Monday, August 16, 2004

My Old Stripper Manifesto

What I wrote in June 2000:

Basically, I view my work as a dancer a a form of service: men come in to a club because they want an attractive woman to be nice to them and pay attention to them, and because they want some female companionship and sexual energy. I don't mind providing that; I have sexual energy to spare, and it doesn't hurt me to be nice to people. It makes me feel good to know that I'm cheering up someone who's had a hard day, or who is feeling lonely. As a stripper, I've met many nice and cool people, customers as well as other dancers, and I've genuinely enjoyed my job. My favorite customers are those who appreciate me for what I have to offer that's unique (intelligence, for one thing, and forthrightness), who are intelligent and interesting to talk to, and who show their appreciation by tipping me.

In return for my energy, I expect to receive money. Not because I'm trading sex for money, not because I'm there just for the money, but because for a stripper, money = success. As in other areas of life, if you're good at what you do, you get paid. Maybe that sounds cheesy and phony: strippers are commonly thought of as bad women who are out to exploit men. I'm not out to exploit anyone. At the same time, I'm not out to be exploited either, and if there's anything dancing has given me it's a lesson in dealing with people! Not everyone has money all the time, and I understand that. But I've come to be rather resentful of men who want my time but rarely or never tip me. The bottom line is, a man who wants my time but doesn't tip me is taking advantage of me: he doesn't respect me or my job.

Women who really enjoy stripping do so for complex reasons — that's part of what this Web site is about — but when a dancer is at work, all those reasons boil down to the goal of making money. A stripper, every stripper, judges herself and her job by how much money she's making. If a dancer isn't making money on a shift, she assumes that the club is bad (the men there have no money) or she's working a bad shift (nobody with money is coming into the club) or that SHE is unattractive, overweight, aging, depressed, unable to muster the mental energy to cope with her job, or otherwise not good at what she does. This pressure to succeed, which is a result of on-the-job pride and not just sheer greed, drives girls to want to make money — because no girl likes to feel that she's making less money than everyone else on a shift! (Which is something that happens to nearly every dancer at least once in awhile.)

Any customer who visits a nude or topless club and thinks the girls aren't there first and foremost to make money is fooling himself. But as obvious as the money thing sounds, over the years I've seen a fair number of men who want to believe that they are somehow different: they are the one person I should just be glad to see and spend time with. Or maybe they would like to date me and feel that money would sully our relationship — although as far as I'm concerned, if we're not sleeping together, we're not dating!

A few men have insinuated to me that any man who tips in a strip club is a fool — of course, men like this are always happy to watch the girls on stage, and suck up as much of my time (without tipping or getting a dance of course) as I'll allow, and usually try to get me to go out on a date with them too. My response is always, "so, do you hang out where you work for free?" I'll add that such men sometimes spend a fair sum on girls who will bullshit them into thinking they'll have some kind of a relationship outside of the club, which I'm not willing to do... it's a lesson in human vanity, and of the strength of some people's need to be told waht they want to hear, I guess.

Does my attitude sound somewhat mercenary? Rather like capitalism itself, I think... unfortuneately, so-called free enterprise permeates every area of our lives, even those we consider the most personal or sacred. At least in a strip club, the trade-off in personal relationships is out in the open.

Actually, I think of what I do when I'm dancing in another way: men who tip me are expressing appreciation for their interaction with female sexual energy in general, and with my personal energy in particular. I don't mean to sound too New Age-y, and I'm not a big proponent of goddess-worship, but a man who tips the dancers in a strip club could be seen to be making an offering to the sexual and feminine aspect of the divine. My general impression of people is that they are starved for connection with each other. When I hang out with a customer under conditions of mutual respect, I facilitate his sense of connctedness. Anyone who thinks they don't need some positive sexual energy in their lives is fooling themselves, and providing that is my job.

All that said, there are a few other things that are important to me. When I started, I promised myself that if I ever came to hate the job — because it's got to be the worst job in the world if you don't enjoy it! — or if I started to hate men or otherwise became embittered, I would stop immediately. That hasn't happened, although I have realized it's time to move on careerwise. While I know that someday my stripping career will come to an end, I still derive satisfaction from it. Stripping has taught me a lot about myself and about people (men and women both). In addition to that, it's been fun. Being on stage is fun, and interacting with customers can be fun. Stripping has provided me with a form of sexual self-expression and release; it's made me more comfortable with and in my body, and it's been a source of pleasure as well as a test of character. I have no regrets.

What I think of this now:

I'm not a stripper anymore. I quit dancing a couple of times, for the last time in January 2002. It was time, past time, for me to quit.

I don't miss soliciting men for money and dances in strip clubs -- I'm now in a very happy monogamous relationship that wouldn't be possible if I were still dancing -- but I sometimes miss being on stage. Luckily, we have a friend with a stripper pole in his loft, and I'm able to jump up there every so often at parties! Fun. It's a workout too.

Do I have any regrets? Yes and no... stripping was a compelling and necessary part of my personal development, and no one could have stopped me from doing it at the time. However, in retrospect (as I've gotten older, that is), there was career development stuff I needed to do to move into the next phase of my life, and I wish I'd started all that even earlier than I did. I've come to realize how important time is: it's the one resource in life we never get back. (I'm also a big believer in the saying "youth is wasted on the young.")

But that's in the past, and luckily it wasn't a fatal error: things have turned out very well for me. Let me be the first to admit that I've been incredibly fortunate.

I still think men go to strip clubs in part because they are seeking contact with the divine feminine. Unfortunately the feminine has been debased in our culture; also, everyone is working out their own particular trip with it. It's one of the reasons strip clubs are the way they are: they're looked down on and the women who work in them are easily disparaged, but they're also sometimes sites of genuine human connection between people who are unable to find it elsewhere. Human beings are social animals, and we will never not need and crave connection.

Over time, I've become even more New Age-y, or whatever. "Spiritual"? My kundalini started to awaken in 1999, and it's been climbing ever since. More on that later.

I still think that capitalism, free enterprise, market forces, etc., have come to permeate every aspect of our lives, even the most intimate. Perhaps buying and selling really are basic human impulses. However, they are in conflict with other basic human needs, such as the need to give and receive freely, and our overriding need to be loved beyond all valuation. Our current system turns everything into a commodity, including people. It seduces us into participating in the commodification of our selves and our sexuality.

A woman who enjoys stripping, as I did, is a woman who derives satisfaction from turning herself/being turned into an object and a commodity. While there's definitely some pathology attached to that, and she's not necessarily doing herself any favors, it's silly to pretend that she's acting in a vacuum. I think that the men who are most critical of strippers for what they do are the men who, if they were attractive young women, would be drawn to stripping. They're threatened by its powerful aspects, but that doesn't mean they wouldn't like to try it out for themselves.

Well, we live in a funny, screwed-up world (Nina Graboi once referred to ours as "a beautiful, cruel planet," which about sums it up) but that's not entirely the fault of anyone currently alive on the planet. And that doesn't mean that it's not within our power to change it by transforming our selves -- in fact, I think that's the whole point.

More later.


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