Intellectually, I know sex work is supposed to either bother me as an exploitation of the body, or empower me through the post-feminist reclaiming of sexuality, “We’re here! We’re strippers! We’re unionized!” (in the Bay area at least). Emotionally, however, I feel nothing. I’m completely indifferent. The only reason I’d never be a prostitute is due to my fear of being both locked up and locked inside rooms with paying strangers. The sex itself wouldn’t faze me a bit. Most likely this attitude is a result of my being transgender, having to go beyond the physical, to rise above the concept of “body as you” else spend my life being miserable. As a result, the disconnection between soul and physical form is always there. Not only is this something I’ve learned to live with, but one of its byproducts is I couldn’t care less when I find myself being ogled topless in a sub session. If anything, I find the irony humorous. The client isn’t looking at “me,” but simply seeing another piece of clothing, the flesh that covers my soul. (Of course, the flip side of this is that I have no patience for work that exploits my mind. Boring office jobs get under my skin and I feel used wasting my thinking, pretending to be the unquestioning drone that I’m not.)
After months wondering if I’d be able to make any money in the female hustling scene, I finally grabbed the pole by the horns and got a job at Bare Elegance, a strip club on 50th Street. Bare Elegance is a bit like the Gaiety in the sense that each dancer performs two numbers, the first clothed and the second topless – and alcohol isn’t served. Once you’ve put your top back on you’re free to ask clients if they’d like a private show (twenty minutes long, they’re done in the buff behind a curtain). I actually had fun dancing after I’d popped out to go to Pandora’s to retrieve a Cranes cd from my locker. Wearing an emerald corset, black leather mini and black heels, I realized I was in the same outfit I’d used at Porsche’s dungeon in Arizona. Even topless I felt like a dominatrix, commanding the space around me like I always did when I danced. Like I’d been doing on dance floors for twenty years. I could feel the energy in the room change, hear the rounds of applause, and feel the eyes of the otherwise attention-deficit-disordered strippers. I was the only one dancing for myself.
But alas, I never got behind that moneymaking curtain since my first night there was very slow. So slow that at one point one of the many tough Latinas used the giant wall mirror in order to blow-dry her hair – two seats away from a Spanish-speaking immigrant nursing his drink. The whirr threatening to drown out the awful house music. (Yes, I’m serious.) Later she text messaged discreetly while working the pole. And this was before the black cocktail waitress yelled, “Delivery! Whose delivery is this?” when a bag of takeout arrived, prompting the only other white chick besides me to step down from the stage smack in the middle of her show to pay the waiting deliveryman. Of course, this was also the same girl who marched right up to the immigrant after her number to snap, “Tip me!” then made the rounds to the few other customers present (seated around what resembled a raised platform with two poles in someone’s suburban, basement recreation room), demanding monetary compensation in no uncertain terms.
I guess the moral of the story is, if you overhear a guy at the door balking at a ten-dollar admission – “Uh, how about if I give you five and some coke?” – you’re probably not in the land of the big spenders.