"i got caught being a real person."

so i'm sitting at the library bar with ruby, having a bite to eat and a drink at the beginning of our shift. this is customary behavior for my friends and me--it's nice to take a moment to transition out of "real person" mode and into our stripper personae. at this point, we've undergone most of our transition already--we've showered, driven to work, fixed our hair and makeup, donned our costumes--but beyond those physical transformations, there are psychological steps to be taken, and sitting at the bar for a while can help ease that process. on this particular evening we're talking about our tendencies within romantic relationships: are we pursuers or pursuees? what aspects of those roles are turn-ons or turn-offs? what makes us lose interest quickly, what keeps us coming back for more?

suddenly, a (somewhat former) regular customer of mine, jim, walks up. i stopped sitting with him a while ago because he got too pushy, and it just stopped being worth the money he paid me. he interrupts our conversation about boyfriends to blurt out, "haven't seen you in a while, how are you and your boyfriend doing?" sigh. we've been through this before, and for some reason i'm not feeling very open to having this discussion, again--most likely due to the nature of the conversation he's interrupted. "we broke up four months ago, jim, and that's the first thing you said to me the last time i saw you, and i'd really appreciate it if you'd stop asking me about that." he goes, "well okay fine, i'll go away." i say, "you don't have to go away, i just don't want to talk about my ex boyfriend anymore. i'm trying really hard to get over it, and having you ask me about it doesn't help."

either he's drunk, or he's just not getting the hint, or both, because he presses me further--"well, what happened?" ugh. in what universe is this appropriate small talk? i snap at him, "look, i don't really want to talk about it. it was really awful, and it'd be great if i didn't have to explain that to you every time i saw you." (seriously, this is the first thing he's said to me, every time he's seen me, in the last several months. either it's the first thing he can think of to talk to me about, or he doesn't remember previous conversations. either way, it's got to stop, because i wasn't lying when i said it was awful, and i REALLY don't to be reminded of my newly-acquired emotional baggage while i'm trying to undergo a smooth transition into stripper mode). dejected, he sulks off. i don't try and stop him. i turn to ruby and say, "oops. i got caught being a real person. my bad."

the next time i see jim, a month later, he asks me the same thing. he just doesn't remember previous conversations. i guess he's just a drunk, and i'm going to have to keep that in mind while pretending to not be a real person around him in the future. i suppose that's what i deserve for thinking i had a candid enough relationship with a regular to talk about aspects of my "real" life.


suck it up

it's not like i hate obese people--this is texas, hating fat people would be exhausting. hell, i don't even judge their inability to control their eating--this is america. our portions our huge, our lifestyles is sedintary, and with the exception of major (coastal) cities, our street food is drive-thru, empty-calorie-and-saturated-fat-laden, and completely delicious "fast food." in NYC, at least you can grab a gyro. in SF, a crepe (ok, neither of those are super awesome for you, but still. they're not a double quarter pounder with cheese, bacon and mayo, large fries, and a large high fructose corn syrup and caffeine injection).

my point is: this is texas, there are TONS of overweight people (the majority...no doubt), and plenty of obese people. i dance for the former ALL the time, and the latter occasionally.

it's hard to dance for obese people, logistically speaking. there's just not much lap space: because their bellies are so big, it resides atop most of the thigh real estate. there's just not enough room between their waists and their knees on which i can sit and gyrate properly, and so it's more of a physical challenge to do something erotic on top of them. they're so round, i have to lean over them in a really awkward way. moreover, when i stand up, turn around, and bend over, my ass just bumps into their enormous bellies. is that sexy to them, having a hot piece of ass resting on top of their gut? because i'd have to stand 3ft away to avoid it (but hey--at least i'd be legal!).

inversely, dancing for extremely skinny people is difficult in a different way. for example, i have a customer who uses a wheelchair on whose legs i'm afraid to put almost any weight. his lap is bony and frail, and although he can't feel anything on it, i'm afraid of injuring him. women are often more difficult too--their knees are knobbier. skinny is a different set of challenges. the point is, dancing for overly fat or overly skinny people is part of my job.

that being said, i don't mind dancing for obese people so much. so it's more of a challenge--big deal. there are moments, however, which are less savory than others. ahem:

last week was great, above average income for five nights in a row. i should have figured that would come to an end eventually. so, it's midnight, and i've been at work for four hours. i'm not drinking because i'm on antibiotics, and i feel slightly off my game. i've done one dance with the little round fish counter manager from whole foods with whom i talk liberal politics. when i dance for him, he always says, "i'm the luckiest man in the world right now!" but he's only good for one, and other than being delightful, that's about it. i do another dance, for someone who works with MIT researching social network data--we had a very interesting discussion about the politics of knowledge production and the changes in journalism with blogging (he recommends i read a book called "six degrees").

so despite pleasant company, i'm not having a good night. then the nerdy guys (a little one and a obese one) from last week reappear, minus the randy massage therapist gf. this is too bad, because i really enjoyed dancing for her--it was her 2nd ever trip to a strip club, and she was really enthusiastic. the little nerdy guy (the girl's bf) buys the fat one a dance. i cringe, but agree, as i've only made $40. i remember last week, when i danced for him once, and recall some awkward convulsing on his part. i remember him telling me how he saw his first pair of real live breasts in a strip club, how his first kiss was in a strip club, and i become fairly certain he's never been laid. the little one says, "well i'd like to get a dance, but i have a gf, so i'll buy him one instead", and i say "that's what we're here for. we're like gfs who you don't have to call in the morning." and the fat one indicates that he wouldn't necessarily MIND having to call me in the morning, and then i know. he's as desperate as i suspect, and this is real, human contact for him, not just some party-time service he's indulging in.

so i dance. he smells bad, the kind of smell often carried by the obese, because they can't reach everywhere to wash properly; later, when i mention this in a post-work gchat with a massage therapist friend, he goes "yeah. the folds get rank." (i happened to be snacking at the time, but the phrase "rank folds" made me set down the dried mangoes). anyhoo, he is polite and keeps his hands to himself, he has kind eyes and a quick smile, but oh my god he smells like piss.

and every time my knee so much as brushes his cock, it twitches violently, and he gives off a tremendous gasp, often punctuated with an "UNH." his cock twitches so hard that i'm afraid i'm going to accidentally make him come.

the thing is, it's really hard to get close enough to him to do a decent dance without touching his cock. he's well over 300lbs, so see the above about "not much lap real estate." what's more, he has that under-the-navel pooch, which basically ends in his groin, so it makes everything protrude even more. he's basically a big round belly with a poor, neglected dick at the bottom. and he's really sensitive, so every 30 seconds i get treated to a pre-orgasmic spasm as a reminder that yes, he is indeed enjoying this.

i give him the dance his friend paid for, and i leave immediately. as i'm dressing, he says another girl is coming over, but that i should come back later. so i make a few laps around the club, experience no increase in funds, and i happen to walk past the nerdy table again. he seems eager. i think, "what's another 3.5 minutes of torture for $20? this is my job, right?" so i dance again. he gets three in a row. at the end of each song, i feel relieved--not only do i have like three moves i can actually perform on someone this big, which gets boring, but the pre-orgasmic cock twitching is REALLY grossing me out--but at the end of each song, he says, "one more," and i cringe.

the phrase, "lie back and think of england" comes to mind. or rather, "zone out and think of my upcoming san francisco vacation."

sometimes $20 just isn't enough. (hell, sometimes $1800 isn't enough--i recently overheard our resident jessica rabbit bitching in the dressing room about having to endure three hours of being slobbered on, for only $1800. it's all relative, i guess). that $80 i made dancing for him doubled what i took home that night. suck it up. part of our job is fulfilling the role of a pseudo-sexual surrogate. we provide physical intimacy for people who lack it. (the next night i danced for a regular customer whose wife hasn't fucked him in 6 years. he's too good to cheat, and too sweet to leave his family, so he comes to strip clubs. i see confirmation of this "outlet valve" theory every day). i often feel compassionate for sex-starved customers, and am happy to provide this simple touching, happy to fulfill that basic human need, happy to inspire erections, happy to graze them with my knee and see ecstasy on the faces of strangers--for a price of course. but not this time, not him. he was repulsive, and i was terrified i was going to make him come. i pitied his lack of self control--not the overeating, but the oversensitivity.

so i choked back my gags, mentally tallied my budget while i did my job, and got out of there ASAP. was it worth it? maybe. probably, since he didn't actually come.

but alas, as a hair technician i visited recently said when i asked her about what it's like to wax scrotum, "it all looks green at the end of the day."


thank you, drunk bitch

so i'm driving home through the rain, and i realize i can't let this one slide. that drunk bitch just done brought me out of blogging hiatus. year long writer's block? gone. thank you, drunk bitch.

last night, i saw management politely pile her into a cab. she slobberingly gets into the front seat. everyone waves.

tonight, she stumbles into the dressing room, yelling, "KATIE! I WANNA GO HOME!"

(who's katie? i don't know. where's home? i don't care).

the house mom smiles as this girl is LAYING on the FLOOR pulling her sweatpants onto her flabby hips. (yes, i just made a body-type judgment. so sue me. this chick doesn't work out, she drinks too much, and nobody seems to care. why do i care? because she doesn't take pride in herself, her figure, or anything. she's not one of those full-figured girls, she's fat. and has a really abrasive (and drunken) personality--and for some reason, she still makes money. i know plenty of big girls who are perfectly awesome and make bank, but as far as i can tell, this chick gets drunk for a living).

a waitress stops by to croon, "oh you're so cute i love you!" as this chick is literally slobbering on the dressing room floor. seriously people. our club is owned by a woman, we have scholarships for students, we were voted best club in the nation last year, and we were on two (2!) cable news networks last month. (ahem: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/26315908/#33501148). we are BETTER THAN THIS.

so here i am, seething while i throw on my jeans, hating myself for the way i played my shift, since i had clearly spent too much time showing off my brain when i obviously could have made more money doing fruity shots (or whatever the hell this cunt is on) and gaffawing for a living.

i had a bad night. not terrible, i met some awesome people (i learned how gas prices are estimated and fixed! i waxed philosophical with san franciscans!), but, sadly, such things do not (always) pay the bills. so i've been wasting my time hanging out with interesting people who i should have been playing. so what. i got caught up in myself and forgot that my self is for sale.

there are nights when i simply refuse to dumb myself down for money. not like her. not like this. WE ARE BETTER THAN THIS.

but everyone overlooks it, stuffs her into yet another cab (or goes and finds katie, who she's STILL slurringly yelling for), and looks the other way. why. WHY?!

i don't understand what she has going for herself, other than single-handedly helping our liquor sale stats. she makes the rest of us look terrible (or, depending on how you look at it, she makes the rest of us look good in comparison). she personifies EVERYTHING about the stripper stereotype that i have made it my mission in life to overcome. i storm out of the club, steam coming from my ears.

the only thing i can know for sure is that i am better than that. the next night, as i sit talking with a new customer, he plunks down $100 on the table and says, "i don't want you to dance, i'm having such a great time conversing that i want to pay you" and vindication is mine.


for all you demanding fuckers

i know i haven't posted in a while, and while encouragement to rectify that situation has ranged from polite and encouraging to all-out-STFU-whiny, i'm going to address it.

you want to know why i haven't been posting? curious as to what the hell i've been doing? well, here's my prospectus, bitches. it's a dry, tightly packed 10-page version of my thesis. it had to include a literature review AND works cited in those ten pages, so it's not as much argumentation as anyone would have liked--but hey, they don't just give these stupid grad degrees to just anyone, they make you jump through all manner and sort of flaming hoop beforehand. squishing a 40-page argument into 10 pages with a bunch of other requirements isn't easy. and i only got it down to 40 pages after cutting out 75% of my argumentation. so there.

but seriously people, quit asking me for more blogs and bear with me: i've got a pre-defense draft of the thesis due on april 10th, and post-defense final version due on may 10th. don't expect a damn thing until then--except maybe the first chapter, which i'll post here if, like, you really want me to.

so, i'm sorry, and yes, as many of you have so unceremoniously pointed out, i DO have stories to share--but not the time to type them up into the format you're used to. so STFU. seriously. and read this instead of bitching at me!

Stripping Subjectivity: The Multiply-Situated Self, “Covert Mimesis,” and Reinscription/Resistance through Subversion

Sex work is major point of contention within feminist discourse, eliciting discussion often polarized along lines of dis/empowerment: is sex work empowering or disempowering, feminist or unfeminist? Exemplified by feminist conferences of the late 1970s and early 1980s, the “sex wars” divided feminists on this issue: “anti-pornography” feminists denounced objectification as a tool of patriarchal oppression, while sex-positive feminists stressed possible empowerment within objectification and therefore within sex work itself. Anti-sex-work feminists and other researchers from outside the sex industry often focus on what they describe as sex workers’ coping mechanisms to mitigate the objectifying and degrading nature of their work, thereby entrenching an either/or mindset when addressing issues of empowerment, and ignoring descriptions of complex, contradictory, and liminal experience which continually emerge from sex worker narratives (Lerum 8). In this thesis, I draw on my own experience to argue that strippers’ reflexive engagement with roles/personae results in a conscious and dynamic multiply-situated self that becomes a tool of “covert mimesis,” facilitating transcendence of objectification through excessive performance, and enabling personal privacy and therefore empowerment in a phallocentric context by allowing strippers control over their expressed selves.

The strip club context is compelling because it provides a semi-public interactive sphere in which to participate and/or observe core issues of objectification and degradation; enacting a magnified representation of gender/power scripts (Perrucci, “Transformative Power” 336), “some young researchers find strip clubs the perfect laboratory to literally work through these concerns using their own bodies” (Frank 507). Autoethnography is crucial for conveying strippers’ liminal experience of objectification and dis/empowerment: participant observation allows reflexive, contextual engagement with subjective impacts of stripping on identity, shuns the myth of “objectivity,” and endeavors to communicate personal, partial truths (Abu-Lughod 15). My interrogation of strippers’ subjectivities quickly encountered pervasive cultural binaries: the Cartesian mind/body split informs denouncements that strippers are “reduced to objects,” and the self/other divide necessitates a unitary and stable “self,” thus delegitimizing the dynamic multiply-situated subjectivity often resulting from sex work. Strippers’ narratives force reconsideration of cultural dualisms by presenting embodied theories that confound either/or thought structures; liminal experiences of dis/empowerment and multiplicity pervade sex worker discourse, challenging both stigma and stereotype.

Strip clubs are inherently phallocentric environments (Egan, “Fantasy Girl” 111) requiring direct interaction with customers and thus a great deal of emotional labor (Bruckert 86). A successful stripper maintains a believable performance of a role/persona, indulging clients’ whims: in catering to customers’ demands by concealing “undesirable” facets of their subjectivities, strippers alter their expressed selves for profit. A context that demands female capitulation to male desires seems entirely phallocentric, yet many aspects of the strip club context defy distinct categorizations (Perrucci, “Transformative Power” 333). I will argue that feminist stripper ethnographies indicate potential liberation through multiplicity, via roles/personae performance. Drawing on my own experience, I will demonstrate how reflexive engagement with the environment yields a “layered account” of how roles of stripper and researcher affect one’s subjectivity; multiplicity becomes a source of strength, and “the self produced in this text is emergent from the interaction of these roles” (Ronai 105).

Acceptance of multiplicity allows roles/personae to become tools of what Danielle Egan calls “covert mimesis” : strippers excessively perform versions of femininity, knowingly entrenching phallocentric forms yet utilizing their object status in covert resistance (“Fantasy Girl” 111). This performance is covertly mimetic because a dancer mimes aspects of traditional femininity, but only she understands how they differ from her self-image. Covert resistance is largely invisible because her inner self is unimportant to customers: she mirrors the self they desire, allowing her to subvert gender norms while seemingly entrenching them. Building on Egan’s term, I argue that covert mimesis fosters movement between selves (jettisoning the polarized “true” and “faked” self), performances of femininity which acquire new power when seen through a lens of excess and performance (Johnson, “Pole Work” 150). In this sense, roles and masks can be liberating even while they seem unfeminist on the surface (Perrucci, “Persona and Self” 39): Ironically, the strip club (a homogenized and repressive environment) can supply more freedom of sexual expression than its participants may enjoy in everyday life (Perrucci, “Transformative Power” 324).
My thesis will consist of three parts. The first chapter traces the history and content of the feminist sex wars, arguing that the resulting polarization within feminist discourse is due to focus on dis/empowerment, and fuels feminist sex worker narratives. I analyze positionality within feminist stripper literature, emphasizing reflexivity’s crucial role in conveying subjective realities of stripping, and describe how polarizations fueled my entry into the industry. The second chapter unpacks those subjective realities of stripping, focusing on emotional labor, the use of roles/personae and their development into a multiply-situated identity. The third chapter explains how multiplicity is a tool of covert mimesis, necessitating conscious acknowledgment of and movement between selves. Finally, I show how conscious, dynamic multiplicity and resulting covert mimesis fosters privacy and personal empowerment, while enabling increased freedom of sexual expression.

Literature Review

The sex wars represented anti-pornography feminists’ critique and attempts to silence voices of empowerment within sex work, thus provoking an onslaught of feminist sex worker narratives. Steph Weene’s “Venus” represents a basic articulation of multiplicity and possible empowerment within the club’s phallocentric environment. Writing at the height of the sex wars, Weene refutes cultural disavowal and feminist criticism of her willful self-objectification with analysis of her gendered performance of beauty and eroticism that avoids reduction to stereotypes. Originally, Weene’s stripper personae led to self-alienation by commodifying her sexuality; resisting multiplicity is a tendency imposed by the mind/body split, which strippers must overcome before unproblematically engaging in covert mimesis. Thus, she names her reclamation of pride and power “feminissima” (37), essentially a personalized description of covert mimesis and an early description of agency within stripping. Weene’s theory serves as an excellent example of proactive mimetic resistance, and provides a doorway for deeper exploration of multiplicity and privacy in relation to empowerment.

Unfortunately, post-sex wars quantitative researchers and anti-sex work feminists often ignore sex worker narratives of liminality within dis/empowerment. Chris Bruckert’s book Taking It Off, Putting It On: Women in the Strip Trade challenges academic silencing of sex workers by placing embodied experience of hidden transcripts and passive resistance at the center of discourse, and integrating others’ narratives into an intersubjective, cohesive project. Through passive resistance, strippers are in a unique position to invert/manipulate oppressive scripts, forming a hidden transcript that could impact mainstream discourse. While Bruckert’s work supports multiplicity by integrating various narratives, it also upholds an arbitrary distinction between “true” and “faked” persona, thus entrenching the myth of a singular, fixed self: engaging in emotional labor, strippers are “alienated” from their “social selves” (88), though emotional labor is compulsory it “need not touch her self” (95). Expanding upon Bruckert’s work, I argue that strippers’ multiply-situated selves enable covert mimesis (which Bruckert links to transcendence of the self without internalizing repression), and, more importantly, conscious shifts between selves prevents self-alienation when engaging in covert mimesis. These conscious shifts indicate strippers’ proactive and agentive assertion of positively-oriented subjectivities within the sex work context, challenging anti-sex-work feminist claims that strippers are necessarily degraded or victimized by objectification.

The phallocentric strip club context threatens strippers’ self-esteem, thereby making maintenance of roles/personae and covert mimesis essential to a strong sense of self. Danielle Egan’s book Dancing for Dollars and Paying for Love: The Relationships Between Exotic Dancers and Their Regulars sketches liminal experiences of strippers and customers in relation to the complex power structure within strip clubs, where “white, heteronormative masculinity operates unproblematically and is reiterated for profit” (39). Strippers’ performance of “object” elicits a fluid sense of subjectivity, a challenge to embrace “both/and” (145) and highly personalized mimetic strategies of resistance. Egan, like Bruckert, appears to consider the alteration of mainstream discourse as the main goal of resistance; thus, my work will demonstrate that empowerment through subjective theory and privacy are more immediate goals than significant shifts in mainstream discourse. While overt resistance is “anything but futile” (146), subversion on a covert, personalized level can yield just as much personal empowerment but is rarely noticed by scholars of resistance (Paules 181-2).

Movement between selves via engagement of roles/personae is essential to empowerment through covert mimesis and stripping. Merri Lisa Johnson’s article, “Pole Work: Autoethnography of a Strip Club,” identifies the mind/body split as necessitating embodied movement between “many versions of female sexuality” (149). In describing her feminist subjectivity of stripper/researcher, Johnson finds the strip club a space to “wholly be” (151) by utilizing embodied experience to continue feminist theory’s “assault” on dominant discourse and conceptual roles (156). Articulating a lack of “literally embodied activisms” (151), Johnson presents the analogy of “pole work” as an embodied straddling of dualisms, facilitating reclamation of selfhood through movement between hyphenated dichotomies like “stripper-scholar” (156). I extend Johnson’s theory by integrating her binary-subverting “pole work” into other theories of excess and mimesis, showing how a multiply-situated, self-authored subjectivity can positively impact strippers’ feelings of privacy and therefore empowerment.

Engagement of roles/personae results in multiplicity, but conscious deployment of multiplicity is as crucial to empowerment as the roles/personae themselves. Alissa Perrucci emphasizes the importance of acknowledged multiplicity to strippers’ identities in her article, “The Relationship Between Persona and Self in Exotic Dancers’ Experience of Privacy,” arguing that by accepting (as opposed to resisting) the conscious engagement of personae, strippers challenge the myth of a stable/fixed subjectivity, thereby preventing internalization of stigma and alienation from “true” self (38). Multiple subjects allow “authorship of self” (39) within a role without being reduced to stereotypes, permitting feelings of individuality, agency, and privacy within a phallocentric environment. Expanding upon “authorship of self” to include covert mimesis, I extend Perrucci’s privacy argument by adding Johnson’s emphasis on liminality. I will argue that movement between personae offers a more dynamic example of multiplicity than an arbitrary distinction placed between “true” self and “faked” personae. Moreover, conscious acknowledgement of role/persona engagement, as exemplified by Weene and Johnson, demonstrates strippers’ subject
ive agency and makes possible personal privacy and empowerment within sex work.

Strippers engage multiple personae by having the ability to choose when to reveal or conceal certain aspects of their selves; agency within multiplicity enables personal privacy, providing inroads towards liberation within sex work. Identifying strip clubs as spaces where strippers and customers alike can enact multiple gender roles of their choosing, Perrucci’s “The Transformative Power of Sex Work” emphasizes the ability to conceal and reveal information within interactions as crucial to preserving a sense of privacy, which Perrucci deems central to the formulation of a healthy self-image and therefore empowerment within sex work. The club space therefore becomes a site of potential transformation of sexual and gendered scripts, where men and women can subvert gender norms while seeming to entrench them (i.e. covert mimesis), ideally by engaging in a mutually satisfying interaction that furthers social movement towards increased sexual freedom. Though Perrucci connects a multiply-situated self to feelings of privacy and therefore empowerment, her article entrenches a mutually-exclusive relationship between objectification and empowerment via pervasive juxtaposition. By incorporating binary-imploding theories like Johnson’s “pole work,” I transcend Perrucci’s either/or thought paradigm by emphasizing the possibility of empowerment within objectification, and vice versa.


Shortly before I began official research into strippers’ subjectivities I was compelled to seek embodied knowledge on the subject, persuaded both by a perceived rift between literature written by sex workers and that written about them, and by an intense desire for insider knowledge. And so I began working as a stripper, intent upon interrogating how my feminist subjectivity interacted with the club environment. The methodology I employ here results from viewing my experiences through the lens of others’ auto-ethnographic, subjectively-informed theories: I use my body as a primary site of knowledge production, but articulate my experience via theories of my feminist/stripper/researcher predecessors. The product combines various facets of feminist auto-/ethnographic accounts of strippers’ subjective experience into a cohesive argument that subverts binaric paradigms (e.g. mind/body, self/other, subject/object, dis/empowerment) and provides space for resistance and empowerment within a phallocentric context.

Works Cited

Abu-Lughod, Lila. “Can There Be A Feminist Ethnography?” Women & Performance 5.1 (1991): 7-27.

Bruckert, Chris. Taking It Off, Putting It On: Women in the Strip Trade. Toronto: Women’s Press, 2002.

Chapkis, Wendy. Live Sex Acts: Women Performing Erotic Labor. New York: Routledge, 1997.

Egan, R. Danielle. Dancing for Dollars and Paying for Love: The Relationships Between Exotic Dancers and Their Regulars. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006.

---. “I’ll be Your Fantasy Girl, If You’ll be My Money Man: Mapping Desire, Fantasy and Power in Two Exotic Dance Clubs.” Journal for the Psychoanalysis of Culture & Society 8.1 (2003): 109-20.

Frank, Katherine. “Thinking Critically about Strip Club Research.” Sexualities 10.4 (2007):501-17.

Hunter, Nan D. “Contextualizing the Sexuality Debates: A Chronology.” Sex Wars: Sexual Dissent and Political Culture. Eds. Lisa Duggan and Nan D. Hunter. New York: Routeledge, 1995. 16-29.

Johnson, Merri Lisa. “Pole Work: Autoethnography of a Strip Club.” Sex Work & Sex Workers: Sexuality and Culture. Eds. Barry M. Dank, Roberto Refinetti, Vol 2. New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers, 1999. 149-57.

Leigh, Carol, aka Scarlot Harlot. “Inventing Sex Work.” Whores and Other Feminists, ed. Jill Nagle. New York: Routledge, 1997. 223-31.

Lerum, Kari. “Twelve-Step Feminism Makes Sex Workers Sick: How the State and the Recovery Movement Turn Radical Women into ‘Useless Citizens.’” Sex Work and Sex Workers: Sexuality and Culture. Eds. Barry M. Dank and Roberto Refinetti, Vol 2. New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers. 7-36.

Paules, Greta Foff. Dishing It Out: Power and Resistance among Waitresses in a New Jersey Restaurant. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1991.

Perrucci, Alissa C. “The Relationship Between Persona and Self in Exotic Dancers’ Experience of Privacy.” Unusual Occupations 11.1 (2000): 35-53.

---. “The Transformative Power of Sex Work.” Humanity and Society 24.2 (2000): 323-37.

Ronai, Carol Rambo. “The Reflexive Self through Narrative: A Night in the Life of an Exotic Dancer/Researcher.” Investigating Subjectivity: Research on Lived Experience. Eds. Carolyn Ellis and Michael G. Flaherty. Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications, 1992. 102-24.

Weene, Steph. “Venus.” Heresies 3.4 (1981): 36-8.


breaking my record

back when i first started stripping, summer '06, my record earnings for a single shift was around $1000. then, one night, i broke my record. that's a long and horrible story, but it's time to tell it.

it was early in an evening shift and i was doing my first stage rotation. close to the end of my set, a waitress approached me and informed me someone had bought me off stage. this is a little strange, since you can't buy someone off stage once she's already up there, and also because this wasn't someone i knew. he just saw me and said, "that one." so i put my clothes on and teeter on over to his table, where one of the russians had already sat down and started talking to him, and for some reason he didn't inform her he was waiting on someone. whatever. i patiently wait out the russian girl, and start talking to this guy. i was taking antibiotics for some pussy imbalance or another, and not drinking that week. so he took the shot, and starts inquiring about private rooms. he's a traveler, and at that time we didn't have a one-night VIP membership option, so off to the champagne room we go. we negotiate $400/hr compensation for me, but it wasn't much of a negotiation because his answer to every question was "whatever you want." great.

we get our champagne, which should get me off stage for the entire night, but it doesn't work out that way. the club kept calling me up onto the stage rotation, TWO MORE times to be precise. best i can figure, they'd decided they could milk this guy for more cash because they knew he was an out-of-towner and unfamiliar with our rules. again, i'm not drinking, so every time he has to buy the $75 premium shot to get me off the rotation, he takes the shot. so there he is, having had 3 shots of patron platinum and gods know how many glasses of champagne, and there's little sober me, politely pretending to take sips off a single glass of bubbly. he gets wasted, and we're on completely different wavelengths. i start having trouble keeping a conversation going, there's just no chemistry at all. every time i got up to use the restroom, i'd come back and he'd be passing out.

during the course of our interactions, i'm diligently adhering to the stripper code of ambiguity: make him think he has a chance to go home with me, but be really vague and never give him a direct yes or no response. this is absolutely key, especially with the traveling business guys, since they'd much rather i come finish them off in their hotel rooms, rather than having to rely on the ample masturbatory fodder they recently purchased. they have to think they have a chance.

so we get towards the end of the 4th hour, the club is getting ready to close, and he owes me $1600. he asks me what i want, and i say $2000, because i knew he was paying with a card, and after i turn in the funny money to the club, i walk with $1600. this is a fairly common maneuver, though we're forbidden from discussing the conversion rate with customers. he agrees to $2000, my stomach does a little flip as i feel a wave of victory sweeping up my spine. we order the funny money from the waitress, and she brings a form he needs to sign to match the signature on his driver's license. well, this guy is so wasted he can't even match his own fucking signature. it ended up taking him five tries. five times, he'd sign, she'd take it away and come back saying the manager said it didn't match well enough. the manager eventually came to the table to check out the situation, at which point i'm embarrassed that this guy is so drunk, and trying to smooth things over as he is becoming increasingly agitated with each failed attempt at signing his own fucking name.

we finally get this "money", which is not only the biggest stack i've ever seen, but also a significant record-shattering bounty. i'm giddy, but also nervous. this guy isn't giving me the cash, he's trying to get a straight answer out of me on whether or not i'm coming back to his room, i'm giving him the run around, and even in his drunken stupor, he knows it. that's when he turns on me. he breaks me off a paper-clipped bundle amounting to 1/4 of what i'm owed, goes, "you're a fucking bitch. you can have the rest when you come to my hotel room" and gets up to leave. pulse racing, i frantically attempt to remain calm while gently pressuring him to give me what i'm owed. i play all the cards: "you can't spend that anywhere else," to which he replies, "i'll just have to come back tomorrow then." "but i sat with you for four hours. i could have made more than this on the floor, and i thought we had a good time" and he goes, "i don't give a shit."

well, i'd heard tell of girls sending the managers out the door to chase/shake down customers, and knew this service was always available should it be required. i hastily follow this guy to the front door, and sick my boys on him. i informed them of the ultimatum he'd given me, which only enraged them further. unfortunately i can't leave the club (and certainly not out the front door) in my stripper gear, so i didn't get to see what happened, but my buddy charlie was waiting to pick me up and take me to a party, and saw the whole thing. they surrounded him, insistent and angry, he threatened to call the cops and my favorite manager goes, "oh yeah? and are you going to tell them that you propositioned her for the rest of the money?" and that's when he forked it over.

they file back inside the now flourescent-lit club, and hand me this previously-unimaginable sum of cash. then the head manager starts in on me, accusing me of overcharging him (we're only supposed to charge $400/hr, but i know for a fact some girls charge more and the club doesn't care, and they SHOULDN'T, because i just made them hundreds off the funny money conversion). i explain my position (we negotiated 400/hr, he was a handful, he asked me what i wanted, so i overestimated, thinking we'd negotiate it down a bit, but instead he just turned into an asshole). this doesn't matter one bit to the manager, who threatens me within an inch of my job. i'm already rattled by this whole thing, and am near tears by the time he's done with me. he tells me to not cash it all at once, and to not cash ANY of it for a week, because that's how long this guy has to call the club and re-neg on the charges. yes, that can happen. "oh, i didn't mean to" is a perfectly good excuse, at which point the club gives the girl ONE WEEK to repay whatever she cashed, so it can be returned to its "rightful" owner. total bullshit, but it happens all the time.

however, i'm so pissed off i'm beyond the point of caring, so i cash it all. (he never called, but i walked on pins and needles all week. asshole). i go to my party with charlie, in a wretched mood, especially since i'm still sober and surrounded by drunk people once i get there--except i have to be nice to them because they're my friends. it was difficult. that asshole totally wrecked my night, and my victorious record-breaking evening was soured by the shame and guilt i was made to feel in the aftermath.


that all changed on tuesday night. i went into work super early (like, 6pm) to meet kristopher on his way home from the airport. he and i have a lot of good chemistry, and i am effortlessly engaged when he comes to see me. damn, i still need to write that blog about the "grey area." yeah, more on kristopher later. lets just say we have a great time and talk about really serious shit. so i eat some surf and turf, my awesomepants amazing friend ruby who just got hired comes up and hangs with us for a bit, before i have to go meet my next customer, who's already arrived (who i've known since high school. long story). i felt really bad about having to cut my visit with kristopher short, but it had to be done. i left him with ruby and trotted on over to the other side of the VIP, and sat down to catch up with my old friend. he and i have been doing the "two ships passing in the night" thing for months, so it'd been a while and it was really good to see him. unfortunately we only had about an hour and some change, because yes, i had ANOTHER customer arrive and send for me.

another traveling business guy, i'd met this person the previous night, when he paid me about 300 bucks in the last half hour of a shift that had completely blown up until that point. he'd promised to come back the next night, and here he was. after about 30 minutes in a booth he decides the main floor just isn't going to cut it, so off we go to the champagne room. again with the "whatever you want," only i can tell this guy is about 350% nicer than the asshole in the previous record-breaking story. his work is interesting, his stories are interesting, and he's all about me. he kept handing me cash, but at the end of the night asked me if i needed any more. i quickly tallied what i'd already made, and quoted him an amount that i knew would push me just over the $1700 mark, but still well within reasonable limits in terms of the time we'd spent together. i had my record in my sights, and i wasn't going to let this chance get away. happily obliging, he orders the rest of the cash in funny money, and victory is mine.


what a stark contrast, these two nights; i've come so far since the $1600 shift, it's uncanny. there i was, naive, bad at negotiating, still learning to stand up for what i deserve, just trying to be *agreeable*, and it backfired on me bigtime. i was treated like a piece of meat the entire night, and then treated like shit at the end. that money didn't feel good, it didn't feel like i'd earned it, it felt like reparations for him being an asshole and me putting up with it for four hours. (now, don't get me wrong, sometimes i like being treated like a piece of meat--and even when i sit with guys who appreciate my intellect, there's still a certain amount of objectification that remains inherent. i'm okay with that because i can't change it, but i retain the power to utilize object status to my advantage. i just want to be appreciated along the way, and i felt really fucking appreciated the other night).

in contrast, here i am 2.5 years later, having found a balance between objectification and my subjectivity. i can fully engage with people who's company i enjoy, but set limits on those interactions. i know an asshole when i meet one, and instead have cultivated connections with regulars with whom i share mutual appreciation and respect. though i like all three of the guys from last night enough to feel bad about not getting to spend more time with each, as i would have gladly spent all night with any one, i maintained a good balance between hedonism and shrewd business sense. i successfully juggled my time and interactions, and everybody left happy--and THAT makes ME happy too.

so, yay. i have achieved a stunning victory over both the dollar sum and negative memories associated with my previous record income for a night. now, every time i think about the most i've made in a shift, i don't have to also feel twinges of guilt and shame. i can look back on my record shift as one of my favorite shifts, for so many reasons. thanks everybody, not only did you make my night, but you made the last 2.5 years worthwhile. my gratitude knows no bounds; i was glowing all day yesterday--and it's not just because i paid all my bills in a single night. i have come a long way since summer '06, and you helped me prove that to myself. thank you.

back in the dressing room, i invited five of my favorite stripper friends out to breakfast, we were loud, and it was fun. i picked up the tab, and gave the waiter a 40% tip ;-)



the traveling business guys are my favorite customers, for so many reasons. allow me to enumerate. ahem:

1.) by definition, travelers are away from home, and thus also from curfew-imposing wives who are none too pleased when they come home stinking of booze, smoke, and fifteen kinds of perfume, possibly bearing visual signs of debauchery such as lipstick marks, hickies, or glitter (point in fact, this is why strippers rarely wear body glitter).

2.) the DFW strip club ghetto is about 15 minutes from the airport. the powers that be are fond of enacting zoning regulations that relegate adult businesses to lower income and/or industrial neighborhoods; in our case, this places us at a rather central and convenient location for travelers (take that, laura miller!). we are often the first stop these business guys make after getting off a plane, except maybe their hotel. even for non-travelers, we are a popular place to "wait out the traffic." (yeah, sure buddy, even though it's now...8:30. there's a reason our walls have no windows or clocks.)

3.) traveling business guys generally spend all day doing boring work stuff, networking at conventions, sitting in endless meetings, etc. they complete their obligations and instead of getting in their sedans and fighting traffic back to suburbia, they find themselves in a foreign land, having no idea where the action's at. but there's always action at the strip club. i wonder how many guys always go to strip clubs when they're traveling, just because they don't know what else to do except sit in the hotel room and watch cable television.

4.) many travelers come to DFW to see clients. going out to strip clubs is a great way to woo clients. they come to the club to make money while they spend money. on us. it works out.

the only thing that gets slightly annoying about these guys is the nearly constant offers for hot airport hotel room action. oh, if i had a dollar for every time someone has given me their room number.

and oh, the hangovers these guys endure throughout their trips. i've heard tell of such things, and i've made them come back into the club to nurse their hangovers on more than one occasion. thank you, traveling business guys, for enduring. thanks for getting up for that 6am conference call to india after drinking with me until 2 the previous night, and still coming back into the club to see me. thank you for making sure i know when you come back to town. you're the reason i love working on weeknights, so thank you, traveling business guys, for my free weekends. i love you guys. don't ever change.


back to the ol' bump n' grind

going back to work after a vacation can be really tough, for a multitude of reasons. for one, i typically put on a few pounds during a vacation (especially the holidays...), and this job has made me more conscious of how i look than ever before (and i've always been vain, so that's saying something). vacation weight aside, there's also another physical aspect--stripping is hard on the legs, knees and feet in particular. during a trip, i get to the point where i no longer hear crunching in my knees when i squat down, and then going back to doing squats and wall-sits for a living (in heels no less) takes its toll. i know that, if i work a long shift that consists entirely of dance-by-dance income (as opposed to getting paid to sit on my ass and be entertaining), i'm going to be sore as fuck the next day. so i typically make my first shift back a short one, 4 hours instead of 8. vacations are also time off from stripper-associated body maintenance, like shaving my cunt. plus, i can give it a few weeks to grow into the requisite quarter inch length required to get waxed off, so that's at least nice. what's more, i don't have to dry and straighten my hair after each shower when i'm on vacation. showers can be enjoyed as something other than a pre-work activity. like, say, a post-sex activity instead ;-)

moreso than the physical aspects, it's the mental stuff that makes "getting back on the horse" difficult. i get used to relaxing and being myself, no pressure to be entertaining or agreeable, and then have to go back to work at the end. the thought of walking into the club and meeting new people and making them like me enough to give me money...well, it's daunting. the knowledge that my evenings are now spoken for, that i'll feel guilty if i take a night off and hang out with friends, that sucks too.

also, i fell onstage again. it was way worse than the first time, in terms of the WAY i fell (no, i didn't faceplant, and no, i didn't hurt myself), and the fact that NO ONE came up and tipped me afterwards. mortifying. completely wrecked my confidence on stage too, because i fell in my BACK UP SHOES. yes, the safe shoes. the modest, low heels. i fell in those. so i have some different shoes now, but i pretty much don't feel comfortable up there unless i'm wearing my boots. which means that i don't dance as much, i don't feel stable enough to really move. so my stage sets suck, i don't make anything, and i look like a dork. great. in short, the knowledge that i'll have to dance onstage again is daunting, and another reason i don't want to go back to work.

i typically put off going back to work as long as possible, and then when i do decide to go back, i make sure i've got either a customer or a good stripper buddy coming in to hold my hand. it makes it SO much easier to go in, knowing that i've got some guaranteed money coming my way, or at least a comrade to help me seek it out. moreso than the guaranteed money, it's the familiar face of a tried and true regular that's comforting after a vacation. i already know this person, he already likes me, i don't have to go through introductory bullshit and deal with explaining a.) where i'm from, b.) how i got to texas, c.) what the hell a smart girl like me is doing working in a strip club, which is typically what introductory conversation always consists of. it gets tiresome, having to constantly JUSTIFY myself to these strangers, because i want their money. but with a regular, there's no need for that, and i can relax. it makes it SO much easier to mentally prepare myself for going back to the bump and grind, when i at least know i have a pretty easy shift ahead of me.

well, last night i had both a customer and a dancer buddy coming in, but decided to go in early and risk being sore today. maryn canceled on me, but my customer came in. we had a nice hour or so at the beginning of my shift, talked about how excited we are that battlestar galactica is about to start back up, told holiday stories, and i made money and watched everyone else try and make money (it was deader than dead). i hit the locker room after he left, vowing to try and find someone to buy me off stage so i didn't have to face my fear of falling in these tried-but-not-necessarily-tested shoes i have now. (but man oh man, are they hot as all getup). i made a few laps around the club, thinking "damn, it's still dead," finally finding a table and doing a few for a *really* nice guy who seemed to get the reason why i'm there. quite non-judgmental, refreshing. i love it when that happens.

just as i'm getting him to pay me i spot my awesome local regular, the one from my previous blog entitled, "damn, sometimes i really love my job." i had fired off a text to him earlier in the week, hoping to get a nibble and set a date, but hadn't heard back. as i'd never texted with him before, i was sortof wondering if i had overstepped a line or something. but alas, there he is, looking around, and as i discovered, looking for me. he said that little "nudge" i gave him wasn't at all inappropriate, and besides, it worked, right? awesome. all of a sudden, i knew that my night was going to be relaxing, entertaining, engaging, AND highly profitable. what a rush. i was giddy. it's always the same when i sit with him: we get a cave upstairs (yes, we have caves upstairs), are waited upon by my favorite waitress, we drink (but not particularly heavily), he buys me off stage, we talk a lot and i do some dancing (but not a lot), we eat nachos around midnight, he leaves sometime before 2 and gives me a thousand bucks. he's wicked smart and has great stories. easy. as. pie.

moral to the story: don't put off going back to work, because it could be a $1300 night. but don't feel bad about putting it off, either, because...it could be a $1300 night, and those nights i missed while feeling sorry for myself might have sucked balls and made me feel even WORSE by wrecking my confidence even more. i feel much better about working now. today, the direct correlation between income and attitude/self-esteem is more palpable than ever. man, i can't wait to not do this anymore.