In the club it’s the flinch of the entitled man when the person-(usually woman)-whose-boundaries-he’s-been-violating-for-who-knows-how-long unexpectedly breaks the rules by reaching back; it articulates the understanding so many customers are working from: it’s not that they’re in our place of employment, paying us for our time, energy, patience, and attention, it’s that we are the toys—more or less accommadating—that they get to play with; toys are for fun, they’re to be pleasing, and toys are played with (to get all obnoxious, acted upon. Toys don’t act). Strippers do not take initiative and touch back unless invited to perform some kind of service.
Most guys aren’t this awful and are happy to accept contact, a back rub and shoulder squeeze, let these actions ease the way into a dance, so we can still work under the illusion that we’re on the same page, my energy for his money. But the guys who are make it impossible to miss the gap: we aren’t all on the same page. They highlight our status as object and call everything else into question. Because once I noticed that this was how certain guys were operating, I couldn’t stop myself from interrogating even nice customers. And to a man they didn’t get it. “I don’t know why some guys can’t just be chill,” they say.
And if no one gets it, what then? Like if they don’t understand that it’s a transaction of money for service—whatever the service is, for me it’s my attention and proximity, for other girls it’s other things, like whatever they are offering—but if they think that we owe them the service and the money is just to keep us quiet and pliant, like what then?
I charge when people violate my boundaries—not because that makes it in any way less of a violation, but because I deserve some kind of compensation and the only compensation they can offer me is financial. But this runs the risk of like… creating this perception that even things I say are off can be on the table, for the right price. Sometimes this is true. You can touch my boobs for 800-1600 dollars depending on how much I like you. Sometimes it’s not true. Some people do not even get to touch my boobs for 1600. No one gets to spank me. Ideally no one would give me those awful wet shoulder kisses when my back is turned, but they always do. I don’t want to make it seem like shoulder kisses are ok for $20. Money doesn’t unviolate my boundaries.
What I would love is to find a way to violate them, to make them feel it and regret it.
So when I see a guy flinch, beyond the burning rage—that they think they get to reach out and do whatever and are immune from the same, that I have no right to reach back—it’s also a signal that they’re violate-able. I get a vicious thrill from it.
it’s the flinch that leads me to actual physical violence, that I’m trying to redirect into gross-out tactics that are more violating and more lasting than just a punch in the stomach, so like when I licked my hand and wiped it on that guy’s face. Things they’ll think about hours later washing, like i do loofah-ing my shoulder. Things that lead them to leave the club, which is good, because they’re not good customers.
My job was to babysit my friend’s regular to make sure he didn’t get distracted by another girl while she was onstage or in the bathroom. Men! Their attention spans are so short.
Like, this one time I was in the dance line for a guy and he had to pee but we’d already waited for fifteen minutes, so I weighed the odds and thought, bathroom, pee, back. Like I’ve timed myself and it’s about 30 seconds and he doesn’t even have to worry about hygiene because men just don’t. Their dicks have no bacteria, apparently. Or they just don’t care about getting their dick bacteria on everything they touch. Take your pick. So I let him go to the bathroom alone. And he came back three minutes later with two different girls whom he now wanted dances from. He didn’t even remember who the hell I was. 20 minutes of my life, gone for free.
I waited with her guy outside while he smoked and she peed and he offered me meth. This happens, rarely, but it happens.
“It’s a giant rock!” he said. “I’ve been looking for someone to pass it off to!”
“Ummm, no thanks! You should keep it! Unless, is it blue?”
He scoffed at me. “It’s as clear as crystal! Ha! Ha!”
“Ah, no, it’s cool.”
He shrugged, like “your loss.”
After the half hour ended we left in a cab. This is important because I bring my dogs to work, first Manny, now Mavis, because this way they get extra outside time and it’s not a huge effort to walk them right when we get home; when I get home I want to shower and go to sleep, not climb up and down three flights of stairs three more times. Plus it’s comforting to have them right when I get in the car.
We called a cab and had to stop at his apartment for more cash before continuing on to the next destination, another strip club. You want to be in an environment where money is easily accessible and it’s normal to be handling it, to better facilitate him spending money on you which is the real point of the whole thing—otherwise you (we) could still be at work fending off other girls and giving 30% of y/our take to the fucking club.
It’s sort of funny to have dynamics like this in public. Cabdrivers are fine because it’s the service industry too, and because there’s so much overlap between them and strippers. While we waited for him to come back I filled her in on what was going on while my friend, solidly wasted, ranted about greedy sluts from the back. You know how some people get drunk and they become awful people? Yeah.
The guy got back and threw a wad of twenties at the driver before handing thicker wads to my friend and me. I eyeballed the drivers and counted mine discreetly down by my thigh, a good amount. It was nice because she had been so nice, so I was glad she profited from having to listen to all of us. When we got out of the car I took her number so I’d have a reliable ride back to my car at the club without a big wait. I texted and asked her to come back in 45 minutes and she answered,
“Sure. Haha you guys forgot to get him to give me more.”
I feel fickle and guilty and confused but all my goodwill toward her evaporated in that moment—once the initial guilt as I flipped through my memories making sure he did in fact give her over 100 on a $17 fare. Yes, he did. I feel like I’m really good at reading people but text just throws me off, even though I also love it. Just text, words, you know. Something to give you distance from the immediacy of another person’s voice. So like maybe she was trying to be funny, haha, you guys forgot to get me more money, but I’m still so offended and immediately I wished I hadn’t just set it up that she would give me a ride back to the club, like how much was she going to want from me in the ride back? if whatever 83/103/I’m not sure profit wasn’t enough for her?
And also god, yes they were annoying but holy shit. She put up with us for all of ten minutes, fully clothed, from the front seat of her cab! How much money was she expecting? It’s confusing because I know a lot of people think we do even less, like emotional/mood management and maintaining a fun happy environment is not actually work. And I don’t want to be one of those people! But really, really? I’m still so baffled and offended.
In the next club we got over 2,000 in ones and made it rain on the girls there for about 20 minutes. I also ordered coconut custard because I was hungry and ate it at the rack like a douchebag even though I loathe people who eat at the rack, someday I’ll tell you about my days at the steak house strip club (one customer described it as “like eating titty when you’re watching titty,” MEN) and how people are such slobs and how hysterical I would get when I once again sat in or stained my stockings with steak juice. Of all the places I’ve ever worked,that’s the one I would physically push into the river myself if I could.
The girls came over (because why would you not be friendly to the people who just literally threw $500 at you) and I kept apologising about my food and shoving it away. It was good, a custard/mochi ball. Not as good as rice pudding tho. Mmm which I definitely need to buy tomorrow on the epic grocery run I will go on. And also pie, more pie.
It was also confusing because my friend kept shoving wads of ones in her purse which she kept on her lap, smart!, whilst I’d tucked my bag behind me. So her profit on the night has to be a good 2 or 3 times mine, which makes me a little dizzy. not enough to text her “hey ha ha you forget to get him to give me more money!” but like, whoa. And also I felt like taking the ones was morally dubious because those were for the girls onstage and weren’t we making enough? but that just sounds so pious and annoying idk.
We did make their night, most of them. And I did hold on to a few hundred ones but when Friend and Regular went in back for a lap dance because a girl came onstage whom Friend knew and hates, I felt guilty. Everyone else got this amazing display of cash out of like whatever lil wayne video and this poor girl got a shit deal, plus her cheerleading outfit was really unfortunate and made me sad so I threw my ones at her.
It was amazing though. Because ideally, to me, this is what stripping is. It’s the really specific, intangible service of making people [men] feel awesome by confirming and displaying their masculinity in a really public performative way.* I mean and this was super public! unlike dances or the interactions at my club. My club functions in a really weird way that it sort of bums me out I’ve gotten used to, and it was unspeakably refreshing to have a night that was like old times, just creating a party atmosphere in a way that benefits multiple people, none of them men, all of them strippers.
*which is maybe questionable idk but it also at best (like this) feels harmlessly stupid rather than like I might be working within the parameters of/reinforcing some asshole’s abusive understanding of the world.
whatever I just got tired and stopped making sense.
Bubbles once said that it was disingenuous of me to express surprise at how badly men behave in the strip club setting.
I keep returning to it in my mind bc it’s something I’ve been hearing for most of my life: what do you expect from men if you tattoo a girl with guns on your chest/dye your hair red/walk down the street in that dress
the point being, right, ultimately, that men behave badly everywhere.
& while logically I know this, on some level it never ceases to shock me: the things they do and say, the way that, taken all together, there’s just this collective laziness and lack of empathy or imaginative ability to see other people as as real as them.
For a while, until I became more profit driven, men would ask me about my tattoo and I would say that just because something is visible, doesn’t mean it needs to be commented on. They would, to a man, get hysterically defensive and say “but you’re visible in the world, what else do you expect?”
“You’re balding, in public, yet I have until now refrained from commenting on that.”
“Your pastel polo is visibly tacky, should I let you know?”
obviously this is not a profitable line of inquiry and I mostly let it go now, but they never took the point.
or even in a strip club setting, like, these are scantily clothed naked women who would never otherwise be near you, and you can’t muster up any semblance of respect or even marginal politeness? and even the ones who can, if I talk about it with them, it’s not for the right reasons. There’s this missing of the point—that I’m as human as they are. That sounds extreme maybe but it’s not. Like the bachelor who couldn’t even begin to wrap his brain around my question.
one of my favourite things about dancing is watching the way different people construct their feminine facade and like just how visible the construction of femininity is. The parameters are a little more loose in Portland than other places, thus you get the girls in sneakers and the girls in modern dance sandal/thongs and weird mullet tutus.
The girls who wear the like… wacky portland stuff (tutus, &c) aren’t really as interesting to me as the girls who, like me, construct a femininity that’s fairly visibly different than their usual style. There’s Sparky the butch straight girl who wears basketball jerseys and has a bigger collection of expensive hightops than I do (mine is more intensely curated tho, modern jordans are ugs) but who transitions into a doe eyed street-walker stereotype in thigh high boots; or my transition from what has charitably been called “co-Ed shabby” to big haired leopard print bikini girl.
I like watching the way dancers actively create and market their images; that’s been one of the more fun parts for me since I started dancing again: playing with a barbie-like femininity, seeing what works, what doesn’t, laughing/raging at how contrived it is (especially when I noticed how my success rate went up with my higher pitched baby voice) and then taking a breather in back and seeing us, running eyeliner, caked makeup, sweaty hair, shoving food in our mouths without smudging lipstick and comparing labia and being in general incredibly gross and crass before sliding back into character and going backout without anyone being the wiser.
I didn’t want to go on the floor bc I could hear a lot of screaming and everyone who’d been on the floor already had returned grumpy: there was a bachelorette (jsyk women are absolutely as horrible and badly behaved in the club as men, remember the girl who unexpectedly crab-walk-humped me until I fell over) in the house with a big group and she was shrieking and some girls were licking her nipples and no one wanted to deal.
by the time I got out there tho, determined to avoid the bachelorette and her party, there were a lot more women so I sat with a friendly looking guy: part hustle, part perch til I scoped out the club.
A girl at the rack started screaming and I sighed. ”That must be the bachelorette.”
“Yeah, it was the talk of the dressing room. Some bride-to-be is in here with a bunch of guys, screaming her head off.”
“I know nothing of a bachelorette.”
“That’s ok, Jon Snow. I wanted to figure out who she was so I could avoid her, I think mission accomplished.”
He gave a startled laugh. ”Where are you from?”
“Boston, but I’ve been here a while. Sometimes I think about moving back to the east coast and then I remember how expensive food is out there and it’s not even good!”
“Yeah! Like iceberg lettuce is practically all they have and it’s expensive and what even is the point of iceberg lettuce?” I’m serious here. I don’t get it. I caused a giant schism on fb between iceberg lettuce lovers and the rest of us normal people. “If you want a crunch just eat cabbage! plus it’s better for you.”
Another shocked laugh and said, “You’re funny!”
“Yeah I’ve been told that. Actually a bachelor I gave a dance to the other day asked me if I enjoy making conversation in the time to kill before the dance song starts and I was like absolutely not but I had to perfect my patter so no one suspects how much work this all is. It’s like a muscle, you know, you have to flex it.”
Sat with him for long enough, I had a feel for the room and was pretty sure he wasn’t going to get a dance, too awkward, like a fish out of water. But you never know.
“You ready for a dance, sugar pie?”
“No, but,” he fumbled out his wallet. “Thank you for sitting with me and making me laugh.” Before my lip could curl (bc most guys who courtesy tip throw down a dollar and like just don’t, that’s more insulting than nothing) he pulled out a twenty. “It was very nice to talk to you, thank you!”
next up feminist men
Even more common are the customers who, while receiving a lap dance, will announce how hard it is not to touch me, how crazy I’m making them and how they can’t believe they’re actually restraining themselves. The weird part is, most of these guys are sitting perfectly calmly, hands at their sides or gently resting on my hips; the tortured anguish of their words isn’t reflected in their tone or their face. I never know what to say to this; it seems laughable that they’d want accolades for adhering to the bare minimum of respectful behavior and abiding by fairly well-established rules, but there you go, they do. I coo at them how impressed I am and how strong they are, wondering if I’m overdoing it. But apparently, I’m not. It’s like we’re both performing our parts in a ritual: he expresses his masculinity with these protestations and I get to reaffirm it, as audience to, as well as cause of, his struggle.
It’s a question I’m increasingly preoccupied by; are these protestations sincere? To some extent it seems to be part of these men’s understanding of their role as strip club customer: they come here to relax, to let loose with some girls gone wild. They wouldn’t know how to just sit back and let me do my thing. They’re just doing their duty by moaning about how hard it is to restrain themselves. It’s the rhetoric of catcallers, of rape culture, and they take it on so easily. I want to know if this is how most men see themselves.1 Why is customer pleasure so often constructed in opposition to personal boundaries, and does it need to be?