Stripping and "Hating" and Dating Men

When I first started stripping, I heard from lots of my coworkers and a few of my friends in the industry that the job would make me hate men. They said that when you do sex work, you see the worst in men and so it is inevitable that you start to dislike them at least a little. I didn't write this off entirely, as of course they had experience at that point and I didn't, but I hoped that it would be different for me.

I was, I rationalized, doing sex work for different reasons than most of them. I didn't need the money, I just kind of wanted to see what it was like to dance naked and get paid for it. I figured this privilege would protect me from making some of the compromises they might have had to, would protect me from a changing opinion of men. I knew the industry would definitely alter me, as everything in life does, but I figured my compassion could hold up to it in that regard.

Well, my compassion is certainly still there. I feel sorry for men much more than I hate them. But things have definitely changed in my feelings towards them.

I've been thinking about my recent heterosexual trend, wondering why my attention has been so much more on men than on women. It hasn't been for lack of physical attraction to women; it's just that when I meet a nicer (and attractive) man, my focus zooms in on him immediately. He stands out to me. This hasn't been happening much with women.

It occurred to me that I've got a little reaction formation going on when it comes to men. (Wikipedia: In psychoanalytic theory, reaction formation is a defensive process in which anxiety-producing or unacceptable emotions and impulses are mastered by exaggeration of the directly opposing tendency.) In this case, I'm very uncomfortable with and somewhat dislike men, so I've been dating them.

So I certainly don't hate men, but I do hate a lot of the things a lot of them do. I don't much like being objectified without my permission. (Accepting money for it is giving permission.) I don't like it when they assume I'm sexually available or feelingless based on my orientation or relationship style or job. I feel almost paranoid about being imposed upon by them, pushed into ways of being or thinking of myself that I don't like, and it affects me from day to day.

So I'm very defended against them. In order to protect myself, I have to be paying attention to the men around me at all times. I'm expending an enormous amount of energy and attention on making sure I don't interact with men in ways that will hurt me. I'm super up front about my job, orientation, and relationship style so that I can immediately avoid the men who objectify them. Putting up barriers like that takes a good amount of effort and so I'm always very aware of men.

What this means is that when I do find a guy who's nice to me, who doesn't do those things I hate, I've already been paying oodles of attention to him in order to find that out. It seems notable, remarkable, that he's not going to be sexist towards me. I appreciate him a lot. I date him, if he's available. There you go. I'm not as afraid of women, and so this happens less often.

(As a side note: I don't claim this is a rational reaction to anything. These are feelings and my attempt to understand them.)

Now, back to stripping. Stripping didn't force me somehow to have these feelings towards men. It's not even that men act much differently at a strip club than they do in general. In fact it's just the opposite, and that's the problem. Stripping commodifies the sexist interactions that exist every day, everywhere. It puts a monetary value on them and so it makes them very, very obvious.

As a stripper, I have to trade somewhat in misogyny, to play off it and manipulate it so that I can get lap dances and tips and avoid groping and slurs. It's something I simultaneously like and hate about the job. I've learned oodles about gender roles, particularly about what's dysfunctional in masculinity. I like learning. However, this knowledge makes it hard to move comfortably in a world that's so full of sexism. I'm just so aware all the time. I can't really sit back and accept it, learn to ignore it, bite the harness and move on like women have been doing for centuries. I'm psychologically fighting it out most of the time.

I'd like to try to shift my focus a little. It's probably unnecessary and certainly draining to be so defended all the time. I'd like to learn, in my day to day activities if not my scholarship and activism, to brush off sexist men. I don't want to let them inside my head, let them affect me, which is something I do have control over even when I can't change their behavior. It'd be nice, even, to spend more time with women and live more in a sisterhood community where I can feel safe. Focus on safety, on whom I am comfortable with rather than on whom I'm not.

I suppose it's a lesson for me as an activist. I want to keep working to change the things in the world that strike me as unfair and wrong, the things that make me angry and hurt me. I need also, though, to focus on healing from that anger and hurt. It's just as important.


Myca said...

I want to keep working to change the things in the world that strike me as unfair and wrong, the things that make me angry and hurt me. I need also, though, to focus on healing from that anger and hurt. It's just as important.

I'd say it's actually more important. I think of it like being on a plane, when the oxygen masks drop ... you're supposed to get yours on first, before you help any children around you. That's because without being safe yourself, you will be much less able to help others to become safe.

The same thing is true here. Your first job ... everyone's first job ... is to be okay and healthy in your life. That's not selfish, or at least not selfish in a negative way. Taking care of yourself is its own justification.

In other words: This is really healthy! Yay for you!


Meyer_Lansky said...

Just found your blog by chance on an internet search and wanted to let you know I really appreciate this post. I'm a bisexual college graduate in an open relationship who recently started working as a stripper for similar reasons as those you state. It's just nice to see someone thinking about the same things. :)

cardboardjesus said...

Girl, you're such a fucking badass. Miss you loads. Can't wait to catch up in the city :)

Anonymous said...

As an escort (in the process of retiring after 6 years), I can relate to the sentiments. I don't "hate" men either, but sex work comes with an array of illusions that, once shattered, can damage relations with the opposite sex. Lucky that you were warned early on; I had no idea what to expect long-term and hoped by handling my business differently than others, in a way that's more comfortable for me personally, that this would alleviate jading. But I was wrong apparently.

And as you stated in a more recent post, it's one thing to have an understanding that misogyny comes with the job (to an extent, within reason where enforceable), quite another to be harassed while out and about in your day-to-day life. After a while, it's easy to feel as though the only value you present to others is sexual. That can be a tough thing for anyone to rehabilitate themselves back from believing.

Having a close, strong social network outside of sex work (or, in your case, exotic dancing) certainly helps, but for some that's easier said than attained. Even with a few good friends and family members in my life, my interactions with and feelings for men still changed over time and now there appears to be no going back to who I was before embarking down this path. For better or worse, I suppose. Hence why sex work is jokingly compared to a marriage: some make peace and others end in a bitter divorce. My goal was always to avoid the latter, though again, easier said than done.

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

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