Friends! I'm experimenting with a new feature here at Yes and Yes - a series of interviews with interesting people called "True Story." I'm got all sorts of intriguing interviews on deck: identical twins, hot shot forest firefighters, anthropologists living with hill tribes, trekkies! Let's kick it off with this super interesting interview with a former stripper!
How did you become a stripper?When I turned 18, my top priority was to "grow up" and become independent as soon as possible. To me, true independence meant never having to ask my parents for money -- though they were more than willing to provide it. I hated the fact that they paid for my car, my college tuition, my food ... I had a joe-job slinging wheatgrass at a juice bar, and I got a scholarship to help with my tuition, but living in Los Angeles ain't cheap. My meager income wasn't nearly enough to survive on, and it drove me nuts. I felt so infantilized and trapped.
Just before my 19th birthday, I saw an ad for an "amateur night" contest at a local strip club. I'd always been a pretty repressed young lady -- perfect grades, respectable hobbies, never so much as a parking ticket -- but something about the idea of exotic dancing captivated my imagination. The amateur night was a few weeks away, so I slowly built up to it ... first I bought myself some 6-inch platform heels, then I practiced walking around my room, then I got myself a lacy lingerie set, then I picked out my setlist ("You Shook Me All Night Long" by AC / DC and "Vivrant Thing" by A Tribe Called Quest).
Finally, the night of my big debut arrived. Standing backstage, I was completely terrified -- not because I was about to expose my body to a room full of strangers, but because I was convinced I would trip and fall! But the moment I stepped onstage, I went into an altered state. Turns out, I was a total natural. I won second place -- competing against several dancers who were far from "amateurs," I'll have you know -- and made $400 on the spot. The rush of adrenaline and exhilaration was indescribable. I knew, without a doubt, that my life was about to shift dramatically.
Tell us about the place where you worked.I stripped for about 3 years, primarily at two clubs: The Jet Strip (Los Angeles) and Ecstasy Theater (Orange County). The Jet Strip was essentially a cozy neighborhood dive bar, but with naked ladies. Most of the customer were "regulars" -- or as they jokingly called themselves, "pathetic losers" (PLs for short). The dancers were exceptionally diverse -- every ethnicity, body type and educational background was represented. Unfortunately, the place was run by a mega-douchebag named Billy -- a red-faced, testosterone junkie who managed the club like an oppressive dictator. I quit after about a year, largely due to Billy's appalling behavior. Most of my regulars followed me to my next club, Ecstasy Theater.
Ecstasy was a female-owned club run by a former stripper. The clientele was mainly businessmen and college students -- an interesting mix of big spenders and frat boys. Unlike Jet girls, Ecstasy girls were polished and "perfect" -- in a very conventional, Maxim magazine sort of way. I worked out 3-4 days a week with a personal trainer and had standing hair, nail and tanning appointments, just to keep myself in Ecstasy-worthy shape. The earning potential was insane -- $700 to $1,000 dollars a night was pretty standard. The downside was that I had to drive nearly four hours (round trip) to work at the club ... driving back home at 4 am and getting into bed at 6 am totally tweaked my sleeping schedule, making it difficult to spend time with friends and family during the daylight hours.
What were your co-workers like?
There are certain stereotypes about strippers: they're all drug addicts, they're all skanky, they're all single moms. I won't lie -- I met more than a few drug-addled slutty baby mommas. But I also met PhD students, professional tattoo artists, fashion models, real estate agents, event planners and hair stylists. The happy, healthy dancers had three things in common: a day job, a savings plan and an exit strategy.
You're a lesbian. Do you think that made it easier for you to strip for men?
You know, I really think it did. For one thing, getting to watch spectacular women twirl around a pole for hours on end was a pretty sweet workplace perk. And unlike some of the straight and bisexual girls, I was able to maintain a black-and-white divide between my stripping persona and my real-life personality. I didn't socialize with male customers after work ... I didn't develop crushes on them ... I didn't dream about them "rescuing" me from my current lot in life. And -- perhaps more importantly -- I didn't despise or belittle them. I could relate to their longing, their loneliness and their desire for female companionship, because I shared those feelings, too.
What were your patrons like?
Hilarious. Beautiful. Generous. Flawed. I picked my customers pretty selectively, and they were all over the map in terms of income level, age and relationship status. Most of them never knew my real name, but we forged deep connections that lasted weeks, months, years. I still keep in touch with one or two of them, believe it or not!
How did stripping effect your ideas about sexuality and commitment?
Stripping taught me that "chemistry" -- for lack of a better word -- can explode in very unlikely pairings. I'm a gay lady, so I wasn't exactly lusting after my male customers, but I nevertheless felt chemically drawn to certain guys: an obese school teacher, a weedy nerd with terrible fashion sense, an elderly gent with a creased face and feathery hair. The "spark" wasn't exactly sexual (at least not for me) but it was something. It was real. To this day, my strongest friendships with men fall into that gray zone between "I want to know you" and "I want to sleep with you." Learning to feel comfortable in that zone, without having to put a label on it, was a big part of my coming-out process.
You have a cool, 'grown-up' job now. How did you get around that time on your resume?
I took a two-year leave of absence from college when I first started stripping, because I was deeply unhappy and had no flippin' idea what I wanted to study. But during that time, I added a number of impressive jewels to my resume: I worked as an assistant producer at an independent film company, got a research grant to study alternative medicine and doctor-patient relationships, earned my helicopter pilots license, read voraciously and developed a writing "voice."
Once I made the commitment to complete my undergraduate degree, I went full-throttle, taking extra courses during regular semesters and squeezing in even more credits during winter and summer school sessions. I wound up graduating with my BA at the exact same time as my high school friends -- even though I'd taken a significant "detour!"
Would you ever go back to stripping?If I did, it would require serious physical preparation! I'm still pretty attractive (at least in my own mind) but my 25-year old "retired-stripper" physique is considerably softer than my 19-year old body. It would be kinda hilarious to stage a grand comeback tour, though ... hmmm ... !!! :)
What advice would you give to ladies who are considering getting into stripping?
Ooh, list time! Here are my top three pieces of sage wisdom for would-be strippers:
(1) Have a specific savings plan and a clear timeframe, and write it down to reinforce it. Do you want to save $30,000 and take a yearlong sabbatical to write a novel? Pay off your credit card bills and graduate from college debt-free? Make a 10% down-payment on a house? Pay for your own damn wedding? All of the above? Whatever it is, stay focused. To quote esteemed financial adviser / rapper Xzibit: "make that money, don't let it make you."
(2) Pay your taxes. All of them. Every year. Really. I can't stress this enough. It can be very tempting to sock away rolls of cash and never declare it to the IRS, but that is a terrible idea. Get an accountant you can trust, write off your legitimate business expenses (hello, manicures!) and pay the government what you owe. Getting audited is no fun, no matter what you do. Getting audited when you're a stripper? Double-plus-no-fun.
(3) Be very cautious about who you confide in. Not everyone will understand your motivations, and some people (i.e. parents) will worry themselves sick. Come up with a believable cover story (ideally one that's grounded in truth) about where your money is coming from. Better yet, get a day job -- even if it's just part-time -- to deflect raised eyebrows and probing interrogations. Or, pull a Diablo Cody and write a best-selling memoir. Either way, be prepared for the potential backlash.