Trans icon, burlesque star, social media personality: Cassandra Cass defies labels

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  |  Executive Editor


If you’ve met Cassandra Cass — or even seen her statuesque, top-heavy frame from a respectful distance — it’s difficult to imagine how she got to where she is considering where she started. Look at her now: Busty, tall, with big hair, big heels and tiny costumes. She is an exaggerated form of femininity, and one of the most memorable burlesque performers you’re likely to encounter — a towering version of petite Dita von Teese.

And, of course we should mention, she’s trans.

Indeed, the place Cassandra occupies now is a far cry from her childhood in Iowa, where she was the third of four boys reared by a single-dad basketball coach.

“Being third was the perfect place to fall — the middle child always needs attention,” she admits. “But he was in super denial [about me being trans]. He would ask me, ‘Did you watch the basketball game?’ I would say, ‘Dad, I have Care Bears and Cabbage Patch Dolls — I don’t watch sports!’”

It’s never easy being “different,” but consider being that different in the conservative Midwest: Her mother left when she was 8 or 9 years old, so she didn’t have a feminine role model. Her father was obsessed with porn, and so she developed a fascination with looking like a sex bomb. Obsessed with fashion, with glamour, with fabulosity drowning in a sea of flannel and denim overalls… especially in the macho household Cassandra grew up in.

“I was a junior — I was supposed to be ‘the one,’” she says. “And I still thought like a man, having problems with emotional intimacy.” It didn’t help that she butted heads with her father a lot.

“As you can tell, I’m a pretty pushy personality, and I would shove my sexuality in [my dad’s] face. I’m not a regular chick I am super feminine, and he would ask, ‘Why do you have to show so much skin?’ I love my dad, but Midwesterners can be so misogynistic — like, he won’t carry my bags for me, and every time a birthday comes up he’s like ‘you’re gettin’ older,’ the way men say that to embarrass women.  But I can tell this: now, I’m his favorite — I’m living the Hollywood dream. I’ve done TV shows, I’ve met Angelina Jolie. He likes that.”

She’s done a lot more than that. Currently, she’s traveling the country doing multiple on-location photoshoots with the likes of Mike Ruiz for her upcoming calendar (her fourth), preparing her audition for the next season of Project Runway … and appearing as the featured entertainment at Friday’s Red Party during Dallas Pride.

“We’re in the Instagram Age,” she says. “My whole philosophy is to make my whole life about being Cassandra.” It’s all part of being a fantasy girl — she models herself after pinup Bettie Page and sex goddess Marilyn Monroe. “I have a passion for fashion, I make all my own costumes. I love dressing up and creating moments people will remember. So to me I’m living my ultimate dream.”

There is, however, also a character. While Cassandra admits to a level of vanity — “I wanted to transition and be beautiful, not look like a football player [in a dress]” — she reveals that her private self is not the same as her public persona.

“I give what the people want —onstage], but the last thing I want is to be looked at when I’m at the gym. I’ve dated guys who wanted that Cassandra all the time. It’s [like the quote from ‘40s movie bombshell Rita Hayworth], men ‘go to bed with Gilda and they wake up with me.’ I do so much sensuality in my act, but the best sex in bed is when you have a real connection.” (She readily offers that she has had complete transition surgery — “I have an innie, not an outie anymore.”)

As you might conceive, Cassandra has definitive ideas about sexuality … as well as activism.

“I tend to keep to myself around other trans women,” she says. “I’m such a go-getter that I deal with a lot of jealousy and competitiveness and find it very hard to have friends in the community. I relate more to gay men. I don’t even label myself as ‘transgender’ — I am Cassandra. I don’t like being put in a particular category. [I think of sexuality] as a rainbow. What you’re attracted to has nothing to do with how you view yourself. I think people overthink it. If you’re into someone, you’re an adult, that’s you business.

“It never ends,” she continues. “I look at this body as just a body — like a car. I’ll shine it up every now and then. But my soul feels feminine… I just like big boobs, what can I say?”

Her look, she says, is her politics. “My activism is by living my life. That in its own way is inspiring. A lot of people march, but I think we also need to show we can be vivacious and provocative. Madonna said, ‘I am my own piece of art.’ That’s how I feel.”

And she’s looking forward to bringing her art back to Dallas. 

“I’m based in Hollywood, but I love Texas. It is like a second home to me now — the people are so kind.”

Of course we are nice to her: We like things bigger in Texas … and that’s Cassandra Cass.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 15, 2017.