FEBRUARY 21, 2018
How old are you?
Where are you from originally?
I grew up in the Midwest and left after I graduated high school and I went abroad actually for over ten years. I came to Louisiana for a job working offshore where I worked with lots of men and experienced a good amount of sexism. When I got furloughed/laid off from that job, I started stripping here.
Why are you still here?
Having lived abroad for so long, I got so used to not being in America and I don’t know if I fit into the capitalistic rat race, keeping up with the Joneses-type thing and New Orleans is quite an anomaly. If you were to describe it in a negative way, it’s a place where most people lack big plan ambition or, positively, it’s a place that doesn’t care about bullshit and I appreciate that.
How do you refer to your work?
I say stripping. But I bristle when men who are not strippers say stripping because I know for most civilians, male or female, there’s going to be a stigma associated with stripping so I would prefer they say dancer. I think it’s an ingroup vs. outgroup type of thing like the reclaiming of the word queer. For example, the journalist who has written about us on nola.come, he referred to us as strippers a few times and for me, when I hear it in his voice, I cringe and I hear his judgement. Whereas if I say stripping, there’s no judgement because I am a stripper. There is still a stigma and there will be for a very long time and I understand that but the more you say stripper and stripping, it will take away that stigma and that power.
Do you feel comfortable saying where you work or have worked?
I have worked at five of the clubs here but before working at any of the clubs, I visited a lot of them. I’ve worked at some that have since closed and I like the ones that the city is trying to get rid of, the smaller ones that maybe are seen as dirtier or wild, wild west-type of establishments. They were fun and relaxed. If I may go on a tangent, my first eye-opening experience in a strip club was at Lipstixx which is now closed. There was a woman there who was maybe in her forties, so older for a dancer, and she was talking to my boyfriend and I and she didn’t even ask us for a lapdance, she was just talking to us and thoroughly charming us and we exchanged numbers. She never texted us or anything but I remember walking away being confused as to whether or not she liked me or if it was genuine. What was that exchange? I just know I feel so good. I felt like she was so interested in me and really liked me. It wasn’t even sexual. It was like I had made a new best friend and I was so enchanted and beguiled by this woman and remember thinking that strippers are magical creatures. That was years ago and I saw her during the stripper protests and I ran up to her and I told her about the experience. It was you that made me want to be a stripper because you were such a powerful creature that left a lasting impression on me.
What did she say?
She was really touched by it. She was really excited. But her story is awful! She was working at Lipstixx and they closed without telling anybody and turned it into a “dance club”. I think they knew they were going to get raided and get in trouble. So she went over to Temptations to be a hostess and then two weeks later, Temptations was forced to close. She doesn’t deserve that.
How did you start stripping?
That was kind of the start. When I still had my offshore job, I would live offshore for five weeks and then come back and I knew my job was going to end soon so I went to Atlanta to try stripping but you had to a buy $300 license and you needed a car and it was a pain in the ass. I had been going to strip clubs here a lot. I didn’t live in New Orleans but I worked out of here and I would go to strip clubs every time I came through because I really thought they were fun. My first day, I sold one lap dance. I was such a horrible sales person. I couldn't even say “Do you want a lap dance?” I was so horribly shy about that. I was fine getting naked and performing dance in front of people and doing a lap dance was fine. It was the sales aspect that I was horrible at. I worked at a club that is now under different ownership and a different name for almost a year on and off. Then Operation Trick-or-Treat happened [in 2015] and that club got raided so I went next door which was considered a nicer, corporate club that was suspected to never get raided and I stayed there for a while and then bounced around at other clubs. Since then, that club has gotten raided. Everyone just assumed it wouldn’t because it was a fancy club. It was at first an experiment to see if I could do it. I admire the women who do it. They’re so bold and amazing. I wanted to be a part of that tribe of women and I knew my job was ending so I had to find something else.
It’s like a normal job.
It is! There is a learning curve and there is no one there to train you. You totally get thrown into the deep end which is fun.
Do you remember being told or taught anything while you were growing up about the societal expectations of you as a girl?
I remember being a tomboy and not having a lot of female role models and that was always disappointing and hard to deal with. I remember having to do projects on historical figures in school and I did Annie Oakley, Joan of Arc, Amelia Earhart: women doing things that men were doing and I latched onto that completely. Society told me you as a woman aren’t supposed to be doing these things and those particular women are known for doing things they weren't supposed to do. I don’t know if I can give you a specific message or a specific example but obviously it was a constant barrage of that otherwise I wouldn’t have been drawn to those women. Another person who left a huge impression on me as a child was Madonna. I grew up with a single mother going to law school and MTV was just starting so I remember watching Madonna all the time. I very much latched onto her message of sexuality. She was being sexual for herself whereas I think Britney Spears is being sexual for the audience or for the male gaze specifically. I felt that Madonna was being very sexual for herself and I knew at the time that that was controversial even as a girl and that was powerful and I connected to that. I remember experiencing slut-shaming throughout my teen years and not understanding it. I had a positive attitude toward sex and sexuality because of Madonna and I think that also helped me become a stripper. I know that there are women who really like stripping. They like the money, they like the freedom of working for yourself, you can come and go as you please but they do still walk away feeling a little bit icky. And that’s ok, that doesn’t mean stripping is bad, that’s just a personal feeling. I would walk away feeling icky if I was selling used cars but that doesn’t mean selling used cars is bad. I think some women walk away and don’t come back but I think for me, I think it’s great.
Can you define sexism?
I was thinking about this question all day!
It is so hard. I don’t want to be silly but that’s like asking a fish what water is like. That’s what I feel like. I am cis-gendered but I am tired of being a woman because I’m not human. I am an ambassador or a representative for my gender. I’m either a brave female or a bad female. It’s always about my gender and I just want to be a person. I’m so tired of it. I don’t know who said it but somebody said when a white woman looks in the mirror, she sees a woman; when a black woman looks in the mirror, she sees a black woman; when a black man looks in the mirror, he sees a black man; when a white man looks in the mirror, he sees a human. I am so tired of being a woman and I just want to be a person. I’m sorry, I can’t describe sexism. It’s everything.
How does being treated in a sexist way make you feel?
It makes me feel powerless and angry. It just makes me want to give up and run away. I don’t know if you can educate everybody or educate someone in every moment and it makes me feel tired to have to educate people. I just wish my humanity could be seen sometimes.
When I was working on the first installment of this, I remember saying "I just want to live in a better world". Do you always notice when people are acting in a sexist way?
I really like this question. No, I don’t. Again, when you’re a fish, you don’t notice the water is wet. The thing that I do notice a lot is when I’m not treated in a sexist way. I have a welding teacher who I adore and I couldn’t put my finger on why I liked him so much and I realized it was because he treated me like a human and like an equal and we had a good camaraderie. We all know that feeling of when someone wants to be intimate with you in a sexual way and there was none of that feeling. I think a way for women to navigate through life is to use your femininity. It’s not just a stripper thing, it’s a woman thing to be a little bit flirty and that’s fine but sometimes I feel like I am just a sex object. That has nothing to do with stripping, that’s just regular life. So when I am not viewed as a sex object and I’m viewed as a friend, it’s really great. I have a friend in my Mardi Gras krewe who is a 60 year-old man from Texas and I couldn’t figure out why he was latching onto me and I realized it was because he wanted to be my friend and that is so refreshing especially from a man. Most of my male friends have tried to put a move on me and that’s hugely disappointing. Some people say it’s flattering but it makes me feel really awful like I don’t have anything of value to offer beyond that. So no, sometimes I don’t notice being treated in a sexist way because that’s just what my life is like. I don’t know what it’s like to not be a woman in the world.
Can you recall any lingering specific instances of experiencing sexist behavior against you?
The thing that I used to get a lot was you’re too smart to be working here, you’re too pretty to be working here, you’re too good to be working here and the subtext of that is that I’m slumming it. There is nothing wrong with stripping. I think if men and women examined what makes them uncomfortable about stripping, it has to do with the sexuality aspect of the job but also a woman who is very independent and in control and is economically powerful is terrifying. To see a woman in that position makes people uncomfortable. And I don’t think it’s that bullshit about Is she trafficked? Is she unhappy? Is someone forcing her to do this? It’s uncomfortable because they recognize that women in strip clubs are really powerful and it makes them scared. I don’t think men can articulate why they do it but I have met men who try to cut me down because I think they can sense that they are in a place where women are very powerful and in charge and that makes me uncomfortable so they need to do something to turn the tables.
I’ve also lived in foreign countries and I’ve asked questions and had the person respond to the male person I am with instead of me. Sure, other cultures are different but it can still be shitty because it’s super sexist. I want to be understanding of other cultures but it’s still awful.
I know when I am asking for support from a male friend or partner when I’ve had a sexist or a bad experience, they don’t know how to console. All they know how to do it give advice. Do you notice that? I guess this mansplaining thing is an extension of that but it’s not necessary. They don’t do that with men! People will say they don’t know any better but that’s the problem! Good intentions only go so far.
Do better. Be better.
I was talking to some people about the Aziz Ansari thing with my boyfriend. My boyfriend hadn’t read all of the articles but I had and we were explaining it to someone who hadn’t read anything. My boyfriend read the babe.com article and I interrupted him and started explaining everything and he got pissed. And I get why he was pissed, I did interrupt him, but motherfucker, this situation is centered around womens' experiences of shitty men. I’m interrupting you because maybe women should be explaining this because it’s about womens' experiences.
And to take gender out it, you’re the one that read all the articles. You were the more qualified person to speak on the topic. I’m happy that these people are being taken down but I wish these things weren’t happening in the first place. I won’t speak on any situation I haven’t completely vetted but I am apt to side with accusers because there is a history of victims not being taken seriously or believed.
When Trump won, I immediately wanted to stop stripping because everything had changed. Before I thought I was subverting the patriarchy and exploiting it for my economic gain and it was fantastic. I felt like a rebel and empowered and it was great. And then when he became president, it felt like I was doing the thing he thought I was best suited for and it felt like shit. Everything got turned on its head. I’m usually pretty good at charming groups of men and I was talking to a group and one of the them leans over and grabs my nipple. I don’t like to be violent because I feel degraded when I get angry and violent but without thinking, I backhanded him. He leaned over and grabbed my covered breast in the strip club and I backhanded his face. I tried to make a joke about it to show that I didn’t lose my cool and all his friends gave me a lot of money because they thought it was hilarious that I hit their friend. The guy that grabbed my breast came up to me later and said, “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to offend you.” And I was like “But you did mean to sexually assault me,” and punched him in the nuts. Fuck that dude. That was one of the worst experiences I have inside the strip club. That’s the thing that bothers me. Sexual assault happens inside and outside of the strip club and I feel much safer inside a strip club. If I go up to my manager and tell him a guy grabbed my breast, my manager will kick the guy out whereas if I worked at a restaurant, that’s probably not going to happen.
What is the best part about being a stripper?
I think women are socialized to be overly accommodating and we’re socialized to be dis-incentivized from having strong boundaries and if you are overly accommodating and not able to have those strong boundaries as stripper, you will be taken advantage of with your time and your body. That I learned very quickly. I don’t feel guilty about charging for my time or my emotional labor. I don’t feel guilty about saying no and being firm with my no and that is not how I used to be. I still struggle with it in my personal life because I think I compartmentalize stripping into my work life. My stripper persona is a lot tougher than my everyday persona but she has informed my regular life. Also it is safer to say no in a strip club setting because if I say No, you can’t lick my breast, I have a security guard who will back me up and say No asshole, you can’t lick her breast. But if I’m in a bar if I say No you can’t talk to me, I’m here alone or with friends, that person will probably persist. Sex work has cured me of the sickness of the over accommodating female. It feels so good. The word empowering is overused but there is a power in female sexuality and there is nothing wrong with that. Men are physically stronger in a lot of cases and that’s fine and that’s great and we don’t stigmatize it and it’s celebrated. Women’s inherent—or what society has deemed inherent—power is also something that’s fine and should not be stigmatized. Not every woman needs to participate in using that power just as every man doesn’t need to be the Incredible Hulk. Women are disempowered in general so to be in a situation where women have the power is really great. I have zero body issues. Stripping has cured me of any body issues I’ve ever had. And I feel bad because being self-deprecating about their bodies is something women do and that’s a bonding thing for a lot of women and I have to bow out. Nobody wants to hear I feel perfectly fine about my body! So much of stripping is sales, it’s all about talking. So when all these changes started happening like not being able to take our tops off anymore, one woman was like, “Girls, stop freaking out. It was never about our bodies anyway. It was always about the talking and our personalities.” Nevertheless, our bodies are on display and they do get commented on. I have small breasts and very large nipples and I get comments on them all the time and I used to be so self-conscious about it. There are going to be lots of different sizes and shapes and colors and ages and every woman will have someone worshipping them. We are all goddesses in there amongst our worshippers and it’s wonderful. Talking about it makes me want to go to work.
What’s the hardest part?
As I’ve stripped more, I think I’m more in control of the situation. But when I first started, hearing things like You’re too good to be working here was really hard. It’s a lot of emotional labor and I get sick of doing the emotional labor sometimes. Yes, I’m compensated nicely but sometimes it can be empty conversations and a lot of small talk over and over and over again. It’s physically punishing. The hours kind of suck. But mostly the stigma is the worst thing. One of my close friends has two twin daughters who I was very close with until they were 8 or 9. I used to be a teacher and I’m really good with kids but my friend’s wife found out that I was a stripper and now I cannot see the girls anymore at all. I can’t talk to her about it. This was her decision and I have to respect her decision but she made that decision without talking to me and that really, really, really hurt. It hurt too that it was a woman making that decision and judging me. Also, my mother knows that I do this but we don’t talk about it and I would like to tell her what I told to you: being cured of being overly accommodating and self-sacrificing. Also, I’m a salesperson! I never thought I would be a salesperson. I sold one lap dance on my first day and now I sell a million! I did eight hours in a champagne suite that is like thousands of dollars an hour. I’m a good salesperson and I want to brag to my mother about that and tell her all the things stripping has given me. Stripping is the job that has given me the most in terms of personal development compared to teaching or working offshore with a bunch of men. Stripping has given me the most but it’s the thing I can’t talk about with anybody and that’s really disappointing. The stigma is the hardest part. How am I going to explain the gap in my resume? I should be able to say I am an awesome salesperson, I am self-motivated, I am a self-starter, I don’t need to micromanaged. The skill set you gain from stripping should be on a resume because we are great business people and really hard workers! The stigma is the worst part. And occasionally getting your nipple pinched.
What are the biggest misconceptions about working in the sex industry?
That I’m uneducated or that this is my last resort. People come in thinking that we’re not happy or that we’re being coerced and yet, they are there to consume our labor and that is pretty gross. People have that feeling and yet they still come in. People don’t go to McDonald’s and worry about if the drive-through person is doing this as a last resort or if they’re happy. I have a college degree. I am in my mid-thirties. I’ve done lots of other jobs. I don’t know what I want to do after stripping. Stripping does have a shelf life because you have to be seen as fuckable and it’s physically punishing but it bothers me when people assume that I’m doing this to put myself through school or something. No, I just do it because it’s my job and I like it. I don’t know what I’m going to do after and that’s totally fine! It bothers me when people assume it’s a means to an end.
There are so many other morally ambiguous jobs that no one judges or thinks twice about.
Yeah! I was talking to someone the other day about the idea that strippers are scamming men but nobody bothers bankers about scamming the populous. If somebody wants to spend thousands of dollars for me to cuddle them, that is what capitalism is. Value is what you see the value being.
Also, unless you’ve been living under a rock, you walk into a strip club, you know you’re dropping money.
People are outraged that a lap dance is $40. Look at me! Come on! It’s a steal. Plus, a lap dance cost $20 in 1970 so it hasn’t even been fully adjusted for inflation. Guys say It’s like being a kid in a candy store with no money. What’s the point? What’s the point?! The point is that this is really fantastic and great and people forget that. Just flirting and having boundaries and rules creates an interesting and wonderful feeling. I have met people that are funny and cute and I want to get to know more and it’s an amazing experience. Having a crush is really great even if it is just for a night and this magical fairy stripper comes in and is glittering and then disappears at the end. I wish it were available for women in the same way.