Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Slush Funds

On Monday, I took a look outside at the inches - nay, feet - of snow that were piling up and glanced sadly at my heels. I was on the schedule for work, but I wasn't sure if the club would be open or not. Also, with the entire tri-state area crippled by the snowfall, I wasn't sure if a day at work would even be worth my while. The blizzard just had to come between Christmas and New Years, the most lucrative few days each year, didn't it?

I decided to brave the storm, heading out into crazy winds and thigh-deep snow drifts. Each step I took, I glanced back at my building and wondered if I should turn back. But the fact that I'd already trekked across the street seemed like a big enough feat, so I proceeded to endure the craziest commute ever - including having to hold on to a deli door so wind didn't blow me away, switching three trains before I found one that was actually going to my club, and getting to about five feet from the club entrance and seeing snow drifts so high that it seemed impossible to cross those five feet and enter the club. I managed, though (crawling, holding onto the tops of cars as my foot sunk into ice - at one point, I swear, I got an icicle enema...) and got inside the club. I'd given up on making any money that day, but just looking forward to the warmth and refuge of the club.

There were only three girls there! I wasn't sure if there were going to be lots of customers, but whoever did come in would have the simple choice of curvacious Latina, bookish South Asian, and large-breasted blonde. Yes, the three of us had free reign over every customer that entered the club!

I guess having a snow day - office closings and transportation problems - made it easier for certain customers to show up. While it was generally a slow day, the people that did make it into the club were there to stay (there was no leaving! the wind was ridiculous!), which was good news for us. Surprisingly, I had a pretty good day! My regular Tibetan customer came in, raped my face (tried to lick my mouth during lapdances!!!) and I slapped him, but he bought a few dances anyway. Then there was this UN guy, who found himself without a return flight to Africa, who totally was able to cum during a minimal-contact lapdance (and tipped nicely as a thank-you).

And, finally, the highlight of my day: a DEAD FUCKING RINGER for Liam Neeson was sitting at the bar, nursing a vodka tonic. This guy was gorgeous, and when I went to get my stage tip from him, I said: "Oh my GOD, it's Leslie Nielson!" He gave me a playful injured look, and I realized my mistake, and we had a good laugh about it. This Hungarian hottie was totally funny, and charming - not to mention drop dead gorgeous. He was the spitting - fuck it, the SWALLOWING - image of Neeson, which made fantasizing about my celebrity encounter that much easier as we enjoyed some flirtatious banter and lapdances in an otherwise empty club.

All in all, I'd highly recommend working during blizzards. Chances are there will be no girls there (in fact, management was trying to get me to stay for a double shift because none of the late girls showed up, and they were probably going to have to close), customers will be likely to stay put once they get inside the club, and the empty/warm/intimate feeling inside is likely to spark some generosity.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

I had reservations, but I came anyway.

There's this new regular at work. He shows up early, starts drinking, and by around 7 p.m. he's totally hammered and asleep at the bar! Anyway, we had a brief encounter about halfway to his 7 p.m. demise, and he told me that he'd never been intimate with an Indian woman before. "You're so exotic," he told me. Because he seemed somewhat intelligent, I asked him what he meant, and that exotic was a fancy way of saying "not quite normal-looking" - but he got a little defensive and asked me if I couldn't just take it as a compliment. I could, sure, but show me the money! As a newbie to the strip club scene, he was nervous about getting any lapdances from me because he "had danced with that other girl earlier and I don't want her feeling bad." After a couple hours and several Jack and Cokes, those reservations disappeared and he waved me over for a lapdance. He was out of cash, and wanted to use the ATM in the club, but was too drunk to coordinate. What did he do? Told me his ATM pin # and asked me to withdraw $200! Thank his lucky stars that I'm not a thief, and curse me and my law-abiding ways (takes a long toke, continues typing). He was so far-gone, I totally could have taken cash out of his account and pocketed it, or better yet pocketed his card!

During a moment of respite in the dressing room (the club's heat was funky and it was FREEZING on the floor), we started sharing "crazy customer" stories. I told them about Sissy James, and this dancer Champagne responded with the story of a customer she used to freelance with outside the club. He would watch gay porn while she fucked him in the ass with a strap-on, and all the while be telling her "I'm not a fag, you know?" I had a similar champagne room experience once in Manhattan, minus the fucking. This ABCD took me back for an hour and, rather than lapdances, he wanted dirty talk - most of it revolving around all the things I'd do up his asshole, and how I'd share him with another man. After the hour was up and he was spent, he told me, "This is just dirty talk, you know? I'm not gay or anything." By far the best tale came from Alina, who told us about a guy who took her into the champagne room, got a bunch of clean lapdances, and then asked her to move out of the way. He unzipped, leaned back, put his legs up in the air, and ejaculated - into his own mouth - then smiled at her, saying "I like to recycle."

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Cultural Capital

There are a few things I *never* want to happen to me at work, even though they seem sort of inevitable.
- Getting my period on a guy's lap: I'm hopelessly out of tune with my cycle and hence don't know when to expect it, and totally worried I'll be on some married guy's white linen lap or something when Flo arrives)
- Falling on stage (or off stage, for that matter): I've never become fully comfortable with these heels, and the floor is uneven and sometimes quite slick. The physical pain of falling would be way outdone by the embarrassment of it!
- Having any sort of run-in with the cops!

I was on my way to work, running a couple minutes late, when the subway turnstile rejected me. Insufficient fare! I ran and quickly purchased a new Metrocard. There were two cops standing around the machine and, as always, I felt a sense of discomfort and annoyance as I quickly fumbled with my debit card and backpack zipper. As I ran down to catch the E train, I felt a tap on my shoulder and turned around, face to face with one of the pigs. Gulp. What? Could he tell I'd eaten the best magic brownie of my life the previous day? I took my earbud out and smiled at him.

"You dropped your phone, maam, and we were calling at you but you didn't hear us. What are you listening to, anyway?"

He hands me my phone after delicately inserting the battery that had fallen out.

Whew! Well, I got to work on time in spite of it all, and quickly put on my new ChristmAss outfit: this clingy red and silver gown with little rhinestone accents, fire engine red lipstick, and green and gold glitter for the eyelids. I was expecting a couple good customers and sipping a cup of coffee when the housemom comes up to me in a panic.

"I need your help. You're not only the MOST intelligent girl here, you're also the only intelligent one, and the cops are on their way. I need you to talk to them when they get here and tell them there's no prostitution or drug dealing going on."

I'm stunned. The cops are on their way? Is this cuz I dropped my phone?! And, why am I supposed to be the go-between for the club?

So apparently what happened is that someone called the cops and said there's drug dealing and prostitution happening at the club (generally not at all true, though I'm sure there's been a handjob or dime bag exchanged on the rare occasion) and the cops called to announce they were on their way.

First things first, all the girls starting talking about their relatives who were cops. One girl's father is a vice cop, and she was worried he'd be one of the raiding officers. Another girl has a detective uncle. Literally each of these women is closely related to someone who'd be there shortly to arrest their ass!

Next, the club said we weren't allowed to give lapdances for the day. So, let me get this straight, I'm supposed to sit down and wait to be interrogated by the 5-0 AND not have any money to show for it? Not at all a risk I'm willing to take. Plus, I'd already been shown some mercy by cops earlier in the day; what are the odds of having such good luck twice in a row? I wasn't interested in finding out.

Suddenly the girls were all summoned to the dressing room, where a bunch of freshly printed legal forms were there for us to sign. From what I could tell, they were statements that absolved the club of any responsibility for actions of the girls, and we were all supposed to put older dates on them so it looked like we'd signed them earlier. Sketch!

So I told the housemom I wanted to go home. She said I was being paranoid, and just to relax. "It's not an immigration raid, I promise you," were her exact words. What? I'm a U.S. citizen! I told her I was worried about the possibility of arrest, and didn't want to jeopardize my other job. She didn't want to hear it.

I spoke to our (sweet, kind-hearted) manager, who told me I should go home. He told me that he was charging all the other girls a $40 fine if they left, but I had a legitimate reason (i.e. "a university job" - I suppose the other girls who were saying "I have 2 kids at home" or "I don't want to pay the sitter if I'm not going to make any money here" don't have legit reasons?) and I should just go home.

As I was getting dressed, the other girls started asking me why I wanted to leave. They all started talking about their previous raids, arrests, and run-ins with the law. I explained that I hadn't had any such experiences, and wasn't looking to start today. "Oh, no wonder, girl! I always thought you seemed like a doctor or lawyer or something, and I was always asking people what a girl like you was doing here!" And all of a sudden all these girls (many of whom I've never spoken to) took this sort of protective stance, telling me to go home, dodge the cops, etc. It was a very strange show of solidarity, even as it seemed totally strange to me to be cast into this elite/protected category.

I left before the cops got there, but realized as I saw my reflection in a deli window en route to the train that I looked more like a prostitute out on the street in my full stripper make-up in broad daylight than anything in the club. (I also quickly emailed all my customers from my phone, telling them I wasn't there today. Customers first!)

Ugh! A few options:
1) Go back to my Manhattan club, which is full of bullshit, fines, fees, and being pimped out in the champagne room
2) Get a 'straight' job for a while to keep the income a-flowing
3) See what happens at this club in a few days and possibly go back

Regardless, fuck.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Cunning Linguistics

Ah, holiday season at the club. It's always a jolly time, and the months of December and January always seem particularly lucrative! Last year, my Manhattan club had us dress "festive" (I had a long strapless sequined red clingy gown that worked well, and a short white and silver dress that did the trick too). This year, though, my new club wants us to dress in either green or red with white (faux, I'm hoping) fur trim, basically looking like Mrs. Claus back in the day. They want us to be ho, ho, ho's! Of course, they are selling outfits that fit convention for like $90 each at the club, which is a total rip-off, so now I have to spend time this weekend trying to find cheap alternatives in the real world.

In other news, yesterday a customer, clearly aroused by my gentle ear-whispering at the bar, expressed his interest in a lapdance. I told him to follow me to the lapdance area, but he seemed hesitant. "Do you think I should go the bathroom first and jerk off so that I don't cum during the lapdance?" he asked earnestly? (Of course, I was right to be skeptical of his desire to buy a lapdance immediately after getting himself off...)

Another customer, who is always at the club and a very generous tipper on stage, finally waved me over to sit with him. I introduced myself and we started chatting, and I asked him what his holiday plans were. "I'm going to be with the kids." "Oh, that's nice! How many kids do you have?" "I have 57." (quizzical look from me) "I am not their father, but I built them a halfway home. They are orphans or abandoned. I was just trying to do my part." "I see. So are you on the board of this organization?" "I am the only sponsor, I'm a philanthropist." "I got it. So what do you do for a living otherwise?" "Oh, it'd probably all go over your head. But let's just say I have several businesses and properties everywhere, and at this point they're all making me so much money that I don't have anything to do." (he pulls out a bundle of $100 bills and puts them on the bar in front of him) The conversation continued, with him bragging about all the countries he has beach homes in, assuming I was geographically/historically completely challenged, and then him bringing up Slumdog Millionaire and how much he loved it. I was so irritated with him at this point that I said, "yeah, if you love poverty porn" which sparked a conversation about how this film would never have been successful if it actually brought up issues of neoliberalism, postcoloniality, and a general contextual discussion of why India has such concentrated wealth and extreme poverty. At this point, he decided I was "smart" and asked me if I got bored having uninteresting and unintelligent conversations with people in the strip club. I always loathe such questions that pit me against my colleagues and customers, especially when they come from arrogant douchebags, but that pile of $100s was reflected in my dollar-sign shaped eyes so I endured. Anyway, basically the conversation turned into how, at this point in his life, the only thing that excites him is getting in bed (or a shower, pool, limo) with three girls at a time. Then he told me which of the girls in the club were lesbians, which would fuck me good with a strap-on, which were boring to him since they weren't into girls. I told him I was totally into girls, but he dubbed me a "cherry" - someone inexperienced in the world of threesomes and foursomes. He said he wanted to get me in on some of his world travels with his posse of lesbos (I guess I'd be the "cherry" on top!) The best was that he had me pick a girl to get lapdances from, and he gave each of us a handful of cash to retreat to the lapdance area for a bit. (We just sat back there and chatted and laughed, cuz he wasn't even interested in looking.) Then I came back, told him that this girl had gotten my pussy real wet and even gone down on me for a while, and thanked him for the good times.

Speaking of lesbians, I got into a conversation with another dancer about cunnilingus, and she told me how much she hated it. "God gave men a dick so they could fuck!" she told me excitedly. "If I wanted someone to lick my pussy I'd just be a lesbian. You have a dick, man, now use it!"

One of my favorite old customers resurfaced (the one whose whole family is on Lexapro) and we had a blast together. He's really nice, and (back to the topic of erections at the strip club) he popped a boner for the first time ever in our year and a half of friendship! He said he hasn't gotten a non-Viagra induced erection in several years and was very pleased with himself for getting some all-natural wood.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

The Daily Grind

My last shift was spectacular! It was exactly my kinda day, because I didn't have to hustle anyone new. It was one loyal regular customer after another until my shift was over. Hot!

First was Alan. Alan has been my customer for a little over a year, and he's one of the most interesting people I know. He's half white American, half Puerto Rican, and (like lots of biracial folks) has developed some really radical race politics and I find him apologizing for his white half a lot. He went to Yale for college, then went off to fight the Gulf War before coming back to the U.S. and making it HUGE in the hedge fund world. Apparently, he's the big cheese. Ordinarily, I'd think that's no good, but there's something about Alan that's really fucking awesome. We have this hilarious pun-peppered banter that genuinely cracks me up. Also, he has random pockets of knowledge about things (i.e. he's read up a whole lot on Zora Neale Hurston) and is totally non-pretentious about talking about stuff he knows. Since I switched to this new club, I haven't seen him - but he finally made his way over and we had a blast! A bunch of lapdances, a couple "drinks," and a lot of laughing were the perfect way to start my day! Halfway through Alan's visit, I noticed Irish Gold was there. I wanted to kick it with Alan longer; he'd made the special trip just for me, plus he's got LOTS of money. It's rare that I feel bad for rich guys from the investment world, but I do remember several times at my Manhattan club that Alan's generosity and wealth made his strip club visits miserable. Like, usually he'd take me to the champagne room for like 2-3 hours straight, but one day he just wanted to sit, have a few dances and drinks with me, and that was totally fine with me! But the other girls at the club and the champagne hostess were going insane trying to figure out why he wasn't spending so much money, and eventually their gentle coaxing turned into not-so-gentle cursing as he politely declined all offers to visit the champagne room! He was getting sort of pissed, remarking on how you'd think spending tens of thousands of dollars (true: this guy must have spent at least 12 grand in my presence alone at my last club) would earn him stress-free visits, but no such luck...

I excused myself to say hello to Irish Gold, and right off the bat he was pissing me off. I think I've jinxed him with too much praise, but the truth is: Irish Gold is the perfect customer when times are slow at the club. He's reliable, generous, and a sure thing. But when the scene is busy, he fucking sucks! He tries to hijack all my time! When I went over to talk to him, he wanted me to "finish up" with Alan before I gave him any time. (Knowing Alan, he could spend a full day at the club, hopping in a car service to Southern Jersey well after my shift ends...and spending good money all the while!) I told him my customer wasn't likely to leave any time soon. So then he starts on this long rant about how seeing me with this other guy reminded him that I have "smart, educated" customers who can make me laugh, and he's just a guy from humble beginnings and he got all insecure on me. The good thing was, he ended up spending a bit more money than he usually does (if I "had to give a dance" to the other guy, he'd be like: let me just take you instead!). But still, most of the day was conversation not about our usual subjects (settlement freezes in Palestine or the strategic use of the word "terror" in the US media or animal testing in the cosmetic industry), but about how much he hated sharing me with these other guys, and did I see him as "just" a customer?

Also, Academic Asshole is now my customer! You may remember him from here. If you do, you read my blog way too closely :) Anyway, Academic Asshole never wanted any dances from me, but always wanted to sit and chat about Said, Cesaire, Malcolm, and others and why he felt compelled to only consider "black women as potential wives". While I do enough of this in my other grad student existence (and don't get paid for it), I slowly started ignoring him because I never made a penny off of him and I don't need to waste time at work chatting about antiracism with someone who'd have Fanon turning in his grave. So a couple weeks ago, during a lull (Academic Asshole was the only one there), I was in the corner reading (incidentally, it was Freire I was reading!) and Asshole fetishist guy came over, interrupted, and sat down to chat. I guess he hadn't picked up on my strictly-business approach...After a brief chat about qualifying exams, health benefits for adjuncts, and why we both find Gilroy boring as hell, the conversation turned to stripping. I inevitably turned it on, telling him that I get really aroused giving lapdances, and that his assumption that I was just doing this to put myself through grad school was all wrong. Before long, he asked for a dance, and ended up spending a whole chunk of time with me in the lapdance area! Well, he came back the other day, and again, our banter followed the academic-sexual trajectory, with lucrative results for me!

Next was a guy I call Ketchup Popsicle. I'd met him randomly several months ago and we hit it off. He's a salesman, as he told me, and I told him that he was so smooth he could sell a ketchup popsicle to a lady in white gloves. (Name that movie reference!) Anyway, he gets a bunch of dances and does the unbuttoning his shirt through them. On the one hand, I really like when the guy sits down for his dance and opens his shirt: it probably means he wants you to scratch and stroke his chest (and not suck his dick!), which is good news for me. But on the other hand, I feel like the visual image of a bare chested guy getting a lapdance screams "brothel" and would not look favorable in a raid or on a surveillance camera. Regardless, he's got these interesting red freckles on his chest, which make me think maybe he WAS eating an actual Ketchup Popsicle earlier in the day, and thus, my nickname comes full circle.

I ended my day with my favorite new customer. He's this half-Bengali, half-Italian (yes, crazy mixture!) 24 year old kid, who's so cute I'd adopt him if there weren't some background check procedure that prevented strippers from legally adopting their strip club patrons. He's been coming in for me for about a month or so, and he's so drama-free and adorable that it drives me nuts. I took off a shift last week, and he actually "spent the money he would have spent that day" before and after my day off to make up for lost time! (And in this case, time IS money!) How cute is that? Hernik's his name, and sometimes I feel he's too innocent for his own good. Like, one time he said "I'm so glad we're both single." And I was like, what do you mean? And he said "Well, if we weren't, neither of us would be here!" Cute!

And that was my day! I saw another customer of mine lurking, but I actually bypassed him because my good regulars were there, and I LOVE when I can afford to be picky. I avoided that gross guy because he only gets 2 lapdances from me and spends both of them convincing me to meet him outside. Check out what he said to me last time! He was like, "We don't have to meet for sex. Just for blow job and breast massage." Ew, I think I just lost my Thanksgiving appetite. I told him that's not something I'm into. But THEN (get this!) after the lapdances, he asked me if I had ever had sex, and I told him that the last person I'd had sex with was my ex-boyfriend. He gave me this long speech about how I shouldn't sleep with my boyfriends, because otherwise none of them will marry me and it will take the allure out of marriage for the guy if he's already slept with me. Yes, this was right after he propositioned me for hotel room fellatio, which, apparently, screams marriage material.

Thanksgiving thankfulness for all the wonderful customers who pay my bills, make me laugh, or remind me that strip club patrons aren't all douchebags!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Heart On

I met the most awesome guy at work the other day! He was Lebanese American, about 50 years old, and was born and raised in the U.S.

In other words, he was Tony Shalhoub! Adrian Monk! Absolutely adorable! He showered me with bills when I was on stage and told me to come sit with him. I did; he asked me where I was from. I did my standard "If you guess correctly, I'll sit on your lap. If you guess wrong, you buy a dance from me." Irani? Nope! Well, you're too well spoken to be Hispanic. (I'll pretend he didn't say that.) Afghanistan? Nope. Finally, I told him.

He was great, because he kept sticking four or five singles down my dress every few minutes, telling me I had wonderful breasts and should never get implants. (To me, that's code for "I like 'em sort of small!")

"Jesus, you're driving me crazy. Let's go for a lapdance." On the walk over to the lapdance area, he told me that he'd just had a _ put in his heart (can't remember the word) and that he was recovering nicely, but was supposed to avoid overexcitement. Halfway through the second lapdance, he gets up and says "I just got an erection, and I'm not supposed to get an erection, so I need to stop." He paid me for more than the two dances, and excused himself.

So I just got to thinking about erection stuff in the strip club. (If it were a dissertation, it'd be "De-Boned: The politics and poetics of erections in the gentleman's club scene".) I mean, I sort of assume that all guys get a boner during a lapdance, especially if it's high contact, and that ALL guys get hard with the heavy grinding/contact of the champagne room. But every once in a while, you get a character who says something like "sorry about that, I guess you can feel that I'm excited." And I'm like, umm, yeah! Isn't that the whole point?

But then of course, you DO have the other extreme, the rare guy with the raging hard-on sitting and watching the stage set, titillated by all the public displays of breasts, thighs, and ass. I actually met a guy once who came INTO the strip club wearing a condom (and a pair of pants, of course), sat around for a long time, and then blew his load during lapdance grinding. And who can forget the lanky guy in the suit who used to come into the club, sit in a dimly lit corner, and actually jerk off through his pants while watching the stage set!?

I guess we'd be in grave error to essentialize penis behavior in the strip club environment. The sexual fulfillment these boys look for can range from something shy of an erection to something that ends up requiring a mid-lunch hour trouser change!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

No Common Ground (Zero) Between Us

Tiffany: perhaps the most stereotypical embodiment of what lay people think of when they hear the word stripper. Tall, slender, very tanned, bleached blond hair, a couple tattoos, fake breasts. Constantly in the middle of drama. Last week, it was that her boyfriend was doing steroids and lying to her about it. The week before was a feared accidental pregnancy.

She's also quite the freelance artist. She has one customer - a middle-aged Jewish lawyer - who comes in to drink with her and point out the other girls he likes. She plays broker between the other girls and him, convincing the girls to meet with her and the guy outside for a thousand bucks, and all they have to do is engage in two-way oral sex. Apparently, a lot of the girls are down for this.

Whatever, her and I don't interact too much.

But during a lull, her, me, my stripper friend Sheila, and the house mom are chilling in the dressing room and Tiffany begins with how much she hopes Donald Trump buys up the Ground Zero mosque property while she sucks on a cigarette and adjusts her clip-on hair extensions.

"We definitely don't need any more of that Arab, Muslim stuff. This is New York."

Sheila glances at me nervously and sympathetically. I shrug at her. Our exchange goes unnoticed.

The housemom responds like it's a no-brainer. "For real. I don't understand why people have a problem with Trump fixing this whole problem."

Remember the good old days when people would keep their bigotry private? You know, wait till the brown Muslim woman isn't in the room before you even go there? Or, is there something about the fact that I'm in a thong and clear heels that de-links me from my Islamic identity?

The whole "what Muslims are like" has surfaced several times at the club among the girls (and on my favorite Stripperweb forums as well!). I've heard girls talking about Muslim/Pakistani/A-rab customers as, of course, repressed and hypersexual. Well, what do you know, the military aren't the only people still subscribing to the bullshit put forth in The Arab Mind!

You know, for imperial armies it was/is often important to know the culture and psyche of those who were being conquered so that total domination would be that much easier. (Hence, the recruitment of "culture experts" for the Iraq/Afghanistan war efforts!)

But, I wonder if the same is true of strippers and sex workers? Like, are there off-the-book ethnographies of "how to be a good sex worker for your (insert race here) customer"? If so, my people sure do have a bad rap. They don't treat their women right; they are undersexed and oversexed all at once; they're really bad in bed; they cheat on their wives; they honor-kill when their daughters wear tight pants.

Also, there are ways that black, Asian, and Latino sexualities are essentialized as well, in this context of commodified sexuality. What goes unmarked is white male middle-class sexuality - totally normative and unmarked.

The already-depoliticized identities of terrorists are evident in the sexual identities attributed to them too. Of course, you don't have to hit a strip club dressing room to hear that: we already know that the War On Terror has gained mainstream gay and feminist supporters through the rhetoric that the Arab world's gender dynamics are fucked and need to be fixed. In other words, the need to bring our sexual-rights superiority to the rest of the world justifies bombing the fuck out of Afghanistan.

Alas, Muslim women DO really need saving. It's just, we need to be saved from hearing anti-Muslim sexualized bigotry while we're just trying to eat some animal crackers in the dressing room during a break between lapdances and stage sets.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Hannibal Lecture

Last week, I met a couple of guys who were visiting NYC from Puerto Rico. They both took a liking to me, but weren't quite generous enough to be noteworthy (I.e. one lapdance each). One of them (his middle name is Hannibal, FYI, and no, I don't normally share any "real" info about my customers but it was just too perfect to pass up the pun) was very friendly and asked for my email address so he could get in touch next time he was in the city, and of course I obliged. Sit back and enjoy the following e-mail "exchanges" (if you can call them that) that ensued:

him: its the PR guy you met

me: was great meeting you [please note: this is my first, last, and only response to him]

him: I wrote poem last year in a dream of this woman believe it was you I wrote as soon I get back I will send it to you I really enjoy it

him: In few hours I will be flying back to the island I wish I had the guts to take u with me

him: here's me [photo attached]

him: i wrote this a few years ago
Por el fuego de esos ojos...
Me he perdido en mi mismo
le declare la guerra a mi razón,
conocí el cielo y el infierno
una historia de amor...

Yo que era palabra.... me volví silencios,
y fui prisionero de esa luz
tenían esos ojos, el misterio,
el Cristo y la cruz.

Por el fuego de esos ojos...
Que dolía mirarlos,
era el mar más azul... Una risa
era el negro más oscuro... Una herida
y un color de adiós.

Gitana de magia y sombras
quiero ser tu aliento,
para estar en ti
cuando me nombras...

Por el fuego de esos ojos...
He mentido y he pecado,
tengo un padre nuestro
y la marca de los clavos en mis manos.

Llevo en mi pecho tu nombre
y en mi corazón diez mil latidos,
y cuando te marchas todo se vuelve oscuro,
si hasta la luz he perdido...

Por el fuego de esos ojos...
Vendería mí pasado
mi Dios.... Y mi destino.

Como morderé tu boca en el aire?
Como regalarte la ultima lagrima
de mi andar cansado?

Como decirte que soy el que esperas?
Si nunca...
Nunca me has mirado...

him: I never got your name but that’s one of the things i don’t like about NY, you never get warm enough. Just giving you a piece of me to remember me by, I don’t expect much but I would love to hear from you. Let me know the real you and if you don’t have any trouble this is my number xxx-xxx-xxxx Have a nice day and fulfill your destiny

him: i'm back on the island

him: here's a translation of my poem [for some reason the translation was into Hindi, in Devanagiri script; he must have gotten his hands on google translator]

him: How are you today? I know you wont answer my email but i will keep my promise to write to you. Today under heavy rain we were workng for a new project for homeless person, a construction of a safe heaven. Though we dont have a winter as yours we do have rainy season like this one. We hope to build this project in a few months / Well have to go , kisses

him: here, you can translate this with Babylon translator
Hay maderas oscuras y profundas
como tus ojos y tus cabellos.
Porque tus ojos y tus cabellos son
como maderas profundas y charoladas.

Hay maderas suaves y livianas
como tu piel y tu alegría.
Porque tu piel y tu alegría son
como maderas suaves y livianas.

Hay maderas recias y macizas
como tus piernas y tus espaldas.
Porque tus piernas y tus espaldas son
como maderas recias y macizas.

Hay maderas húmedas y rojas
como la piel de tus labios y de tu lengua.
Porque la piel de tus labios y de tu lengua es
como una madera roja y empapada de savia.

Hay maderas olorosas y vivas
como el olor de tu cuerpo.
Porque el olor de tu cuerpo es
como el olor de las maderas
cortadas en los tiempos de lluvias.

Hay maderas que al ser trabajadas
dan notas musicales y perfectas.
Tu amor es una nota musical y perfecta
como el sonido que dan ciertas maderas
cuando son trabajadas.

Hay maderas que se quejan en las noches de lluvia
y en las tardes de tormenta.
Porque eres triste, y esto te embellece y purifica,
te pareces a esas maderas que se quejan
en las noches de lluvia y en las tardes de tormenta.

Hay maderas que tienen un sabor y perfume
tan propios que, cuando se las huele o se las besa,
ya no son olvidadas nunca más en la vida.
Porque eres fatalmente inolvidable,
te pareces a esas maderas que se recuerdan
hasta la muerte cuando se las huele o se las besa.

him: Hi , Im still waiting for that miracle to receive a email from you. The last two days has been wonderful, sunny and breezy very nice for the beach. You met my brother that day and all my family is the states. Im the only one living in Puerto Rico. Just to give you some information about me. I was born by accident the six day of _ of 1957 in Fort Brooke, in the left side of landmark of Puerto Rico call the Morro (fortresses build seventeen century by the Spain). The accident was that I came to this earth two months earlier. The reason my mother was a singer with a big band called the Nighthawks and they were celebrating the day after they play at the Escambron Nite Club for member of the US army. At midnight she went to a fairy’s wheel at the third turns she broke water and this kid was born in a US military base in the old San Juan near a fortress a 3 king day at 2:17 am by name _ Hanibal _ ,jr.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *
I'm assuming this isn't the last I'll hear from Hannibal...But can someone please tell me what his problem is? Feel free to submit thoughts in any language; I can use Babylon translator if need be ;)

Friday, October 8, 2010

Guy Ritchie/Gigolo Complex

Okay, my title is a failed attempt to come up with something like the gender-opposite equivalent of the "Madonna/Whore" complex. You know what I'm talking about; the psychological complex in which a male begins to see all women as either (and only) pure and non-sexual, or dirty and whorish. Fine, fine, Guy-Ritchie/Gigolo does nothing for this. Celibate/Stud or Priest/Player?

I think I'm starting to embody something like the female equivalent of Madonna/Whore! You're either a strip club perv OR a regular guy I'd be into.

This goes against everything I (theoretically) believe in! I certainly don't think there's anything inherently wrong with strip clubs, pornography, or paid sex. But you (o blog readers!) are familiar with the frustrations I've dealt with relating to customers. In general, the fact that a guy is a strip club regular, or pays for sex, automatically just serves as a turn-off - even if he's attractive in all other ways.

I found I've (problematically) divided the world up into two types of men: The guys who (1) lie to their partners (i.e. cheating when they're supposedly monogamous) and/or spend spare time and cash at strip clubs, and (2) the guys who aren't "overly" into porn, ogling women, or getting more sex than they already have in their lives. And the former category of men I want nowhere near my vagina. This sucks for me. I believe that sexual freedom between consenting adults is necessary and should be unstigmatized. And I think it's sad when women "don't let" their husbands watch porn (or get into watching it themselves!) or forbid their boyfriends from a lapdance or two at the strip club.

But at the same time, I can't deny the rising resentment I have toward straight men who (and not that these are necessarily connected factors) suck in bed because they're oversaturated with images of a world of plugging various holes being the definition of sex. Who secretly cheat on their partners. Who assume a sense of entitlement to getting themselves off, or see getting you off as a favor of some sort rather than a sexual act itself.

At work, I'm obviously confronted with the "Gigolo/Player" type (though certainly not all guys at strip clubs are that way!), and in my personal life I'm close to the other "type" of men. Of course, in recent months this dichotomy has become more and more complicated - with nice guys in the strip club space and pervy sketchos in my personal space, and I'm ending up frustrated!

But regarding my world view: what kind of dichotomy of heteromasculinity am I dealing with here? What would Freud say (other than to give birth to a boy...)?

Thursday, October 7, 2010

How much do you want Tibet he's crazy?

My Tibetan-Indian customer who sells t-shirts in Times Square is interesting. Married, 2 children. We converse only in Hindi with each other. He's very easy - he never forces me to drink, never forces physical contact, never tries to get me outside the club. He's good for about $150/visit, plus a few drink tickets. He's also, notably, the ONLY desi guy I've ever met with a serious foot fetish. He'll grab my foot and put it on his crotch during a dance, or simply gaze at my big toe.

Anyway, last time we were talking, and he asked me (in Hindi): "Did Gandhi-ji have a wife?" I went into way too long an explanation of how Gandhi was married, had several children, and then declared himself celibate. I was looking at the stage while I told this story, not at him, so when I felt a drop of moisture hit my foot, I assumed it was my sweaty "fake" vodka tonic. Not so! It was a tear from his eye! He started crying during my Gandhi story!!! I was puzzled, but he said (in English): "I just like Gandhi so much." (Okay, but if you like Gandhi so much, wouldn't you have known about his celibacy proclamation?) Then I went on to tell him a few more facts about Gandhi, including his romps in the sack with the "bed warmer" Abha, and he fought back tears.

I'm sorry, but if you're going to cry about Gandhi, wouldn't it be when you hear about him shedding his South African English-speaking lawyer bullshit and spinning cloth in India? Why, oh, why, would you choose to get all choked about Gandhi's unusual celibacy? And why, when I google "Gandhi celibacy" does a photo of Nadia Suleman come up? Great, great mysteries...

Thursday, September 2, 2010


"I can't come here anymore."

Eventually, your regular customer *will* say this, and may even disappear for a while.

In my experience, it's NEVER true. In fact, I have a hunch that "I can't see you anymore"/"I can't come here anymore"/"I'm done with strip clubs" is the guy's way to see if you'll get sad, ask him not to leave, offer to meet him outside, etc. Classic pathetic bullshit.

Remember "we are on a lake" guy? He'd emailed me the following: "we are on the lake. this is a fine evening.....not very hot....nor very breeze from the lake....i am there....and you are there too....

now we are at the middle of the other boats are near by......far away we can see the sun setting slowly.......full bright red sun.......sometimes hiding in the clouds....and sometimes peeping out of it.....slowly immersing into the water.....we can see ducks moving around.....maa goes in front and the ducklings a line. some times it lifts out of the water and shake its body....we are standing in the standing in front of me....i am holding you from behind.....we are just standing there ... looking into the vastness....staring at the stars now slowly emerging.....the moon slowly ascends.....your face is shining in the moonlight.....what a beauty to look at your smiling with your eyes closed now.....touching my heart you telling me 'what is inside here matters'......i am deeply touched.....tears come into my soon you found it, oh my are always with me since the moment i saw you.......always,always thinking about you......

my dear...i can't wait any longer to see you......i miss you....."

...and I'd shamelessly mocked him on my blog?

Well, several months ago he'd told me he wanted to take me to Macy's and buy me whatever I wanted, and I'd told him I can't go out with a customer. He got all sad and said he couldn't believe after all this time I thought of him as a customer (even though I faithfully charged him for each and every lapdance) and said he couldn't come see me anymore.

By August, after a several month absence, he emailed me to see where I was working, and moved his poetic ass over to my new club to patronize me. (Or maybe I patronize him. It's hard to say.) This new club, with it's privacy and lax security, has brought out a part of him I'd never seen before. Yep, the good ole cock 'n balls, which, upon whip-outtage, made me leap a good three feet away and demand that they be hidden from sight. His cock-eyed scheme to whip it out just didn't mesh with his previous romantic, teary eyed, sentimental persona, but hey, we've all got multiple voices, yes? (Yet, this incident had me thinking more Bactine than Bakhtin!)

There's another customer who I must have meet over a year ago. He's not a big money guy (maybe a few dances per visit), but he really wants to meet for dinner. (He asks all the dancers this, by the way.) Upon being told I don't date customers, he says the classic idiotic line: "Then I won't be your customer anymore!". I finally shifted my approach with him to "I heard you asked Viva and Alina to dinner to, and it sort of broke my heart because I thought I was special." Anyway, he "quit" strip clubs back in May and is back in full swing as of last week, still persistent with his dinner invitations.

These guys that try to terminate their strip-club penchants? They'll be back...

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Chased Women

"What's the difference between an orthodox Muslim woman and a stripper?"

No, this is not a setup for some terrible joke (for once), it's a serious question. The more you think about it, stripping and veiling are like two sides of the same coin.

Both assume a certain inherent tendency for men to ogle or objectify women's bodies.

Both presume that the way a woman dresses is responsible for deflecting or attracting that inherent masculine gaze.

Both strippers and hijabis are presumed, popularly, to be exploited, oppressed, perpetuating patriarchy, or suffering from a false consciousness. (And, I would argue that in several cases, both have actually subverted the power of the masculine gaze by controlling it themselves - either by veiling or charging a fee.)

As someone who has both worn a hijab and clear heels, I can say that the experience of each is a dramatically embodied one. Just as strippers pick gown cuts that minimize belly fat or colors that would look appealing on stage, hijabis hem (often times, literally) and haw over just what length tunic is feasible over jeans or a long skirt to conform to their interpretation of appropriate Islamic dress code.

The sad thing is, I've heard enough hijabis throw around words like "ho" and "skank," and enough strippers talk about the barbaric Islamic oppression of women, for either group to realistically - and substantially - get together to realize that their marginalization, stigmatization, and even their sources of empowerment are more similar than they'd realize.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Hated Hiatus

I've been on a short leave from work for personal reasons, which is likely to extend to a total of 2 months away from the clubs! It's been 2 weeks and already, since I started dancing two years ago, this is the longest I've gone without getting naked for money. It fucking sucks! I keep trying to justify to myself that everyone needs time off, and that this will give me time to do schoolwork, socialize, take care of my body. But guess what? I do those fucking things all the time, AND I get to strip/make money/have fun at work.

Being away from work is strange. I looked down the other day and saw something I haven't seen in a long time: pubes! I thought Bush's term was over, but nope! Shorn muff, I mean, shore'nuff, it's back!!

I had sort of a 'working lunch' with Irish Gold yesterday. He gave me a nice chunk of change to meet him in the real world (movie, followed by lunch and beer), since he can't meet me in the club these days. I generally don't go out with customers, but I'm starting to think that if the customer is a) attractive, b) not-sociopathic, and c) willing to pay for my time so we don't lose 'client' status, then why not? Okay, several reasons: 1) They may think it's the first step toward paid or unpaid sex. 2) Now that they can see you in the real world, they may not want to see you at the club anymore. 3) For the nice/charming customers you have to dejectedly turn down for dates, it's sort of hard to transition into the "yeah, I'll meet you for coffee. Wanna know my rates?" conversation. But him and I had a good time, and there was no pressure for anything beyond seeing me. Then again, he's decidedly "less sexual than most guys," according both to him and my assessment of him, which may be why it genuinely seemed that he just wanted to hang.

Regardless, it isn't the same as working at the club. This might be the first job that I both love and am good at; also, this is the first time since age 14 that I've been jobless.

Thursday, July 1, 2010


I'm pumped! One of my blog posts will be read tonight at the Red Umbrella Diaries event tonight! Check it out - from what I've read, Audacia Ray's work is pretty awesome.

Monday, June 28, 2010

The Production of Space

Imprisoned by four poles
(to the left, the swively one I hate dancing on
to my right, a drunken customer,
behind me, the mirror,
ahead of me, four investment bankers)
I did sexy-squats, but received no tips.

-Hat tip, Octavio Paz

Yes, LeFebvre might be horrified by my flippant and frivolous blog posts. But here's my nod to him in an attempt to understand the ridiculous, arbitrary, and orthodox ways in which strip clubs produce their social geographies and construct identities all their own.

This is based on my recent migration over to a third NYC club. The first club I worked at, a neighborhood-y club known for it's lax champagne room rules and range of "types" of women, was radically different from my second club, in midtown Manhattan - a commercial NYC strip club catering to a very particular type of "classy" experience (i.e. $11 for a bottled water at the bar). The third club is neither of these, and perhaps having some sort of identity crisis as it tries to package itself as a "classy" club to avoid the inevitable impending gentrification shut-down of local topless bars.

It got me thinking about the specific ways clubs manufacture this notion of "classiness" (and the inherent bullshit, racism, and - as the word classy itself implies - classism) of the process.

Is your strip club a dive? Are you trying to upscale your club and bring in top notch girls and clientele? Follow these simple steps and CLASS YOUR CLUB.

1) Dim the lights. I mean, way the fuck down. The dimmer the lights, the more you can get away with projecting an image of myriad girls without stretch marks or acne without actually hiring them. Also, dim lights serve as a mask for the very same skeezy behavior (heavy grinding, nipple contact) that happens in other clubs without it being easily visible.

2) Put your bouncers in suits and matching ties. At dive bars, the bouncers and customers are barely distinguishable. In fact, at my first club the bouncer used to wear t-shirts that read: "6.9: A great idea, fucked up by a period", or "I support single moms: I go to strip clubs." No joke. However, he did look out for me, even in the absence of being uniformed in a gold tie and secret service earpiece.

3) Have your girls cover up their tattoos. This will look tacky as fuck, largely because covering tattoo sleeves with Dermablend every other day at work is exhausting and not always entirely effective (depending on the ink). Also, there is a chance that a customer will have to explain to his wife just how he got heavy foundation on the front of his shirt. But still! Tattoo-less girls on stage will suggest that they're college-educated, drug free, and worth spending an hour of time with in the champagne-room.

4) Schedule only a small number of black girls per shift. This rule can be modified if the black girls are half white, very light skinned, or can pass for something other than "black." In fact, you might want to give your DJ explicit rules (as did my former club) not to put two black girls on stage at the same time. Don't worry, lawsuits about sexual harassment or racial discrimination don't apply to you.

5) Infantilize the girls who work at your club. Fine them for being late, talk down to them when they don't comply with your rules that they squeeze money out of customers from drinks and champagne rooms (even though you give them no commission for ordering drinks and a very small share of the champagne room earnings), scold them when they chat with the DJ, and limit the amount of time they can spend relaxing in the dressing room while taking breaks.

6) Two words: Fictive Commodities. Karl Pole-anyi would be proud. Find ways to commodify anything and everything in the club. Sell themed g-strings, offer half-price "fully clothed" lapdances at the bar, offer a $2,000 "blue room" (likely a glorified brothel) for those who are above the $500 champagne room.

7) Monitor the girls' whereabouts. Make sure they aren't chatting with the DJ in the DJ booth, that they are sitting at the appropriate end of the bar during slow hours, and that they are on stage for "roll call" at the beginning of their shift. Defiance of these rules can be addressed through scolding, fines, or both.

Follow these simple steps, and you can sit back and relax as Long Island-dwelling finance execs, Columbia University med school professors, and Park Slope-gentrifying artist types patronize your fine establishment!

Yes, the difference between the classy club and the others is mostly smoke and mirrors. Or, more appropriately, no-smoking except in the champagne room and well-placed mirrors to make the club seem more spacious. The $10 Heineken is just as cold and tasty at the dive bar where it costs $4, but the extra $6 you're paying ensures you don't have to sit next to a construction worker or guy in a du-rag, and you won't be disturbed by happy hour guys hooting and hollering at whatever game is on ESPN.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Lexapro? Sex a pro!

Is it me, or is every strip club regular on Lexapro? (Or maybe the strip club population just mirrors the antidepressant-popping general population.) Something about visiting a topless bar makes you Lexa-prone, it seems. This is the new It Drug, and apparently it should be taken with a full glass of water and a high-contact lapdance.

Or maybe it's just depression in general. Something about being bummed out makes you want to see girls with their bum out? Down in the dumps, like a truck, truck, truck?

My first Lexapro-loaded customer was last year. He has, on this blog, been referred to as "Tuition Guy" or "DVD Guy" on separate occasions. He took Lexapro because he said he suffered severe anxiety because of his extremely high-pressure, high-ranking job. (Note: He designed movie posters.) Okay, I'm being mean. I really liked him before he got annoying. But anyway, he said Lexapro was great for treating his anxiety but he "didn't like feeling like he needed his head shrinked" and hated visiting the psychiatrist. He also said it made it easy to get an erection but very hard (puns intended) to come. Weirdly, he used to say he was on "LePRAXo" (and so I thought that's what the drug was called at first). Then again, he also pronounced "Biopic" the way you'd say "myopic" and when I said I use turmeric in my cooking he corrected me and said "you mean toom-AIR-ic?".

Japanese Architect is also on the drug. He started off awesome, but as the weeks go by he starts demanding more from me. (This week's request is a topless photo. Last week was that I "lick the tip." I think I made some joke about not wanting to put my tongue on gratuity.) Anyway, he's been married since his early 20s and he's miserable with his wife. He's just not attracted to her anymore, even though they're still friends. He just can't seem to get sexually aroused by her and is mad depressed by it. He also feels powerless to move out or get divorced. Anyhow, he tells me the drug sort of helps with his depression, but not really. He also tells me that his dick doesn't get up on this drug, even though he gets extremely aroused.

The third Lexa-Bro is an awesome awesome customer of mine. He's really smart and sweet, and totally gets what the job is about. He's also written some books that I recently ordered and am planning to read this summer. He actually told me his whole family is on the drug (wife, daughter, himself). He says he hopes that being on the drug will make his 16 year old daughter stop calling him a "motherfucking asshole." I'll drink to that!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Khanvict Music

So I have this new customer. He buys seven or eight dances, and then leaves. He's an Indian guy who must be close to 70, but his dye-job hides his age very well. I think he fell for me because he likes my Hindi and my heiny. Our lapdances consist of him trying to perform cunnilingus on my bellybutton and my pushing him away, then him telling me he'd give me a generous mehr if I agree to be his second wife, and various lackluster conversations in Hindi. (FYI, he also told me he fucked one of his "servants" back in Calcutta. His wife found out and was pissed, hence the move to the US. See! I told you reasons for immigration are complex!!!) The lapdance dirty-talk is repetitive and hilarious, as it mostly consists of: how much he wants to fuck me, but he would only do it after we got married; that his dick can't get hard unless someone sucks on it for about 5 minutes; recollections of the 75-100 occasions on which he's paid for sex.

Anyway, last time he came in and told me he dreamed about me. He said he lay in bed, put lotion on his hand and "massaged" himself thinking about me. Then he told me he wrote me a song, and he began singing to me in a very ghazal-singer-esque voice: "Tumhe chutne ko dil karta hain. Tumhare gaand khaane ko dil karta hain." (Roughly translated? My heart wants to fuck you. My heart wants to give you a rim job.) Basically, he's singing me an Akon song in Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan style...Let's call him Akhan!

Okay, okay, I'm doing that thing again where everyone sounds like a crazy/perverted customer. Not true! Simply just fun to blog about! Irish Gold and I had an awesome conversation today about Pat Buchanan's wicked conservatism yet fierce pro-Palestinianism and the American obsession with abortion and "life" debates. I also kicked it with this new guy who said he'd never heard someone discuss the Malcolm X assassination while topless, leading to a hilarious whole conversation about what appropriate strip club banter usually consists of. Not to mention, I air-guitared on stage every time the DJ played a shitty song (i.e. Live's "Lighting Crashes"). A fun day!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Tiring Tirade

A few weeks ago, I got a new customer, James. Or, as I began calling him, Sissy James. Sissy James gets turned on by humiliation. The first time we met, he asked if I was into domination at all. Of course, I indulged. He ended up coming in every time I was working, flashing me the bra he was wearing under his manly outerwear, and bowing his head in shame as I mocked his humility during a few "lapdances." "No, mistress, I'm not a man, I'm just a sissy." Sometimes he'd give me a $20 bill to go dance for another guy so he could feel ashamed. When I'd dance for him, I wasn't quite sure what to do, especially since I'd established that I was his goddess and he wasn't worthy of even glancing at my beauty. It was sort of hilarious, but I felt it getting kind of repetitive. I'd call him a sissy, a pansy, tell him he wasn't worthy of me, tell him he wasn't a real man, all with slight variations, on shuffle. Sometimes I'd lightly slap him across the face or pull on his hair. I'd tell him about how some day I'd put a leash on his neck and take him for a walk on all fours. But there was only so much I could do! (My friend rightly pointed out that it was fucked up to mock him for being effeminate, and that perhaps I should instead mock him for having bad gender politics! Hat tip, RP!) The last time he came in, he was wearing adult diapers under his clothes, and also brought a makeup kit so I could put lipstick on him. (He told me that I should use his face as my toilet seat. I didn't, of course, but I did tell him I'd love to.)

The thing is, I got really bored with him, as easy as the whole thing was. (I didn't even have to undress for him!) Or, not bored, but (and, perhaps for the first time ever) at a loss for words. I just couldn't do it anymore. It's like I got domme and dumber. I called him a sissy, a pansy, a nobody, a pussy, a loser, a wimp, "not a real man." And then, I would start at the beginning again. When I ran out of words, I'd ask him to worship me. But all he could produce was a very stifled "You're so excellent, I'm nothing compared to you." Bo-ring. I think he caught on that I wasn't into it, or maybe I just stopped doing it for him, because he hasn't showed up since last week.

Anyway, if you see a guy wearing a Yankee's jacket with a brastrap peeking out, tell him his goddess is going to punish him for going AWOL on me.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Maid In India

Jesus Christ, for the third time I had an Indian customer today relay to me the memory of fucking a "servant girl." Today's customer was this guy Arun who works in IT and lives in Jersey. (Sorry for helping you narrow it down to about 45,000 possible people!) He told me that when he was a teenager up until he was 21, he was always very horny. (He quantified this by telling me that one day, when he was 20, he masturbated 18 times in 1 day.) But, being from Hyderabad, there was very little time he got to spend alone, particularly with girls. Prostitutes, he said, were out because of fear of the law. Girls from college "were risky, because some issue might develop. They might get pregnant or start pressuring you for marriage. Which, I guess, is the right thing to do. So one time, this girl was cleaning my hostel. I mean, she was like a servant girl. And she used to come all the time to clean, and she was very sexy. I mean, in that village-girl way, wearing her sari and what not. She was Hindu, not Muslim. So anyway she would always complain about her husband, and how bad he was to her, and one day she just fell in my arms crying. And what could I do? I'm a man, and there's a sexy woman in my arms. There was no option. So, it happened." I was like, "oh so you lost your virginity to her?" And he was like "No, I mean, how can you call it losing virginity? I was so excited that I finished in like 2 minutes, less than that even. I like you."

Wow, though. Seriously, I know that domestic workers are often - and have always been - sexualized, often sexually abused, and usually thought of as readily available for appropriate sexual release for men who live in the homes where 'domestics' work. They're like sex workers in maid uniforms! Except instead of black fishnet stockings and a frilly white trim on a black skirt, it's a hand-me-down sari and a revealing blouse.

I appreciate his honesty. He told me that his dick was "practically Muslim" from masturbating so much. (I can only imagine what this means. My guess is that it has something to do with foreskin and circumcision, but lord knows.)

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Banal Sex & Restrained Refrains

I think I speak for all dancers when I tell customers not to consider themselves original for saying any of the following. If I had a crumpled g-string dollar for every time I heard these, I'd be able to buy the house mom's whole stretchy-dress inventory!

-I really only just come to this place for a beer and to look at some pretty girls, but I can't believe my luck finding you.
-You don't belong here. You're way too smart and beautiful. (or any variation on the "you're not like the other girls here/you shouldn't be here" theme)
-I'd rather just give the champagne room money directly to you, so you don't have to give the house a cut. Shall we meet somewhere outside the club?
-There's a connection here, and I know you feel it too.
-With you, it isn't just about sex.
-If you don't have any customers, come sit with me.
-Nothing is sexier than brains and beauty.
-I'm actually not really a strip club guy.


Solid Gold Irishman got a little wacky on me today for a minute. Maybe I jinxed it. So I had spent something like 2 hours just chatting with him and giving him some lapdances during the slow hours. Any time we've hung out before he is always really self-conscious & polite about not wanting to monopolize my time, and being completely cool about my talking to other customers.

So today, I was kicking it with him and I saw this customer of mine come in. He's a really cool guy, and has a reputation as Mr. "Never says no to a lapdance", so girls were all over him. I didn't want him to deplete his whole cash stash on everyone but me, so after my stage set, instead of going back to Irish Gold, I went straight to him, chatted, and did about 5 dances for him. As soon as that was done, I got called back on stage again for another set (which included the Third Eye Blind Song "Semi Charmed Life"), and "never says no" guy left. Irish Gold came to tip me on stage and says "What happened to you?" And I said, "I was taking care of another customer." And he was like "Well I was waiting for you, sittin' over there like an idiot." I was stunned, because it's the first time he's been possessive, and his rude tone totally caught me off guard.

When I went back to sit with him he apologized and said he had no right to say that, sorry sorry. And I was nice, and forgiving. But still, shit!

I was in a bad mood after that. There's this weird guy who came in and rapidly earned a reputation for being really cheap. I saw him in the corner and all the girls were steering clear like he had swine flu or something, so I did the same. Then, at one point, there were no customers at all so I was like, what the hell. So I sat next to him and started chatting and had some sort of flashback to him giving me lots of money! I never forget a face...unless it's in the distance under a blacklight. Up close, I totally remembered him having cash. And he totally remembered me, and told me all these facts about myself I'd told him last time (including my fake real name) and then he proceeded to get like 17 lapdances from me. Awesome. He was drunk enough that I didn't have to do anything, really, but sit on his lap. He speaks with an Indian accent, and looks South Asian, but he swears he's from Cairo. He can't speak a lick of Arabic, nor can he answer any basic questions about his supposed hometown, so I get the sense he's totally lying about himself. He also claims to be a resident of Los Angeles, where he pumps gas at a gas station, and is visiting NYC for business...yet he didn't know there was an earthquake there last week. He has a thick Indian accent yet swears up and down that he was born and raised in LA. Okay, so he's totally lying about himself, and he's really socially weird. He looks like an unattractive version of this hot guy I went to high school with. So during a dance, he grabs my ass and my thigh and squeezes/scratches really hard, enough to draw blood. (Cut to image of Egypt Boy at a Pictionary party attempting to sketch "blood" on an easel...) No, okay, he didn't draw blood, but it hurt! That, plus my bad mood, and I totally smacked him, open palm, across the face and shoved his chest, and then made him give me $40 for "being an asshole." He did.

Other than that, a good day. I'm having trouble adjusting to this new house rule... Wait for it: Any DJ who plays "R&B or Hip Hop will be fired ON THE SPOT". Yes, that sign hangs right under the invisible sign that says "No dogs or black folks." For real, the owner of the club threatened the DJ's who were playing "hip hop and R&B." It's totally fucked, especially since I always used to request the Roots and Outkast to make my day go by a little faster. Not only have I lost that, we have no more Kanye West or R. Kelly jams, AKA Strip club anthems! For real? This is New York City! So now, I spend stage sets entertaining myself with the aforementioned "Third Eye Blind," along with "I touch myself," "Friday I'm in Love," and of course, I also go dancing with... Mr. Brownstone!

Monday, April 5, 2010

Bollywood Beats

So there's this girl who dances at the club. She's from Tibet, but lies and tells everyone (except me) that she's either Chinese or Hawaiian. It's a confidentiality thing for her. But she does speak Hindi and knows her Bollywood tunes, and once she even played me this song in my honor.

Anyway, the other day we were getting dressed and I started whistling Aap Jaisa Koi. She chimed in, of course, and by the time we got to "baat bun jaaye" I realized that two of the Russian bartenders were singing along! I was like "Damn, girls, you know Bollywood songs?" And they were like "Yeah, we love Bollywood in Russia!" And then the slew of Brazilian girls to my left were like "Bollywood EVERYWHERE!" And they started singing "Pehal Nasha." This Boricuan girl nodded in agreement and said "Acha, acha."

Lesson learned! Bollywood rules the fucking world. Though I suppose the alternate theory is that watching Bollywood turns you into a stripper. Wouldn't that be funny? Instead of pole dancing, it'd be garba-raas on stage. And rather than lotion on the legs and baby oil on the arms, the girls would use henna on their hands and coconut oil in their hair. I already have the perfect stripper name for Madhuri Dixit...(too obvious.) Ahh, imagine a world with more desi strippers. We could take the "poor" out of Kapoor, and all the Singhs could dance.

Aaja nachle, indeed!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

A Few Good Men

The Good Customer. Elusive, rare, often just an illusion. But I have to say, there are some guys who are just solid, solid gold.

My new Irishman regular has reminded me that I need to stop stigmatizing/ridiculing "strip club customers" as some sort of homogenous group. Yes, perhaps many of them are grabby, or stingy, or sexist, or stalkery, or highly self-absorbed. Yes, maybe some of them have questionable STI's. (Who can forget this guy?)

And even with the GOOD customers, there's usually a catch.

For instance, take my aformentioned architect friend (blueprint blueballs guy). He's really nice, and very sweet and kind and respectful of my time as an employee of the club. But it only took him two visits before he started pressing me to meet him outside. As of this week, now that he knows I am not likely to go out with him, he's told me he probably won't be visiting me at the club anymore.

Then there was DVD/girlfriend guy who was hot and interesting. But then he went and split up with his girlfriend because of hopes of being with me and started showing up at the club all the time and got massively annoying.

Generally, "good customer"ness is a short-lived trait. It's a matter of time before you get tired of me, start doubting my motives for being nice to you, start spending less money, or press me to meet you outside.

Mr. Ireland has reminded me that the good customer doesn't always need a fatal flaw. Like I said in my last post, this guy is super politicized, really intelligent, humble, and generous. He never talks down about strippers, never makes excuses or feels the need to justify why he's in the place to begin with, and has no delusions about the commercial nature of our relationship. In other words, he's perfectly happy to fork over money for a good (bounded-authentic) afternoon with me, without trying to turn it into a date, sex, or therapy. (I seriously need to knock on wood... Quick! Get me a customer's crotch!)

Mr. Ireland goes on the list with this guy, and my favorite flamingly gay customer who takes me to the champagne room to chat and get drunk on mimosas.

Then again, this isn't a tough list to top...

Friday, February 12, 2010

Valentine's Pay

Holy crap! Today was our work Valentine's Day party. All the girls had to wear lingerie, which was awesome because it beats the synthetic glittery stretch material we wear normally. It could have been topped only by a "pajamas + slippers" theme. But, wow! The boys were out today, and a-spendin'!

The day started with this customer, a new guy, taking a liking to me and grabbing me for a couple of dances. A Japanese American architect, I had him at some pun about blueprints and blueballs. Generous tipper, nice guy, and definitely in the mood for love. So he's been married for 10 years, and hasn't had sex in 5. I, apparently, am the first person he's told this to.

Then came Mr. Ireland. This guy is a total sweetheart! He's deeply political and loves to talk about the similarities between the Irish and Palestinian people's history. He's also awesomely generous, very much into me, and a complete gentleman.

By the end of the day, the list of "nice, generous, and sweet" customers was a lengthy one! There was only ONE asshole today, and he's sort of a regular customer of mine who got completely hammered. Yes, he was an asshole. He told the bartender "I'm a dentist, and I know bad breath when I smell it, and you have bad breath." He told me, "You have small breasts. You should get a boob job." It was annoying, but he followed up most of his insults with a FIFTY DOLLAR tip. No joke. Every time he pissed me off, he'd drunkenly fumble through his pockets and pull out a crumpled wad of $50s and hand me one. (He'd also mumble "Now don't look at all my money!") He did the same thing with the other girls he'd offended. Then he told me, "I came here just to see you today. Wouldn't it piss you off if I took another girl to the champagne room?" And he actually did it. It would have been annoying except that he'd already given me a lot of cash.

Randomly, Thomson Thomson showed up!!!! I haven't seen the guy since before the raid, months and months ago. I thought I'd never see him again, especially since the time he tried to "shush" me when I told him not to finger-fuck me and he complained to another girl that I "lack dedication." But apparently, he's been hanging out at the strip club across the street from my previous club, and a girl who works there told him where to find me. He came by, gave me a nice tip, and said "I can't buy dances from you here because it's all out in the open, and you know how much I like intimacy." Gawd, whadda loser.

But seriously, we milked Valentine's Day for all it was worth. The Brazilian non-English speaking girls brought notebooks with them that had English messages written in them, and when a customer showed up, they'd reach into a Duane Reade bag and pull out a blank Hallmark card and copy a message from their notebook into the card. I wonder if these guys keep their stripper gifts in a secret drawer at their desk at work so their poor wives don't find them.

These boys have been struck by Stupid's Arrow! And I ain't complainin'...

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Not sequitur

The following songs will always remind me of work:

I really miss my stripper buddy Sheila I used to talk about from my old club. In the raid, we all scattered, and I think she left the country for school, and I genuinely miss having a buddy at work. And I also just missing having her around as an unlikely friend.

My prof gave me an A on the paper I posted (segments of) below... She also gave me a hug when I saw her the other day, and told me I lead "such an interesting life." Ego massage, a guilt free party!

Never drink 3 glasses of Metamucil for the first time on the day before a shi(f)t at work.

Does anyone else find the "Call me Mr. Flintstone, I can make your bed rock" song at once an insult to the world of music and utterly catchy?

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Stripping as sex work, stripping as "race-work"

So, here are some excerpts from a paper I wrote for school about stripping. It's not as finessed or put-together as I'd hoped it would be, but it's sort of my first theoretical engagement with the topic - be gentle!


It was mid-June, and my first day of work as a stripper. I had just finished my audition and was told I could start work that very day. After the DJ explained to me the rules of dancing at the club, he asked me where I was from. “India,” I told him. He told me that he would have “either guessed South American or Middle Eastern” for me, and that the club had never had an Indian girl before. “You’re going to do well. You’re exotic, and that’s going to be an asset for the club.”
This was perhaps my first racialized experience as a stripper, and that it happened within minutes of being hired is no accident. Almost two years later, I am keenly aware that working in strip clubs is not simply a form of sex work; it is a form of race work. Indeed, race figures prominently in my daily experiences in the club. In fact, the space of the gentlemen’s club is not only gendered, it is deeply racialized and classed. Frank argues that “part of the way race becomes real is through the organization and meaning given to particular spaces, through the ways those spaces are experienced, perceived, and imagined” (2002; 58).
In this paper, I explore the racial organization and meaning of the space of the strip club based upon my experiences in two New York City strip clubs over two years. It is my contention that race is a critical dimension of how the strip club is experienced by dancers and customers; much of the literature on gentlemen’s clubs examines the racialized terrain of the strip club as auxiliary, secondary to its gendered and classed dimensions, doing injustice to theories of intersectionality. By bringing race to the center of my analysis, I hope to demonstrate the ways it is impossible to isolate any of the intersectional variables in a spatial analysis of power.
The strip club is a place where both strippers and customers display and assess symbolic and social capital (Wood, 2000). In my experience, much of this capital has rested visibly along race lines, with race fetishization, exoticism, racism, and a concern with racial authenticity being among the critical components of how this capital is appraised. A stripper who presents herself as the girl-next-door, for instance, is constructing a normative identity that not only summons up notions of “Americanness,” innocence, approachability, and middle-class identity, but also whiteness.
Anthropology of the body and embodiment are theoretically important foundations for this paper. Complicating the Cartesian mind-body duality is essential for understanding the work that strippers do, no less so when interrogating the role of race in this work. It is only through the fallacy of disembedding the body from its sociopolitical realities that the simplistic statement of strippers “selling their body” can be made. The body is always already discursive, politicized, and social. There is, Csordas says, a distinction between the body as an object to be studied and the body as a subject of culture (Csordas, 1990). In this paper, embodiment takes a central role as I ask about the racial subjectivities of dancers and customers, and the ensuing perceptions and performances that take place.
Merleau-Ponty and Bourdieu are two important thinkers for understanding embodiment (Csordas, 1990). Merleau-Ponty’s concern is with the domain of perception, the complicated duality of body-as-subject and body-as-object. He emphasizes the need to understand the experience of perception, as perception is a critical starting point in how we understand objects. He says that it is “as false to place ourselves in society as an object among other objects, as it is to place society within ourselves as an object of thought, and in both cases the mistake lies in treating the social as an object. We must return to the social with which we are in contact by the mere fact of existing, and which we carry about inseparably with us before any objectification” (Merleau-Ponty, 1962). Thus, Merleau-Ponty suggests that what he calls the “preobjective” is deeply concerned with the ways humans take up and inhabit the sociocultural world. For Bourdieu, it is habitus – a set of dispositions which both collectively and unconsciously structure both practice and representation – that is critical to understanding embodiment. Bourdieu’s discussion of aesthetics, for instance, is an example of this (Bourdieu, 1984). While we may think of taste as bodily, it is certainly social, cultural, and political.
For Appadurai, objects that enter exchange relations have social lives (Appadurai, 1988); this may seem like a foregone conclusion when the exchanged ‘objects’ are social beings. Yet, if we understand the social life of things being exchanged, what does it mean to buy and sell deeply social experiences and services? What sort of commodity is a stripper selling? In a commercial setting like the strip club, it seems that the body, the social self and personhood are imbricated in particular ways.
To look at the body as an object, as objectified, and the mind as the locus of subjectivity overlooks the myriad ways strippers explicitly use their physical bodies to portray subjectivities around age, race, class, and other crucial dimensions. The commodified setting of the strip club often leads people to (inaccurately) assume that strippers are (simply) commodifying their bodies. This overlooks the ways the body itself carries racial, political, social, and gendered identities; this assumption ignores the ways the body is discursive and politicized. What, then, does it mean to present one’s body as a commodity? What does the body signify? How do strippers present their bodies in ways that are both objective and subjective? How is the so-called objectification of one’s own body rooted in sociopolitical realities? Ethnographically, how do dancers bring to life or make explicit the social and political dimensions of their bodies in their everyday practices? How are body and mind imbricated in the presentation of the (racialized) body as commodity?
My interest in the strip club as a particular site for this investigation (after all, our daily experiences everywhere are racialized) stems from the fact that the strip clubs specifically – as are several types of sex work in general – are at once intimate and fantastic settings. Racialized performance, perception, and embodiment in strip clubs rest in a terrain that is explicitly commodified, sexualized, and exotic. Frank’s trope of “touristic practices,” for instance, suggests that the strip club is a peculiar site in the way it is perceived by patrons (and, I would add employees) who “desire to have a particular kind of experience rooted in the complex network of relations between home, work, and away” (2002; 90).
In the pages that follow, I will use autoethnographic analysis of my experiences as a stripper to address the following concerns. I examine my experiences to understand the role that race plays in the strip club in shaping the perceptions of dancers and customers. I also explore the way racial performativity is an everyday practice in my work at the clubs. I examine my experiences at the club that suggest certain assumptions about racial categories and authenticity. I end with a discussion about why theoretical and ethnographic analysis of race in strip clubs is worthy of analysis.


Each of these stories, in different ways, speaks to the way racial perceptions operate in a strip club. The club itself is an important site for understanding how these perceptions work. First, those inside the club seem to have some sense of communitas; in the case of the strippers commenting on my body shape, my very presence in the club separates me from those “skinny” Indian girls in their imaginary and brings me into a dialogue with them. For Ricardo, my nudity separates me from the “covered up” Indian women he sees on the city streets. Being a stripper, then, brings me into an intimate social environment in which people can see and comment on my body and racial identity in ways that might not be possible outside such a space.
The anecdotes provided here are but a short sampling of instances in which I was perceived in accordance with, or in exception to, some preconceived notions of what an Indian/Muslim/South Asian woman is expected to be. Very rarely does a day go by at work where I am not drawn closer to a customer because of a perceived racial alliance (i.e. with a Muslim man, a South Asian, an Arabic speaker, or even a white man who backpacked across India in college). Often, these encounters bring with them explicitly racialized statements about what other strippers are like and how I am different from them. The site of the strip club is significant, for it is only in a place like the strip club that an independently wealthy man can spend an afternoon dancing with naked women from Brazil or the Bronx; the emotional, mental, and physical intimacy of the space is intertwined with the racial contours of the club.
In other words, the racial discourse within the strip club reveals unique nuances that general conversations about race (in other settings) do not. In the club, these conversations rest explicitly along sexualized and classed lines. In few other instances would an older Turkish man have the opportunity to express to a young, South Asian woman his ideas about promiscuity, Islam, and marriage. Outside of the club, I do not sit patiently and sip champagne while talking to a married conservative man about how the Republican party can revitalize itself.
The body itself is brought into discourse as the foundation for these racial perceptions. The construction of race as a biological fact is perpetuated by this discourse. For several of my customers, my race indicates that I am free of HIV or any other STI. I have been assumed to be a virgin by several customers. Dancers have asked me if I had “butt implants” because my body did not seem to them to be truly Indian. Wall Street hedge fund workers have praised me for educational capacity rare among other dancers, and credited my Indian background for it.
In this way, my investigation is a deeply spatial one; the spatial confines of the strip club may actually reveal and conceal in particular, telling ways. “The clubs,” says Frank, “offer a fantasy space where the demands and limitations of the everyday could be escaped or transformed” (2002; 33). Understanding the club as a fantasy space, and yet an intimate one, allows us to understand the peculiar racial discourse that is expressed inside its walls. Communitas forms between separate people; connections that are otherwise not possible become commonplace; intimacies form that are fleeting yet telling.


With these cases, we see race being performed by dancers, management and customers. We see the strip club as a place where racial pretenses are presented, where race itself is constructed. Playing reggaeton and rap might pigeonhole the club as a “black” club, or a less classy establishment, as might a girl “booty-dancing” on stage. Requesting music that constructs my own ethnic identity as authentically Indian or Asian has been financially lucrative for me, as illustrated by the Bengali economist anecdote. In other words, symbolic capital is critical for the way the club itself, as well as individual dancers at the club, are perceived. Egan explores the use of music as a type of resistance, a way to build intimacy and romance, and a way to exercise creative license in the strip club (Egan, 2006). For myself and other women I have worked with, music selections and dancing styles are a clear way to indicate a race and class identity.
The deliberate presentation of this capital has, for me, been conflicted terrain. While strippers find themselves on what Barton (2006) calls a “Mobius strip” in terms of gender power (at once contesting and perpetuating heteronormative, patriarchal regimes) , the conflicting relationship to power and subordination has been explicit along racial lines, too. When customers praise me in comparison to “ghetto” girls who work at the club, or make offensive statements about other dancers’ English competency, it becomes financially lucrative for me to use my cultural capital in the club along those very racialized and classed dimensions. By fulfilling a customer’s fantasy by playing the part of a virginal Indian girl, a Muslim woman rebelling against the repressed sexuality of her childhood, or the “intellectual” with an exhibitionist streak, I at once reinforce stereotypes about myself and the other strippers from whom I am differentiated by accepting and performing these roles. At the same time, however, by playing these parts, I am able to make sums of money unimaginable in any other part-time job. It is at once a disturbing and rewarding performance.
The daily scene in the dressing room is explicitly racialized, as well, as girls flatiron their curls, put on wigs, use body makeup to cover “ghetto” tattoos and stretchmarks. Conversations about “nappy” and “good” hair abound. Management enforces these internalized desires, as certain women are encouraged to wear wigs and body makeup. A sign in my club’s dressing room reads: “TASTEFUL JEWELRY ONLY. NO ‘BLING.’ NO GHETTO GOLD. NO BAMBOO-STYLE EARRINGS.”
The bodies we commodify are not simply bodies; they are embedded in material realities and salient social constructs. The dancers, management, and customers work to perpetuate these constructs in everyday decisions. The music, dancing styles, attire, and accessories are all deliberately chosen to create an image of a particular type of club, a specific sort of femininity, ethnicity, or class.


While popular understandings of strip club culture often suggest a vulgar, visual objectification of women by male customers, the literature suggests that customers are often in search of something radically different from a place where women’s bodies are ogled (Frank, 2002; Wood, 2000). Strip club customers are usually not just in search of a sexual experience or even visual stimulation from the presentation of women’s bodies. In Frank’s work, the strip clubs she studied contained a “social geography, a landscape that was raced, classed, and gendered, populated with a variety of Others who lent an air of excitement or danger to the men’s experiences” (74). Strippers, then, become black, Latina, white, gothic, innocent, or vampy to produce this social geography.
The examples above suggest that the dynamics in the strip club anticipate a particular type of essentialized racial purity, conformity, and authenticity based on these perceived categories. In our interactions at the club, we “allow the customer to imagine the personality and history of the dancer who is attending to him” (Wood, 10). While Wood’s major assertion is that these imagined personas that are created by dancers and customers alike often “affirm cultural notions of masculinity” and gender (18), my observations suggest that they often affirm essentialized notions of race, culture, and ethnicity.
In my experience, assumptions of racial essence and purity are explicit and abundant at strip clubs. On numerous occasions, being able to speak Hindi, Urdu, Arabic, or “standard” English has been instrumental in establishing a long-term, lucrative connection with a regular customer. Linguistic skills were proof that I was a particular type of immigrant woman, separate from the many Brazilian and Russian women who often lacked legal documentation for work in the U.S. or had limited English proficiency. Several times, customers have told me that even the way I introduced myself “gave away” my race and class identity within seconds. Linguistics is not the only way I am perceived and perform a racialized identity. My status as a graduate student often came into question by customers. One man, himself a university professor, said that several girls lied and pretended to be graduate students, but “it’s clear that they’re not actually in school, and it’s clear that you’re some sort of graduate student.” In fact, the “Indian emphasis” on higher learning has come up several times by customers with whom I discuss my career and schooling.
On numerous occasions, customers have asked me for information about my family life. Do my parents try to arrange my marriage? Aren’t they really strict? Are they accepting of my choice to be in graduate school? Several of these questions reflect assumptions about what my people are expected to be like; my responses to these questions are part of the racial performance that I argue is a critical component of the social geography of the strip club.


The autoethnographic examples above are part of my attempt to begin to understand the myriad ways race impacts the social geography of the strip club. By looking at racial performance, perceptions, and assumptions, I hope to draw attention to the ways strippers (particularly those who are women of color ) navigate an overtly racialized terrain. The hiring process, the daily act of getting dressed, and the ways we choose to introduce ourselves to customers all suggest careful calculations about race and ethnicity.
The strip club as a site for investigations about race seems to be a compelling one. In very few sites do racial and gendered performances work so closely together for the purpose of commodification. It is also a site in which extremely disparate people (in terms of race, age, class, and national origin) are put together in extremely close, even intimate, settings. Crack dealers and graduate students get dressed in cramped spaces and help each other with make-up; investment bankers get drunk while talking to Brazilian immigrants about their marriage; married men with children talk to me in a single conversation about their sexual fetishes and their experience of immigration. These unusual scenes suggest that the social intimacies in the strip club allow atypical scenarios to emerge, enable unexpected contacts and social scripts.
In Barton’s work, she finds that strippers view race as “less a site of stigma than just another distinguishing characteristic that enabled her to make either more or less money on a given night” (2006; 13). Several dancers Barton interviews find race inconsequential or secondary to their ability to negotiate with customers, their physical features, or their level of education. Barton, however, contextualizes these views with the views of other dancers, for whom race is not thought of as irrelevant. “Racial images permeate our culture. Representations of the “Asian Flower,” “Hoochie Mama,” and “Blonde Playmate” color the expectations of customers. Dancers understand this. In the strip club, in which every interaction is a market transaction, dancers may deliberately perform customers’ fantasies to extract more money from them. These fantasies include other racialized fantasies, such as the subservient lotus blossom, and fantasies that have nothing to do with race, for example, the dominatrix or schoolgirl” (14). Barton approximates my experience best when she says that the successful dancer “swiftly learns to read customer desires and perform his gendered and racial fantasies” (15). Reading the customer’s socioeconomic and racial preferences has been as critical in my work as a stripper, if not more, than understanding the customer’s sexual preferences.
Understanding stripping as exposing one’s body and using nudity for commercial purposes does an injustice to the politics of embodiment. After all, a body is never simply a physical entity to be used, bought, or sold; it exists in a complex constellation of social realities, power dynamics, and material bases that construct it as a commodity. My discussion of race above suggests that not only is stripping about gendered practices, it is fundamentally a racial practice as well. As strippers, we not only present our feminine bodies to (mostly) male customers in a commodified setting, we present our whiteness, brownness, blackness, Americanness, and foreignness.
I find it empowering to use a framework of embodiment to understand the work I do. The separation of mind and body, and the consequent association of mind with sociality/politics and the body with biology/nature does a great injustice to the social subjectivities of sex workers. As Csordas says, “that the body might be understood as a seat of subjectivity is one source of challenge to theories of culture in which mind/subject/culture are deployed in parallel with and in contrast to body/object/biology” (1995; 9).
To understand our very bodies as discursive and political allows us to look at the ways we inhabit our bodies and use them in the work we do. Our bodies are powerful symbols, instruments of daily experience shaped by our very understanding of these symbols. Our bodies are not separate from our minds, from politics, from our social subjectivities. In spaces of commercial intimacy, it is never just a body that is bought or sold.