Responding to Greta Christina
This is a response to Greta Christina’s call for current and former sex workers to share their stories. I encourage you to forward this to any frineds who might have something meaningful to add. I really wish Kitty were still around as she would have so much to tell. I might take a stab at what she would have said based on things she told me later.
Why did you get into the sex industry?
There were a couple strippers I was trying to impress. The club had a monthly male amateur night with the potential to make a good deal of side money and a lot of the female dancers attended. I had just spent several months getting in the best shape of my life (after spending most of my life slightly overweight) and wanted to show it off. Plus, it was a performance art thing. A lot of my routines were designed around humor, but the local comedy club didn’t want people stripping naked. It also gave me a lot of material for my stand-up act.
Edit: Now that I’ve read through a lot of the other responses (as I encourage all of you to do as well), I realize that I should have mentioned rebellion. I was raised in a conservative Christian environment that emphasized respect for women and wanting to have sex with a woman was the most disrespectful, dehumanizing thing you could do, unless she was your wife. Then it was OK. I wanted to prove that it was perfectly possible to see a woman naked and still respect her as a person and wanted to relate to these people who had been so thoroughly demonized in my upbringing as a way of ditching it for good.
Did you freely choose this work? Were you in any way forced or coerced into it? Were you pressured into it by economic or other pressure?
Does peer pressure count? Several of the female dancers suggested it, but it’s not like they had to twist my arm. I had a day job that paid way more money than I knew what to do with, so there was no economic pressure. After I lost my day job, I think for moonlighting as a stripper, though that isn’t what they said, the money became a lot more important for a few months. It’s one of the few jobs where the only qualification is that you haven’t been previously banned from the premises and you have an ID saying you’re over eighteen, though it takes more than that to make money. It helped keep me afloat in this interim period.
Why did you go into the particular line(s) of sex work that you did?
It’s what was available locally. There was no Craigslist back in 2005 to look for johns and even if there were, too many guys were giving it away free to make money at it, not that the idea really appealed to me anyway. A friend of mine suggested that I go into porn, but I’m not a consistent performer, especially with people I don’t know, so that basically left stripping and modeling and I had no idea how to break into the latter.
What, if anything, did/do you like about the work?
I got to set my own rules. I could dance to whatever music I liked, do whatever kind of dance I liked, shamelessly flirt with women (especially that hot older lady who worked the snack counter at the college I attended) and occasionally, men and not get called into the boss’s office and told I had to stop. I probably could have made more money if I had been less esoteric, but it was only my money on the line, so no one got on my case.
I got to interact with a lot of strippers (including a few I had crushes on) outside the customer/worker dynamic and gave me lots to talk about with them. It led to spending a lot of time with them outside of the strip club and talking about pets and kids and fashion and not just the usual turn-on/turn-off bullshit. Once, one of them tried to pull me into the dressing room on female amateur night to do me up in drag when there weren’t enough contestants, but several of the other dancer objected to me being back there and the owners weren’t really crazy about the idea.
I ended up getting to know people far better than I would have which taught me a lot about people I wouldn’t have likely come in contact with in my parents’ social circle. A couple of the other male strippers taught me how to dance and some of the women taught me how to pole-dance, though I can only do a few basic tricks. Most importantly, this played a large role in meeting and dating Kitty, who’s the closest friend I ever had.
What, if anything, did/do you not like about the work?
Some of the guys I danced with were cool. Some were homophobes, misogynists or otherwise assholes. I have a whole bunch of anecdotes related to this, but I will save them for later dates as each one really warrants its own post.
I had to remove most or all of my body hair if I wanted to make any money (and not get mocked by the DJ). I can understand the aesthetic reasons. I wouldn’t want to watch a hairy male stripper either. I’m very hairy, though. This was a huge ordeal and I had some unpleasant mishaps with Nair where I burned myself or mostly dissolved my fingernails.
I also saw a lot of alcoholism and drug addiction up close. It really worried me to see people about drink themselves to death pretty much every time they came and I felt helpless to stop it. Most of my negatives about sex work come from watching my ex-girlfriend, Kitty, though. The women went through far worse of everything I saw and did get hassled by management, but that’s off-topic for this post. I will talk about it in more detail later.
On the whole, did/do you like the work, dislike it, or feel neutral about it?
I liked it. I wasn’t excited enough about it to drive a couple of hours to a town with a full-time male strip club (and more gay customers, who were more my demographic) like some of the ladies at Stripper Web suggested, mainly because I don’t like driving, but it was responsible for a lot of the most important events in my life.
What are your feelings about your customers?
Most of them were good. They just wanted to flirt with someone who was young and in shape and see some genitalia. A few were annoyingly grabby.
Have your feelings about the work changed with time? If you no longer work in the sex industry, did your feelings about the work change after you left it?
Yes. It put me kind of on the front-lines of slut shaming to see the damage done, which is the main reason it pisses me off so much now. It also cured me of any rescue mindset I’d had about sex workers pretty thoroughly and moved me from an idealized view of sex work to a more realistic one. I ended up far more supportive of prostitution and also far more aware of the bullshit that goes on behind the scenes. Some of it happens in any job, but a lot of problems are mostly unique to the sex field. I recommend reading my previous article about why I don’t go to strip clubs anymore. A lot of this has more to do with what I was Kitty go through than what I went through, So I’ll save it for another post.
If you still work in the sex industry, do you feel free to leave it? If you no longer work in the sex industry, did you feel free to leave it? If not, what restraints did/do you have?
The only restraint on me was losing the money and the social connections. The money was never huge amounts and the social connections with the few people I really cared about were solid, so this became less of a concern. I left because I was losing my hair and less money was coming in and I didn’t really need it anymore. Also, I got another job with a schedule that made going difficult.
Is there anything else you want people to know about your experience of sex work?
It wasn’t the highest-paying job I had. When you count all the grooming I had to do into my time, my hourly rate wasn’t exceptional, but I still enjoyed it more than anything else I’ve ever done for money. On the other hand, I also saw some of the most upsetting things I’ve ever seen through the industry, but that was more because of my contact with Kitty’s work than my own. For your viewing enjoyment, here is a relatively work-safe picture from one of my routines. I wish I had high-quality pictures of more of them, especially the Mario-themed one that’s the source of my avatar.