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Why I Became Hotter When I Stopped Stripping

12 Apr

“You have an amazing body.  You’re in such good shape.”

“Thank you,” I replied graciously, even though it wasn’t true.  I’d always had a love/hate relationship with exercise, and at that moment I was situated firmly on the “hate” side.  I was able to summon the motivation to hit the gym two or three times a week, and I’d breeze through the motions – twenty-five minutes on the elliptical machine, fifteen on the stationary bike, some cursory ab work – until, having barely broken a sweat, I decided I had been there long enough to head home.  Climbing a couple flights of stairs left me winded.  I barely even walked anywhere – living in Brooklyn, I abused my monthly unlimited Metrocard, taking the subway at every opportunity.

“So, uh, what do you do to stay in shape?”

“As little as possible,” I deadpanned, and he laughed.  But it was true.

Customers asked me this all the time, and I always found it odd.  Were these portly, middle-aged men angling for workout tips from a naturally slender 22-year-old girl?  Or did it simply turn them on to imagine the hours of exertion in the gym it must have taken to maintain my physique, which I was in turn purveying for their enjoyment?

I never worried about my weight while I was dancing, even though I was actually at my heaviest.  Instead of grueling workouts and ascetic eating habits, I relied on genetics, youth, flattering (read: dimmed) lighting, my pretty face, and my awesome personality.  Honestly, having been raised by parents who put quite a bit of emphasis on the way I looked, it was liberating, almost as much an act of rebellion as stripping itself: like, “yeah, I have a normal-sized ass, and it’s earning me $800 a night.”

Shortly after I quit dancing, I finally surrendered my virginity to my boyfriend, and we started enjoying a healthy, normal sex life.  And something strange happened: the extra weight – most of which had deposited itself on my thighs and ass – dropped off.  My stomach, which had always been flat, became tighter, and the muscles in my arms were suddenly more defined.  I started craving more time in the gym, and I wanted to have heart-pumping, sweat-drenched, Rocky-esque workouts.  I started attending spinning classes at my gym, and it thrilled me to have drill sergeant instructors push me to my absolute limit.  Working out didn’t feel like work anymore – for the first time in my life, exercise wasn’t an obligation, it was actually fun.

I really think that the ways in which my body has changed over the past few months – effortlessly, it seems – can be attributed to my revamping the way I think about it.  Instead of viewing my body as a vehicle for strangers’ pleasure, I began considering it a vehicle for my pleasure, and for my boyfriend’s pleasure.  Taking my clothes off was no longer a pedestrian act, something I did countless times a night at the bestowment of a $20 bill; now, it was only something I did as an act of intimacy with the person I love.  My naked body became a private luxury, not public commodity.

The unintentional, accidental transformation of my body has convinced me that one’s mind and one’s body are inherently and intimately linked.  My body changed first in a metaphysical, conceptual way; then its appearance changed, in a physical, concrete way.  I find that endlessly fascinating.  It makes me wonder: how much of ourselves – our minds, our bodies, our health, our personalities, etc. – are predetermined or otherwise beyond our control, and how much could be altered if we simply were to reshape our perceptions of ourselves?

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Blonde Hair and Big Tits

17 Mar

From Texts From Last Night:

(813): I’m surprised you like me… I didn’t think I was your type.

(1-813): Blonde hair and big tits is every guys type.

There were two types of customers.  The first would approach me, immediately ask for a lap dance and drag me off to the back room (this often happened just as I’d gotten to work, deposited my things in the dressing room, taken off my street clothes and run my fingers through my hair.  It was about 49% irritating, as I preferred to knock back a Jack-and-Ginger or two before I took my clothes off, and 51% immensely flattering).

The second type took a little bit of coaxing to warm up.  He wanted to relax, have a legitimate conversation (albeit one littered with innuendoes and more explicit sex talk), perhaps buy me a drink first.  After five or ten minutes, I’d pretend I’d forgotten I was working and had been fully engrossed in his witty banter, and that I was just now noticing the scantily-clad girls and suited men and remembering where I was.  “Oh!  Do you want a dance, by the way?” I’d ask casually.  I was never sure whether this type of customer wanted to feel like the lap dance actually meant something – like it wasn’t a complete stranger writhing against him, naked – or he hadn’t initially been attracted to me but my rad personality charmed him.  Either way, I was rarely turned down.

The key was finding the ideal moment to offer the dance.  Too soon, and you’d seem insincere; too late, and you ran the risk of the customer deciding that, despite your taut stomach and cleavage spilling out of your push-up bra and thick, mascara-drenched eyelashes, you were too much of a “normal girl” to be objectified.  “I mean, you’re obviously attractive,” one customer said after we had spent ten minutes discussing our similar tastes in movies and books.  “But you’re, like, a real person now.  You’re not a sex robot anymore.”  I assured him that I loved giving lap dances.  That I found him sexy and that we had a connection.  He consented.

I always felt much more comfortable offering dances to middle-aged, unattractive customers than young, good-looking ones.  I may be a textbook example of ugly duckling syndrome, but even I knew that I was doing them an enormous service by laughing at their tired jokes and not flinching when they placed their hands on my thigh.

It was with the attractive customers in their late 20s or early 30s when I’d have to swallow my vulnerability long enough to dupe them into going with me to the back room.  Or, at least, that’s how it seemed to me.  It was the possibility that I’d actually enjoy the lap dance; the fact that the sexual chemistry that existed between us might be genuine, not a steadfastly maintained illusion; the risk of rejection that would actually sting, if only for a couple minutes.

“So, um, how about we get some dances?” a customer once asked.  He had an athletic build – I admired the way the muscles in his arms and chest strained slightly against the button-down shirt he was wearing – and was conventionally attractive, with closely cropped blonde hair and a strong jawline.  He had posed the question to the entire group: his half-dozen friends, all slightly older than him and married, and the handful of dancers who had gathered around them.  But his eyes lingered on me last, so I felt compelled to answer.

“Yeah, of course.  Who do you want to dance with?”

He rolled his eyes.  “You.”

Shockingly, in the six months I danced, only one customer turned me down and told me explicitly that it was because of how I looked.  He was tall, broad-shouldered, and had an arrestingly gorgeous face.  Conversing with him was surprisingly easy, given that I was half-naked and my skin prickled the way it always did when I was nervous but had no idea why.

“I mean, you’re really beautiful.”  He scanned the room.  “You’re probably the most beautiful girl here.”

“Thank you.”

He looked back at me, and my thighs erupted with goosebumps.  His expression was apologetic.  “But I like tall girls.”

“Oh.”  At 5’4, I hardly fit the bill.

“Like, really tall girls.”

“Well, that’s okay,” I assured him, even though I felt the pit of my stomach sinking.  “It’s a slow night, so I’m happy to just talk.”

“Okay.  I just don’t want you to feel like I’m leading you on or anything.”

No more than two hours later, I was stripping off the miniskirt and bra I was wearing and straddling him wearing only a flimsy pair of black panties.

About an hour after that, I was in his bed, naked (except for the panties, which I refused to take off) and unable to stop kissing him.

More than seven months later, he’s my boyfriend.

I just don’t take “no” for an answer.

Lies

11 Feb

After my second week of dancing, I invested in lucite platforms.  I had been wearing a pair of Steve Maddens to work that, with a substantial platform and five-inch heel, might as well have been stripper shoes.  But I craved a deeper separation between my “real” life and my secret, double one.  It was the only way I could do this and still retain my sanity.  Outside of the club, I wore cotton panties and attended church on Sundays (and tithed $20s men had stuffed in my thong).  Bona fide stripper heels were a pivotal part of the equation.

I found the perfect pair in a sex shop on Christopher Street: every time I took a step, the bases flashed with red light.  “Oh, hell yes,” I told the sales associate after I tried them on.  “I’ll take them.”

“Do you dance?” she asked.

I nodded sheepishly.

“You have a beautiful body,” she murmured approvingly.  I was wearing a short dress, and I noticed with satisfaction the way the six-inch heels strained the muscles in my calves.  I tried to imagine the complete picture, with my face – which, at the moment, was devoid of make-up – painted and my hair – currently scraped back into a ponytail – blown out, teased.

The sales associate was smiling; she must have been able to see it.  “You’re gonna make a lot of money in those shoes.”

* * *

As she had promised, my new shoes made me very popular, both with customers and with the other girls. Men compared them to LA Gears, and I got used to hearing (and laughing uproariously at) the joke, “I had those shoes when I was in grade school!” several times a night. My new shoes were also just ridiculous enough to wink at the ludicrousness of my being an exotic dancer – although I seemed to be the only one who truly grasped the farcical aspect of what I was doing. Every time I worked, I half expected for my sexual inexperience to somehow be discovered and to be thrown out of the club.

“I can ask you at these sorts of places what you’re into – sexually, I mean,” an old man said to me once. He had one of those faces that had probably once been ruggedly handsome but over the past few decades had collapsed in on itself in all the wrong places. His skin was tan and leathery, and coarse gray hair sprouted from his nose and ears, but his eyes – dark brown and parenthesized by deep crinkles – retained a boyishly rogue gleam.

“I like to be fucked doggy-style,” I said matter-of-factly. I took a long sip of wine, allowing the lie I had just confessed – and the straightforward manner in which I had confessed it – to sink in.

The old man grinned, waiting for me to continue.

“I’m also bisexual.” Another lie – but this one, at least, contained a kernel of truth. I had, like most girls, experimented some in college and indulged in a few girl-on-girl make-out sessions, so as usual I embellished my past: “I dated a girl once. She’s gorgeous – half Japanese. I love Asian women. It didn’t work out, but we’re still friends.”

Later, when I danced for him, he refrained from touching me, except to pull back my panties just enough to garner a peek at my (mercifully just-shaved) vagina. It felt like a violation of my privacy – having spent the past few months writhing on men wearing nothing but barely-there underwear, my vagina was literally the only part of my body that had remained uncorrupted by what my college professors would have called the male gaze. I was about to protest when he let go, playfully allowing the band of my panties to snap at my smooth, 22-year-old skin. He smiled at me impishly, and I thought, “Fuck it. At this point, does it even matter?”

Married Men

7 Feb

Most men who visit strip clubs are not monsters.

No, the vast majority of strip club patrons are relatively nice, normal men.  Many of them, as one can probably imagine, are older, married, and looking to inject a bit of variety into their lives (if only for a couple hours) in a manner devoid of any consequences.

“So, do your wives know you’re here?” I once flirtatiously asked a group of men who had visited my club a handful of times.  An identical, nondescript gold band encircled each one’s ring finger.

“Yes, they know we come here,” one of them answered.

“But…” another added, “they don’t have the most accurate idea of what goes on here.”

“What do you mean?”

His arm had been draped around my shoulder, and he loosened his hold on me.  “Stand up,” he instructed.  I complied.  “Now take three steps back.  Okay.  Now dance.”

I moved my hips from side to side for a few moments.  Then I nodded; I understood.

That’s what our wives think a lap dance is.”

Another customer, a “regular” of mine, seemed genuinely satisfied by his home life.  He and his wife were still happy together, he insisted.  The sex was still frequent and fulfilling.  He had two children, including a daughter who was my age.

His wife didn’t know that he frequented my club, that he came in nearly every week to feed me Jack-and-Cokes, flirt with me for a few hours, and give me a couple hundred dollars to take off my clothes.  He told her he was working late.  Or getting a drink with an old friend who was only in the city for the night.  Or at happy hour with colleagues.  It became an inside joke between us: “So, where did you tell your wife you are tonight?”

Once, he asked me whether I could see myself, in the indeterminate future, allowing my own husband to visit a strip club.  I was sitting on his lap, my small frame slightly contorting itself to accommodate the orb of his stomach, his round thighs.  His thick eyebrows knitted together, and I knew that his question had more to do with him – and his real marriage – than with me and my hypothetical one.

I placed my tiny, manicured hand on his larger, calloused one.  “Honestly?  I think your wife would much prefer you hang out here with me – with a nice, clean girl – for a few hours than be unfaithful to her.”

He nodded.  “Yeah.  You’re right.”

I realized immediately after I had spoken these words of assurance that I had needed to hear them as much as my regular did.  It was difficult not to feel a tinge of guilt when married customers admitted that their wives had little – or no – idea what kind of after-work entertainment their husbands were indulging in.  And later, when I was naked, I couldn’t help but wonder whether they still looked at their wives – their bodies ravaged by childbirth, nursing, and aging, I imagined – the way they were looking at me.

I knew I was probably overanalyzing things (as was often my tendency).  I am sure that most of the married men I danced for were still happy and in love with their wives, as my regular had claimed he was.  Most were probably satisfied with their home lives.  The few hours they spent with me each week couldn’t possibly have a negative effect on their decades-long marriages; and if I actually were promoting monogamy, all the better.

And anyway, the guilt was nothing a few vodka-cranberries couldn’t stifle.

White Goddess

27 Jan

By midnight on my first night of work, I was feeling pretty euphoric.  Contrary to my fear that I would be painfully inadequate for this type of work, and despite the fact that I had had no idea how to perform a lap dance, I had already pocketed more cash than I had ever seen in my life.  And although the several glasses of Chardonnay I had downed definitely helped, talking to customers was shockingly easy.  There was a certain mob mentality about the whole thing – you could take any reasonably attractive girl, clothe her in a skintight black dress, and tell customers that she had been deemed good-looking enough to be here – and they would accept it blindly.  Customers didn’t seem to assess the girls the way men would at a regular bar.  You were obviously beautiful because you were here. And if you were smart and well-spoken, too?  You were a fucking goddess.

I was chatting up two men at the bar when a third, their friend, joined us.  At well over six feet tall, he dwarfed my 5’4 frame.  He had obviously been drinking.  I was about to introduce myself when he spun me around, bent me over the bar, and straddled me.  “White goddess,” he growled.

I looked quizzically at his friends.  “What does that mean?”

One of them shrugged.  “It means you’re surprisingly curvy for a white girl.”

“You ever been with a black guy before?” the straddler whispered lasciviously into my ear.

My aforementioned first boyfriend was black, and even though we had kept all our clothes on during even our most heated make-out sessions, I decided to embellish my past.  “Yeah.”

“What was his name?”

I told him.

“Did he have a big dick?”

“Huge.”

“You liked it?”

“I couldn’t get enough of it.”

This seemed to excite him.  I could feel him hard against my back.  He had, at this point, almost completely flattened my upper body against the bar.  He stepped away suddenly and nodded at his friends.  “Look at that ass.”

I turned around and looked at him.  “I’m going to assume you want a dance?”

I had just stripped off my clothes and climbed onto his lap when his hand flew abruptly to my nipple and twisted it – hard.  I yelped in pain.  “Don’t do that,” I said.

“Shut up, bitch.”

I turned around and ground my ass into his crotch, because the expression that had overtaken his face – one of resentment – unsettled me.  I focused all my attention on the beat of the song that was playing and coordinating my movements to it.

“I’m gonna think about you later tonight when I fuck my wife,” he offered.

“That’s hot,” I murmured distractedly.

“I’m gonna pretend I’m your stepdad.  You want me to be your stepdad?”

Focus on the song, I reminded myself.  “Uh-huh.”

“Gonna imagine I’m raping your white mother and then raping you.  You like that?”

I didn’t answer.  He threaded his bloated fingers through my blond hair and pulled me roughly against him, so that my bare back lay flush against his chest.  “Smile, bitch,” he instructed me.  “Smile while I’m raping you.”

Keep dancing.  I gritted my teeth and forced myself to contort my lips into something resembling a smile.

When the song was over, I didn’t ask whether he wanted me to keep going.  I hastily pulled on my clothes, snatched the $20 bill lying on the table in front of us, and clomped angrily to the bathroom.

I took a few deep breaths to center myself.  In a sick way, I didn’t feel like I could blame that man for his behavior any more than I could blame myself.  I knew that despite the respectful – and even reverent – way the other men had treated me that night, I couldn’t be surprised that there were men who believed that as a stripper, I didn’t need to be shown any sort of consideration.  I knew, also, that interracial sex carried a certain amount of taboo, and that some people obviously fetishized it.  I understood – and should have anticipated – his behavior too much to have been that upset by it.

But my mother?  My sweet, Jesus-loving mother who, at that very moment, was probably in bed, wearing a puritanical nightgown and watching Wheel of Fortune?  Could she please be left out of this?

Taking Control

26 Jan

I was an awkward teenager.

I didn’t weigh 100 pounds soaking wet.  For a couple years, my naturally blonde hair was dyed black.  I scoured consignment shops for used Catholic schoolgirl uniforms, which I wore with ripped fishnets, combat boots, and gobs of black eyeliner.  I looked like hell.

I didn’t receive my first kiss until I was 19.  It was from my first boyfriend, an endearingly gawky boy with an adorable gap-toothed smile and a refreshingly simple outlook on life.  He had, like me, taken the “virginity pledge,” so he was only interested in going to the beach and drinking milkshakes and making out in his truck.

Once, I felt his erection on my leg while we were kissing.  My body stiffened, and he apologized immediately.  I never felt it again afterwards.

During the first few years of my 20s, I started to grow into my looks.  I put on a little bit of much-needed weight; I replaced the black hair dye with honey blonde highlights; I swapped out the schoolgirl uniforms for tight mini-dresses and the combat boots for heels.  Transitioning from a graceless youth to an attractive woman was a process I went about completely methodically.  There was no luck involved; I decided that I wanted to be beautiful, and I applied myself steadfastly to making it happen.

By the time the opportunity to dance presented itself (I’ll get to that eventually, but for now I’ll say that it was a case of being in the right – or wrong, I’m still not sure – place at the appropriate time), I was 22 and felt secure about the way I looked.  Once, I caught sight of myself in a mirror at a bar and marveled at how I had pulled off such a complicated sleight of hand.  I gawked at the image of the petite, blonde girl – grasping a Heineken in one hand and the shoulder of some blandly attractive boy with the other – and it was like an out-of-body experience.  I had successfully manipulated reality.

I knew, vaguely, that I had reached a point of culmination.  I had taken control of my appearance but had yet to take control of my sexuality.  I knew that this was a crucial next step in my transition into adulthood, but having been raised in an environment where sex essentially didn’t exist, I had no idea to go about it.  I had the distinct thought as I navigated an unfamiliar part of the city on my way to work that first night that maybe dancing was an important – albeit unorthodox – first step toward becoming a sexually liberated adult.

As it turns out, it was much more complicated than that.

The First One

25 Jan

“You know, you’re not like the other girls.”

I resist the urge to roll my eyes.  It’s barely midnight on my first night of work; I’ve only been dancing for three hours.  And already I’ve heard some variation of that statement at least half a dozen times.

“Thank you.”  A vaguely familiar pop song comes on, and I stand up, ready to take off my clothes.  But he takes my wrist and pulls me gently back onto the sofa.

“I still want to talk to you.  Here -” he fishes a $20 bill out of his wallet and hands it to me – “Let’s just talk.”

“You… you don’t want me to take my clothes off?”

He ignores me.  He asks about my life, my past, and I answer honestly: from the West Coast.  Senior at NYU.  Yes, I use my real name here.

Another song starts up, and before I can ask he produces another $20 and, without missing a beat, keeps talking.

When he asks where I hope I’ll be in five years, I tell him I don’t know.  He frowns; this seems to worry him.  “In an ideal world,” he presses.  “Answer instinctively.”

Okay: in five years, I hope I’ll be creating work – writing?  Acting?  I’m not sure – that I find emotionally and artistically (and, in an “ideal world,” financially) fulfilling.  Marriage.  Babies.  “I want everything,” I say earnestly.

He seems pleased.  A third song starts; another $20.  “Now you can take your clothes off.”

“I knew it; you’re stunning,” he tells me as I stand before him wearing nothing but an absurdly insubstantial thong.  But as I move to climb onto his lap, he stops me.  “No, I’m sorry.  I can’t.  You’re too real.”

As I pull on the black dress I had been wearing, he asks what time I get off work.  “Three,” I answer.

“Would you like to grab a cup of coffee afterwards?”

I can’t believe this.  In the three hours I’ve been working, a shocking number of men have produced their business cards – after I had been writhing almost completely naked on them – and requested expressly that I call them should I ever want to hang out.  As in, outside of work.  Clothed.

Maybe even more bizarre is the fact that most of these men are young, attractive, and seem perfectly normal.  This guy is no exception: tall.  Blonde.  Charming British accent.  Had I met him in, say, a normal bar, I wouldn’t think twice about giving him my number.

But I just shrug.  “I can’t.”

We get up and start to make our way back into the main room when he takes me by the shoulders and gives me a meaningful look.  “Please, promise me that you won’t do this for too long.  Okay?  I understand it; if I were a girl and I looked like you, I’d do it too.  But I’d hate to see you become hardened.”

“Okay.  I promise.”

I ended up dancing for six months.  And it’s true – I was different from a lot of the other girls.  Not because I was intelligent or articulate or motivated – I met plenty of strippers who were these things – but because, at 22, my sexual history consisted of one awkward blow-job.  I was a virgin.

Working in such a hyper-sexualized environment with my hymen intact was a dichotomous experience.  On one hand, the sharp contrast between my personal and “professional” lives created a disconnect that probably made it possible for me  to dance naked for money in the first place (well, that and a lot of alcohol).  And most customers assumed I was very sexually experienced, so working was a lot like playing a role.  But on the other hand… while I don’t think stripping did any irreparable damage to my psyche or anything, it did ultimately make me loathe being treated as a sex object.  Particularly when sex wasn’t a part of my “real” life.

The reason why I quit is also atypical: I fell in love… with someone I met at work.  Yes, I fell in love with a customer.

I’ve had some unusual experiences in my 22 years, and I’ve belonged to a couple very distinct subcultures: evangelical Christian.  Sex worker.  And now?  I’m pretty happy and normal.  But I’m ready to share some of my stories – not only because few people have experienced what I have, but also because I’d really like to figure out how I went from handing out pamphlets about Jesus in Bryant Park to grinding naked on men who could be my father in a few short years.