On Being a "Slut"

In high school, my friends called me a slut. A couple of them went with "nympho," but mostly it was slut. I have always been very open about being sexual, a little trick I picked up from my mother. She taught my sister and me about sex in our infancy, always told us to use birth control, and occasionally told us more than we wanted to know about her sex with our father. So I talked about sex a lot, and then of course whenever my friends were angry with me out came "slut" like the ending of any conversation.

I struggled with that as a teenager (I say from my advanced age of 20) and I have had and still have trouble integrating the parts of me that are sexual with the parts of me that are intellectual or nurturing. I'm getting better every day, but it's taken some time to bounce back from the stigma and all its consequences that I bore in high school.

That said, I've noticed something very, very different since I've been in college. I still talk about sex all the time. In fact, I have sex all the time and talk all the time about the sex I'm having all the time. I'm crass, I curse, and I am definitely no wilting violet of a girl. I don't hide the fact that I'm a stripper; if someone asks about my job, I'm happy to tell them what it is and answer reasonable questions about it. I run group discussion about sex in the student clubs I'm involved in, and I readily dish out advice and resources when people tell me they're having a sexual problem. Hell, I'm even trying to start a student club completely based around discussion about sex.

So that part hasn't changed. But here, in college, I have completely avoided being branded as a slut. Entirely. I haven't even gotten a single negative reaction from anyone when I've told them I'm a stripper. Those who don't know me well always seem to expect that I'll be delicate and shy when it comes to sex. A frat brother I hooked up with two years ago recently apologized to me for being an asshole because apparently he'd been leading me on and using me for sex. Which, of course, implies that I wasn't leading him on and using him for sex.

And it's not like I go to a liberal college where this would make sense. One girl on my freshman hall earned the moniker "Popcorn Pants P" because she gained a reputation for sleeping around. My friend T, the one who got me into stripping, recently heard about a conversation an entire fraternity had about her. Apparently they were telling stories about how she'd had sex with animals, and mass quantities of group sex, and how she's in porn, etc. She is no more sexual than I am, and even less public about it, and yet she is definitely branded as a campus slut and has trouble finding men (she is heteroflexible) to take her seriously as a romantic partner.

I have not had to deal with any of this. Which is damn confusing. Last night when I was talking to T about her reputation struggles, I started to wonder why. Why would I somehow be exempt from the backlash that being comfortable with my sexuality usually has in our culture and on this campus? I definitely don't mind escaping the issue, but there's something at play here besides just the amount of sex I have and talk about.

I looked at my friend T. I think she is gorgeous, but she is what she calls "curvy." I am a thin girl, just as a consequence of my genes and metabolism. T also has a very fair complexion, and while she is definitely white, she looks very Irish, as though from a newly immigrated family. I am a clearly WASPy woman; I've got pale but unremarkable skin, an average but pretty face, and generally look like an All-American girl next door. T tends to be aggressive in conversation, and is loud. I'm not exactly soft-spoken but I tend to be more manipulative (a lovely trait I've inherited from my mother) than pushy

P, too, was slightly overweight and blonde. She was very pretty and had an hourglass figure. Very Marilyn Monroe. I have auburn hair, and I'm tall and thin. Not "blonde, big tits, your average nightmare."

So......what? I look harmless? This is an issue of how I look? It's an issue of my privilege as a white, anglo-saxon, protestant, thin, accomodating, friendly, woman? Fuck that, it makes me angry. I try to avoid my rich white guilt and use my privilege for good rather than evil, but it's so hard not to get fired up by it. Nobody wants the slut label, nobody wants to be treated like shit that way, but I shouldn't be exempt just because I look like a "nice girl."

Nice girls "don't." I definitely DO. But I never get tickets when I'm pulled over by the cops. I don't even cry, I just look complacent and get a warning. I don't get shit on by the customers at work as much as some of the other girls. I just smile through it. Just because of the way that I look, I am held to different standards of behavior, dress, and even speed than everyone else.

And wow, that's fucked up.

Random Reaction to Class: Penis Envy

So I know that Freudian theory is pretty much out of fashion these days, and it's considered archaic and "nobody pays any attention to it anymore," but of course we're still studying it in school. It's the background for anything to do with any kind of psychological theory, and as such I think what it said still has an effect on what we think.

That said, I absolutely hate the idea of penis envy. I do not have penis envy. Penis envy makes me angry. "Oh, no, boys have a penis and I don't have a penis, so I am Lacking and I am sad!" Um, no.

I HAVE a vagina, and a clitoris, and lips, and moisture. I HAVE multiple orgasms and as they say in the Vagina Monologues "twice, twice, TWICE the number of nerve endings in the penis." I HAVE genitals of my own. I don't need a penis. Hell, I think a lot of guys have pussy envy.

That is all.

First Time

I sat on the side of her bed with my knees tucked up under my chin and watched the sun rise. She lived on the eleventh floor, and because the building was so far from the main campus, all I could see out the window were the sports fields and the river and the tops of a couple of tall buildings beyond the trees. It didn't rain that night, but it was cloudy and the sun made colors in the sky over the damp grass and dripping chain link fences.

M had turned off The L Word around 4:30 and she and J were trying to sleep. Poor J was curled up on the foot of the bed, not really able to fit. I had gotten myself out from under M's arm so I could sit up and look out the window. There was a pressure in my head behind my eyes, but I wouldn't sleep at all. The window was too compelling, and my brain was buzzing so I could almost hear it in my ears.

I had been standing at the window for a while when they woke up, glancing at the bed every few minutes before lifting my hands to my face to smell the novel spiciness on the tips of my fingers. That was one thing about M. You could always smell her. Even later, when we danced on an awkward club night, I could smell her through the press of bodies on the floor.

M didn't think we should walk home alone, so I went with J as far as the edge of campus. We grinned at each other a little bit sideways, and I apologized if we kept her up. "You don't mean that," she said, and smiled. I didn't think she'd minded. "I have a girlfriend" didn't mean she hadn't watched from her corner of the bed.

I stood for a minute or two and looked in the direction where she'd tromped off down the path. I was just breathing. My breaths had been shallow for months, my head pointed at the ground, and as I walked back across the empty campus to my room I finally filled my lungs. I smelled my fingers again, and the cold morning was like a seasoning for what was still there so strongly. I didn't want to wash my hands that day. Like the time in high school when I showed up to burgers with my friends and couldn't help but grin and announce "I smell like cock."

Before I took off my skirt and boots from the party and crawled into my bed, I scrawled a note on the white board outside my door. "Claire, don't worry about me. I got back okay. It's 7am now, and I'm going to sleep. I'll see you when I wake up." My sheets were so smooth, and my pillows so soft, and I smiled a little as I finally let go of my own head and let my bones sink downward.

My last thought as I fell asleep was excited, not foreboding. "I'll have to tell Morgan about this tomorrow."

Notes from Afar on the AVN Expo

I've been reading and watching a lot of coverage of the AVN Adult Entertainment Expo (thanks to Fleshbot, Audacia Ray, and Jayme Waxman) recently.

I just wanted to note that the most talked about booth at AVN, by far, is the Abby Winters booth. Now, that makes a lot of sense since the gorgeous models from the site camped out in underwear doing yoga and making out all day, but I think there are some very good things about the amount of attention they've received.

These women are definitely not your "average" porn stars. No augmented breasts, no makeup (!), and a somewhat more representative range of body types. Granted, the women who traveled to Las Vegas were generally thin and relatively well endowed in the bust region, but a quick glimpse of the Abby Winters website shows that they're not afraid to leave the usual porn realm of teeny tiny women with ginormous breasts and really long fingernails.

All the videos and pictures on the site are shot by women, they don't use airbrushing, and they even "use green energy" and have "company bicycles." I also liked that they have shoots of women doing yoga, dancing, running, tumbling etc. Part of objectification of women has always been reducing the female body to sex and sex alone, ignoring the other things it can do: move, lift, run, sit, etc. Granted, they're pictures meant for masturbation, but they at least acknowledge that women do more with their bodies than fuck.

Now, I'm not saying the site is perfect. There is always the implication of a male viewer in this all-female paradise. The site heavily emphasizes the authenticity of the models and the shoots, but they play on the idea of a voyeur. I haven't cut the following blurb from their website tour at all: "it’s not a fantasy – it’s reality! What will happen next? Who will get naked first? How do friends react to each other? Imagine if you were there too!" Imagining if "you were there too" is clearly a fantasy, but they are trying to blur that line. The viewer is still meant to place HIMself in the scene in his imagination.

BUT I like the site as a woman-friendly, authentic-female-orgasm-showing, and just plain sexy porn site. I think its popularity at AVN should be a message to at least someone in the porn industry that men (and women) are not always looking for the overblown, plasticized porn star. We want realistic women, too. I'd love to see more of them in porn.

How'd You Decide to Do This?

About a year and a half ago my friend T left her job at the B***** strip club with a cocaine habit and a bad feeling about men. She's what some would call "overweight" and the Barrel was the only place she could find work as a dancer. I think she's beautiful and curvy, but most Rochester club managers disagreed. The B***** catered to a seedy clientèle and as T told me "liked their girls fucked up." They would give the women free drinks, and encouraged the men to tip in drugs. It was a dirty, unsafe place.

She's the one who introduced me to the idea of being a dancer. She used to say it as a half joke in the middle of a jug of sangria when I'd complain about not having spending money. "You could always be a stripper."

Eventually the idea infiltrated our sober conversations. Although her recent experiences at the B***** were unpleasant, T talked fondly of the club where she had worked during the summer home from school. She had learned there to feel good about her body, had some fun with the dancing, and the good money had allowed her to continue school even after her emotionally stinted father cut her off.

I was curious about stripping--whether it would actually be objectifying, what the other women would be like. I tend to use my life as a social experiment, and stripping was no exception. I was fascinated by the sex industry, and I wanted more first-hand experience with it to gauge my feelings about sex workers and their patrons. I'd always rather try something myself than rely on second-hand accounts.

I think the most important reason I'm a stripper, though, is the hardest to define. I'm 20 years old, and as I'm (finally) leaving my teens I'm beginning to understand that I'm a desirable person. I grew up as a "smart kid," and therefore was not supposed to be sexy, at all. (Thanks, American culture.) Of course, I rebelled against that and determinedly became a "slut" in high school, but I never quite shook the feeling that I was undeserving of desire. I "dated down" with any guy or girl who showed an interest. I didn't think I could do any better.

So when I started stripping, I wanted to be publicly desired. My self esteem doesn''t rest on the dollar amount I make each night, but it's definitely an ego boost to go to work every day to attention and compliments from many men. It's not just about my body. I know that I'm selling my personality and my mind just as much as I am selling the vision of my titties. At the club, I get to see how total strangers react to who I am and how I choose to act.

The other day, Audacia Ray (awesome sex activism blogger) wrote about her struggles with body image in the sex industry. She talked about "that intense need to see myself represented...in order to understand." I identify with that. I really don't think of myself as pretty. I've got this self concept of a nerdy girl, reading in the corner. I take pride now in my nerd-hood, but I still feel unsexy. I've always had a hard time reconciling my sexuality and my smarts, and the stripping is an attempt to understand how they fit together.

Of course, when people ask me daily "How'd you decide to do this?" I don't tell them about all of that. It's much easier to leave it with a cute, pat answer and move on. I probably still don't understand all of my reasons for taking this job. You know, the subconscious and all of that must have something to do with it. But that's okay. I can just accept that my reasons are as complex and difficult to pin down as the job itself. I have a good time and learn a lot, and that's good enough reason for me.

Buyin' Bodies

I've been on a quest for porn lately. Despite my interest in sexuality and sexual culture, I never really learned much about porn. I feel like I'm behind the times, and I want to catch up.

So I've been trolling for websites and generally spending winter vacation being a busy porn seeker. I've had some success, but I'm still feeling tentative. Like so many other people, I've seen lots of porn that was more of a turn off than a turn on. I'm excited, though, to find some things that actually float my boat.

I had a strange experience recently, in the midst of this quest. I had just gotten access to Suicide Girls—you know, the popular website with nude pinup photos of alt-y young women with tattoos and piercings and colored hair. Each woman on the site has a page, informing the public of her age, interests, occupation, etc, and links to each of her photo shoots, with titles like “Red Doll Army,” “Rainy Afternoon Kitten,” and “Lovely Lounger.” There are about a thousand Suicide Girls, and I browsed through, trying to figure out which ones I wanted to look at more closely, who I wanted to see naked.

It was my first real experience with being a consumer of nudity, of this kind of porn. I've done some porn shopping before, particularly in the last month, but never like this. Here, there are so many face shots, so many bios, and I am literally looking through them to decide what I want. “I don’t know if I’m in the mood for a blonde today, I’m thinking dark hair.” “She’s sweet looking, but I don’t think I like her tattoos.” It’s very literally being a consumer. I am weighing the products I’m going to buy—except that the products are women.

As a stripper, I'm usually on the other end of that transaction. Every time there's a shift change at work, all the dancers on the clock get up on the stage and pose and prance around together so the gentleman callers can peruse their options. The management calls it "cabaret." One of my coworkers refers to it as "the auction block." Even given this, some men will wait until the end of the night to buy a dance. They want to make sure they get the product—the girl—they like the most. It’s the same thing. Buying a woman.

It was very weird, then, to have it turned around on me. You don't see women having this kind of choice very often. I haven’t heard much about men stripping for women. There’s Chippendale’s, but have you ever heard of a male strip club where women get to do the tipping and straight men do the stripping? I haven’t. What male go-go bars exist are usually geared towards gay men, and performed at by gay men. Apparently a majority of the Chippendale dancers are gay, as well.

On the Suicide Girls website, there is a new section for Suicide Boys, alt-y tattooed men who put photos of themselves online for women (and other men) to browse through. However, there are no profession photo shoots in this section of the website. There is no official Suicide Boys website, it's simply a subgroup of the part of Suicide Girls that's "like Myspace for adults." Anyone can post his photos. I'm glad it exists, but even on the progressive Suicide Girls site, it's a lesser, less popular section.

I wish that it was a better frequented part of the site.
That more women could and would go check out the hot guys. I didn't feel entirely comfortable with what I was doing once I realized that I was in such a consumer's mindset in terms of the Suicide Girls' bodies, but maybe it was actually an important thing for me to do. I was exploring my sexual tastes and fantasies, and giving myself permission to choose who I wanted to look at. I'm learning to apply that in the real world: choosing who I sleep with based on my desires instead of always just going with those who want me. I suppose that's revolutionary in its own way, not giving in to the desires of men to boost my self esteem. I hope more women begin to do it, so that the commodification of sexuality stops being so gender biased. Let's encourage those Suicide Boys.
On living, loving, learning, and fucking with the materials I've got at hand.

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