MARCH 29, 2018
How old are you?
I am 32.
Where are you from originally?
I’m kind of from all over. I was born in Arizona and I moved to New York City when I was about 16 to go to college. I stayed there until I was 28-ish. I lived in Nashville for a hot second and then immediately moved here. I knew I was going to end up in New Orleans. I thought I was going to be an old retired witch living here but I guess I’m ready to be an old crow now.
What brought you here from Nashville?
That whole vibe. I wasn't dancing in Nashville because it’s totally impossible to dance in Nashville.
Yeah! Because the licenses are crazy. I couldn’t even tell you where the strip clubs are in Nashville because they were hit pretty hard by Scott Bergthold as well. Same with Memphis. The whole state kind of was. There’s a couple gals who are strippers there that were in the news a few months ago after the Florida shooting for standing outside of the club selling semi-automatic [weapons] or some shit like that to prove how much easier it is to buy these crazy guns than it is to become a dancer in their state. It was pretty wild. And the club was behind it! I stopped dancing when I was 25 or 26 because I was in journalism for a little while and I kind of had some vanilla jobs in New York in fashion media specifically, magazines and stuff. Then I started writing and this whole witch thing took off and everybody wanted me to write about that shit. It was crazy to me that all that stuff turned into a career for me in a lot of ways. I was freelancing in Nashville and I was coming to visit New Orleans for witchy shit and the occult vibe and I knew it was going to be my home one day. All my work was in New York and L.A. and I moved here because I’m a freelancer and I am totally unencumbered and I love dancing, I love strip club culture, I love being a stripper witch. So I just did it and tried Bourbon Street out. I’ve been here for about two or three years and it was never my intention to move here for dancing or to be as involved with it as I have become. It’s a frustrating time but it’s a very interesting boiling point for that whole world.
You mentioned Scott Bergthold. For those who don’t know, can you tell us what you know about him?
I’m not an expert on it because there is so much. Some of the girls you have interviewed, Lyn and Chase, are almost obsessed—as they should be. They’re like the Erin Brockovich right now. He is an evangelical, Christian, fundamentalist lawyer who has made a career out of going state by state, city by city and appealing to local government to sanitize and Disney-ify adult industry out of places. That’s why it’s now impossible to dance in Tennessee. Memphis started a lot of these very awesome black clubs and movements and they just don’t exist anymore. And there are so many other places he has done it to as well. And he is very in the shadows, I don’t even know what he looks like. But if you look at the trajectory of his work and the map, it very obvious that New Orleans is probably the biggest city he has tried to tackle and has the most storied past. It’s a vice city, it’s always been a vice city because it’s a port city. That’s frankly part of the charm of it. It seems very clear that this is a notch on his career belt and that this would put him in a new echelon of where he could go. He could go Atlanta, he could go to Vegas. He targets places specifically that are destinations and have conventions and attract tourism. And for us at the clubs, we have conventions schedules all over the place. We are looking. We’re like, “Oh shit, am I going to work tonight? Well there’s a dentist convention. Fuck yeah I’m going in!” They always come to Bourbon, they always come to the strip clubs. Which to me on a personal level is so weird because they are all co-workers. (laughing) It’s whatever, I’m taking their money, I shouldn’t be judging them. But he seems to be trying to demolish adult industry work of any kind. I understand that there is a money trail that is woven into Christianity but the whole thing is so bizarre to me. Why the fuck does anybody care? Who cares?
How do you refer to your work?
I call myself a stripper or a dancer. I talk about sex work a lot. I use the term sex worker mainly in solidarity with others who are being fucked with. There is so much of the hierarchy—they call it whorerarchy—that is ridiculous. We are all doing essentially the same thing, we just have different boundaries and thresholds. But it’s the same on the psychological level which I think is the root of the work. It’s really interesting when you think about all the work that is happening to suppress it. It’s some fucking creepy 1950s Pleasantville shit. You must think this one way. You must get intimacy in this one way or else it’s invalid and it’s criminal and you’re a fucking pariah and we’re going to burn you at the stake. I am a dancer or a stripper. Right now I am on maternity leave so I’m not dancing at all and I haven’t danced in about a month and a half.
How long have you been stripping in totality?
I started when I was 20 about to turn 21. I quit when I was about 25 and then I went back a few years ago. There are gaps but I feel like it’s a thing that is stamped on you. Once a stripper always a stripper. There’s the cute version that is Strippers Forever! but there is really a stigma attached to it that never goes away. You can’t escape it.
Do you like it?
I do. I like it a lot. It’s fun. It provides so much freedom for me in terms of my schedule. When I started freelancing I realized I could never go back to working for someone with a real schedule. It gives me so much time for me to do what I want to do with myself in my life. And of course, the big money windfalls are cool. It’s inconsistent though. It’s not the picture that a lot of people paint for strippers. You aren’t winning the lottery every night. But I have definitely missed it in the last month or so. Most of my girlfriends here are dancers and I am living vicariously through them. I’ll text them and ask them how the night went because I’m pregnant and kind of bored.
Do you feel comfortable saying where you work or have worked?
I’ll just say that I’ve had contracts at every single one of the clubs on Bourbon except for Penthouse.
Do you remember being told or taught anything when you were younger about the societal expectations that come with being a girl?
Totally. To work in a club, you have to have a certain kind of personality. And when you have that, others can smell it on you when you’re growing up. That was my experience. I was a child starting to go through puberty and it frightens people when you start to turn into a potentially sexual being. I link it so much back to witchcraft a lot. People called me a slut before I even kissed anybody. Kids used to make fun of me and call me a witch before I even owned it. I was a kid. People called me these horrible things before I even knew that I was truly queer or who I was. I think there is a lot of fear associated with the power of all those things. It’s powerful to live outside of the box and it frightens people and it threatens people. Society and even really well-meaning people—your parents, your family members—will try to put a lid on it as much as they can. In my case it was being told to cover up and not be sexual. My family is super Catholic and Italian and they didn’t want me to tell people about “this crazy witch thing”. Don’t do any of this stuff because we’re afraid that society is going to react to you in a way that is going to hurt you. They were kind of right but I was also a person who was built to handle that and carry that and to create space for that world and all the ways that they intersect. That was my experience and I have had so many of these conversations with my friends who are queer who have had the same life experiences.
How do you define sexism?
Sexism is when the gender that you outwardly project is discriminated against in terms of treatment and expectations. It’s hard to define because I almost don’t use that word as much as misogyny or whorephobia but it’s all in there. It’s all the same.
How does being treated in a sexist way make you feel?
It pisses me off because I never see it coming. And then when I realize I wonder how I could be so naïve. Of course it’s going to happen. It angers me. It makes me feel very bitter. But now that I am going to have a kid it gives it an urgency to make sure my kid has as much choice as possible. I have always been this wild woman and I want to do what I want to do and make those choices. Sexism and all the isms have really proven to be obstacles and it makes me want to smash them because I don’t want my kid to have to deal with that! I really don’t. Before I was pregnant I wasn’t sure I was going to have a kid and I wasn’t sure how my life was going to go. I understood when parents and moms would say stuff like that but now I really fucking get it. I really want my kid to truly have a better experience that I had or that their grandmother had. I still don’t know the sex but I’m pretty sure it’s a girl.
Just a feeling?
Just an intuitive feeling since the beginning.
Can you recall any specific instances of sexism that have stuck with you?
One of the things that I have noticed is that when I was working and I would be very glamorous and have my face totally painted and be conventionally hot, people were always nice to me, holding doors for me. But I feel I look super different without stage makeup on. Most of the time I don’t wear any makeup at all and I’ll go to the store and it is totally different. It’s like I am invisible. That would never happen if I was in my stripper shit, super skinny with my hair done. It’s funny that I am invisible because I am not hot. And the bigger I get throughout the pregnancy, I get ogled so fucking much. Dudes are trying figure out if I am pregnant or not but it’s very lascivious and it’s weird. I get enraged and I want to tell these people to stop fucking looking at me. Right now I am a fucking incubator and I am huge and my body is not for your eyes to drink in or for you to ascertain if my tits are really this big normally. You are trespassing into my shit and my kid’s shit. My only job right now is to be the best house I can be for my kid and you’re pissing me off. This is my first kid and it’s such a crazy experience the way the world treats you. You are both less sexualized and more sexualized at the same time.
What’s the best part about being a stripper?
The time. Being able to make your own schedule. If you want to work less than 20 hours a week you can. Being able to do whatever you want with your time. Not being locked into a 40 hour a week schedule where you make peanuts. I have a background in publishing and media and I moved here and got a temp job as a trial for a fashion company here. They wanted me to be a director of media and communications but they only wanted to pay me $40,000 a year. I can make more than that dancing easily. Which sounds ungrateful and shitty and bratty but at the end of the day, I would have to be on the job almost 24/7. But with dancing you just have to show up and do your hours and it can be a very lucrative job. I have always had an interest in expanding into more of an entrepreneur or an author and a writer and that seems possible with dancing but it doesn’t seem possible with any other sort of job.
What’s the hardest part?
Everything. It’s really hard work. I love it, it has given me so much over the years. I consider it an absolute privilege to do the job especially as I get older and experience sexism and ageism. I have had some issues with managers in the past over my appearance and the emotional labor can get pretty intense. I like the weird psychological interaction. I’m like a naked therapist. So tell me about your mother. (laughing) If people want to tell me shit, if they want me to be their therapist, I will do that for money, I don’t care. People will usually fall asleep after they tell me some deep, dark secret and then I can play on my phone until the hour is done.
The hardest thing is that the people running the club are not your friend. They will break you down. As a sensitive person, that is the hardest thing I’ve dealt with. They don’t care. You aren’t really seen as a person. And you don’t need someone else to give you your personhood and you certainly don’t need it to be legislated but it’s pretty fucked when everything is based on a pretty competitive beauty standard. Youth and beauty sells like gangbusters more than anything else so the upkeep you have to do as you get older is something I have been thinking about as a pregnant lady. Once this is all done, will I even be in the shape to go back to work? Am I going to have to Frankenstein myself to sell? Or am I going to have to do something completely different and go into stripper retirement? But it is so emotionally evolved in that way and I have been blindsided by that. The customers are whatever. They’re stupid and they can be shitty sometimes but that is so fleeting. I don’t go home and talk to my partner about customers. I go home and talk to my partner because my manager told me I was ugly. Why are you treating me like this? You don’t see us as people. That’s terrifying. Some girls thrive off that wild wild west shit but I am more sensitive. If there is somebody in a position of control or power saying nasty things to you at best or fucking with your contract at worst, that can affect your money and your experience. With the BARE organizing, we are organizing as a labor movement but we are aligning with these people who run and own the businesses and at the end of the day, those people do not have our best interests at heart as workers or as people. That’s terrible to say but it’s true. I’ve heard managers and owners say that smaller club closures are good for them because now they “can have the varsity team”. That’s exactly what I am afraid of when I go back after pregnancy. It’s already hard when there’s a three in front of your age and then you hear a manager tell someone to go to trade school. Are you fucking kidding me? It is an industry that is based on looks but that is so messed up. This is an opportunity to get out of jobs we don’t like and do what we want to do with themselves and their answer is “too bad”. The contracts are written broadly so that they can do that and you are at their mercy and if you rub them the wrong way for whatever reason they can just fire you. I have seen a lot of crazy shit happen this year with people getting fired. And the reasons for it would never happen in other industries. Like getting put on a 30-day suspension for gaining weight? I get that it’s a body centric industry but it’s not being handled properly. We are women not dolls in a dollhouse but that’s what we’re treated like because they can always go get another doll. But without us, you’re just another shitty bar on Bourbon that charges too much for drinks. There is a real disconnect. Why is this the hardest part of the job? What did you expect? I expect to be treated like a human being no matter what I’m doing! And I don’t even have it that bad. The women that are disproportionately screwed are women of color. I have never worked at a predominantly black club, I am a white lady. But every club I’ve worked at has employed women of color and there has always been caps on the number of women of color that they will hire. It’s hush-hush between the managers and obviously not written down anywhere it exists. Most clubs won’t have two women dancing back-to-back. You have to separate them with a white woman so people don’t get the “wrong idea” and at least in New Orleans, that translates to “we don’t want black customers” and equating black customers with crime and cheapness. We have all been at work when an awesome lady comes into audition and gets turned down or gets offered a day contract and the only thing I can see that is wrong is that she is black.
This is a job, it’s real and there are very difficult and dark elements of it. You need the dark with the light to be able to exist and sometimes the cash payoff is totally what you need to wipe the slate clean of those shitty feelings. But those things still make an imprint on you energetically and we need to have more humanity in our work so we have more respect worldwide for our job and how difficult it is and how multi-faceted it is. I really don’t want to play into the this is easy, everyone can do, everybody should do it thing that is happening on the internet right now. I want everybody to make money and make art and have an amazing time and change the world.
It’s like the body positive movement which wasn’t inherently a bad thing. But the preaching of be positive, be positive, be positive doesn’t give respect and value to how much work it takes to deal with the negative.
Totally. It’s rough. It’s a really difficult thing to talk about. Most of my friends are radical feminists as am I but why does sex work need to be empowering? Why is that a thing that needs to happen? Why do I need to post pictures of my pets rolling in cash? Why is that necessary? Why can’t I just go to work, have my bills paid, have food on the table, and money in a savings account like everybody else? Nobody asks that of other jobs. The cashier at Robert’s isn't empowered to be there but you are required to be that way when you are a stripper. A friend of mine and I went to a Jacq The Stripper show and we both had this weird taste in our mouths of like, “This is really cool but also most of the people here are civilians they are laughing at a joke about almost getting fingered while giving a lap dance. That’s not their experience, why are they laughing?” My partner disagrees with me and argues that it is helping with stigma and getting rid of judgement and he’s right but it’s also creating this voyeurism. It makes me feel really weird and very appropriative. I don’t think they are trying to be appropriative at all. I truly think they are trying to be allies and we need allies so badly but I just think it’s weird when civilian people I know are following @survivetheclub and liking photos. I shouldn’t be so critical but I see it and I just think, “This does not pertain to you.” Our experience is so fucking different.
You aren’t asking for approval, you’re just asking to be.
I’m glad you’re inspired but are you going to join the guild? There is a lot of media coming out that is "For strippers by strippers"-type shit. There’s one called Humans Of The Strip Club that interviewed me this week and another one called We Are Dancers USA. And I see civilians liking and commenting and offering their opinion but why are you even here right now? What is happening? Everybody wants to jump on the empower-the-sluts trend that is happening right now. Before everything was popping off with BARE I had a really good friend ask me what she could do as an ally and I didn’t know.
Do you have an answer to that now?
Put your money with your mouth is. If you believe that sex work should be a free enterprise between consenting adults, you should come out and support us and speak out on that and call senators and call Congress people and Council people when we tell you to and listen to us. When you start going along with a narrative that already exists like what happened with FOSTA and SESTA, that is a fucking travesty. We don’t support human trafficking but they’re looking in the wrong places. It’s so crazy and sensational, the things they are saying as they clutch their pearls. Stop. Listen to us. We’re speaking. We’re ok people. I have never been in a club situation that is the way they are saying it is. It is beyond my ethics. I hate the cops but I hate human evil just as much and it’s pretty insulting. You are refusing to listen to us because of sensationalism. That is dehumanizing. They’re illustrating us as the locusts of our movement coming from a place of victimhood and saying that we are warped and we don’t even know what trafficking looks like because we have been around it for so long. NO! 99.9% of us know what it looks like. If anything, we probably know more than most people because it’s shadow work. We are in the shadows with people. Listen to us. Really listen to us. Listen to us as people. Why would somebody who has never been in a strip club know better than someone who has literally spent thousands of hours working in a strip club over the course of their adult life? Why are you more of an authority on any kind of moral buttons being pushed? Because you think we are warped in some way. So don’t think that. Play with the idea that we’re good people. Listen to us really. It’s very easy to shut down when they’re evoking images of children being put on Backpage.com and these very awful things. I’m not saying those things don’t happen in the world because obviously it does but it’s not a good place to legislate from.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
I have an entire body of work under my real name, Christie Craft. That is my real fucking name, I was born to be a witch and do this work. But when I stopped getting work because of my openness about my experience as a dancer and its role in my life and my personality, I started writing under my pen name, Seraphina LaStrega. Now I have this weird dual identity thing because of that. I am between these two identities which is so odd. I’ve heard that from other dancers as well. It’s a common thing that we have to deal with in order to not lose out on work in our other endeavors. But fine, I will be two different people and I will be this cartoon of what I actually am. I don’t necessarily want to be Seraphina all the time, I want to be Christie Craft again but people can’t compute those two things as one so whatever. People want all the trendy things that come with dancing and stripping but an actual stripper is too much. There was this case in Australia with this gal Stacey Tierney who was a regular, white girl. There was tons of strip clubs in Australia. It’s really popular there. Pole fitness is a giant thing there for some reason. She was from the UK and had a work visa and she ended up dying in a champagne room and her body was left there for twelve hours and nobody was talking about it. It was so insanely handled by the club, the press, the police, by everybody. It was fucked. She was in the champagne room with a group of men and after their time was up they just kind of left her there. The cause of death was never released. They think it was drug related but they left her there for twelve hours! The club never closed or mentioned anything about her out of respect. Let’s just get this dead stripper out of the way. The media was horrible. All of their stories turned it into this sensational circus with all her friends coming out and saying things like, “I told her not to do that job!” There was a What do you expect? vibe surrounding the whole thing. I expect not to be killed or left for dead when I’m overdosing! It was craziness. The whole thing was bad. I feel terrible for her family and terrible for her friends. She was obviously a very normal, very cool chick that did not deserve to go down like that. It was femicide and when I took this story to my former editors, they had no interest in it. This is really what’s happening to us and no one was responding. I was told “Dead strippers are not on brand for Nylon,” after I brought it to them. It’s outrageous to me because it’s terrifying that that could happen to me. That would never happen in another industry. People would never respond that way. This poor girl who was probably in their readership who just happened to be a dancer is off-brand but makeup tips from a stripper is A-OK. That’s fucked to me. I am just coming to terms with how much of an impact that has had on my life and my career. I have a lot of criticism over the selection process the media makes and the impacts that has on the lives of real people. We are literally dying for our livelihoods down here. We’re terrified at work because of undercovers and the shit we’re dealing with and they don’t seem to notice or care.