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 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.


On living, loving, learning, and fucking with the materials I've got at hand.

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