Quitting Stripping

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.

My bio says that I’m currently employed as a stripper, but this is not entirely true: I’ve been on vacation from work for several months now and we strippers, like all independent contractors, can’t be considered employed unless we’re actually retained by a club.

There are two reasons for the length of my vacation from work.

The first is the most straightforward. I live in Chicago, a city known for its incredibly restrictive adult business laws, and I don’t know how to drive. While this city was once full of strip clubs, titty bars, and peep shows, those days are now nothing but a distant memory. Corrupt as local politics can be, we try to present a squeaky-clean front to the rest of the world and that means no naked ladies. Because of this, most of the local strip clubs are in the suburbs and therefore out of my travel range and the three clubs in the city are overcrowded and therefore very, very picky.

The second reason for my protracted vacation is much less straightforward. The choice to quit for a while mostly had to do with the fact that I was miserable at my club, a place where the floor was deliberately kept cold according to the owner’s belief that low temperatures would encourage us to be pushier about selling dances. Actual cash with which to buy things and maintain a standard of living was not, apparently, a sufficient incentive. After I was briefly suspended for making jokes about murder that were deemed too dark for the smoking area, I decided enough was enough and I probably didn’t need to go back. I had no need of a workplace that called me an independent contractor but wouldn’t let me make mildly twisted jokes.

During my suspension I had a lot of free time, most of which was spent playing The Sims and writing page after navel-gazing page of pure garbage. The Sims really did nothing for my personal journey, but writing all those self-indulgent, self-involved pages really did. Suddenly I had names for so many of my demons and holy shit, those names were ugly. Names like gaslighting, manipulation, abuse, neglect, the list went on and on and on.

As powerful as stripping made me feel, it didn’t change the fact that I was totally ignoring all of the actual, present baggage I was toting around. You can, I discovered, be powerful and miserable at the same time. If I had taken the time to talk to a third-world dictator or two I would have already known this, but I assumed stripping would solve all my problems; that’s how it worked the first time, at least. Why would the second time be any different?

But the environment was different the second time around, there were more girls and more competition, there was more talking to customers, there was less support and love, there was a lot more staff interference, longer shifts, and a two hour commute to work. My job was exhausting even compared to other sex work I’d done and I had precious little time for myself. I blamed the customers, I blamed my exhaustion, I blamed everything but the real source of the problem, the fact that I was in complete denial about the multiple suitcases of feelings I was carrying around.

And so my suspension became a rehabilitation became a post rehabilitation vacation became a what? It’s been almost six months since I did any kind of sex work. At what point does a vacation become a retirement?

The thing is, I’m very conflicted about whether or not I really want to return to the sex industry. Don’t get me wrong, I often ache with missing the rush of it all and I absolutely miss being not merely financially comfortable, but actually somewhat rich. I want all of that back, but I am no longer entirely sure if I can handle it. Working at Heavenly Creatures, I was absolutely not handling anything and I can’t be sure if a new, better club would really be much different.

As I’ve said over and over again, sex work is not for the fragile or the faint of heart. It is difficult, draining work that can also be incredibly rewarding. The problem is that I’m not entirely sure if I’m in any state to go back. I’ve dealt with most of the demons that were beating me down and I can and do function at an incredibly high level, all things considered, but I’ve somehow managed to pick up a set of misgivings about myself and sex work that are nearly as strong as my desire to return to the industry.

I think of myself as a cockroach, not in looks of course, or in cleanliness, but in my ability to survive. I am my mother’s daughter: the apocalypse will come and go and I will be left standing, marveling at how incredibly flat the Midwest really is when you take away the buildings. My relationship with Stanley was horrible to a degree that cannot be summarized and it damaged me, not entirely beyond repair, but certainly to a point where I’ll probably never be the girl I would have been had I never met him. I’ve rebuilt and revamped, but I fear that sex work would, at this point, be too much. Stripping saved me, but I think it could, at least for now, also break me again.

It’s a difficult decision that I’m faced with. For my entire adult life I’ve been a sex worker in some capacity. Sure, I’ve held other jobs. I’ve worked as a figure model, something I still do from time to time, I’ve worked as a bartender, something I hope never to have to do again, but even when I was pursuing other, non-sex work paths I’ve always thought of myself as a sex worker more than I ever thought of myself as a bartender or a model. While I’ll probably never identify with my career as my only or even my primary identity, sex work is and likely will always be a huge part of my identity; without it I’m not entirely sure where I stand. I don’t want to give it up, eventually I hope to star in at least one granny porn film, but I think that for the time being at least it might be best to put whoring in any capacity to the side.