MAY 31, 2018
How old are you?
Me too! Where are you from originally?
I am from middle of nowhere Maryland.
What brought you here?
I had already lived in the south and was visiting some friends and within 24 hours accomplished and saw so many things and that was enough to decide to move here. I spent all my money for the trip at Penthouse and then ended up having to work there the next night to make enough money to get home (laughing). As soon as I got home to Atlanta I went back to The Cheetah to make money to move here.
Why are you still here?
I just can’t find anywhere else like it. I always think I have to go somewhere else to grow up or focus but if I’m not happy then I can’t get anything done because I’ll just be thinking about being in New Orleans with my friends. The art and music and the people here are enough. They are sometimes even too unique to the point that you’re spoiled so everywhere else is just less.
How do you refer to your work?
Another reason I love this city is that I can just skip the nonsense of people asking questions about it until I just blurt out “I’m a stripper!” I have become a lot better at just jumping right to that and saying it.
Do you feel comfortable saying where you work?
Yes, I work at Penthouse. I’ve worked there since last August.
Do you like it?
There’s no perfect club. We’re all independent contractors. There’s not a lot of motivation in the clubs to maintain us but Penthouse has really grown on me. I feel safe.
How did you get your start?
I was pretty wild out of the gates when I graduated college. I grew up really shy and then sexually found myself during college. I was very extroverted all of a sudden and wasn’t ready to go back to school. I had a friend who was doing it and I liked to dance. I wasn’t as good as I thought I was. I do not want to know what I looked like when I started (laughing). But I had the guts and that’s really it. Just showing up carries you through most days. You almost forget how much it takes most people to do that. I worked at a small club in a small city and making $300 a shift felt cool because I was working at Whole Foods waking up at 4am to organize fruit. It was already better than that and then eventually it allowed me to move around and seek out bigger clubs.
When you were growing up, do you remember being told or taught anything about what society expected of you as a girl?
I’m not going to bore anyone with the typical Catholic child woes but I was made to feel bad about experiencing sexual attractions and masturbating. I was erotically oppressed by the patriarchy essentially. I was taught not to masturbate so I would do it with my headphones in and under my duvet cover and then delete browser history. That has stuck with me.
Can you define sexism?
Sexism, like other prejudices, goes above and beyond making a person feel less than human. Those who discriminate possess an additional layer of narcissistic entitlement, entitled enough to hand pick and choose aspects of the marginalized group then reinterpret and repurpose that group’s experience for their own benefit. Women may celebrate sexuality as long as it benefits me. Women may celebrate their own form as long as it is for my eyes only. Women may exist “freely” as long as it does not threaten my fragile masculinity. I recognize that this is only a facet of sexism but it the one that I find most disturbing lately. In a stripping-focus context, the same Beckys that condemn stripping saying “Oh I could do that but I never would” are the ones buying the new Dolls Kill sex worker rip off heels. John Berger has a quote that became more famous when he died last year that says, “You painted a naked woman because you enjoyed looking at her. Put a mirror in her hand and you called the painting Vanity thus morally condemning the woman whose nakedness you had depicted for your own pleasure.”
How does being treated in a sexist way make you feel?
In a societal sense, I feel demobilized and like I am experiencing a skewed reality because men get the opportunities and promotions while the same female candidates are overcompensating. I am tired of overcompensating. Not that I don’t appreciate the challenge of putting in extra work but the unfairness of it all has stopped me from pursuing work. When I was working on yachts I eventually gave up looking for deckhand positions because captains couldn’t see me as a deck hand even though I was in shape and had a Small Captain’s license. I was overseas and didn’t have dancing to fall back on so I would settle for stew work and it was frustrating because I would see men with the same skills as me who were not as focused or enthusiastic getting the jobs over me. In a psychological sense, it’s cumulative effect has been a sense of feeling threatened all the time. I took myself out on a date and watched RBG about the first female Supreme Court Justice in theaters. Then a male security guard came in and sat in the back corner and was just fumbling around. My mind instantly went to, “Is he going to sexually assault me because there’s no one in here? He could totally do that. What is he doing? Is he jerking off?” Men are just not to be trusted anymore because my comfort is no concern of theirs. That has been my life experience.
Do you always notice when people are acting in a sexist way?
Human behavior is too complex to pick up on subtleties like that every time but I definitely think that as I have gotten older I can tell if a man will go down on a woman aka respect them. The way their eyes are scanning over her body; whether or not they are waiting for her to stop talking so they can start; talking down to people without any grounds to do so. It happens pretty often especially in the club because the men are older. I don’t want to forget that it’s not normal just because I am used to it. It has swayed my sexual orientation because I don’t trust men. That makes me feel kind of sad because I know there are men who have approached me genuinely but I have a jaded cloud that hangs over me.
Can you recall any specific instances when you experienced sexist behavior against you?
Bachelor parties! I was walking down the street on the way to work and eight men were walking towards me which is always intimidating. They tried to give me a high five and I ignored them and kept walking. I didn’t want to be bothered! I don’t know them or owe them my attention. And as I was walking away, one of them whispered, “Slut.” This is what it has come to. If you don’t give high fives to people you don’t know, you’re a slut. You want to be able to deflect those situations from your memory and your emotions in that time and place but it leaves a bad taste in my mouth. I used to say that we need some old misogynistic men to die out and then maybe the newer generations will improve but these were youngers guys. That means my generation isn’t even where it needs to be. So I want to raise a really feminist little boy one day.
What is the best part about being a stripper?
The freedom. It is a very multi-faceted freedom. I travel whenever, I nurture hobbies or interests. The freedom has given me a weird combination of experiences and pursuits of interests that I wouldn’t have been able to try without it. One year I saved up money in a month’s time to work on yachts and cross the Atlantic three times and got a Small Captain’s license. Another year, dancing allowed me to travel to California and take a personal training course. This year I decided a few weeks out to treat my partner to a trip to Germany. Dancing brought me to New Orleans and now it is funding an EMT course. It is the freedom to get what you want very quickly after you want it.
What’s the hardest part?
The hardest part is that the majority of people don’t understand the experience, the motives, the hard nights, the rewards because they assume they already know what it’s like. The customers who insist on asking But why are you here? are almost always assuming that I found dancing during some low point of desperation in my life. Even people I am close to who are arguably interested in my experience do not always understand why I would decide to skip out on work for a night or even weeks at a time. You have to be “on” every time you’re in there and I am naturally an introvert. There are loud voices all trying to talk over one another. There is a lingering cigarette smell in my hair and skin after being in the Champagne room. I am usually physically exhausted. I recently invited my partner to my work to help them understand how intense the energy is in there and even then it’s not the same as being the person who is constantly trying to charm everyone they talk to. If I were to tell my mother what I really did, she would assume I was offering extra services and burst into tears. She wouldn’t ask what it’s actually like.
What does it feel like to not be able to share what you do with your family?
It’s not hard to hide because I live in a different city but sometimes it’s something to be celebrated especially when we are coming together as a community. I really don’t understand how my mom thinks I am doing all the things I am on a bartender’s wage. I have accepted it. It’s easier that way. If it ever comes up, I’ll deal with it.
What are some of the biggest misconceptions about working in the industry?
The main one is that sex workers are a group to be pitied. They think we all have psychological issues, drug problems, and financial hardship. Not that those struggles shouldn’t be respected for anyone anywhere right now but in my four years as a dancer I have not seen that correlation. We are a community that supports one another. I have a female community that I wouldn’t have otherwise. We can ask each other anything because we’re mostly naked around each other. Issues about shaving, periods, sexual health comes up much more easily than in an office. I also want to point out that the only drugs I have seen in the club are from customers trying to have fun. I never hear about it with the girls. We are really on top of our mental health because the environment of the club is exhausting and stressful. We support one another and help each other maintain. And financially, anyone who is having a hard time usually is able to fix it in a night or a week because sometimes all someone needs is a few hundred dollars.
How did the raids earlier this year affect your work or your community?
Working at Penthouse was a weird experience because we were untouched. You try to support your sisters while they’re going through hard times but you still have to make money. Plus I didn’t know that we weren’t going to be raided. The club is already stressful but maybe tonight a cop will make me cry until I vomit as well. The ATC threat was an unnecessary layer of stress for all of us. It was hard to see women I respect struggle.