Thursday, May 28, 2009

Baring Our Bodies, Protecting Our Souls

"I've always wondered," a friend wrote recently, "how strippers guarded their souls, and partitioned their sexuality into the performance and the real thing. I imagine it could get quite confusing, and for the boyfriend (or girlfriend) it might be a real bummer."

I had to think about that for a little while. Confusing? Yes. I've seen too many girls struggle with their identities to deny that; I've watched enough of them try to reconcile their night job with their daytime personae and not always succeed. There are plenty of ways that a girl who enters this business will have to guard herself, countless lessons for her to learn and many adjustments for her to make.

It seems like a given that strippers have to protect their souls, and we do, but not for the reasons some might think.

Exposing one's sexuality doesn't necessarily make one vulnerable - unless you happen to be female or gay and living in our society. It's not the hazards of the job, but the prejudices of the mainstream, fluorescent-lighted world against which the stripper must protect herself. When a customer tries to upset or humiliate her, society at large has tacitly (or overtly) told her that she deserves to be treated that way and has no right to protect herself. I've often heard people say that they assume strippers don't have boundaries, but nothing could be further from the truth: it's knowing precisely where our boundaries lie and feeling sure that they're firmly in place that makes it easy for us to move freely within them. Unfortunately, guarding those borders is left up to us and to our faithful male support staff, when things get out of hand: we don't get much support from outside. It's the strain of this constant and unsung vigilance that drives many women out of the business and spoils their memories of the time they spent with us. We have only each other to turn to for understanding.

As confused as our culture is about its sexual self, and as mixed as our collective feelings are about sex workers, it's no wonder that our lovers get a little mixed up sometimes, too.

Not all strippers are able to successfully cast off the manacles this culture has placed on our sexuality. When we're able to do it, though, it becomes unnecessary to try so hard to distinguish between what we do at work and what we do at home. We know the difference. The real issue tends to lie with our partner and his feelings of propriety; HE'S the one who gets confused. People ask "Does your boyfriend let you do this?" more often than one would guess.

Let: a strange word to use in relation to a grown adult.

Sexuality is so abundant, so life-affirming, that there's really always enough, no matter how much of it we share with our audience. It's not sexuality, but intimacy that we save for our lovers. Whether they understand that, however, is another story. It takes a thoughtful and secure man to look past the stereotypes and separate the two. If he appreciates us and wants to partake of our abundance without killing the goose that lays the golden eggs, then the profession isn't a point of contention. If he wants to possess what he desires and crush it when he's not able to control it, then there's a problem.

Female sexuality is the instrument of creation. It's also the focus of abject terror, obsessive yearning and unspeakable rage. Many women never come to terms with their own, and spend their lives peeking out at it like villagers hiding from an elephant. Others are unafraid; they adorn it with gold and bright silk and ride it, high and proud, like Egyptian queens. Those of us who do that soon find out that taming the great beast means housing it, though, and feeding it; it follows that there are some men who will find it hard to live with - especially when they find that only we can command it.

To be a sex goddess is to live daily with extremes that most others will never have to negotiate. Those extremes will touch every aspect of her sexuality and constantly threaten to intrude upon her intimacy; her challenge is to shelter it against the relentless onslaught. To love a sex goddess is to be always ready to protect the soul of your relationship from the madding crowd, and not everyone is up to the task. Many fail, and go off in search of calmer climes.

Let them go, I say. I need to be with someone who trusts my judgment and respects my choices. I can understand that a potential partner may have some difficulties with that when it comes to what I do, but I can't waste my time with someone who can't work through them. Better that they eliminate themselves in the first few rounds and leave the rewards for those made of stouter stuff.

Copyright 2003 Alysabeth Clements
For Private Dancer Monthly
October 2003

Pretty Is As Pretty Does: The Privilege of Beauty

You are the envy
of all parallel lines that
dream of curves and convergence
- Sara Bailey: Sieve of Words


Nothing is beautiful from every point of view.
- Horace


You'll see the most beautiful woman you've ever set eyes on someday; your breath will catch, your mouth will go dry and your eyes will linger hungrily and reverently on the planes of her face and the lines of her body. She will be exquisite - the embodiment of everything you've ever wanted, or wanted to be.

Just remember this: somewhere, somebody's tired of that bitch.

You know it. I know it: women, whose bodies cradle the Seat of Creation, instinctively realize what an enormous source of power it is. Some of us will learn to use some of it; none of us will learn to use all of it; some of us will learn to misuse it. Some won't ever learn much at all, and so others will use them instead.

Society places an inordinate amount of value on youth and attractiveness. It is this, reflected back at her in the eyes of so many of the people she meets in her life, which can warp the beautiful woman's self-perception. The passing fluke that is her pulchritude can become the asset by which she inaccurately values herself: while she has it, the world owes her a living; after it's gone she may fear that she'll be worth nothing at all.

Odes and paintings and sculptures and plays and ballads and aeons of angst aside, the components of physical beauty are nothing more, at their basest level and minus that certain je ne sais quoi, than signs of genetic adequacy, reproductive capability and good health. Beautiful women are chromosomal Cadillacs, luxury vehicles for DNA: a smooth ride into an uncertain future. These oh-so-fortunate accidents of birth are nice to look at - when seen in the proper perspective. They aren't angels or devils, goddesses or queens, different from other women. Loveliness is a gift or a curse, depending on how you look at it, but one thing it's not is an accomplishment. It was not beauty alone, but the mad desire to control and possess it, which launched a thousand ships.

Pretty girls become aware of this power at various ages. They begin to notice that they turn heads, and that others, usually but not always male, are more eager to help them or please them. Opportunities and extras are offered in order to bring them closer to admirers. Praise, attention, trust and validation are often more readily given and shortcomings and mistakes overlooked, sometimes unfairly and at the expense of others. Men rush to open doors, offer drinks and hold coats, and after a while a young woman who is just beginning to discover the effect of her beauty may begin to believe the hype and think that this special treatment she receives is her due. When that happens, she can be difficult to be around instead of irresistible, and people who are initially attracted to her looks sometimes end up resenting her self-centeredness. There are few things less appealing than a beautiful girl who believes that's all she ever needs to offer the world; that said, with the way some people fall all over themselves around pretty women it's not such a farfetched conclusion for her to have reached.

Beauty is to women what wealth is to men. The more they have, the better society likes them - at least at first glance. As with all superficial things, however, it can't make up for the lack of more substantial qualities.

Beauty is only skin deep, but it's a valuable asset if you're poor or haven't any sense.
- Kin Hubbard


There's always someone around to make pretty girls feel important. It's often that guy we all know, the one who probably doesn't do well with women in his own personal life, who has learned to give great backrubs and will run errands. He's the guy who got into photography mostly so he would have a service to offer that was of specific value to attractive women, and who isn't half-bad after all that practice. You know him - the Sycophant, the Hanger-on, the Groupie: Friend and Confidant To All Beauties. He calls them all 'Goddess' and 'Mistress' and drops the names of other lovelies to show how 'in' he is and prove he's 'ok' and not dangerous. He bends over backwards to ingratiate himself and make himself indispensable and then complains, with ostentatious sighs and within earshot of other men, that he has no time for himself because so many of these exquisite creatures need him to take their pictures or give them 'a shoulder to cry on'. In school he's the Harmless Friend, loved (maddeningly platonically) by girls and ignored by jocks. He's on the debate team, the school paper, maybe the cheerleading squad. He might even show up in a Home Ec class, but make no mistake - while the Alpha Males are calling him a fag, he's in someone's room after class watching her change clothes because she feels so comfortable around him.

We all know him. Lovely women are his hobby, his passion, his raison d'etre. We've sent him for food a thousand times, asked him to fetch us a drink when we're actually sitting closer to the bar, and patted his head while ignoring his expertly, obsequiously sublimated sexual frustration. He and a million other worshippers in the Cult of Beauty (The Intimidated Woman, The Rival, The Sheepish Stutterer, The Sugar Daddy, The Tray-dropping Waiter and many others) accept, condone or indulge this behavior and even thank us for it so often that sometimes we forget that no one deserves to be treated this way. If we travel too far down this thorny-flowered path without checking ourselves we may find that we've become kind of an asshole along the way.

A beautiful woman who mistreats or disregards others is no different than a rich man who does the same thing, and she risks the same fate: a life apart from others, never truly loved or respected for who she is; ultimately she may find herself alone. She will spend her life being pulled close by those attracted to her appearance and then pushed away when her true nature reveals itself. Faces on which she has grown used to seeing admiration will eventually show her disillusionment, reproach, rejection. When her looks melt away like a mouthful of cotton candy (and they will, remember that: beauty is only lent to us for a time), so will her sense of self and her passkey to the world. In the words of Benjamin Constant, "She was a beauty in her youth, a fact which she alone remembers." Physical attractiveness is fleeting, but memories of slights and injuries both real and imagined live long and long, and grow like poisonous toadstools with time and retelling. Rich pricks and gorgeous bitches (and rich bitches and gorgeous pricks) don't have true friends, and when life hurts them or wears them down as it does to all of us, no one is sorry, and no one offers them a hand without wanting something in return. In the end, we will all be left with what we have offered others and nothing more.

Privilege is seductive and dangerous: it is a way with many pitfalls, in which our weaknesses of character are tested, revealed, and even magnified. Beauty, as with all things that have profound effect and can be used to enormous advantage, is a double-edged sword, and, like any kind of power, can corrupt.

For Private Dancer Monthly

Copyright 2002 Alysabeth Clements

The Feminist Stripper: It's Not An Oxymoron

I'll bet you're wondering how a stripper can be a feminist. I get that a lot. I've heard a lot of reasons why I can't.

Here's one: "The sex industry is essentially anti-feminist because it depends on male arousal." Well, congratulations to those ladies for handing power to the penis on a silver platter! As soon as it stands up, they throw in the towel! Think. How feminist is it to think of male arousal as some kind of defining factor? It's not. It's just arousal. Contrary to widely held belief, that's actually healthy in both sexes and a lot more fun without all the politics attached. (Most men can't hold up a wet bath towel with their erect penis, much less all that baggage...) The fact that some feminists still think we lose something when men perceive us a certain way means that they're still willing to allow men to define us. That still says, loud and clear, that men get to claim whatever they see, and whatever women don't want them to vanquish, we must hide and jealously guard. I don't think that's true of most men, and it certainly doesn't need to be encouraged in the ones of which it is. In my perfect world, all people realize that, although we may want something, we don't have the right to take it if the owner doesn't want to give it to us - even if they show it off. Even (damn them) if they give or sell some to others - right in front of us. We're taught that about everything from the time that we're small children in today's society - everything except the sexuality of any woman who doesn't mind openly enjoying or benefitting financially from it. Men are subtly taught by society at large - and it is sometimes, sadly, reinforced by their mothers, of all people: "You must treat all women with respect - except the ones who allow you to see their sexuality outside the constraints dictated by society. Those you may abuse as you wish."

Why do you think that men like Ted Bundy feel the need to punish women? Because society has taught them that there are 'good' girls and there are 'bad' girls, and that the line between the two is often invisible and always defined by men - sometimes against their will, by their penises. The one it points at is the bad one.... The bad ones need to be chastised. Now the woman is bad for arousing the man, and the man is filled with self-loathing for a perfectly natural feeling. How can that not eventually go terribly wrong? It often does. Pornography doesn't cause the victimization of women. The way this society feels about sex does. It's not sex that's the problem - in any form - it's sexism.

I'm reminded of the scene in Aphra Behn's "The Rover" where two men are getting ready to ravish the main female character (it's probably been ten years, and I don't have a copy in the house. Bear with me.), who keeps pleading with them and insisting that she is 'a lady.' Of course, they don't believe her, and it's only at the last minute when they realize that she is actually of the appropriate social station that they decide not to rape her. They apparently weren't appalled in Aphra's century that if she hadn't been 'the right kind of girl,' violating her would have been just peachy. It sounds to me like we're still saying that if you're not 'the right kind of girl,' by whatever standard this generation of 'ladies' (actually the male establishment to which they are unconsciously attempting to conform and therefore gain respect and equality) has set, then hostility and humiliation are your just desserts. Instead of women being appalled by the abuse of other women, we abet and even participate in it ourselves by separating 'good' from 'bad' and casting the 'bad' ones outside the protective circle - out from under the guardianship of the 'warrior women.'

Some anti-porn feminists don't seem to realize that it's THEY who ostracize their sisters from the inner sanctum of feminism for making the 'wrong' decisions. I didn't think feminism was about women thinking alike. I thought it was about women thinking for themselves. The moment you stop fighting for and guarding the right of ALL women to make decisions for themselves without having to answer to others, you forfeit your right to honestly define yourself as a feminist. It seems to me that true feminine empowerment will come to its full fruition when seeing a woman as a sexual, exciting, inviting creature doesn't mean disregarding the rest of her. Women's sexuality is amazingly compelling, and like love, the more you expend, the more you have to give. I don't lose power or dignity because I arouse people. Arousal isn't abuse. It doesn't have to be about power. It can just be about delight.

Yes, sometimes a customer will disregard me as a person while he looks at my body. Here's a clue: Welcome to the service industry. Ever tried waiting tables? You don't get a hell of a lot of personal validation from people you're serving, no matter where you work. People are jerks. Surprise. At my job I don't have to be nice to jerks. I can say whatever I want. Can you do that at your job?

Just because I give - or in my case sell -an aspect of my eroticism doesn't mean that anyone has gotten anything of any value from me, and it doesn't mean that they have the right to take it anytime they want. In fact, it isn't truly mine until I can give it away, sell it, or keep it to myself as I choose. If I invite someone to my home every day for five days and make them welcome to everything in it, it's still a crime if they break in on Saturday. Charging to see my eroticism doesn't degrade it any more than a chef devalues his gift by preparing his food in a restaurant for a living - and it doesn't mean that he prepares his wife's meal with any less love and care at the end of the day. An actor doesn't necessarily exploit something as deeply personal as his emotions when he gets paid (sometimes an absurd amount of money) to weep and rage onscreen. He has a talent which he shares with us, and we think it valuable enough to compensate him for it. We give actors little statues of naked men for baring their souls, and shame strippers for baring their bodies... and we can't take our eyes off of either one. I tend to think that any aspect of human behavior that manifests regardless of the different centuries and cultures it survives and emerges intact is an essential part of the human condition.

You think taking money for some aspect of sex is degrading to women? Hah. Try looking up what marriage was originally for.

©Alysabeth Clements 2000 - 2009

So You Want to Be a Stripper

I get a lot of letters from people who have always fantasized about being in the industry but have been intimidated or are unsure how to go about it. I'll tell you as much as I can.

First, check your local paper to see if any of the clubs in your area are advertising. They usually are. You'll probably find it under 'D' for dancer or 'E' for entertainer. Call and find out when they hold auditions and what their rules are concerning apparel. Some require cocktail dresses while others don't mind if you dance in a half-shirt and cutoff jeans. Some have rules about the type of shoe you can wear, because shoes with metal heels can damage their stages and make them dangerous for other dancers. That's also a good reason to put lotion on no less than one hour before you go onstage. One little bit of lotion could cause another dancer to slip and fall.

Visit the bar once or twice during the shift you want to work before you audition. Go to the ones that have the best reputation first if you can find out which ones they are. Take a supportive friend or two. A lot of clubs won't let you in unless you're accompanied by a man. It sounds strange, but they're trying to protect themselves from liability for prostitution taking place on the premises, and if women who don't work there can come in and out at will and leave with anyone, their safety is compromised as well. Most women are smart enough to know that walking to your car alone in the parking lot of a strip joint (or anywhere else, for that matter) after dark is less than wise.

Talk to the dancers who work there. Bring a little bit of money so you're not wasting their time. The good thing is that female customers usually use the same ladies' room as the dancers, so you'll get a chance to chat. It's considered rude to ask them exactly how much they make, but they'll tell you if they're satisfied or not. Look at what they're wearing, and watch how they make their money. Some places the dancers make it all on stage. Other places depend more on table dances and lively conversation.

Watch how the dancers move. Even really good dancers have to make the transition into the world of erotic dance. Strippers place their centers of gravity lower as a rule, and tend to lead more with their pelvises. You'll get the hang of it once you recognize the difference and observe it for a little while. Practice in the mirror.

The shoes take a little getting used to as well. The night you start work, make sure to have a bucket to soak your feet when you get home. I recommend taking an anti-inflammatory a half hour or so before your shift.

Ask the dancers where they get their costumes. Some have favorite stores, and many lingerie stores actually give discounts to dancers. Many clubs have costume people that come once a week with their merchandise. You'll need to have a thong. Most dancers call them 'T-bars,' and they're wider than G-strings, which some topless clubs won't allow. It should be made of a sturdy, opaque material. Black is a good color to start with - especially because you'll be working every week of the month, if you get my drift...

In deference to necessity and at the risk of indelicacy, I'm going to bring up the subject of the… um… 'nether coiffure'. Most dancers trim their bikini lines to one degree or another. I only bring it up because it's illegal in many states to show even one stray hair, and so dancers tend to keep the hedges carefully trimmed, as it were. Get a really nice shaving gel to start with, and a razor with some kind of safety feature. That's not an area where you want to take any chances. Allow yourself at least 45 minutes the first time you attempt this. You don't want to rush. Find a position where you can comfortably reach all the areas you want to shave, and if you can, put a mirror so that you can see the area in question from more than one angle. I prefer to stroke the razor diagonally to the direction of the hair growth. Rinse the razor often, and use a fresh one frequently - at least every two to three shaves. If your hair is particularly long or coarse, you might want to cut it down with a pair of scissors (carefully, carefully) before you start in with the razor at all. Don't neglect the area you can't see above your inner thighs. After you've rinsed and patted yourself gently dry, use baby oil, lotion, or an antibiotic cream (preferable to ointment) on the newly defoliated area. Depending on the humidity in your part of the country, you may want to finish up with a light dusting of baby powder. You may think of using feminine deodorant spray, but there's controversy over whether those are good for you (apparently not very tasty, either, if you catch my meaning - probably not best before hot dates).

Now you're ready - as ready as you can possibly be for the amazing, life-altering adventure on which you're about to embark. Brace yourself for things both wonderful and awful, remember that the things that people say reflect on them, not you, and keep your wits about you. You're joining an ancient and noble sisterhood, and transforming yourself into one of the most compelling women on earth - an actual sex goddess. A conduit of pure, undistilled creation energy. Women are exquisite, rarefied vessels - vast reservoirs of a boundless sea of erotic abundance. To share it is an amazing gift. Remember that, and do your job with dignity and reverence.

Good luck, Sister.

Still have more questions? So did others.
Feedback is nice. That way I know what I need to explain in better detail and what I left out.

Auditioning:

It's not like auditioning for theatre or talent agencies. In most clubs there's no special private time. Auditioning means going into the club where you want to work, usually during the slow afternoon hours or right before opening in some cases, and going onstage to do a set. It's a lot like teaching someone to swim by throwing them in the deep end, but remember, this isn't nursery school. Fortunately it isn't rocket science either. This is why I recommend spending an evening or two in your prospective club to watch what other girls are doing and wearing. Come prepared. You ought to have an audition outfit, and it should be like the things you see on the other dancers. Also, in most clubs you can't wear your street shoes onto the stage, so have a pair that you use just for auditions. I've mentioned it before, but if you don't heed my words you'll be very, very sorry: BREAK THEM IN AT HOME OR YOU WILL UNDERSTAND THE TRUE MEANING OF MISERY.

When you audition, don't be nervous. Strip bar managers are used to beautiful, awkward girls. They're looking almost entirely at how you look and come across. If you have 80% mobility, you can learn the art of erotic dance, at least well enough to make a living at it. Some of the best strippers I know are the worst dancers. Great dancers add something wonderful to their show, but lots of lovely creatures with no rhythm but lots of allure and drama make a killing. No one element makes up a good striptease, so anyone who lacks some of it can make up with more of whatever they've got. Really.

It's scary the first time you take off all of your clothes in front of a roomful of people. I imagine it's a little like skydiving (and am absolutely unwilling to find out for sure), with the adrenaline and the exhilaration. If it goes well, you can actually feel a little of the burden of worrying what society thinks of you lifting away and being replaced with new freedom and self-assurance - and perhaps a bit of wildness, too. Throwing away such a powerful (but silly) convention of society provides Instant Emancipation from a great many things.

One more thing: not all strip club managers are as nice or as ethical as the ones I've been lucky enough to work with. The important thing is to let them know at the beginning that you're not going to be pushed around, manipulated or intimidated. If that creates a conflict, you probably don't want to work at that club anyway. People in positions of power who wield it unfairly certainly aren't exclusive to the adult industry; they exist everywhere. Just keep your eyes open.

Costumes:

You'll find that normal underwear (even really sexy stuff) isn't quite right, although it's more acceptable in some nude clubs. Strip clubs have fashion, too; it changes just like 'civilian' fashion and mirrors current trends. Regular panties aren't really flattering when you're trying to dance and they're not very durable. Also, if you're working topless you'll find it has many disadvantages: the material is too thin and shows too much. It also tends to become less opaque as you sweat, if you'll forgive my indelicacy. Not only that, but lots of material that's pretty when you buy it looks entirely different under red and black light, and things that look like they match end up doing it not at all. You want good, thick thongs; you'll appreciate the sense of security. Ask the dancers where they buy theirs.

Breast Size:

Not as important as you might think. Yes, the girls with big fake boobs always make more money than everybody else, but it's because they're very specific fantasy material and don't look like 'real' or 'average' women. They've gone into this profession and become specialists, in a way. Even a customer who normally gravitates toward a totally different type will often get a dance from the amazingly endowed girl just for the experience, which is why they make so much money. You don't have to alter your body or even have naturally large breasts to succeed as a stripper. I've known beautiful girls with no breasts to speak of - nipples on ribs, as some might say in vulgar terms - who made a killing.

People go to strip clubs to look at lovely women. Each person has a different idea of what that means. Beautiful legs, beautiful asses, beautiful tummies, beautiful necks - each woman is exquisite in her own way, and there's always someone who appreciates it. That's something that most people don't realize about strip bars; that the mainstream, checkout-stand media tends to gravitate toward one type of thin, regular-featured, airbrushed prettiness, the definition of which is very narrow. Walking into a club after that is like having eaten the same bland (though palatable) diet day after day and then walking through a farmer's market or a huge buffet. Suddenly the possibilities of feminine attractiveness are visible as they truly are: endless. Many dancers don't fit the mold of conventional attractiveness at all. It's amazingly empowering to see how alluring all women can be.

The exception is some of the really upscale clubs in the larger cities, where the house mother checks your hair and nails, tells you to lose 5 pounds, to lighten your hair, and that you need to iron your outfits. Some places hire dancers like they're casting a Broadway show and won't hire you unless you look like a model, but those are few and far between. You'll be able to tell the first time you walk through the door.

Age:

I've known girls who started at 30 and ones who flourished at 45. If you ask younger dancers you'll find that some will disagree, but I think they probably won't as time marches on. If it's something you've always wanted to do, then do it, by God.

"I think I can do stage work, but table dances seem scary. Can I be a stripper without doing those?"

Well, you're welcome to see how you fare just doing stage work. No one will force you to do table dances, I suppose… although I certainly wouldn't mention your reservations during your initial interview. It does seem very strange, almost like being a vacuum-cleaner salesman who doesn't want to go door to door. My instinct is to say that after you work there for a bit you'll get used to it and realize that it's fine. I don't think of stripping as something you can do halfway. If saliva makes you sick, don't go into dentistry. That's why I can't stress enough how important it is to go to the place you want to work and watch other professionals doing the job you want to do. It's really fine. It just takes a little getting used to.

For Private Dancer Monthly, 2002


Copyright 2000 - 2009 Alysabeth Clements

The Perfect Patron: Strip Joint Pointers

I find that often when people visit strip joints for the first time they're actually pretty nervous - either that or their behavior is unintentionally offensive simply because they have no idea what kind of environment they're really in. In light of that, I thought I'd try to give you a head start so you can have a great time - and so can the dancers.

First of all, budget your money carefully. Plan on spending some. This is a service we provide; sitting around gawking without ever tipping or buying dances is kind of tacky. You don't go to a restaurant if you can't afford a meal. What you're doing is taking advantage of someone's services without compensating them for a job well done. Along the same lines, sit at a table and not at the stage if you don't plan to tip. Sitting at the stage forces the dancer to perform for free - it's mooching. If you catch the wrong dancer on the wrong night of the wrong week of the month it may get you a lapful of whatever you're drinking.

Remember, you're not the first. A sincere compliment really is appreciated. Sure, we all hear how beautiful we are whenever we work, but if you mean it we can tell, and it can still make our day. However, you're not the first to tell us we're smart or to look at our eyes instead of our bodies (it's a titty bar, not an eyeball bar, for Pete's sake. When I was working nude I used to occasionally yell "LOOK AT IT!!!" to the eye-gazing Lotharios), or to 'treat us like a lady' (please...) or to respect us for who we 'really' are (peddle that 'I see the real you' stuff at the church singles social). Not only are you the thousandth person who's told us that, you're the seven-hundred-and-fiftieth to assume they were the first. We just laugh about stuff like that. Don't tell a stripper how surprised you are at her elegance or intelligence. All that really says is that you had such a low opinion of her and everyone like her to begin with that even her being functional is a surprise. DO tell her what you like about her. DO chat with her, tell her jokes, ask her about her day. Chances are she's in the business because she's a people person. You'd kind of have to be, wouldn't you think?

The stripper doesn't lose her hearing (Stripper-pattern deafness) or become stupid (the tragic Top Down Syndrome) when she's onstage: her IQ doesn't go down when her clothes come off; whether yours does or not is another story. She can tell you're talking about her, and turning slightly away and saying things about her to your friends under your breath won't hide what you're doing. She's not a zoo exhibit. She's a person, and someone who is providing you with a very specialized service - one you should appreciate, because it's a privilege. If you don't like the way one dancer looks, that's no reason for you to stop treating her like a human being. Not being physically attractive to you is not a transgression. If another girl is more your type, go tell her so, and buy a dance.

If you appreciate her beauty or sensuality enough to want to tip her, don't hold on to the dollar and tell her to 'work for it.' Shouting commands at her won't go over very well, either. She's not a trained seal. You've paid for her time and attention; now let her do her job. Where else would you hold someone's wages just out of their reach until they pleased you? If you want her to come over and dance for you while she's onstage, put your bill up on the rail or hold it up between two fingers, where she can see it. She'll give you a better show if you haven't put her on the defensive.

If you don't want to buy a dance from someone, don't duck your head and try not to make eye contact. We're just like your third-grade teacher: we can still see you. Don't say "maybe later" unless you mean it. All that does is make the dancer waste her time and yours getting rejected by you over and over, which no nice guy intends. Instead, a polite smile and "No, thanks" work splendidly. We hear 'no' all the time, and it doesn't bother us. What does bother us is someone who never intends to say yes but keeps us coming back because he can't bring himself to turn us down. We're there to do a job. We don't need to be humored.

Some dancers don't mind talking about their private lives or their sexual preferences, but it's just as intrusive to ask a stripper about those things directly as it is anyone else. Assuming that my life is an open book because you can see my breasts is quite a large and reckless leap of logic. "Are your breasts real?" is the single most frequently asked and most presumptuous question I can think of, followed closely by "Is that your natural color?" or its bastard cousin "Does the carpet match the drapes?" It's not a matter of vanity or shame. It's about not liking for people to assume that they have the right to ask a stripper questions that they wouldn't dare ask anyone else. For the same reason, it's also very bad form to ask one dancer personal questions about another (i.e. "How old is she?" "Are her breasts real?" "Is she married?" "Does she have kids?").

Probably my biggest pet peeve: DON'T ASK A DANCER HER REAL NAME. Not because she's afraid to tell you or ashamed of who she really is, but because prying for information that isn't given is rude. "What's your real name?" really says, "Don't feed me that line, sister. What you've told me isn't good enough. I want special treatment. I'm not like the rest of these easy targets. I see through you stripper types. Drop the act, cookie." Stripper names are part of the fantasy. You don't somehow reach a more genuine plane of interaction with a stripper by asking her to divulge all of her personal information when you've barely been properly introduced. All you do is insult her by blundering up to her and letting her know you've already assumed that she's a fraud. If you're so bent on cutting through the crap and not respecting people's nicknames, try the same thing on a Hell's Angel sometime. If you spend some time with her, though, if you buy a few dances and talk a little about yourself, there's a very good chance she'll tell you on her own. Part of what I love about my job is meeting people. I'm just as likely to make a friend inside the club as out - and bare, glitter-covered breasts are great icebreakers - but relationships can't be forced. If it makes you feel better to start out on more even footing, ask her to call you Diesel, or Turbo, or Thorax.

Don't assume that just because a woman is naked in front of you that she's willing to go further if you raise the price. Just because she's willing to do some things that civilian girls aren't doesn't mean that she's willing to do anything for money. Asking to break the rules of the club by allowing you to touch her or asking her to touch herself and telling her that you won't tell is also very rude. You're assuming that whatever integrity she has is enforced from outside and that she would break the rules if she knew she wasn't going to be caught. Strippers do have boundaries. Don't violate them. That's not how you treat a lady - and if you've been treating her as if you assume she is not a lady that simply shows that you aren't a gentleman. The true measure of a person is how they behave when no one is watching. Just because you're in a place that's unlike your daily life, throwing your manners away only paints an unflatteringly accurate self-portrait. It's really just a matter of respect: if you don't believe that what they're doing is respectable, then what are you doing there?

There is, however, no such thing as respecting her 'too much' to keep availing yourself of her services. When a customer gets to know a stripper and then suddenly tells her that he's grown to think too highly of her to get dances, it doesn't flatter or touch her. That customer immediately becomes a total disappointment, someone who has completely missed the point. Do you respect your waiter friend too much to let him serve you? Do you refuse to eat what your chef friend cooks? A customer who becomes a real friend never loses sight of the fact that she's got a job to do and that it isn't degrading to her at all. He appreciates and respects what she's good at. Even if he grows to like and admire other things about her he still remembers that she's a good dancer and appreciates watching her. She's your friend now, yes - your NAKED friend! How great is THAT?

A friendly tip: Don't blow on her. It sounds strange, but you'd be amazed at how many people think of it all by themselves. First of all, it's ridiculous (think how you'd feel if you asked for a blow job and your girlfriend actually blew...). Second of all, it says loud and clear, "I know I'm not allowed to touch you but I just can't rest until I stimulate your skin somehow." It's unpleasant, and the reactions you're going to inspire range from amusement or apathy to pronounced irritation and perhaps even murderous rage. Arousal isn't in there, and here's another hint: if you've had even one drink, chances are you have that sexy, rancid alcohol/vomit breath the ladies swoon over. Yummy. That's the way to stand out from the crowd: "Girls, as soon as I smelled his reek I knew he was different from the other guys..."

If the rules of the club say not to touch the dancers, don't do it with your money, either. Don't stroke her with the bill. Again, it's a violation of her body integrity - assault, in other words. You've gone from being a nice guy to a sneaky, feel-copping sleazebag. You're observing the letter of the law but still trying to insinuate yourself onto her. Don't. For the same reason, don't lick your dollar. Think about this next time you want to 'seduce' her by putting your money in your mouth (like drooling on a dollar bill makes her hot - please): one of the larger news programs did a study a while back and came up with the statistic that something like 96% of money has fecal bacteria on it. It's like licking the wet, grimy floor of a bus station bathroom. Mmmmm...

Things dancers think are ridiculous:

1. Clacking the barbell in your tongue over your lips and teeth as if to suggest that you might assume that I would find the idea of you dragging it across my body arousing;
2. Licking or performing fake fellatio on your fingers, the mouth of your beer bottle, the rim of your glass or a dollar, or simply flicking your tongue obscenely at me in the universal "cunnilingus" motion. It's offensive, it's disgusting, it's silly, and it's never going to happen;
3. Bucking your hips at me like a boar in rut while you sit in your chair (many people like to add to the effect by incorrectly mouthing the words of the song to which they're humping);
4. Any other sex-related gesture you might be tempted to make - no matter how original or clever you might think it is. It doesn't make me think of sex - it just makes me think less of you.
5. We also don't want you to take your shirt off and parody our dancing. Leave that to the professionals. We don't come to your job and pretend to squeegee the windshield back at you from the inside while we sing along with the radio, after all...

Things dancers think are fabulous:

1. Spending money. We love that.
2. Telling jokes. Having a good time. We love that, too.
3. Order a couple of pizzas. We'll all sit at your table.
4. Money. Spend it. We love that. Did I say that already?
5. Bring girls. Buy dances for them, and drinks for everyone. Everyone will love you, and you'll die of happiness.

It's really pretty simple: the bottom line is that you've come for a specialized service and a good time. You're not slumming. The dancers deserve the same kind of treatment as anyone else. We're not servants, we're not second-class citizens, we're not stupid, pathetic or deaf. If you come into the club looking to be excited by women you can't respect, it reflects poorly on you and on us not at all. We're not violating our moral codes. Are you?

The best-equipped dancers have thick skins and warm hearts. The bullshit rolls right off, and the good shit stays with us forever. We LOVE our customers. We love to make you laugh and to turn you on, to throw our arms around you when you come in the door and to know that we stay with you long after you leave. Sometimes I look around the bar at everyone and it looks for a minute like one of those old-time photographs: I see everyone laughing and raising their drinks, money changing hands and beautiful women everywhere I look, and I stand there in the middle of it and think, it doesn't get much better than this. Not really.

If you go about it right, you can have some of the best times of your life and meet some amazing people in your local strip club. Or it can be a crappy, degrading experience - for you. It'll just be a minor nuisance for her, even if you are a jerk. Sexual recreation is about delight and pleasure, not degradation and shame. As long as you know you're not doing anything wrong, then just sit back and enjoy the show. We're good at what we do.

Copyright 2000 - 2009 Alysabeth Clements

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Why Would a Woman Want to Become a Stripper?

People wonder, I try to answer. So it goes.

People take jobs of all kinds for various reasons – some people are lucky enough to do what they love and what they’ve always dreamed of. Others go into a profession they can tolerate because it provides security. Still others take whatever they can get so that they can do other things that are more important to them. Some people are willing to do something most others are not because they realize that it’s very lucrative to provide a specialized service (I really doubt most people ever aspire to work in slaughterhouses or to drive the honey wagon on film sets… and what little boy or girl dreams of cleaning up crime scenes?). Then there are those who reluctantly do one thing after another just to pay the bills and eat, who get trapped just staying afloat and trying to provide for their families, who feel that life is passing them by.

Some professions are dangerous; some are tedious. Some are dirty, or repugnant. The reasons each individual enters any given profession are their own, and reflect not at all on the job itself.

Therefore, it goes to follow that women want to be strippers for any of the reasons people take any job. When you meet a telemarketer, even though it takes very little talent or education it’s very rare to assume that she has that job because she’s not able to get another one, to wonder what she does in her spare time, or to assume that telemarketing is a lifestyle instead of a job. Strippers do it because they like the money – who doesn’t want to be paid well? Some strippers do it because they like the attention – is that bad? Babies look three times longer at faces that look back at them than at ones that are looking away. Humans are social creatures who learn through praise and validation. Wanting and enjoying attention isn’t necessarily unhealthy. Some strippers do it because they don’t have any other job skills. So do some telemarketers, cashiers, and ditch diggers. If you’re a happy housewife who wants to supplement your household income, but you got married instead of finishing college, what’s the difference between dancing and waitressing if it pays to repaint the nursery or add on a deck – especially when you can go to work after your children are in bed?

The blue-collar worker is the backbone of our society, yet many of these workers have limited educations and few alternatives. They’ve learned a skill, to perform a function. However, society needs the services and products they provide, whether the workers themselves dream of something better or not. Many of them love their jobs, too – that doesn’t change that quite a few of them aren’t qualified to do much else. There’s no shame in that.

Some strippers really do it because they’re beautiful and very stupid. Society has looked down on stripping as the refuge for dumb beauties for many years. But let’s look at that: being born genuinely stupid is no one’s fault any more than being born crippled or deformed. Stripping and other jobs that market beauty are really some of the very few ways that these women can truly empower themselves and command that kind of income, and there’s nothing they can do about that. Does that mean that they should simply resign themselves to their fate and live in some sort of caste system in which those born with less advantage may not transcend their station in life? Just because some women dance because they have no other skills doesn’t mean that they hate being there. It means that they’re earning more and living better than they could anywhere else under their present circumstances. Whether they change that in the future is entirely up to them, but in the meantime, what’s wrong with taking the better-paying job?

What I really resent is women who do very little to improve their own lot in life, compromise their own morality for short-term financial gain, and then blame the very industry that improved their lifestyle for victimizing them, exploiting them, or ‘sucking them in,’ effectively denying responsibility for their own actions and choices. Aside from Linda Lovelace, there are very few women that are truly forced, either through desperate poverty or some other difficulty, to walk up the steps and start undressing when the music begins to play. They could have made other choices, and endured further hardships to preserve their integrity (if they believe what they’re doing is wrong); many have done so before. In no other instance is an industry that provides such a quick leg up for those in need blamed for the very hardships it relieves. Instead of being seen as a cesspool that sucks in the needy and unsuspecting, the sex industry should be seen as an oasis for some in a desert of bad circumstances and limited earning potential.

(So some people become sex workers because they have no other skills, and that makes the industry exploitative? Isn't the entire premise of minimum wage paying people to do menial but necessary tasks for the very least you can pay them because they have no alternative but to do the work? No one works for minimum wage because they want to. They do it because they have no alternative, either temporarily or permanently. Are they being victimized, or is that simply the way industry works? Not to mention the fact that the poor, exploited dancers are making WAY more than minimum wage...)

Occasionally there’s a bad club or an unethical manager, and so people denigrate the industry for being abusive to women, but remember: sweatshop conditions don’t mean it’s wrong to make clothing, but that it’s wrong to exploit workers. In no other industry do we blame mistreated workers for their unfair treatment and refuse to help them or to provide recourse, then blame them because they should have known all along.

One thing that is common to virtually all strippers is that, regardless of their original motivation, they have looked past a widely held convention of society and examined something for its innate value and for its potential benefit to them. Yes, some women are desperate, whether through divorce or other unfortunate circumstance, when they start dancing. However, any person who remains unemployed for long enough after personal difficulty is bound to become desperate after a while, and the next job they take will then, by definition, be out of desperation. If you’re divorced, uneducated, or homeless and you take a job washing dishes or mopping floors and don’t like it, is your choice more valid somehow? Lives of quiet desperation are the desolate territory of all mankind.

I can’t speak for anyone else without being rightly accused of making assumptions. I can only tell you my own experience. The answer is not simple or short, but is probably reasonably typical.

When I was a young, poor college student and struggling actress, I never would have dreamed of dancing. I saw the ads in the paper and assumed the claims they made about the potential income were exaggerated. Moreover, I couldn’t really imagine myself actually walking into a place like that, climbing up on the stage, and disrobing. I worried about the kind of people I’d meet in a place like that; nice folks didn’t go there. I thought perhaps that other dirty, seedy things went on there – after all, if a woman is willing to take her clothes off for money, what wouldn’t she be willing to do for a price? I took the conventional route, and had a conventional idea of what people did and didn’t do.

Then a friend of mine, a girl I liked and respected, started showing up at the restaurant where I worked the graveyard shift and leaving huge tips after her meal. I was so dirt poor, I couldn’t really imagine what it was like to have an extra $20 to eat out, much less $10 on top of that just to tip the help. The job I had before that, I used to go into the cooler when no one was looking and stuff food into my mouth so that I didn’t pass out from hunger and get fired.

I wondered about it for a couple of weeks, and then one day she brought it up: she was dancing now in a go-go club. That meant that she didn’t actually expose anything private, she just danced in a teeny bikini or a bra and panties.

I was shocked. So this was how she had so much money. I could hardly believe it. I had read about strippers, but assumed that they had to have been cut from an entirely different cloth than I to do a job like that; they weren’t like me. I didn’t know people like that. But she seemed so normal… she was the same girl I’d always known. She didn’t seem dirty or diminished; she hadn’t suddenly lost her mind. I had a lot to think about.

Still, I didn’t consider it in relation to myself, only in my perception of her. My objections were partially moral and partly because I didn’t think my self-image could stand being looked at without my clothes on. I didn’t look like the girls on the magazine covers, so I clearly wasn’t beautiful enough to let people see me that way. I went on about my business for several months more, hating my job, miserably trying to make time to study, to rehearse and audition, all the while barely eking out an existence. There was never food in the house. Our power and phone had been shut off more than once. I never had money to go to the movies or to buy new clothes. When my work pants got damaged, a friend’s mother kindly took me out to get a new pair so that I could keep my job. My life was a dead end. This was the single unhappiest period of my life.

Then I began dating someone new. I had known him for a while, but we had been friends for a long time before we became romantically interested in each other. He was older than I, an artist. I found out that he often went to a certain strip club on nights he wasn’t around our crowd to draw the dancers.

I struggled with the things that most of my older feminist friends would have said about how bad that was, how it meant that his view of women was skewed, that he saw them as objects, not people. However, he treated me like a person, not an object. My mother always told me that actions speak louder than words; I think sometimes we forget that universal truths don’t always support our position.

Then I had a personal tragedy: my ex-boyfriend, my first love and a longtime friend, was killed in a car accident. I was overwhelmed with grief. The restaurant where I worked refused to give me a couple of days off to go to the funeral and deal with my crippling sorrow. Suddenly it all became too much, and in the next few weeks it became impossible for me to continue in the poverty-stricken life of drudgery I was living. When you’re 18, it seems like bad things are really never going to end, that things are always going to be the way they are just at that moment. I quit my job, not knowing what I would do next.

(Please note here that I wasn't desperate. Unhappy, yes - but 18, able-bodied, drug-and-alcohol-free, employable, educated, and loved and supported by friends and family. My destitution, though the hunger was real, was that of students and artists, not of the truly disadvantaged. What happened next was by choice, not out of necessity or lack of alternatives.)

My boyfriend told me that the club where he spent time was hiring waitresses. It wasn’t actually dancing, and the job requirements were much less stressful: I had been working at an all-you-can-eat diner, bringing plate after plate to drunks and freaks in the middle of the night, and the tips were meager, to say the least. Here, all I had to do was bring soda or juice, and I would be pleasantly surprised at my earnings.

It didn’t take too much thought. I was still unsure about what I thought of stripping, but since I was just going to be a waitress, it didn’t really apply to me. I was younger then, and didn’t really understand yet about choosing things and what they really mean, and about condoning things through proximity or silence. I did know that many of the things that adults had told me as the gospel truth had turned out, as I got older, to be gray areas, so I wasn’t sure that just because I had always been told something that it necessarily meant that’s the way it is.

To make a long story short, I worked there as a waitress for a few months, commanding a higher income than ever before and living at a level of comfort I hadn’t known since I left home, getting to know the dancers and the customers and watching their interactions. I enjoyed this job. I suddenly realized that I was happy. I had worked in retail, in food service, in offices, and always hated going to work. After a very short time I realized that dancing didn’t look bad to me at all. It would be a few years before I really examined all of the ramifications of my actions and decided to become an activist and to see sex work as a relevant social issue. I was a child then, and all I knew was that I could see that it wasn’t what I had thought. Simply realizing that the dancers were real women whose experiences I could relate to went a long way toward reevaluating the validity of the things most mainstream society had told me about them. I saw that the picture most people had of them was unfair; that they were people, not ideas, and that morality wasn’t black and white. As I got older, I had already begun to realize that sometimes what society thinks of as moral isn’t at all. I knew I had to decide for myself, to open my eyes and see how things really worked.

Another profound realization for me was that these women didn’t look like the girls on magazine covers, either. They were real women, with real bodies: some with stretch marks, some with extra weight or cellulite. I suddenly realized that they were beautiful, that the magazines were wrong. In one instant this burden, carried by young girls all over the world, was lifted from my shoulders, and I came one step closer to truly understanding what it is to be a woman.

After a while I realized that it wasn’t scary, that the things I assumed a woman would feel standing nude in a roomful of strangers (scared, exposed, humiliated, subservient, compromised) weren’t what these dancers were feeling, and that because the experience wasn’t what I would have thought, the reasons that brought each woman to that experience weren’t what I would have thought (desperation, apathy, self-hatred, emotional disturbance), either.

Once I saw it for what it really was, once I was willing to accept that I risked being perceived differently (and erroneously) by others, I knew I could do it.

I remember some of the dancers warning me before I auditioned that this was not to be entered into lightly or unadvisedly; that I was about to change my life. I didn’t understand what they meant, really. The young don’t really know what we mean when we tell them how something is going to be, any more than any of us really knew what ‘hot’ meant when we were tiny; we saw that it was important to our mothers, that the thing we weren’t supposed to touch was significant, that something bad would happen – but we didn’t really know what it was like to be burned until we finally disregarded her advice.

So I did it. I took the plunge, I shouldered the responsibility, I crossed the line. I realized that I loved it. I loved the money (who doesn’t love a well-paying job after working for peanuts?), I enjoyed the attention (I wasn’t desperate for it, but was pleased by it, like a friend dropping by unexpectedly, or good news from far away – it’s nicer to have a job where someone claps for you than one where your hard work goes unappreciated, after all), I came to understand the incredible power of female sexuality and the joy of truly knowing how to use it – and realized that enjoying it wasn’t undignified or perverse. I came to see the interaction as a good thing, and I was pleased to participate. I liked the other girls, we laughed a lot at work, my bills were paid, I had time to study and money to buy books, and I could do any play any time without worrying about having to quit my job to rehearse. I learned what was truly part of the job and what came from the outside (the desire to humiliate any woman, dancer or not, comes from inside that person and not from where they’re standing), and saw stripping from the only valid perspective, which, as it is with any aspect of the human condition, is firsthand experience.

They were right. It did change my life. When I think of what could have happened if I hadn’t walked into that dark place out of the bright sunlight that day, if I hadn’t decided to take a risk and see something new, I feel the way someone might if they suddenly realized that they had narrowly missed being hit by a truck: I could have missed so much.


Copyright 2000 - 2002 Alysabeth Clements