Strippers! From the explosion of pole fitness, to Cardi B’s rise to fame, it seems as if strippers are having a moment. In some ways, this is good – for some, it seems as though it’s safer than ever to come out as a stripper (though with new anti-sex work laws being proposed and passed, this is likely to change). It seems like we’re all talking about strippers– but what’s it like for a queer chick at a strip club? In the inaugural post of Stripper Diaries, GO’s new column, we cover strip club etiquette for queer babes at the club.
1. Titties ain’t free
When you walk into a strip club, it may feel like you’re walking into a party hosted entirely by six foot tall goddesses with big hair and bigger personalities, all ready to turn their glittering smiles right in your direction to serve up all your secret fantasies. At least that’s how it was for me the first time I walked into a strip club — I felt dazzled, drunk on all the glitz and glamour (and also the wildly overpriced drinks), even shy as dancer after stunning dancer walked up to me nearly naked and made me the laser focus of her attention. With all the heady intoxication of beautiful women popping their booties in your face or performing feats of incredible athleticism on stage, it’s easy to forget where you are (are you in heaven?) — but it’s important to remember that for a stripper, that’s part of the job description, emphasis on job.
As stripping becomes mainstream and everything from pole classes, dance classes, to even yoga studios offer sensual and erotic, or even explicitly exotic dance lesson options, don’t forget that when you walk into a strip club, you’re walking into our place of employment. When I go on stage and take my clothes off, I don’t do it because dancing nearly naked in a room full of strangers gives me an inherent sense of pleasure and fulfillment — although I won’t deny there’s a certain rush when it comes to dancing for an especially appreciative crowd — I’m doing it because it’s how I pay my bills.
Remember that going to a strip club is a luxury, not a right, and if you can’t budget in a way to tip all your entertainers fairly, don’t go. And if all you want is to hang out and have a couple of drinks with some friends, there are plenty of regular bars for that.
2. Many, if not most, strippers I know are queer…
…but it can be daunting for us to approach non-men in the strip club. In my two years of stripping, 99% of the clientele has been cisgender men, and after a while, they became easy to anticipate. They make their desires pretty plain. It can be trickier to try to figure out someone feminine-presenting, especially if you come in with a mixed gender crowd. Are you here with your boyfriend, and would one of us going up and talking to you cause a jealous fight? Are you strip club noobs just out with a bunch of friends for an “edgy” night on the town? Are you a group of pole hobbyists here to reassure yourself that what YOU do is an art while what WE do is sleazy exploitation? Are you willfully ignorant of the fact that strippers make zero dollars an hour unless you tip them, or are you just here to look clandestinely at some boobs while we’re on stage, but mysteriously get wrapped up in text messaging when we come to the rail to say hi? (All real scenarios that I’ve experienced!)
It may sound strange, but sometimes approaching non-men in a strip club is even more intimidating than going up to a stranger in your lingerie and asking him about his day, especially as a queer woman who is way more sensitive to the opinions of other women than I ever have been to the judgments of men. But while our jobs and yours might look very different, at the end of the day many of us are just queer babes like you trying to make our paper and live our lives, so come with a ready tip and a friendly smile and let us know you’re open to us bringing the party to you.
3. We don’t need to be saved
One of the biggest misconceptions about my job is that it is inherently degrading, and that I must not have much respect for myself for doing it. While it’s objectively true that certain dancers are treated very differently not only by customers but also within the industry itself (for example, anti-Blackness and misogynoir runs rampant in the sex industry, and white, white-passing, and light skinned dancers consistently have considerable privilege that is important to acknowledge) – it’s still insulting to assume that we are fallen women or helpless victims. Don’t interrogate us about our jobs, or expect us to regale you with stories of horrendous male behavior. I certainly have a couple of stories I could tell ya, but I don’t particularly like to relive moments where I felt angry or afraid for strangers’ entertainment. Would you?
Strippers work a job in a unique industry, that’s for sure, but – as sex workers have long been saying for decades – all labor is exploitation under capitalism. I’ve worked admin jobs where I’ve felt more disrespected and less free than I feel in the strip club. And even if you do meet a dancer who truly hates her job, it’s highly unlikely that she’s looking for you to be her savior.
4. We’re performing for the male gaze… but we’re not necessarily complicit in it
The argument that strippers, and other sex workers more broadly, are contributing to the oppression of women by catering to the base fantasies of the patriarchy is one that never sat right with me, even when I was a wee feminist whose politics needed some serious tweaking. It is a distinctly SWERF-y (sex worker exclusionary radical feminist) viewpoint, and it puts the responsibility once again on women to curtail the abusive actions of men.
Contrary to popular belief – it is possible to be a feminist and a stripper. And it’s even possible to be a feminist at work! As sex workers, strippers often see a side of our male customers that they hide from the rest of the world. Under the bravado and the boisterousness, it is not uncommon for me to get a glimpse at the vulnerability within. This is not to excuse bad behavior, or make anything resembling a hashtag Not All Men argument – but on occasion, when I’ve listened, been patient and kind, and extended an opportunity for one of my male customers to truly open up, men have shown me the ways in which patriarchy hurts us all, and for them, in ways that they barely have the words to communicate.
5. Consent is for strippers too!
When I first started stripping, one of the most important things I had to learn to do was how to discover, articulate, and enforce my boundaries, quickly and firmly. As someone who was socialized feminine, this wasn’t always the easiest thing to do, but it was one of the most valuable lessons of my life, though at times it remains a work in progress. While I’m much more comfortable asserting my boundaries with men, now, I have noticed that women who come to the club often have a somewhat murkier understanding when it comes to physical touch in the strip club.
Just because you’re not a man, though, doesn’t mean you’re magically incapable of violating consent. Consent is for strippers too — and ASKING for consent is for everyone. When in doubt, assume that the rules are “hands off the dancers.” If you get a lap dance and you’re so in the moment your palms start itching — to caress, to squeeze, to spank a juicy booty — hey, I get it, and I’ve been there, too. Erotic energy is, quite frankly, intoxicating, and one of the reason why strip clubs are so fun is because you get to bask in that energy with professionals. With the outside world being as sex negative as it is, the strip club is at times a haven, and I’ve written before about how performing the object of someone’s desire taught me to look at myself with new eyes, to feel sensual, to feel sexy, and to indulge in my own sexiness. When I’m performing for women, a rare but occasionally refreshing delight, this is amplified to a whole new level.
Still, it’s imperative that you ask us if you can touch us, and where, and what kinds of touch are acceptable. Don’t just assume that because we’re strippers, and because we’re in various stages of nudity, and because both you, and we, may be a little drunk, it’s a free for all. In all likelihood, if you’re reading this, you fight that kind of violence on the daily outside the strip club — so don’t condone it inside one.
6. Strippers are people
We have real, full lives, with children and siblings and parents and partners. We go to school, we work day jobs. We’re saving up to travel, or pay off our student loans. We’re creative. We have pets and plans. We have love affairs, and heartbreaks. Some of us work while injured because we have no other choice; some of us go to work even while we’re suffering with mental illnesses and smiling in the face of rejection night after night. Strippers contain multitudes, just like you, except our jobs require us to dress up, and suss out and deliver each individual customer’s hidden fantasy, and get them to compensate us fairly for it or we go home empty-handed or even in the red after house fees and tip out.
I’ve sat with customers reeling from the news that they’ll need to have a life threatening surgery, customers whose marriages are headed for divorce, and customers who are grieving the deaths of loved ones and single parenthood, and usually I’m happy to listen and provide emotional support. But much like with physical touch, when it comes to emotional labor, everyone’s boundaries are different, and consent is ongoing and can be withdrawn at any time.
So when you sit with a stripper, be mindful of what you’re bringing to the conversation, as well as the personal questions you ask of us that might border on invasive. We don’t owe you our real names, whether or not we are single or in a relationship, descriptions of the type of sex we like, or what our trauma histories might be “that led us to this place.” We’re here to help you have a good time, and one of the best ways to contribute to that good time is to treat us with the same respect and kindness we offer to you.
7. If you’re gonna ask us out, maybe just don’t
Or if you do, do it without any expectations or entitlement.
As strippers, it is our job to unearth your desires and reflect them back to you. To make you feel good, desired, powerful, and affirmed. At least, that’s what some of my favorite customer interactions have been in the past. But, as I’ve stated above, it is our job, and at the end of the shift, the Pleasers and eyelashes come off, and I’m just a femme going home to her puppy, her homework, and real life.
If you do think you have a connection, here’s my advice: Don’t ask for her number, but give her yours. Give her a name where she can look you up to make sure you’re not a creep. Then go out into the big wide world, and live your life. I’m not saying it’s impossible for love and friendship to follow you out of the strip club, but I’m also not saying it’s likely. Don’t take it personally if she doesn’t text you, just pay it forward at the next club, and make it rain on us for a job well done.