Recently on twitter I entered a conversation that was speaking on intersectionality in the sex industry. Case in point, there was an article or a video – not sure as I came in late to the convo – about strippers. There was (of course) misrepresentation of Black strippers, and I also believe there were no Black or WOC strippers interviewed either.
The case being that you cannot talk about any industry – especially the sex industry – without addressing the disparity of experience between women of color and white women. The amazing dulce de leche (@bad_dominicana) – and yes click that link and follow her if you are on Twitter – then asked for stories, which is where I came in.
I told her that I had tons. I shared one which she retweeted to her followers, and I got several new followers myself from sharing my experience. I want to share it again here, in the format that I’m more used to. I’ll also share a few more. You are welcome, as always to share your own experiences, comment and ask questions down below at the end of this post.
Story #1: The Audition
This story takes place in Los Angeles California. At that time I was stuck and needed to get work, and it was during the recession of the 90’s, and rather than being homeless (again), I opted (again) for stripping.
If you wonder at an educated woman with a college degree experiencing homelessness and later unable to get work, then welcome to a facet of being Black and female in America that you may not have known about. I have been chronically un/under employed my whole life, despite having extremely marketable skills and a resume that reads like a HR director’s dream. If you still don’t understand my experience, ask away in comments section.
Onward with the story. Most strip clubs will have an audition night, usually Sunday night or a weekday. Whichever day is their slowest. I came in at a pre-arranged time and expected to go on stage and do a set – usually three songs – and get hired.
I was confident because along with my natural grace and style, I had ballet and modern dance training, gymnastics skills and had a degree in – you guessed it – DANCE under my belt to boot. I could work that pole, get good tips and keep myself from being kicked out of my apartment, pay my bills etc. Until I could get back on my feet with that office gig I was still going to go out interviewing for during the daytime.
When I arrived, I was told to sit sort of hidden away in a table away from all the main action and wait until called to go get ready to do my set. I ended up waiting for over three hours. I kept getting up every now and then to ask the manager when I would be going on stage.
Then this white woman walks into the club to audition. She, unlike myself was unkempt, had on some scraggly jeans shorts and a dirty halter top. In my tweets I described her as skinny. Well, in truth she was emaciated and looked like she was abusing crack cocaine.
She was immediately allowed to go up on stage and audition. I sat there, aghast. She (not surprisingly) did not have any costumes. She went up in what she was wearing when she walked in. I had a gym bag full of outfits, and a tape (90’s remember?) of my songs for the DJ. I had choreographed routines and knew what to do with a pole.
Crackalina – as I dubbed her – had no skills whatsoever. She clung to the pole like it was her lifeline, and sort of swayed every now and then. I watched as she was hired on the spot. I used that little bit of unfairness to badger the manager to let me go up on stage and at the very least audition as he had let her audition.
Needless to say I rocked the place and made it rain, and got compliments from the other strippers as well. It was them and the male staff (customers as well!) that enabled me to get hired. They kept pushing at the manager, who was not interested in hiring me.
Story #2: You Must Be A Prostitute
As things go along, and you speak to other strippers, you get to know which are the good clubs, or the better clubs. That is, the places where you can get the most tips. It is not unusual for strippers to work at more than one club during the week.
I went to audition at this one place that I had heard of. I got the same rigamarole from the manager. The sit down over there and wait routine. Now there I was sitting and waiting for almost an hour. I was not dancing, not speaking to anyone. Just sitting and sipping a coca cola. I had two customers come over to me and tip me – quite well – because I looked so amazing, just sitting there.
Then the manager finally comes over to me. He explains in his halting English – he was Iranian, or “Persian” as they are called in LA – how he needed to speak to me. I thought he was going to take me to the back to an office.
But we ended up in a hotel room adjacent to the club. I had my pepper spray, and I stayed next to the door, so I wasn’t worried about anything, I just wanted to see what would happen next. I also read body language pretty well. He kept his distance from me, and hands at his sides and was polite and kept a reasonable tone in his voice throughout.
He explained – in those polite and reasonable tones – that his customers wouldn’t want a Black girl dancing at the club. I explained to him – in similar polite and reasonable tones – about the two customers that had already tipped me for just sitting. He had nothing to say in return.
He then went on to proposition me and offer to pay me whatever it was – I really don’t want to remember – for about a half an hour of my time there in that hotel room. Because, it was reasonably assumed that I must be a prostitute. That’s when I exited out of the door, got in my car and got the hell outta Dodge.
Story #3: The Compromise
Having already experienced stripping on the East Coast in and around New York, I was pretty amazed at the difference out in California. There was still racism in NY, but I could trade on being an “exotic Dominicana” and gain access to most of the better clubs no problem.
The elite clubs you pretty much had to sleep or suck your way into, regardless of skin color. I wasn’t interested in that. Besides, there was good enough money happening in the places where I was dancing.
In California, it was just ridiculous. I had to fight tooth and nail to get auditions, and then to get hired. Things were ok once I was on board, but it was crazy getting there. I finally gave up and decided to go dance in the hood.
What was the compromise? Well I traded my safety for job access. I found out the best club to go to in South Central and I went. I of course had no problems auditioning, and got hired right away.
I finally had to give up even that. The commute ate up a lot of my tips in gas for my car. Not to mention there is this thing that many Black men have about not giving a (Black) woman money unless she is their woman, or their “ho” turned out on the street. Some macho weirdness bullshit that made the tips there extremely much less than in the other places.
And after the second time bullets went flying I decided to ditch stripping altogether. Me, the amazing networker that I was, had chatted up a regular who gave me a chance at an interview at a friend’s firm and soon I was on my way to getting back on my feet without having to take my clothes off.
Stuff you should know.
I don’t have a problem with stripping or strippers. I don’t have a problem with prostitutes of prostitution. You should see the changing rooms in strip clubs. There are women there studying for their college courses, networking for day jobs, checking on their families and children, and nearly more than half self-identify as lesbian.
What I have a problem with is like that article or video being discussed, Black women across the board have it worse when it comes to employment. And especially the sex industry where racism, bigotry and discrimination is rampant. Kind of like how it is in the beauty industries. When white, skinny, and blonde is touted as the epitome of beauty, where does the WOC fit in that scenario?
We are the exotic, or we are the passed over, the forgotten, or like that manager, assumed not to be desirable by his white customers.
When you have a discussion about the sex industry that does not include race, then that really isn’t a relevant discussion at all.
As for being assumed a prostitute. I was there to audition for a job as a dancer. I was told – incorrectly – that my presence was not wanted, but that was just fine, because I could still make some cash that night because being a Black female stripper, I of course was also selling sex for money.
Also unsaid, but hugely implied, was that I wasn’t really there to strip primarily, but to use my job in the club to snag clients. Which was really his main reason for not hiring Black women.
Being assumed a prostitute took away plenty of opportunities for jobs, both within and outside of the sex industry. Think about that for awhile. Really think about it.
I remember when I lost a huge chunk of my childhood. I think I was barely 12 years old and living overseas in East Africa. I was supposed to meet a friend in front of one of the landmark tourist hotels and we’d go catch a movie. She was late, and I was bored, so I went to check out the cool exhibits in the lobby.
There were these displays about safaris, and the wildlife and whatnot. As I was looking at the displays and reading the info, I noticed this man had come up next to me. I smiled at him and nodded and kept on reading.
He said something about safaris or whatever and I replied something or other. The next thing out his mouth was that he wanted to sleep with me and how much would it cost. I remember looking at him with my mouth just dropped open in surprised and shock, and feeling my face burn as a blush shot up from my chest, when I realized what he was asking.
He must have then figured out what he’d done – asked a damn CHILD if he could fuck her for money – spluttered an apology and ditched out of there. I never told a soul what had happened. Need I also mention that this was a white man who did this to me?
I remember feeling shame, being upset. I wondered what I was wearing, or if I had on too much eyeliner – the only makeup my mom would let me wear at 12 years old – or WHAT WAS IT that I had done to make him think he could ask me for sex.
I’ve had countless other instances of being assumed a prostitute. It doesn’t matter what I’m wearing, what location/situation I’m in. Only thing that matters is that I’m a Black girl and subsequenty of course selling sex.
It is the “Of Course” that I have a problem with.
Of course a crackhead can walk in off the street and get the same job I been waiting hours for in minutes. That same job I had to fight for, and have others fight for me to get as well. That same job I was being denied even auditioning for.
Of course stripping is a big money maker. A great option to put yourself through school or whatever. Only if you are a white woman though. Imagine if you weren’t an emaciated drug addict, but a well built, skilled, healthy professional showing up anywhere, any club to audition.
I had all of that and more, but still, everywhere I showed up it was an uphill battle. Because my skills, beauty and all of that didn’t count.
I didn’t have white skin. Because that trumps everything else.
I wrote this post because soon after I posted my experience on twitter, I started having horrible flashbacks. Not about my experiences stripping. Because I had a lot of fun with it once I was hired and on stage doing my thing.
The flashbacks were about the difficulties and sometimes traumatic experiences I’ve had in getting employment in pretty much any field I’ve ever tried. Even in the field where my skill set is Uber, and I have the most to offer any company that takes me on board.
The trauma of having to survive, and having all the skills necessary for that survival, but you are denied time and time again by the Gate Keepers. It may seem like a small thing to you, but we are talking years and years of this happening over and over again.
What do you think that has done to my spirit? What do you think that did to me to be stuck in a dead end job time after time that used nearly nothing of the skills and talents that I possessed? How do you think my life has been lived when I’ve constantly – for decades – been a paycheck from destitution, a paycheck away from homelessness, one major illness away from utter devastation?
I have survived. But there has been a price to pay, and there have been casualties. I am a broken person, who is on her journey towards wellness. I have not lost my fighting spirit, but I have given up on some things, and set aside certain of my dreams – for later, maybe.
I could say that this post is primarily for me, to therapeutically get this off my chest, to fight the flashbacks, to keep on course with my healing.
But I also write this for the other WOC who have been there and experienced this same type of journey. You are not alone. I know how you feel. I know what you went through. I know what happens to you even to this very day.
You are not alone.
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