Harlotry: I Learned About Sisterhood In A Stripclub

There was a huge sense of camaraderie born out of our comfortable dissatisfaction. I think we were all very happy at Paradox–I certainly was–but in the cramped, smoky bubble of the dressing room, the most popular activity was complaining. We complained about everything, the music, the customers, the lack of money (if it was a slow day), the condition of the dressing room, the condition of the booths, the temperature, anything that was even somewhat irritating. At first it was strange to me, could these women all really be this unhappy? But for the most part they weren’t. Our complaints weren’t so much meant as criticisms of the club and they certainly weren’t to be taken seriously; they were more commentary than anything else, they said “This place is weird and sleazy and kind of run-down, but we’re in it together, we’re sharing this experience and laughing about it and that’s pretty cool.”

Besides complaining, there was also a lot of nudity. Because they didn’t serve alcohol and there was no contact with the customer, Paradox managed to allow full nudity in a city that makes it as difficult as possible for even topless clubs to exist in peace. When you were done with a show, you had two options: awkwardly get dressed before leaving the box or grab your clothes and take them to the dressing room. We almost all chose the latter option, not only dressing in front of each other, but sitting down to cool off first. Among friends, this kind of behavior wasn’t new to me, but among strangers I had never been in an environment where nudity was so casually desexualized. While we were at work, our bodies became nothing more than tools. Of course, the fact that they were also objects of desire was what made them so effective as tools, but that was beside the point.

There was very little competition. Our physical types were so different that it was unlikely we’d all appeal to the same demographic. Every so often, Crystal–the old war horse of Club Paradox–would accuse another girl of trying to steal one of her regulars, but since Crystal was the only girl who leaned over the half glass and jerked guys off in the ‘windowless’ room, we could honestly assure her that the guy was just testing the waters and would undoubtedly return to her. In a regular club, Crystal’s extracurricular activities would likely have been a serious problem; not only with management, but also with the other dancers. She would have been blacklisted and shunned, if not outright fired. Here, though, we joked about it.

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    • Lastango

      Gritty account. This part is especially helpful:
      “When new girls came to work here was an unspoken understanding that we would try them by fire, telling stories about customers who tried to grab us, playing with knives, speaking entirely in inside jokes, and making it clear that if they wanted to be one of us they would have to prove that they were made of the same stuff as us. In the short, blissful time I was there, I never saw a new girl last longer than two or three shifts.”
      Enquiring minds will want to google “horizontal violence”.

      • Anon

        God, glad someone said it. Real “sisterhood” here.

      • Mandy

        Clearly Lastango & Anon have no siblings. True sisters test each other daily, how is this any different?

      • Lastango

        “True sisters test each other daily, how is this any different?”

        Mandy, did you google “horizontal violence” – ? You’ll see how it’s different.

    • Vee

      I love your little tales. I’ve been devouring them over the past few days. Fantastic mix of honesty and hilarity. Your stories are very empowering too, they show you have to have quite a bit of creativity and intelligence and a whole lot of resilience to survive in most sex related jobs.
      I’ve been wondering why you prefer stripping out of all of the jobs that you have explored (is it the most preferred?). Do you like the dancing aspect, or is it this sort of sisterhood? Also, what are you feelings about burlesque?

      • Cate

        Thank you! You are very kind.

        I think part of why I prefer stripping is that it has a higher money to power ration than other kinds of sex work. I mean, with stripping I’m not really doing anything besides taking my clothes off or in the case of a regular club, giving some guy blue balls, and yet the money is at least as good and often better than with other parts of the sex industry. The sisterhood, though, is a big part of what appeals to me. The two people in the comments below suggest that because we weren’t open and welcoming to new girls at Paradox, there was no real sisterhood, but this is very common at all strip clubs. New girls are always somewhat looked down upon until they prove they have the strength and resilience to join the family, so to speak. It’s no different than primitive initiation rituals, and it makes the group stronger as a result. I’ve dealt with it, and I expect to deal with it again when I find a new club to work at. Granted, I live and work in Chicago, where clubs tend to be smaller so it is easier to worm one’s way in, but here, at least, it is not difficult. You just have to be nice, but not too nice, to your co-workers and things will fall into place.

        Burlesque is wonderful. I love it, but sadly it is no longer the full-time career it once was. I mean, the burlesque clubs of yesteryear were the strip clubs of today, the dancers even referred to themselves as strippers. For better or worse, though, the aesthetic of stripping and, I think the sex industry in general, has changed so much, especially with the advent of the internet that even the feature dancers of the 1990s and their elaborate routines are pretty much a thing of the past. So for now I pretty much just spectate and leave it at that.

    • MadameDakar

      FYI — “transgendered” is not considered an acceptable term. People who are “transgender” are “born this way;” it’s not something that happened to them or was imposed on them.

      • Anonymous

        Transgendered is actually very acceptable, I’ve never heard anyone ever say otherwise so I honestly don’t know where you’re getting this. She also never said anything ‘happened to them’, so I don’t know where you’re even getting that…. Why you posted on here to make an invalid point is beyond me.

      • Mandy

        Well, I’ll make sure to tell the dozens of transgendered people I know & work with that they’re calling themselves something totally unacceptable. I’m sure they’ll be glad to know.

    • hope

      please read my blog @ http://hopethefeminist.blogspot.com/ . it’s really awesome i promise

    • Mandy

      Yeah, not seeing anything there except a lot of jabber. We’re animals. Humans test the people in their groups just like every pack, pride, school, etc in the animal kingdom. There’s also a huge difference between things like college hazing & basic sh*t-giving in a new job. In ANY group, you have to prove yourself. It has been that way since humanity began (as proven by any variety of historical studies). It’s just this newer generation of softies who seem to be offended by it.

      • Renee

        By your argument, any behavior found naturally in the animal kingdom is acceptable? Theft is found in the animal kingdom plenty, as animals steal food from one another. So I guess we can all go around taking what we want, since we are just “animals”. And how about killing? Lots of animals kill members of their own species without reprisal. So I’m sure that must be fine for humans too.

        So yes, everything from college-hazing to basic shit-giving is one of the ways a group can initiate a new member. Is this the only way? Absolutely not. Is it possible to join a group without having cruelty dealt out? Of course it is. Is it the right thing to do, to force people to “prove” themselves by showing how much shit from people they are willing to put up with? Well, in my opinion, no.

        Honestly, what is wrong with the idea of treating EVERYONE with decency and respect ALL of the time? How is this such a hard concept for humans to grasp? This is why we are all such miserable bastards.

      • Grant

        Mandy, yes we are all talking monkeys. But we have soul. Yes these thing you speak of exist; reality. Doesn’t make it right.
        Renee, everything you said is spot on. Respect.

    • Grant

      Another good post. My only criticism is I wish it were longer. Always feel a slight twinge of “I wish there was more” on the last page… I guess I’ll have to wait for the book. I’m sure many others have similar feelings.

    • Miss Meppy

      I liked this article (and have been enjoying the ‘Harlotry’ series as a whole), but I have to agree – the trial by fire thing kind of sucks. I’ve never heard the term horizontal violence til now but it sums things up perfectly. I’ve had jobs where similar things happened, but none of them were in the sex/stripping industry. I can only imagine how much worse it feels when you’re literally naked and everyone around you is treating you like shit, including the people who you’d think would have your back.

      Also, “transgendered” is a perfectly acceptable term. My dad is trans and that’s how she and all her friends & the family refer to it, as well as everyone at the hospital. When I’m telling someone I don’t know well I don’t usually say my dad had a “sex change”, because using the words “my dad” and “sex” in the same sentence has a visceral connotation that makes people feel uncomfortable. Saying “transgendered” is the absolutely most politically correct (and least awkward) way of saying it.

      • Valerie

        I agree about the trial by fire. This article doesn’t really make me think of sisterhood so much as that mean girl bullshit we all learn in middle school that continues throughout our lives.