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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.

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  • http://mrianmbelcurry.tumblr.com/ Mr. Ian M. Belcurry

    Great interview! Super awesome! Srsly. Want to read her book and MaryGaitskill, I think I have heard her spoken of in connection to Dennis Cooper in theme of writer/influence/similarities.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Asia-Hodges/6028644 Asia Hodges

    I just moved to Buenos Aires… I don’t know about sex work, but I don’t want to find a husband and pop out some babies either. Guess I’ll keep writing in the meantime… something will come to me, right? RIGHT?! Thx for the interview. 

  • http://www.nosexcity.com NoSexCity

    Definitely picking up a copy of her book. Thanks for the tip!

  • http://www.facebook.com/jonathanharty Jonathan Hart

    Those fiction books sound like they are going to be a bag a wank, but still a good interview.

    • http://twitter.com/mung_beans Mung Beans

      “She works in a donut store in Portland, OR, but she’s not a hipster, I mean not really.”

      Yeahhhh…. 

  • xra

    were words like whore cunt and slut ever not weapons? and on the guy side you have your losers creeps and whatever other shame words, it’s not like ‘our society’ is responsible for some ancient impulse to  demarcate low sociosexual market value

  • http://millikandaily.com Arikia Millikan

    Inspirational. If this talentless floozy can get a book deal, anyone can.

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