Underworld Reality (you know: social deviance)

I’ve written about this before, of course.

When you’re a stripper you’re not really subject to all the craziness of the “real world.” Or I’m not anyways, I hope you’re not either but if you are, just disregard all my generalizations. No one expects you to get up early every day, no one expects you to wear a uniform, own trendy professional clothes, work forty hours a week, or act respectable. These are also Alaskan traits that I maybe grew up with a little more than other people, home schooling, alternative schooling, and building our house out of a dumpster.

It was a bit of a shock when I got here and jumped into the world of substitute teaching. These women aren’t from here (they have to import teachers in the villages) and they wear stylish matching clothes and full make up every day. Dude, if I’m gonna break out my make up bag somebody better be paying me twenty bucks a song. Here they encourage kids to do good in school so they can grow up and get good jobs, be good little rat racers. I’m like, “why would anyone want to do that? Then you have to wear a bra every day and do what people tell you.”

I can’t wait to get back to my seedy little stripper world again where no one will expect me to get up at 6:30 in the morning, do things I’m not into, make superficial niceties, act professional, or talk to people I don’t like without being paid large amounts of money. It never occurred to me that stripping and the sex industry in general was anything other than a world of freedom for everyone, until I read this post by Fifty One Fifty, where she talks about what living in this other reality has taken from her: friends, perspective, reality.

When I think about it that way… yeah, I might be down a few things. Sometimes I go for months without being around men who aren’t interested in falling in love-or-lust with me, and sometimes I go for months with hardly any socialization outside this world of sexuality. Sometimes I forget that there are people out there who have never even been in a strip club, never gone from zero to soulmates in three minutes flat twenty times in a night, never worried about getting locked up in jail for giving a lapdance or just dancing naked, never learned to bounce their ass, never been surrounded night after night by half naked women until they know without looking exactly what any womans body will look like in every possible position.

It’s startling to me that an entire reality can be changed so quickly. That one night, wearing just six inch heels and a thong, I’ll catch sight of a police officer at the door and my heart will race. Are my nipples covered enough? Is my thong wide enough in back? Am I doing anything lewd? What if it’s election time and the cops are on a spree? I should have checked before I booked here.

A few days later, in school, I will be smiling and welcoming a police officer to talk to the kids about drugs. I’ll feel all warm and fuzzy inside that they care enough about their community to come do this kind of outreach. By the time he leaves, I’ll be One Of Them.

Most nights, I’ll sit down on a mans lap and dive into his soul. In the real world, I make meaningless conversations for no reason and after a few days it becomes normal, this disconnection.

It scares the shit out of me how easy it is to fall into these other realities, these delicately complacent denials.

And then I learn that, for some people, the worlds are reversed.


  1. The cool thing about experiencing different realities is that you find out that you have the power to chose which one you want to exist in. Which to me, is totally worth it.

  2. Yes, but I forget easily. It’s one of the reasons it’s so good for me to be on the road, constantly making and re-making those decisions, it forces me to be concious about what I choose.

  3. I spent 7 years in the real world and I now bartend again. Bartending and stripping are similar except that in the bar I wear more clothes. I know because I have done both. When I returned to the nocturnal world I felt more myself than I had in years, yeah I stunk like cigarettes but I was more pure in someways because the relationship with the customer is so simple. I deliver drink, they pay, I smile, make small talk, they tip. None of the dysfunction of the 40 hour work week. I so related to your post. Good Luck with the adjustment. Don’t stay on the evil side too long 🙂

  4. Coming from someone hopelessly mired in that workaday world, your writing is akin to gulping in huge lungfulls of fresh, sweet air. I admire your honest and courage to be able to dance from one ‘world’ to another. The corporate world kills the spirit one hour at a time.

  5. I’m a burlesque performer by night and I work 40 hours a week at a non-for- profit organization and I gotta say I prefer the nigth life. I have become so numb to homeless women and children in the street while exposing my half naked body on stage. Corporate jobs does kill me a bit each day…

  6. I like to think I live in “la la land”. While I work 40 hours a week, the truth is, it’s only so that I can finance my “rock n’ roll lifestyle”, which consists of driving a beautiful car and singing in a metal band. If I wasn’t so superficial, I wouldn’t have to work so much.

    Everytime you talk about the freedoms associated with being a stripper though, I have to say I get a little jealous. I’m a belly dancer so I know what it’s like to have men oogle my body and ask me to marry them (or more often, do them..) but I don’t think I have the cojones to actually let my body be my source of income. You’re so lucky that you do.

  7. I don’t know about this term, “the real world,” used so derisively. Seems to me, what constitutes “the real world” is difference for everyone, and I see no need to automatically disparage some assumed norm of “reality.”

    Hmm… I hope that made sense.

  8. I guess what I mean is, a lot of people might make a lot of assumptions about me because I have a 9-to-5 job at a “respectable” company. Unfortunately for them and fortunately for me, most of those assumptions would be wrong.

    I love my job. Not all 9-to-5 jobs are the boring cube farms you see on Office Space (and I do work in a cubicle!) – just like not all strippers are depraved drug addicts with daddy issues and no self-respect.

    Stereotypes aren’t good, no matter which way they go.

  9. Yeah, some of the most twisted and creative people I know finance their dreams working in an office, wearing matching clothes, and smiling and nodding. I don’t consider them to be sleepwalking through life or any such nonsense. But I also see how alien it appears to Tara; I don’t think she’s known many functional and happy people who stay in one place and work in jobs. I do. It’s still not for me, though.

  10. Susan, my point is, I’m *not* wearing matching clothes, smiling, and nodding. Not in that mechanical kind of way. My workplace allows and encourages creativity and individuality and everyone who works here, and frankly I find it insulting to be dismissed as someone who is “sleepwalking”. (Not saying that’s what you were doing at all; just using a word you used, because I couldn’t think of a synonym!)

  11. I work in a bank. Stodgy, stuffy, choking with necktie-bank. I’m such a creative soul that sometimes I think I’ll just bust with the 9-5 squelching my creativity day by day. There’s a part of my soul that hears the voice of Woody Guthrie singing through the passes.

  12. I have 15 years in the IT industry. Now, geeks are known for being mostly laid-back, playing video games or RPGs, and wearing ratty blue jeans and t-shirts to work which starts at 10 or 11AM and goes until whenever. But it’s not all like that. And even that sucks.

    I’m a yoga instructor. Yoga has changed my life for the better in so many ways, I can’t begin to explain them all. Yet, I need some more $$$. So, I sent out a few IT resumes, just to see what would happen. A company called me, interviewed me, and hired me on Friday. I worked Friday and Monday. Then I quit. I was miserable all weekend just even thinking about it. I came home after working on Monday in tears, depressed and lethargic. Tuesday morning (today), I sent them an e-mail, explained my position (they know of my history and my teaching yoga), quit, and said I’d mail their keys back to them (the office is 40 miles from where I live). Then, I lined up three interviews at three different yoga studios.

    Reality is real, yet isn’t. How you live is real, yet isn’t. How others live is real, yet isn’t. Choose your path, and run along it, barefooted and full of passion and giggles. Never give up; never surrender. 🙂

  13. Isn’t “reality” just the way you perceive it? Two people can experience the exact same thing; one person may describe the experience as negative, the other as positive. Just like Amber says her office is awesome…the person sitting in the cubicle next her her may think that it IS like Office Space. I know strippers who can’t wait to end the torture of this horrible job….but I love it…and we work at the same club!

  14. Here’s what I thought when I read this: Tara said that she sometimes forget that there are people who’ve never been to a strip club. In the world of education, I think you’d be hard pressed to find a teacher who did not enjoy school. Sometimes we forget this–not everyone exists in the world in which we strut and fret our hours upon the stage.

    I think that most people try to do well by the people who are most important in their lives and try to improve upon their personal experiences and traumas from their formative years–whether that be through career, person-to-person, or in one’s family. Teachers, like strippers (I’ve never started a sentence that way, and I can’t help but giggle a bit), are professionals, and do not garner the respect they should for the difficulty and charisma it takes to do one’s job well–they’re both performances, both fulfilling a social need, both requiring a suspension of disbelief of the ‘real world’ that exists outside the doors. That doesn’t mean that kids aren’t learning the “hidden curriculum,” but any teacher worth her salt lies to her students–lies to them in the regard that there will be a benevolent hand to guide them, protect their rights and provide them opportunities. How frightening is this statistic: the average teenager goes through an entire day without hearing his or her own name. Worse; most teenagers go through their day without a single word of positive feedback or encouragement from an adult. Good teachers recognize the need and fill it. Sound familiar? I’ll tell you what–you teach me how to bounce my ass, and I’ll promise not to do that in class.

  15. I get Tara completely. As a school teacher who, up until about two years ago, frequented strip clubs while I taught at private schools (with a morals clause in my contract, btw), I walked a strange line myself. I’d work with a priest one morning in a classroom, and then I would go to a Denver tittie barthat night. Strange days indeed.

    I stopped going to clubs a few years ago after I saw the mom of one of my students working the club I was in. I didn’t moralize – I was there, too after all; I just know I made her uncomfortable and I didn’t want to eff up her gig. She’s working – I can go to any topless bar; I’m single and straight and I’m not touching the good stuff – I’m just paying to window shop is all (so I moralize a bit, sue me)

    I haven’t walked Tara’s sexy tightrope, not by a damn sight, but real world is a matter of perceptions, I can attest to that noise. 😈 Tara’s got hers, I got mine, and we all got ours – all God’s chillen got a reality, baby.

  16. Amber — I get your point. There’s no one size fits all. Personally, I found stripping to be more hypocritical and unreal than my current job, legal recruiting, in which I sympathize with law partners that they’re underpaid at $1.5M. To me, stripping’s benefits were some of those outlined by Tara — the hours, the flexibility, the wardrobe, and did I mention the money. But to me the customers weren’t (mostly) tortured souls looking for soulmates, but flawed men (mostly) with entitlement complexes looking for validation from perceived trophies. I didn’t find the club some sort of underground “reality,” but a pageant of saying and doing things for money that you wouldn’t otherwise say or do, but unlike most jobs, the customers pretend it’s genuine.

    While stripping doesn’t require one to “act respectable,” and in fact that’s cause for dismissal, from my POV it involved an array of other faked behaviors.

    In many “straight” jobs, the “act respectable” is only for the dues-paying portion. I have substantial latitude in being a pretty close approximation of me at my job — much closer than when I was “Rachel,” the Jewish girl gone bad who loved telling stories about her favorite vibrators to unattractive middle-aged men to whom she wouldn’t give the time of day otherwise.

    So — I respect and appreciate that someone else could view stripping as a “world of freedom” and the world outside as an elaborate ritual of deceipt. But it’s a two way street.

  17. as usual I relate to what you are saying. May i add support with these thoughts, as someone who has traveled the contrasting realities circuit…
    What amazes me as I pass from one “reality” and way of being / community / sub system / workplace to another is that I am the same person who is viewed more differently than is actually warranted. I am the same, the enviro changes and some of my posture my alter…my core representation is the same.

    When I am an artist leading or a Yoga teacher guiding, whether I am collecting wild herbs or the perfect customer for the VIP, allowing children in my home day care to thrive in their uniqueness, Assisting a Director or a midwife,
    I am continually bringing the gift I am to the scenario….

    I have not worked 40 hr.wks. / 9-5 in this lifetime…not sure I could fit in that scenario for long, but, I know I would be there for a reason and would be appreciated….

    angel work knows no boundaries.

  18. I think about the division between my public and private/real self a lot. For the last ten years I’ve managed to work in laid back places – as a pet photographer’s assistant, freelance web developer, development consultant, porn shop clerk. Now I find myself looking for a job in the corporate world, and I put on my fancy clothes that conceal all of my tattoos and tie back my hair and act professional. People have no idea who I am or where I’ve been. And for all I know, they like to be hogtied and blindfolded while someone runs a vacuum cleaner nearby. First impressions aren’t worth much when we all put on our normal costumes.

    Then there’s the weird public vs private sexuality: acknowledging sexuality is highly inappropriate most of the time, but depictions of it are plastered everywhere you look.

    Doesn’t stripping require some degree of phoniness, though, at least some of the time? some acting? Pretending you’re interested? Pretending you haven’t heard the savior shtick a thousand times? Letting them believe that you are who they want you to be? Pouting like a spoiled heiress? 😉

    I wish I could just be me no matter what. Seems like one can only do that alone.

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