Once a woman wrote to me that for the entire month or two that she was a stripper she thought that the men were putting acid and poisons on their hands to burn her and make her sick. It was ironic because a few months before she had announced authoritatively to an email list I was on that she had stripped, and that stripping was bad and degrading and traumatic for women. She even said that she’d read books written by so called feminists who had stripped for years and found it empowering, and that they were all full of shit. I said that I enjoyed stripping, and she said that I was full of shit and brainwashed by the patriarchy. So when she wrote to me, months later, wanting to make up, and mentioned her delusions I saved the email as a special reminder for myself. I wanted to ask her if she thought the delusions might have something to do with her negative experience of the industry, but what would be the point?
I know when I started stripping it was horrible. It was traumatic. I would lay on the stage, back arched, legs slightly spread, and imagine every customer at the tip rail raping me. This had nothing to do with stripping. It had to do with my father raping me and growing up thinking that all men had violently abusive sexual urges.
Growing up took me years of self imposed trauma, but eventually I realised how little my own little version of reality had to do with actual, objective reality. That didn’t mean that I didn’t experience what I experienced – anything that you believe, daydream, imagine, hear, read, etc., is processed by your brain just exactly like things that really happen. That’s the best thing I learned in college. But it meant I had to start taking some responsibility for the reality of what I experienced. So I started stripping again and I talked to all my customers and got to know them and it turned out that most of them were pretty normal, healthy people. There was the odd asshole, one or two a week, but I just ignored them. At first, I wondered if I could just insist on having a positive experience of them, but having found reality I loved it too much to overwrite it.
Here’s something bad that actually, really happened in a strip club. It was at that little misogynist club that I’ve written about before. It was just before Christmas, and there were only two dancers staying in the dorms. After work one night the graveyard door guy, who’s job it was to keep the dancers safe, went upstairs and tried to rape my friend. She fought him off and he raped the other woman. My friend stood guard at the top of the stairs with the fire extinguisher for a weapon for hours. She wanted to call the cops, but the woman who’d been raped didn’t want to. She said that as dancers, as damaged goods, they should expect that kind of thing. Eventually they did call the police, and when the police called the owner at four in the morning she came down to the club and dared to blame it on the dancer for being too drunk to fight him off.
That really happened, and it is really bad.
Last week Hat-ma called me all upset. One of her favorite customers (another acquintances favorite ex) had found himself being trash talked on this newbie strippers blog. She described him as serial killer-esque, violent, and a wanna-be pimp. I went and read it. I was there, too, as a bitter old attention whore. A sweet Mexican girl I’ve danced with for years was there too, as an orphaned victim of the Mexican sex industry who snuck across the border in the dark. I was shocked. If the newbie stripper had taken time to talk to her, she would have found out that she’d actually flown to Alaska from Mexico, no sneaking, to go to college, and had stayed as a succesful business owner. The newbie stripper had told the whole club about her blog, so I can just imagine the girl reading herself described down to her smallest tattoos and then depicted as some racist victim stereotype.
Of course there’s no doubt that the newbie girl actually experienced those things. In her mind I’m sure the customers are all evil and the dancers are all victims, and that’s very real for her.
I believe it is real for her, but I am still shocked – how can we know what is real if writers mislead us? If writing is wrong, can I trust my own? A few years ago I spent time with a couple quasi-famous writers who, in reality, turned out to live almost nothing of the life they wrote about (strangely, they would often write about doing something, then go do it, then be upset that it was more magical when they wrote it). It’s a whole world of confusion, for me. I understand telling a big lie to tell a big truth, but what if the truth you tell is a lie?
I comfort myself with reality. Objective things that I know can’t be spun.
So here is another real bad thing that happened in a strip club. It was in that same evil little club that I used to dance at. There was (is) a very sexist, mean bouncer dude. Being sexist and mean, he perceived that it was his job to keep the dancers in line, and protect the customers from us unscrupulous bitches. So in the name of duty he would make dancers leave for talking on their phones, touching a customer, sitting in the dressing room, or whatever else he came up with. One day there was a new dancer all the way from the deep south. She was staying in the dorms, and she came here with nothing to get away from an abusive boyfriend. The evil bouncer got mad at her for being within six inches of a customer, which is not even illegal, and he told her to leave. She refused. He picked her up and locked her outside, half naked, and didn’t let her in until an hour later when the club closed and some of the leaving customers started to call the police.
None of us knew until he let her in, half naked and sobbing, mascara running down her face and arms and chest.
There are bad things that really happen in the sex industry. It’s so crazy for people to make up bad things, or project bad things from other parts of their life on the industry for the sake of art or some kind of feminist acceptance.