The strip club is often my sexy queer haven—both as a stripper and a customer. Most of the women I dance with are queer, so I often experience an incredibly sense of solidarity in the dressing room. This also the entertainment factor double: seeing male customers fawn over them, saying all the wrong things, and catching a dancer’s gaze to roll our eyes at a literal manifestation of the patriarchy in real time is probably one of my favorite feelings. And as a stripper, when I visit clubs as a customer, I know how to act. If I’m not there to spend money, I just keep my broke ass home.
One might think women make better customers than men, but actually, I haven’t always had the best experiences with female customers. (My new theory now is that sex workers make the best customers.) Even lesbians, sometimes, don’t know how to play by the rules. Women, both straight and gay, often walk into the strip club thinking that because we’re both women, they can touch me, smack my ass, kiss me, tweak a nipple, and do all the things that would have them calling the police if a man did it to them.
Dancing for women who don’t know how — or care — to be good customers takes more of a toll on me than when I experience that same behavior from men. At the same time, though, the pleasure I get from dancing for appreciative women far outreaches any excitement I get from dancing for even the most well-behaved of men.
One of the best nights I ever spent at my club was with queer women customers. I still very much considered myself a babystripper: I hadn’t even worn through my first pair of Pleasers yet. I barely knew how to climb the pole, and even the sloppiest of inversions seemed like feats of Olympic athletes to me. A crowd of women that I still refer to in my mind as The Motorcycle Lesbians walked in at exactly 10 pm. I was the only one on stage. I hadn’t even had my first drink yet. The DJ was still playing the same old Top 40 mix he opens the night with, one that plays on a loop and sometimes includes—gasp!—Taylor Swift. Which is all to say, it was still early in stripper time. But then, suddenly, all the air in the room changed.
The Motorcycle Lesbians started throwing money as soon as they walked in, hooting and hollering at every simple, silly move I did. My skin started to tingle—this time, not from the AC that is perpetually set to thirty degrees below zero. They were a sight for sore eyes: ripped acid-wash jeans, black T-shirts, leather vests with patches. Some femme, some butch. All beautiful. When I went around for a tip, they placed dollars in my hands—and not just one or two measly (and inexplicably damp) little singles, but handfuls of singles, five-dollar bills, a ten. They were good tippers, which explains why they didn’t stay too long. My favorite type of customers are the ones who know how not to wear out their welcome.
They were also full of compliments and adoration but not in the way that some female customers give it—none of that, “You’re so brave, I could never!” crap. Nor were they, goddess forbid, the “I would be a stripper in a second, but my partner would never let me do it!” type. Their compliments were genuine: “You look great up there, so confident!” “I love the fishnets!” “Your make-up looks so good!” “I love your undercut!” When I got back on stage, they’d pumped me up so much that I succeeded in landing my first inversion—an inside leg hang on my good side, miraculously not falling off the pole even with my fishnets on. They erupted into cheers, and I shouted to them, upside down, “I’ve never done that before!” They cheered even louder and made it rain. If I were to make a Hallmark movie of my stripping career, this would be the opening scene to set the tone of what stripping could be like—not drab, not depressing, but joyful and fun.
My second attempt at an inversion was an utter failure, but I was feeling good enough to shrug it off and keep dancing. After my set, I sat down with The Motorcycle Lesbians. They bought me a drink. I asked about the leather and was delighted to learn that they actually were a legit motorcycle gang of queer women. It seemed right to me, that the night I would finally have the confidence to try to haul my entire ass over my head on a pole would be the night that a half a dozen leather-clad women came into the bar to see it. I wondered if, maybe, this was the kind of scene Leslie Feinberg would have recognized from Stone Butch Blues: butch motorcycle babes and femme sex workers vibing with each other at the bar. Men had started to trickle in by the time I was sitting with them, but I hardly noticed. For a moment, the club was exactly the way it is in my wildest daydreams.
One of the women, who I have saved in my phone only as “Amanda [Wolf Emoji],” I took for a dance. She was stunning: deep brown skin, thick box braids woven with gold down to her waist. I could smell the leather of her jacket even as she trailed behind me to the lapdance area, her index finger linked loosely with mine. The thought of her on a motorcycle was almost too much for me, and I told her so as I knelt down before her as she got settled in the wine-red, threadbare, velvet armchair.
You give enough lapdances, and they can become pretty rote. Undulating on your knees, a minute or two of straddling, a facial expression fixed on smolder. It’s normal, I think. I don’t have chemistry with everyone. I don’t have chemistry with most people, in fact—and manufacturing chemistry after a long day in class or at my internship can be difficult to muster. But Amanda [Wolf Emoji] and I had chemistry. While we were sitting at the bar, she was shy, and that shyness didn’t leave her while I was dancing, but it turned huskier, magnetic. The way she asked me through lowered lashes if she could touch me. The way, a burst of joy warming me from the crown of my head to my toes, I took her wrists gently and guided her hands to my waist, to my hips, to the chilled skin of my butt. The way she pulled me up to sit, face-to-face, nose-to-nose, so we could breathe the shared air between us, filled with smoky leather cleaner and rose oil, in the deep blue light.
The opinions of women about how I do my job won’t make or break my day, that’s true. Sex work is not an industry that’s easy to stick around in very long if you care too much about what other people think, and this self-assurance is one of the many gifts that stripping has given me. But there’s something about dancing for an enthusiastic crowd of women that is electrifying. Dancing for women gives me more than just a performers’ high. I love to dance for women who love women, women who are in touch with their sensuality and can appreciate the boldness of other femmes. And when I dance, a tiny corner of my femme heart offers itself to the women in the crowd staring up at me.