Sunday, April 26, 2009

Discursively Dissed and Cursed

An experienced stripper warns a newbie about the dangers of telling everyone what kind of work she does. The newbie naively casts aside the caveat; she knows not to tell people a) dangerously close to family and b) those whose gender politics are questionable*. Other than that, she’s proud of herself as a dancer, and cavalierly lets people around her know it.

The decision is regrettable.

The experienced stripper was onto something. Be very, very selective in who you tell about what kind of work you do. Newbie is sad that this adage holds true; she was hoping that people who are in the sex industry would find comfort in progressive allies and use their tales (the flippant, the funny, and the frightening) from work to illuminate the realities of sex work and bring it into discourse. Not to say this hasn’t happened – indeed, Newbie has opened up a lot of dialogic spaces about sexuality, labor rights, health, and rape in personal relationships where they weren’t there before. But Newbie regretfully looks back at the brazen decision to tell anyone and everyone who didn’t easily fall into groups a and b about her decision to start stripping and provide consequent updates about titillating tales from work.

Experienced stripper thought it was a bad idea to openly declare what we do for a few reasons.

  • · People will think you’re really rich and have all kinds of opinions about what you should do with your money.
  • · Guys will think you’re easy and their relationships with you will become hypersexualized.
  • · Word about your true identity might spread and reach your customers, blowing confidentiality.

But there’s more, Newbie learns…

Because strippers are considered performers in the entertainment industry, the performative aspect of the work may be thought to exist outside of the bounds of the shift itself. In other words, she’s a stripper to prove something to the world. Her stripper identity is as much an act off-stage as it is on…

Whore sexuality is threatening. It’s threatening to non-sex-positive women and men; it’s threatening to people who talk about progressive sexual politics but in practice that’s defined simply by promiscuous fucking.

Well, words are boomerangs, and Newbie’s na├»ve openness and excitement about her work are hitting her in the head. Can’t take ‘em back, but she can critically reevaluate spaces where she does talk about work, critically assess which allies are truly allies, and think more about the systematic ways sex work is excluded (again and again) from discourse at all levels.

That said, she’s damn proud of herself and the work she does. It takes something to deal with a cop begging for oral sex and flashing a badge; to fight off a 200 lb. guy who’s too aggressive in the champagne room and then be accused of hurting his wrist; to overcome discomfort with being outside of conventional standards of attractiveness and be ok with brownness and curviness; to handle jealousy or concern from intimate partners outside of work related to the job; to reevaluate her relationship to money, men, and her body on a daily basis. It’s a sense of empowerment that may cause discomfort or seem self-congratulatory, but she’s thrilled to embody it.

* Newbie incorrectly assumes that she can easily identify group (b)


  1. I disagree on two counts. I love talking to ya about work n how you've changed since you started working. And as much as you deny, you're conventionally attractive.

  2. I see no arrogance in the thrill and empowerment you've felt from this work. You've always been humble and sincere when discussing ideas about this type of sex work. Anyone fortunate enough to be a close friend has also learned a great deal from this ongoing experience. And those individuals to whom you regret divulging this personal part of your life are no longer true allies and the loss is theirs.

  3. I think your openness and the pride you take in your work are both powerful means to challenge the status quo. I know it's more emotionally fraught than keeping your mouth shut, but for the negativity you may face, you also educate, challenge, amuse, and inspire many.

    It's not your job to do any of those things,
    but I'm really amazed by the blog you write and your ability to name the connections between your personal and the political.

    It takes something to handle not only cops, aggressive customers, and the conventional beauty standards that you mention above, but also to confront the insecurities of a power-hungry world. You have that something and you deal beautifully.

  4. Damn, you are truly awesome. And fucking brilliant (unconventionally so).