Thought Catalog
September 30, 2011

Chat With A Live Nude Girl: An Interview With Sheila McClear

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Sheila McClear
Aeric Meredith-Gougon
I’ve long admired former Gawker columnist and current New York Post reporter Sheila McClear for her way with words (read “What I Learned in Jail Last Night” and “Where Do You Drink When You Snap Before Noon?”) but I recently got to know her on a much more intimate level in reading her memoir, The Last of the Live Nude Girls. In it, she chronicles the two years she spent dancing in Time Square’s infamous peepshows – a vocation that has, up until now, remained undocumented from an insider’s perspective. I met Sheila at a seedy bar of mutual acclaim to discuss stripping, dating, and what comes next.

TC: You moved from Detroit to New York pretty much on a whim. Did you move here because you wanted to work here?

SM: Yeah! Just for the same reason anybody moves here. I wanted to be around that sort of energy New York has. So nothing special, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. I just figured I’d get some job at a publishing house for like, 15 bucks an hour. Which obviously, I didn’t accomplish [laughs].

TC: You were writing in Detroit, right?

SM: Well, I was a reporter at a labor publication right out of college, it was a monthly. Very grassroots – it was sort of a watchdog publication. It wasn’t like, a rigorous thing.

TC: So then you moved here and started to dance [in the peep shows]. I know you went to a few places and tried it out a couple of times… but you describe yourself as shy? How did you overcome that shyness to audition, dance?

SM: I don’t think I overcame it – I think I thought [dancing] would help me overcome my shyness, but the weird thing is – and I’ve heard this from other dancers and strippers – most are shy [in their everyday lives]. It’s pretty easy to take your clothes off in front of strangers, especially when you’re in a venue where that’s what you do. So I guess maybe one of my real fears was rejection and intimacy – if I’m with a guy I really like, I’m still a bit shy taking my clothes off. But that’s ‘cause it means something! And what I learned [dancing] is that I didn’t have to give into my shyness, because it didn’t mean anything. When you take your clothes off for someone you don’t know… when that’s what you’re expected to do… I don’t know, it just felt like I was at the doctor’s office [laughs].

TC: It seems like, when you were dancing, maybe a few people knew, but not really? Did you confide in anyone at home, or…

SM: You mean, like my family?

TC: Your family, or friends back home, any friends here… did anyone kind of know what was going on?

SM: At first, I had no friends here, because I’d just moved here, and then for a long time after that all of my friends were strippers. I think I told one or two people back home… even some of my closest friends only came to find out when the book was released. I don’t know, I didn’t want to bring it up, and then explain it, and just… ugh. I told one or two guy friends, maybe three, and they all sort of expressed dismay and disapproval but were also like, “Well, we’re not gonna get all judgey.” I remember one guy friend, he was really upset with me, and I was like, “Well, what’s the big deal? You go to the local strip club all the time,” and he was like, “Well, it’s different ‘cause I’m a guy.” Then he said, “You know, you were always the smartest one in class… I thought you were gonna be the editor of a magazine or something… now you’re just another stripper.” And I was like, “Yeah, but it’s still okay for you to go watch,” and he said, “Well, yeah!” [laughs]

TC: I know you had to dirty talk sometimes, how do you feel about those words – are you kind of desensitized to them?

SM: You mean like cunt or pussy? [laughs]

TC: [laughs] Yeah, or even whore, slut…

“If you have rules, and you don’t break them and you say no, you have some control.”

SM: I don’t think those words will ever lose their meaning, for better or worse, because society has turned them into weapons. But the girls at the peep show, we would – I wouldn’t really, but – we would talk shit about each other. A girl would do something during a show or say something that we’d overhear and we’d be like, “She’s a hoe, that’s nasty” or we’d say, “I wouldn’t do that in a show, that’s gross.” There’s always women judging each other, even when you all work in the sex industry. I did it too, and I tried not to, but especially when it’s your job and your history, you start drawing these arbitrary lines like, “Okay, if I cross that line, that’s bad.”

TC: Do you feel like you needed [those lines]?

SM: Yeah, definitely. I was going to say it gives you the illusion of control, but it actually does give you a sense of control. If you have rules, and you don’t break them and you say no, you have some control. At my job now, I can’t say no… not really. That was one of the few jobs where I could say no, I have to say. If it were raining, I could say no. I could go home whenever I wanted… I probably had the most control there, of all the jobs I’ve had.