how fucked up it was.
I wish that sex could be openly talked about, so that we can be educated about it, and so it’s not taboo.
At that time, back then, we weren’t taught sex the proper way. I didn’t enjoy sex, it was just to please him. I didn’t even know there was such a thing as my pleasure. I always thought sex was just for the guy.
All of my early sex experiences were like that, and that mentality kind of gets embedded in your brain and lingers. Sometimes it feels more comfortable pleasing rather than receiving. It took me a long time to get to the place where I could sit back and realise that I can enjoy this as well.
I’m now trying to spread the word about more websites like OMGyes because it’s very important. I didn’t get that type of education and that’s affected me to this day. I wish it could’ve been different. I wish I had the resources that people have now. I wish that sex could be openly talked about, so that we can be educated about it, and so it’s not taboo.
I graduated high school at 17 years old, then moved to LA to study fashion design. It was a dangerous place to be. I was reckless and I could not handle temptation. I thought I was on top of the world: I was partying with Prince, partying with celebrities, going to the Playboy Mansion... I had a fake ID. I thought I had the best life.
That was the first time that I got into burlesque. It was in a speakeasy in the back room of some dodgy dive bar. It was packed with people and there was a really lively energy.
At this time, all I had really seen before were go-go dancers at clubs. The dancers usually had hard, perfect, commercial-model bodies - huge fake boobs on tiny little bodies. At a burlesque show, it’s not like that. The performers are all different shapes and sizes. It doesn’t matter what you look like, it’s about your attitude.
Burlesque performers are sassy and confident; they are naked and people are cheering. In that first show I saw, the dancers were so diverse. But it was the fact that they were in control of the crowd that I found fascinating. Even the biggest girl, she was funny, she was confident, and she was sexy. People were roaring and cheering. The audience was so supportive. It was just pure support and pure love.
It doesn’t matter what you look like, it’s about your attitude.
When I tried burlesque myself for the first time, it was terrifying, but invigorating! That is the definition of empowerment. Before you go on stage, you feel sick. But once you’re on, with the bright lights and the cheering, you almost have an “out of body” experience.
The moment the show finishes gives you the most empowering feeling. You’re in disbelief that this just happened. That you did it. It’s the biggest rush.
Now I host striptease classes and it is the most amazing thing: after the classes, the girls are usually in disbelief. They say: “I can’t believe I just did that, I wouldn’t even do that for my boyfriend!”
It reminds me of that feeling that I had back in that moment after my first burlesque dance. And that’s what it’s all about. It’s not the onstage part, it’s that you cross the barrier and you discover a new you.
[To read more about Madame Rouge’s burlesque classes, read Burlesque, Belly Dance & Pole Dance in Bangkok: 3 Sensual Ways to Love Your Body]
On Sexual Trauma
I realised that I needed to leave LA because I couldn't resist temptations. I was partying all the time, not sleeping. I was living what I saw in Hollywood movies. You get sucked into the lifestyle. It was fun, but I was in a bad place in my life. My parents convinced me to leave. 17 was too young for that life.
It was during this time that I suffered a few major sexual traumas. When I was living that life, I was just so vulnerable. I was a target. It happened multiple times, by different people in different stages of my life. There were times that involved drugs and there were times that were violent.
I don’t mind talking about it. Just like bullying, it’s hard to talk about, but I wish someone had talked to me about it.
The first time it happened I was 17, before I even went to LA. The hardest part about talking about this is I don’t want my mom to hear it. I know it will break her heart. It happened around the time of my high school graduation. My family couldn’t travel because SARS was happening in Hong Kong.
So, myself and two friends, who also didn’t have parents at the graduation, decided to go on a trip around Europe. One night we were in Madrid, Spain and we went to a club. At the end of the night I was super drunk and I don’t remember what happened. I remember that I woke up with my panties around my ankles in the middle of a bathroom stall and it was quiet.
I didn’t know what had happened, I was freaking out. The club was closed. I panicked and was wondering where my friends were. When I went outside, my friends were there on their phones trying to find me. They didn’t know where I went. They were so scared because they didn’t think I would be in the middle of a stall inside the men’s bathroom.
It’s hard to talk about, but I wish someone had talked to me about it.
At first, I didn’t want to say anything. The first thing you do is blame yourself: “Maybe I did this. Maybe I was too drunk. Maybe I wanted it.” All of these thoughts come up. It always seems like it’s my fault. Even though it’s something that I would never do drunk or sober.
It was my best friend who said, “You were raped.” That was the last word that I wanted to hear. I didn’t want to believe it. When you hear the word rape, you think of something terribly violent, like something off CSI. An image comes into your mind of someone left in a ditch, naked and beaten. So anything that doesn’t fit into that image you think is not rape.
I didn’t report the rape because I was in the middle of Spain. For the next three months, I was just living in fear of HIV test results. Nowadays, HIV is not a death sentence, but at that time, it was truly terrifying. The stress of this was honestly worse than the rape itself.
In those three months, I lived in a state of shame. What am I going to tell my friends; what am I going to tell my parents; they’re not going to want me as a daughter. These were the thoughts that went through my mind at that time. Fortunately, my test results were negative.
Unfortunately, it happened a few more times. One time, I was definitely drugged. It happened in LA at a party. I only had one drink. I woke up in a hotel room. I thought I must be with the guy I went to the party with. Then I turned around and my first thought was: “What the fuck, who are you?”
One of the first thoughts I had was that the guy I was dating at the time was going to be annoyed with me. Once again blaming myself. The second thought I had was that I was late for class. I grabbed all my things and went to class.
Once I was sitting in the classroom, I just started bawling. The teacher came to me and asked, are you OK? I responded, “I think I’ve just been raped.” The teacher stopped the class and asked me what I remembered. I could remember the name of the hotel and that was it.
I didn’t report it to the police because I thought that I didn’t have enough evidence. Looking back, the hotel probably had cameras and someone probably saw him dragging me to a room. I was thinking, I don’t want to make a big deal out of this. I wish I had reported it, but I didn’t.
Like the first time, I also didn’t remember it happening, but this time I had cuts and bruises, and I had rug burns everywhere. It felt like he had dragged me by my hair. I told myself it’s not that traumatic because I don’t remember it, so I pushed it to the back of my mind and didn’t think about it.
The first thing you do is blame yourself.
It happened a third time. This time was the worst. This time it was someone I knew - he was a business partner of a guy I was dating. My boyfriend at the time was in the hospital, in the ER. He had been attacked on the street and I was covered in blood. We called an ambulance, but I wasn’t allowed to go in the ambulance with my boyfriend, which is why I went to the ER with his business partner.
The guy was consoling me and he drugged me right in front of my face. I tasted it. I said: “This tastes just like medicine.” He told me that I was just in shock. He said the drink would calm me down. I thought he was being nice. He offered to get me a room in a hotel so that I could look after my boyfriend when he got out of the hospital.
This time, I was completely conscious, I knew exactly what happened. I was weak, but I remember it. I fought him off as best as I could. The last thing he said to me as he walked out the door was, “Don’t tell your boyfriend. He won’t believe you.”
I told the guy I was dating because I figured that he would be on my side. He wasn’t. After my boyfriend found out that I had reported it to the police, he tried to frame me and said incriminating things to imply that I was after his money. He started threatening me and saying that I was going to ruin his life.
That is one of the reasons I left LA.
Narratives around rape have changed so much since then. Women know so much more now because we’re protecting ourselves. Men still don’t get it yet because it’s not happening to them. Rape dramas are still romanticised on TV in Thailand. Thailand is so far behind in terms of the women's movement.
I am not a victim. I am a survivor and I am thriving. The reason that I talk about my sexual trauma is because I had no one there to guide me. I think if I’d had someone to guide me it wouldn’t have taken me as long to heal. I want to be there for other people.
I am not a victim. I am a survivor and I am thriving.
I had to learn to love myself, I had to learn to not blame myself. I don’t want other people to have to do it alone. The bullying and the sexual trauma is part of my journey. I still think it’s terrible, but without it, I wouldn’t be the person I am today.
Whilst working in an art gallery in Beijing, I realised that I wasn’t just good at attending parties, I was good at organising events and throwing parties. An opportunity presented itself to do a collaboration with Maggie Choo’s in Bangkok.
At the time there was no burlesque in Bangkok. I was surprised. The more I learned about Bangkok, the more I learned about the contradictory nature of the city. Sex is everywhere, yet it is taboo. There is sex tourism and prostitution, yet sex work is illegal.
[Why is Thailand’s attitudes to sex so contradictory? Read Obscene Objects: Female Pleasure, The Hidden Closet & How to Buy Sex Toys in Bangkok to discover more.]
One thing that drew me to Bangkok was that I wanted to change the narrative of the sex industry. I am someone who loves to shock and loves doing things that are uncomfortable.
I feel that Bangkok is a city designed for men. There’s so much entertainment for men, but not that much for women. My sister had her bachelorette party here and was not able to find a suitable strip show for women.
One thing that drew me to Bangkok was that I wanted to change the narrative of the sex industry.
I wanted to balance it out. I found a niche. Burlesque was so new to Bangkok that many people attending the show didn’t even know what it was. But they were pleasantly surprised. It’s great for date night. Men love it, even though it’s not full nudity. Women especially love it. It’s nice to see women on stage confident and loving their job.
On Maison Rouge
When Covid started, I realised that it was going to hit the entertainment industry hard. I needed a change in direction and approach. When I created Maison Rouge, it was originally supposed to be a space where I would have the time to perfect the act of burlesque.
It was because of Bangkok’s online women’s groups that the concept of Maison Rouge started evolving. So many women were reaching out for connection. Especially because of Covid, people were feeling isolated and alone. I wanted to create a physical space where people could meet and make connections, and be in a safe place.
The values that underpin Maison Rouge are female empowerment, community, sexual positivity and body positivity. We host a lot of different events. We have a comedy series [featuring comediennes such as Olivia Gilmore and Tana], a women’s networking series, and I’m starting a “To Be or Not to Be” series, where we’ll talk about difficult gender issues in a panel discussion format. I think it’s important to talk about uncomfortable things.
Our first talk will be on motherhood. People who are happy to be mothers and love their kids; people who are mothers and regret it; people who never want to have kids; people who want children but can’t have children.
The values that underpin Maison Rouge are female empowerment, community, sexual positivity and body positivity.
I also want to focus on education, especially education around sex and health. My biggest passion is how we deal with trauma, specifically sexual trauma and bullying. I am always continuing to better myself and I’m currently studying to become a certified coach. There are not that many sex and relationship specialists in Bangkok.
A space like this is all about trust. I have received a lot of support from the community. I don’t believe in competing, I never have. I love collaborating. Women can do so many great things when they’re working together.
By Becky O'Brien
Becky O'Brien heads The F Word's Rebellious X column. She is a member of the Bangkok Rising Managing Committee, an event organiser, passionate about gender equality and an aspiring storyteller; dedicated to finding untold stories and bringing them to light.