Most of the comments I get when I’m dancing I brush under the rug. Most I even forget, never write about. Most I don’t immortalize. But I didn’t get on this stage without a reason or without passion. I never stop asking myself the same questions. How do we make the strip tease subversive, how do we communicate pleasure; do I LIKE this? What do they think, does it make a difference.
Something about the other night compels me to write again. Maybe the same thing I always write, draw the same conclusions I always draw. It began with the boy who gave me the finger when I got on stage and said something about this—me—being total shit. That was before I even began to move and then when I began he stood there at the front of the audience with his back to me onstage and his middle fingers raised to me (couldn’t even face me with his insult). He was dressed as a “punk” of all things. I trust punks. Somehow one expects that kind of behavior from the so-called “bad macho boss,” not that he would do that in a physical way but that he would do that with the way that he “treats” and “values” you (But how is this measured anyway? In cash? Is this “value”?). But you don’t expect it from a punk—punks are political and edgy. A punk would throw the finger at the capitalist MAN. So I think, while I’m dancing, he must associate me with the capitalist man. And I must be the enemy.
That shook me somehow, which made my head go into analysis mode, which means I dance like shit. Then I’m disqualified me from sexinesss and this pisses me off more. I had given him the benefit of the doubt, thinking, yea, if I didn’t look like a classic femme stripper tonight I would be subverting this image that he clearly has a problem with. I was trying to give this guy some intellect.
I thought in my head, I should “do something” to subvert this stereotype that I appear to be playing right now. After all, isn’t this what I’ve devoted my performance career to? But then I thought again—really? Really? The only way to hold respect up here is to refuse to look like the so-called bimbo every stripper supposedly is? I thought—really—do I really have to work at subverting this stereotype when we’re all a bunch of clichés? You’re HERE. You’re paying entrance, buying a gin-tonic, supporting this establishment, coming up to the front of this dance floor, acting like you control what should happen on this stage. This is a capitalist role-play—you buying and me providing. If I wear a mustache to subvert something in YOUR head—does that really change anything about me? Does that really make me a different person? What if today I feel like wearing lace—wouldn’t doing exactly what I WANT be way more subversive than trying to guess at what you want?
A part of me wished I had kicked that asshole in the head with my red stiletto, but in truth I don’t believe in violent protest, so I didn’t, I confronted him verbally from the stage by asking if there was a problem. He still wouldn’t look at me but his girlfriend, who was apparently trying to pacify him, said, no, there is no problem and I said, you know, this is my job. I shouldn’t have said that, I should have said, don’t give me the finger. I enjoy being up here. I enjoy dancing. I enjoy taking my clothes off. What makes you think you can determine what happens in this club on this stage just because you paid entrance. This isn’t a fucking McDonalds.
Tell me something. Tell me I’m a bad stripper and your mother would have turned you on more than me, or that I’ve got no rhythm and I look haggard and have dark circles under my eyes. That would have been rude but straightforward. But don’t give me the finger for no reason when I step onstage. Back it up; don’t just be hostile at my very presence.
I couldn’t actually know what it was that bothered that boy. Was I even right? Was he an anti-porn feminist that couldn’t stand to see girls get naked because he just cared so much? Was he trying to “save me”? Did he just hate how I looked? Did he think I was co-opting the punk image and selling it back to him in the form of stripper? God forbid—as though punk were anything about fashion. It was “punk against punk, feminist against feminist.”
But God, without knowing each other all of these identities are so meaningless.
MGMT or some other whiney boy indie rock was playing and it was all a joke. Then they played “Killing in the Name” by Rage Against the Machine and everyone sang “some of those that work forces, are the same that burn crosses” and half of them probably didn’t understand what they were saying. And they yelled, “fuck you I won’t do what you tell me” … but were happy to switch to the juxtaposed song, which was, Prodigy, “slap my bitch up, slap my bitch up.”
I don’t know. All I hear are the lyrics; I take words at face value. I see his middle finger. I feel the sweat on my body. Are these shoes any good for moving? It makes me want to do more of it. It makes me think, fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me. It makes me think, every image I could possibly wear at this moment is a cliché of a cliché of a cliché. But getting to know each other—loving each other—respecting each other—that is punk. That is subversive. That will break down stereotypes.
I finish my 20 minutes and walk to the backstage which is where the girls are, naked and unabashed and raw. Sometimes I think I love strippers and whores more than any other kind of person in the world. We know what we mean and backstage we understand. We have to. We don’t know why we have to fight for a place to change when we’re backstage or why 18 year old boys are sitting on our panties and we have to actually say, can you get off my panties? We just do.
You could say, man that really sucks you should work somewhere else but it’s all the same, almost all backstages are the same crowded places where you can’t see what you’re doing and random people sit on your things. So you just get used to it. You get used to the roadies backstage, even at the biggest festivals who tell you they can’t provide a light next to the stage because of the band. But I AM PART OF THE BAND you say. He is talking about being edgy and artistic and subversive and all you want is a light to see yourself and he can’t give it to you. It’s that simple.
When I go take a break at the bar some guy tells me, “I can’t believe you are here. I mean you—you are so much more than this. You are an artist! You sing! My god this is such shit.” And he’s thinking he’s complimenting me, he says, “she—this is all she has.” He’s referring to my colleague whom I love with a passion this person cannot fathom. “But you—you’re worth more.”
Who the hell does this guy think he is? That girl—she’s a slut and she’s my best friend yea! Rebel girl! Queen of my world! Has radical sex politics, loves her body, flaunts her sexuality, doesn’t care. Enjoys herself –us together—we enjoy ourselves naked and free and dirty.
Don’t tell me I’m worth more than what I’m doing especially after watching my show with a drink in your hand you bought from my employer. I know that I’m worth every teacher artist non-profit worker activist street cleaner suicide bomber soldier and body alive or dead killed in war, any human being any house wife cleaning diapers any farm worker or slave. That’s a whole lot of nothing and a whole of everything.
And oh—quick—someone wants to take my picture.
It all makes me want to dance more. Fuck being an artist, because I do the same thing in the name of art in a gallery and everyone claps their clean hands? Then we can all call ourselves edgy and be pleased. And if not there, then the strip club. It belongs there—can’t be inbetween. All the bullshit makes me want to jump headlong into it more raw, more confronting, more affronting.
Because why is there so much analysis placed on this capitalist work as opposed to any other? When I’m waiting tables—does anyone ever tell me, you’re worth more than this? Do they give me the finger when they see me because they’re worried about my role in this capitalist establishment? No. No they don’t, because I’m not taking off my clothes or confronting them with sexuality in an overt way. I’m bringing them a drink.
And what is WORTH. Worth is something invented by capitalists and some religions in terms of how we’ll be judged for the afterlife. When I am waitressing I never get told—you’re more of an artist than THIS. Actually I get told, “I can’t believe you won’t split my check into 5 separate bills so each of us can pay with our very own Visa mileage plus credit cards so I can get extra miles for my trips around the world, and are you an idiot that you can’t figure out how to accommodate us on the computer?”
Do we do that with any occupations other than sex work, do we say, categorically, on a daily basis, you’re better than this? Do comments and analysis that sex workers and dancers receive get so absorbed as normal in any other milieu? What about jobs where the employee is actually acting in a violent manner? Did we say to the CEO of BP, Tony, man, you should really think about this job, this off shore oil drilling thing you’re doing. You’re so much better than this. We never say this to our soldiers. We don’t say, God, Maria, you used to be an artist, why do you go around killing people, you’re better than this! In fact all of our responses are to taking care of them, the victim response, taking care of you wearing yellow ribbons around my wrist to show that I support the troops and want them to come home. But a good minded person wouldn’t turn their hostility to the solider him or herself. We say, bring them home when we can. Even a corrupt business owner who we’ve caught red-handed—we may punish him for his infringements, but we never question his motivation for being involved with the business in the first place.
For a while I thought, it’s up to me, it’s up to me to subvert THIS THING I do. It’s up to my body to carry the weight of the analysis so they understand and see it all differently. See my enjoyment. See the worth in my dancing. Change their minds that we’re not all “sex objects.” But I am very clearly not an object.
I have worked in this field for a long time now and I am beginning to think that even the subverted gender stereotype, even this is not the final transgression. Not that we shouldn’t continue to play with gender. But to believe that the surface image is where the revolution happens—that is simply to play into the superficiality of the worn body at all, the gender we are wearing. If I were to be me (and I can be nothing else) and to put on mustache or to shave my heard or to wear a suit a dick three breasts fake ass implants whatever it is. I am still beyond all of those things.
It began with the question, what is subversive strip tease? But why do I have to ask this question about strip tease or porn or sex work at all? Why is this work inherently worthless and wrong and condemned and disrespected?
I thought the point was that I am worth more than what I am doing, presumably more than what I am wearing. If we really believed in this idea of the worth of bodies, more than what we are wearing or doing, than we would not care if a woman were clothed “too much” (i.e. veiled) or clothed too little (i.e. stripping or prostituting). We would not care if a body were transgendered or had a beard and a pussy.
Even my desire to subvert my own image, to “not be” the blond bimbo archetype reflects an internalized idea that body means anything at all. But what about the Goth stereotype the queer stereotype the dyke stereotype the punk the Emily the strange the suicide girl the femme fatal the fifties pinup. My God its exhausting. I can’t keep up.
It’s virtually impossible to subvert an image with another image. We cannot feed shaved headed girl to a long haired girl and call it better—or a transgendered person to a bio femme and call it better.
I am not sure even how queer a queer image can be, at heart when that what is really queer, and what is really revolutionary, and what is really powerful, is working at relationships with each other, receiving each other with love, understanding each other, trying to find out about each other, making assumptions for the positive, supporting each other on good and bad days. Are these not simple things.