We joked about everything constantly, the customers, the owner, our problems, we counseled each other about troubles with our men and women, we gossiped about whoever wasn’t currently working. We all came from different backgrounds. There was Cherry, a wannabe crusty who grew up in the privileged suburb of Northbrook, Destiny, who lived in Humboldt Park and ran with gangbangers. Crystal had two children and had been at Paradox for fifteen years, every year of which was written on her face. Sandra was also a mother and supported her two sons and somewhat deadbeat boyfriend on her income. Lisa, who grew up in Englewood and wanted out, but didn’t know how to start moving up. Victoria, an art student from Connecticut, and Nikki, a pre-op transgendered girl who was more beautiful than all of us put together, but hated her face and seemed to spend most of her money on plastic surgery. If we had met in the street, we probably wouldn’t have given each other second looks and there’d be no sense of shared experience, but huddled in the dressing room that was always too hot or too cold, we were all the same, we were all live nude girls, and we found more common ground than any of us would have expected.
It is difficult to find the words to describe our solidarity, we didn’t just cleave to each other because our dressing room was small or because we took our clothes off and danced like Salome, though these were contributing factors. We didn’t love each other because we had to–we even formed an alliance against Cherry, who refused to bathe regularly and filled the small dressing room with the odor of her unwashed body. We took care of each other and although we didn’t have to, it would have seemed wrong not to. When new girls came to work there 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.
Perhaps it was the superficiality and artificial qualities of our interactions with customers that glued us together and created a greater need for a space of love, trust and understanding than one usually requires in a work environment. Perhaps it was just the excitement of sharing an intense bond with so many women. Whatever it was, here in the little cracker box of a dressing room existed the sisterhood I’d never really believed in.
Cathryn Berarovich is something of a renaissance sex worker; she’s currently employed as a stripper (and writer) but has held numerous interesting jobs in the industry. Each week, she shares her stories in Harlotry.