By Christina Cupcake, Casa Diablo
Much has been said about strippers, but unless you’re in the industry or interested in becoming a stripper yourself, you probably haven’t heard our personal perspective on our job. Because the lens through which strippers are viewed warps our experiences into a caricature, it is uniquely difficult to convey the nuance of this job.
It has taken me most of the three years I’ve been stripping to admit to myself that this is my real-life, grown-up job. I had to work through the stigmas I’d internalized so I could learn how the job is actually done and do it in a way that is healthy for me. I had to bolster my sense of self and strip in spite of being at the focal point of pervasive stereotypes. I hear the way people disparage stripping and the people who do the work: I’m often told that I am “too pretty” to be a stripper, or a man will tell me he “respects me too much” to pay me for my time or a dance. Learning how to balance my time and energy so I’m paid for the real labor I do is a necessary skill in every profession.
Stripping and the people who do it are dismissed as selfish and manipulative, but we are the supply to your demand. Because I have the luxury of choosing which patrons I want to invest my time in, I choose not to work with people who demean or abuse me—this is far more than I can say for any other service industry positions I’ve had.
“Stripping has taught me to be a fierce advocate for my emotional and physical well-being.”
Well-meaning folks have encouraged me to invest in acquiring a skill or certification outside the entertainment industry to give me “more options” when my career as a stripper inevitably ends. This is a facet of the perception that stripping is a last resort and that strippers are disposable: you’re just doing this to pay for college, your body will give out, you’re only valuable if you’re young (also thin, white, conventionally attractive), you’ll get addicted to drugs, you’re really just getting paid to let men abuse you, your job is frivolous and you’ll need to get a real job soon, etc.
None of these reasons for diversifying my income source have anything to do with me or my agency; they are all rooted in the idea that strippers are being exploited, that stripping can only be a means to an end, and that our ability to do our work is dependent on factors that we have no control over. Stripping has taught me to be a fierce advocate for my emotional and physical well-being, and it’s the people who learn this self-confidence who are successful, not the ones who look most like the strippers in the movies. Pair that with extraordinary financial independence and it becomes obvious why folks would use us as an easy target: how dare a femme be their own.
“But how much do you actually make?” This deeply inappropriate question is meant to allow the person asking it to determine if stripping is worth my time. Translation: “Prove to me, woman, that you’re a commodity valuable enough to spend money on!” Strippers are classified in Oregon as independent contractors, and our income fluctuates wildly depending on the day and the club. I keep track of my average hourly income, and at the beginning of each shift, I set a minimum quota for myself to keep myself accountable and competitive. Everyone approaches this job differently, and part of the beauty of being an independent contractor is that we have the autonomy to entertain consistent with our personal values and boundaries and make as much or as little money as we need.
If you’ve fallen prey to any of these preconceptions, I encourage you to ask who benefits most from the idea that strippers are less than human—and how you could benefit by humanizing us.