Stripping is a little bit like being famous. Everyone wants a piece of you and you have no idea who your real friends are.
This is especially tough on women (men, too, I imagine) who value the intimacy of real friendship. And it’s hell on relationships. Not many men relish the idea of their wives or girlfriends grinding away in the champagne room, even if it is “just business.”
This is one of a million reasons why strippers are notorious for bottom feeding when it comes to boyfriends. Most guys pretty much have to be stoned 24/7 to achieve any state of Zen about it.
Some strippers don’t care in the slightest. Or maybe they just do a good job of not seeming to. “Friends” are the people you get wasted with, on whose couches you sleep on when you have a fight with your slacker boyfriend.
But even they, I suspect, experience the occasional sober moment when they look out over the wasteland of their lives and sense pangs of loneliness. In the end, it’s only you up there under the hot blinding lights of the stage, waging war with your insecurities, hoping you look fuckable enough to go home with the rent money.
Stripping may appear to be about the Benjamins, but narcissism is its real currency. Every dollar you get is an affirmation of your beauty and desirability. It’s the smack every dancer mainlines, the thing that also keeps her mojo from doing a face-plant. But there’s always a wound, a big pothole-sized wound, that you’re trying to fill.
Somewhere in life you came up short, and it made you reel.
Not now though. Not tonight. The music is pounding, and the dark lovely smell of male lust oozes thickly over the tables and chairs and the stage, all around you, and you keep trying to catch a glimpse of yourself in the mirrors so you can see what they see, so you can make sure you don’t do anything to dispel the illusion of your fuckability. They don’t see the you that you know — the one doubled over with menstrual cramps or who zones out for days at a time watching re-runs in the same rancid tracksuit.
Politely, you also do a convincing job of hiding that you know what they’re all about. You pretend not to notice their desperate yearning or their vampirish fascination with your youth.
The young are too busy comparing themselves to others to even know what they have. They live in a constant state of paranoia and despair.
Later, you will go to an all-night diner with a few dancers, and you will be aware of your collective separateness from the other people who eat there. You look different, dress different. You aren’t afraid.
But you’re still subtly competing with each other. There are still potholes to be filled. It’s a sixth sense you’ve honed like a blade — this guy thinks I’m hot. I can feel it. That guy thinks I’m hot. I can feel it. You look in people’s faces just to find a reflection of your own. You see yourself according to what they see.
It causes problems with your codependent boyfriend. Why isn’t he fortifying your insatiable appetite for approval? You might even point this out to him one night, but most of the time you draw a secret strike on your inner chalkboard and keep feeding the monkey elsewhere — at the gym, at work, even walking to your car.
Every minute is an opportunity for you to know that you do actually exist. You’re not invisible. You matter.
Then one day you wake up. Or maybe you don’t.
You experience a William S. Burroughs’ Naked Lunch moment where you actually see the food on the fork that’s being fed to you. And then the whole construct falls apart. Everything you held dear, your whole value system, collapses of the weight of its own absurdity. You can’t stand the game anymore, and the olfactory cocktail at the strip club smells more like desperation than desire.
You come to terms with the fact that you’re headed down the wrong road. It’s a nice road in the way of any road that happens to be strewn with money, but it’s taking you in the wrong direction. So you trim your sails. Maybe you get married and have kids. That’s about as real as it gets. Maybe you try to get a “straight” job. But it’s almost impossible to make those soul-crushing commutes and sit in mind-numbing office cubicles for less than half of what you used to pull down at the club.
None of these were things you thought about when you were wearing a pair of high heels and not much else. Every day was going to be just like this one. It was impossible to imagine any further than the end of next week.
Easy money, quick money, is a hard thing to walk away from. Being on the outside of “respectable” society, looking in is even harder. You despise those people for being such timid conformists, but you also reject the part of yourself that wants to belong.
If you’re lucky, you find that the only road is the one forcing you ask the tough questions like why you landed here in the first place. What value system did you fail to question? Why does any of this matter?