New at This

I don’t remember my first time on the strip club stage very well.

I’d bought an outfit a few days beforehand, a tiny bikini top and matching g-string number in red with skulls on it and a little pleated black skirt. I was wearing makeup, I know, which I’d gotten out of the habit of doing on my college campus. No need to put on makeup when you’re going to class in your pajama pants.

I remember talking to the manager, and I stuttered when he asked me my age. I can’t get used to saying “twenty” because it doesn’t have a “teen” at the end of it. Takes a while to adjust to a new decade.

“Nineteen,” I spit out, and I had to awkwardly correct myself. He raised an eyebrow at me, but he was looking at my California license. It’s got an old picture; they took it when I was fifteen. He photocopied it and then told me in a brusque voice that I’d be doing two songs and that I needed to be in just my g-string by the last song. He’d be watching from the back.

He went through a list of rules. No showing my pussy; if the lips stuck out on stage I’d be fired. No touching the men at the tip rail. I needed to be wearing "pasties" (ie clear glitter fabric paint or body glitter) at all times onstage. I was to dance and move, I was not to just stand there or sing along with my songs. One of the girls would show me how to work the jukebox in the back.

After that, though, I forget what it was like. I’ve been on that stage so many times that I can’t remember how it was when I started. I know how I dance now, but I can only imagine what I looked like when I was new. How I felt, even.

You can always tell when a girl is just starting. V would dance in the corners, her back to the men, uncomfortable being naked. A used to thrust her pelvis as she walked, which made her look like a bony ostrich, lurching across the stage. M couldn’t sway her hips much when she started; her movements were jerky and her shoulders moved out of synch with the rest of her skinny frame. Jerky is a common thing for newcomers. I’ve been there long enough now to watch the girls get more graceful the longer they last at the bar.

I do remember seeing myself under the black lights for the first time. It’s an insider secret that I love to tell. The black lights that they hang over the stage make everyone look great. They smooth out your skin, make your hair shine, give your eyes an odd white gleam. Even girls’ expressions look less strained under the black lights. I remember looking at myself in the huge mirrors that surround the stage and thinking, “Huh. I look good.”

That’s the biggest thing that’s changed for me since I started dancing. It’s such a superficial, external way to learn it, but I can finally see myself as pretty now. As attractive. I can believe that someone would want to be with me, at least sexually. Hell, men will pay me to let them see my skin. It’s got to mean something.

I have an idea, now, that I am a whole package. I have to employ my charm, my smarts, my personality or I would never make any money. “Hey baby, you wanna buy a dance?” will never be as effective as talking to someone, listening to them, letting them see enough of me to want to get closer, learn more. I can’t win them all, but I’ve learned that my personality, too, can be attractive.

I still can’t look in the mirror and see a pretty girl. A hot girl. Beautiful? Whatever. I still see the little features I don’t like about myself: my chin is a little loose, my eyes are slightly differently sized, my hair is completely unmanageable. Whatever. But at least I’m starting to be able to think of myself (even if it’s just in words not images) as an appealing girl. I can say “Thank you” now when someone gives me a compliment.

Of course, that’s superficial. In the end, there are more important things. It’s not like I was going to let feeling unattractive stop me from doing what I wanted, from having sex, from giving love, from seeking work, from exercising my smarts.

But it feels good to live comfortably in my body, to not apologize for it all the time, to feel that in some way I can choose when and how to use it. I can have sexual agency, because I don't feel like being unattractive is going to be a barrier to getting what or who I want. I choose my partners now because I am attracted to them, not just because they show some interest in me.

Ill gotten though it may be, that’s a cool feeling.


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

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