I have something to admit… I could be standing in a room full of people I know and still feel completely alone. Is it true that sometimes the only person you’re really trying to escape is yourself?
The one thing my dad and I used to love to do together was go for long drives.
I would talk to him about pretty much everything and he would listen and answer all my endless questions.
Even before my step-mother came into the picture it was something we did that I didn’t have to share my dad with anyone else. I could talk about anything I wanted. We would drive anywhere and that was the beauty of it, I was happy to go anywhere so long as he was by my side.
One car ride stands out in my mind. I was young, it was after my mother had died and my dad was raising me on his own.
We were driving this time back from the cottage when Bonnie Raitt’s “I can’t make you love me” came on the radio. I’m not sure if maybe it was the incredibly sad tone of the song, coming back from the cottage that he had used to share with my mother or just a moment of thought but he burst into tears.
Before that time, I had never seen my father bawl, I was shocked. Not even the day my mother died, he had held it together until I was gone from sight. He was always the rock in a sea that would not budge.
He cried and told me something like, “You know how much I love you. And I will always love you. No matter what we go through in life we will always have each other.”
I looked over at my father, the picture of strength and thought to myself that I had never seen him as strong as he was then.
To this day that song still makes me cry.
Initially, I was a little too shy to go up and talk to men. If they wanted a private show they had to come up to me to get one. I moved around the club like a mouse, trying not to step on anyone’s toes. I knew I needed to get used to the attention but I had spent most of my life up until that point trying to avoid it.
Thankfully I had Q, the bouncer and my then boyfriend who looked out for me, always pointing the men in my direction.
I had no idea what I was doing especially on stage where I gripped the pole white knuckled and desperately tried swinging my hips to the music. My new, “sort of” friend Kitana would sit off to the side at one of the tables with second degree embarrassment and wasn’t shy about sarcastically telling me afterwards, “well that was something…”
I didn’t know anything about the business. I was making things up as I went.
I watched the girls a lot to see their approach and I think that’s how a lot of dancers learn. The number one rule I caught on to was DO NOT go up and ask for a dance first thing. Most of the time the guys were so turned off by this act of desperation, they didn’t even bother buying the girl a drink. So instead I introduced myself and asked if I could sit with them. I asked them about themselves like it was a normal first meeting.
My ploy was innocence, demure… virgin, even though by then I was sure I loved sex as much as the guys I talked to. I picked out soft colors and kept my makeup as neutral as possible playing up the look that screamed fresh out of high school. Q advised for as long as I could to use my innocence to my advantage because it wasn’t going to last.
I learned that if I told the men that it was always my “first day” it intrigued them enough each time to take me into the back. Of course this only worked for so long but for a while I was still considered “new”. Something about not being tainted and bitter made it an easy selling point because when you’re new, you haven’t figured out the reality of your job yet. And you hadn’t become a “man hater…” as they called it.
I didn’t need to pretend that I didn’t hate my job because then I didn’t. The other girls on the other hand, clearly did, and that crucial detail claws its way to the surface no matter how hard she tries to hide it.
I thought I was having fun, finally out on my own able to be who I wanted to be. I was meeting new, strange people, basically partying as much as I could to make up for all the years I thought I was missing.
Even though it became my way of survival, the reality of it was simple, I was rebelling.
For some strippers there comes a breaking point. There were only two ways to go, up or down aka get out or get sucked in.
Some dancers I met that had been working in the club since they were 18 were now in their 40s. Weathered from drugs and alcohol, with listless eyes paired with a bitterness that you could only develop from spending most of your life in this business. Sometimes when I looked at them, in the pit of my stomach I felt fear. Fear of becoming the same.
the problem was a no brainer, the money was so good and for some this was all they Knew.
As my time in the club wore on, I started looking in the mirror and hating the person I saw. This bitterness followed me to work.
Suddenly, I was struggling to make money and the money I did make I blew on drinks and a lot of shots. I was partying too hard and recklessly driving home after instead of taking a cab so I could hold onto the small amount of money I had left.
Soon I needed to always have a drink in my hand and it wasn’t hard to come by, men would usually offer to buy the girls a drink but it never seemed like enough for me. I wanted to feel completely numb.
I knew I was spiraling downwards and The people in my life noticed.
Even though I was experienced now, with an edge on the business, I was really competing among the other girls.
I would turn my head away when I caught dancers fucking or sucking off their customer without shame in the backroom.
The men were well aware this was happening and were starting to figure out it wasn’t worth spending money on a tease when they could get the whole thing for cheap. Hookers were no longer being discreet about their services and danced only to advertise. I was always being asked the million dollar question, “so how much for the night?” And every time I would reply with, “I don’t go home with customers.”
Above the club I had been working at, The Mate, there was now a porn theater that a lot of the girls took the guys. It was basically just a fancy way of advertising a private room to fuck in with porn as an added feature. And of course, I can’t forget to mention the rub and tug down the hall. Except for the diner above the club the building was becoming a dangerous “whore house”. It was a rough area of town to begin with but it didn’t matter, by then most of the clubs were stooping low. Girls at another club I worked at occasionally, could drop 150$ at the door and be allowed to do whatever she wanted.
At the Mate, whenever a girl was “heading out for a smoke”, man in tow, she’d let tell the manager and disappear upstairs for an hour or however long. The club was fine with it because they were getting a cut.
It was when clients started asking me more frequently if I wanted to go upstairs instead of a dance that I realized the road was ending.
I always declined, believing that if I said no I still had a shred of my dignity even when my dance offers were beginning to be turned down.I would order myself another drink with my dwindling money and sit in the change room wrestling with my morals.
However One night I found myself convinced by G, my client/friend to go upstairs. We walked all the way to the back of the dark rooms. I sat down on the black couch, the wide screen TV offering a variety of porn you could choose with the remote control. On the wall there was a paper napkin dispenser and a garbage pale…
G put his hand on my leg like he always did but I went rigid.
He had said, “its’ just me.” But for me that hadn’t been the real problem. The fact was I was becoming so desperate to make money that this was becoming the few options..
. I lied when he asked if I was okay but he knew. He led me back out of the room and we both didn’t look at the lady working the desk. G had already paid her. it went unspoken.
My breaking point hit me one night as I was leaving, another pointless shift as I left with less money than I had going in. I was lonely and discouraged especially without my friend I worked with who was now hooking on a site.
I had again spent all my cash on booze. I slipped out the front door without even signing out and sat in the drivers seat of my car and cried.
When I got home I woke my boyfriend careless for the hour which was usually 3 or 4am by then. When he saw that I had been crying, He told me that I needed to quit, end of story.
So That night was my last shift.
The day I left home was the last day I believed I could ever rely on my father again. I hadn’t left on good terms.
We spent a year in silence after that. Even though he never left my thoughts I made sure to keep my back to him and no matter how easy it could have been to pick up the phone and dial his number by heart, I didn’t have the courage to. That was were I was weak.
My father was a different breed. You often hear about women having to take care of their children after the man leaves but it was my father who raised me, he was the one person in my life who I had known would never run out on me.
I don’t think we give single fathers enough credit. My father held my broken family together alone and he did the best he could with all he had.
I never looked up to women as my mentors. I never had a celebrity that stuck out in my mind or famous athlete, or even my teachers or my coaches, it was always my father. He was always the person I wanted to be like.
When we did run into each other after I left home for good it was either by accident or sheer luck. It was never good as it always ended in tears or anger but I wasn’t going to give up.
After I bought my car and found my footing, we started to slowly find each other again. it was one day I surprised him at his shop and pulled into the drive way with my brand new sports car. He had come out of his store, shocked, his hands trembling.
We sat together and talked about everything. It was after closing hours and I had taken a seat in the front room and painfully watched as he kept turning away from me and leaving the room, hardly able to look at me for more than 10 minutes without breaking down.
I knew we would never be the same again but by this time in my life I was trying to learn to accept this.
When I was leaving, I was starting my car when my dad came out with a wad of money in his hand, yelling for me to wait. I began to do up my window. I watched as my dad tried stuffing the money through the shrinking space of the window with his face in tears.
“Dad, I don’t need your money,” I had protested. I hadn’t come for money I had come to show him that I was doing okay.
“Stevie just take the money. Remember that I will always be your father and you will always be my little girl.”
Working in a strip club was like the best class I ever took. And the subject? Social dynamics.
I learned more about people during work hours than I ever did in “real life.” Something about the dark lights and close capacity made people open up even if they weren’t intending to. Maybe it was the alcohol maybe it was the atmosphere.I was amazed at how money could change me and the people around me. Before I didn’t have the incentive to talk to someone, it became my lively hood to force myself out of my comfort zone and talk to complete strangers. And cash was the push I needed.
Going from a sheltered, lonely teen to an exposed young adult in the sex industry changes you in ways you sometimes wouldn’t want to admit.
I learned that I needed to have a drink to ease my nerves before I could start work. The more I drank, the better my job became. It wasn’t that I had this secret ability that I had hidden and it only took alcohol to awaken it, it was that I learned to adapt with my flaws. I had grown up bullied, awkward, pimple faced, outcast-ed and strange and alcohol made me forget this. I self medicated.
When I had a few drinks, I felt like I turned into a sex goddess.
In high-school and most other parts of my life I had been invisible suddenly people were looking at me and I needed to deal with this new attention. I didn’t really know how to.
Men liked to confide in me things that I’m sure few people in their real lives actually knew. They needed someone to listen and that became my job. Some of the men had poor conversation skills or were shy around women, but I knew that I could make people feel comfortable. I had clients who were recovering sex addicts, others who were weird enough that they brought in pictures of dead fish, or buy me new nylons to wear and rub my legs while we talked. I learned to prepare for whoever I was about to meet.
My best skill was that I could sit with them for hours and talk like a real person. I wasn’t acting because I couldn’t, I didn’t know how to be anyone but myself. Ironically, I had grown up desperately wanting to be anyone but.
I could make connections. My first real regular was a man I’ll call G. He was an older man who owned his own Roofing company. He’d pay me to sit with him. He told me he loved my realism, he hadn’t met anyone like me before and he’d been coming to clubs before I was born. We’d go out and eat or go to different bars besides strip clubs and every time he wanted to give me money. I started to refuse and told him I just enjoyed his company and our hours of conversation. It was true.
I soon learned he was married and despite our instant connection I knew we would never be anything more than stripper and client. He suddenly started to pull away from me and stopped coming into the club. The texts stopped and I was never allowed to text him first.
His friend would come into the club still and sat with my friend Mia. He told Mia G Was falling in love with me and had to cut it off, “That it was too hard to have 2 lives”. And just as soon as he came into my life, he disappeared. It hurt but it was reality.
It’s so easy to forget that the things that go on in a strip club are dealing with actual real people, with real lives that far from perfect but they are happening.
There is a certain self discovery that comes with being a stripper. I don’t care what anyone says all girls have fantasized about being a stripper at least once in their lives.
The idea of being so sexually comfortable with yourself that you can stand naked in front of complete strangers is invigorating. That you are arousing desire, so lust worthy that men will pay for your time and attention. Leaving them hoping maybe one day you will leave with them for free…You are creating a fantasy that is just within reach.
There is something so liberating, so freeing to be in control of your own sexuality. I would turn myself on in the champagne room because I believed I had that power and the fact I was turning someone else on made it sexier. I picked out outfits that were fun for me, that I felt sexy in to wear and the guys liked.
i knew that If I viewed it as a job and as long as I stayed “professional” I could get in and get out without being tainted by the darker side of the business. And to never forget my morals.
I never saw it like I was selling my self worth per say especially in the beginning when the attention was so new and exciting. I was getting something out of it and so were they. Right?
I viewed it as an art form which essentially what stripping was all about in the beginning.
When I was on stage I treated it like a real show, not quite like being a Vegas show girl… but still a performance. It was my advertisement, after all. I felt confident… like a goddess when I could capture all the eyes in the room. Even sometimes I could catch the girls pausing to watch my shows.
I was in control of how far a man went with me in the champagne room and if he persisted all I needed to do was cut the dance short and tell the bouncer. I wasn’t at the mercy of someone else’s sexual attraction, I was owning the fact that I was a sexual creature and confident enough to display this sexuality in front of someone else.
Of course dancing offers “fast, easy” money but what so many people don’t talk about is the actual confidence and guts it takes. They just assume a stripper is there because she had no other choice. But it’s a tough job, one you are constantly balancing a tight rope between MONEY and more.
To be able to display your body in such a vulnerable way takes a certain self confidence that I don’t think I had before dancing.