A Feminist Dyke Walks Into A Titty Bar: Coming Out as a Stripper

It’s a job most people don’t talk about openly, and this new year I’ve decided I’m no longer going out of my way to hide or to not mention what I do. I’m coming out. I'm a stripper.

Why, though? Why put my reputation, career, and personal safety at risk? Because shit, I’ve already done that.

Because I’ve been out as queer for more than half of my life. Because I refuse to be shamed for things I’m not ashamed of. Because my sisters and I deserve safety at work, at home, on the street—everywhere. Because I’m a talented dancer and performer and stripping has empowered me to take that seriously. Because I’m not the first, because I’m not the last.

Because in the vision of Clarissa Pinkola Estes, I am of the wild woman archetype. Because Ida Cox told me “wild women don’t have the blues.” Because Natalie Cole said that “wild women show what they’re going through." Because of what Harvey Milk said about the power of coming out. Because a culture of secrecy is unfortunately necessary for many women and I’m willing to take on the risks of being open about my life so that other exotic dancers might feel less isolated. Because I went to media school with the belief that visibility is essential to the happiness, empowerment, and progress of marginalized people.

Because so many of my woke queer intersectional feminist friends don’t know how to be allies to sex workers (SWs), but I trust that they want to. Because so many other people don’t give a single fuck about being allies to us, in part because they can’t conceive that they might know one of us. 

Because I love being a stripper and I want to celebrate it. Because I hate being a stripper and I need to vent.

Because I’m a Nasty (nonbinary) Woman who votes and protests. Because Trump’s ‘Merica doesn’t want to hear me so I’m going to shout.


I’ve been dancing for a year. I started after I left an abusive relationship and had to move across the country to start over with my entire life in a swirling vortex around me. I sold my possessions. I borrowed money from my mother for food and therapy and crashed on a futon in her basement.

I had been working as an independent contractor in video production, mostly working with my friends in the arts on their music videos and promotions. I pulled some corporate gigs and did some small time editing work, and I knew for certain that I was hooked on making stuff. After I relocated, I applied and applied and applied for every job I envisioned as being in any way relevant to me. I got a few interviews, but there was always someone with a more consistent resume or someone with less experience who would be cheaper to hire. In the meantime, I jumped from project to project, filling in the gaps with odd jobs and side hustles—doing everything from trimming hair to trimming medicinal cannabis.

I knew that even if I did land a full-time job, it’d be a damn miracle if I could handle the adjustment while still caught in the undertow of physical and psychological CPTSD symptoms.

I’ve had friends who worked in clubs since high school and I’d talked to them about their experiences, and I knew I could handle the stagework. Dancing became the undeniable solution to my specific and immediate needs. Once I’d recovered enough, I started dancing at a small club one night a week. It was an intense adjustment. (I threw up after my first lap dance.)

Then I learned to switch the power dynamic and trust myself.


I took control of my body, my mindset, my money, my time, my business. It started to click. Seven to nine hours of dancing in heels was a shock to my atrophied muscles—but with my new appetite and momentum, I was on the come-up. I was wildly fortunate to immediately find friendship, camaraderie, and (bless!) other queer dancers. There are more LGBTQ SWs than you’d imagine—I thought I’d be the only queer in my club, but thankfully I was entirely incorrect.

I’m also blessed that our management is less corrupt than most, and that our house mom—the direct supervisor of the dancers—is pretty chill. She fills a matriarchal role for many of us: She’ll fix our clothes, help with makeup, braid our hair, give us advice, and make sure everyone gets a birthday cake and a serenade every year.

I’d found a new family of sisters I’d never expected. Soon I was working 3 nights in a row, which was exhausting, and I was finally able to make rent and have enough money left over to cover food and therapy—a basic independence that routinely brought me to tears as I counted my bills. Every dollar signified that I could care for myself, that I was surviving. They still do.

I have met more badass powerhouse women stripping than in any other space I’ve ever been. I felt emboldened by the stories of my new sisters. Some, like me, were rescuing themselves from abusive situations. Others are paying their way through school. Some are caring for children. Some are supporting their parents. Some are simply making their habits of treating themselves exceptionally well more possible. Feminism!

As I continued to learn pole work and adjusted to interacting with customers, I felt my body and my personality come back to me. I began to grow stronger than ever. This is really not a job for everyone—it’s not a carefree, easy, or even a consistently high-paying lifestyle. (Side Note: Please GTFO with the “quit and be a stripper” memes.) It takes some chutzpah to get naked onstage—and it takes strong boundaries, self-esteem, and assertiveness to handle strip club customers. It takes strength, grace, and talent to perform. It takes practice to master the art of the sale.


Being a queer feminist stripper kind of feels like being a secret agent in the heterosexual gender war. My club is a theatre for the performance of gender and sexuality performance—and one observes quite a lot about the current state of heteropatriarchy while dancing.

Most of the men in these clubs are enormous entitled brats, and they’re out to swindle us with a smile. Night after night, we endeavor to turn the tables on them. Everyone wants something for nothing—and it’s my job to demand what I deserve for my labor, my talent, my time, my energy. My body is under my own constant care and guard, and that was significant in my process of healing from physical and sexual violence. That doesn't mean that customers can't also be triggering, as they are frequently trying to assault dancers as entertainment. But in this job, my conversations and my attention are worth money—and I have the right to charge. This is a revelation to anyone healing from abuse.

This is the only job I’ve ever had where I have the occasional treat of beating the shit out of a frat boy with his own belt while his friends shower me with money. I’ve had unexpectedly genuine conversations with customers about quantum theory, meditation, minority solidarity, and gentle masculinity. Much more frequently, though, I watch pack mentality take hold of bachelor parties; leverage predictable patterns of masculine aggression and competition in order to sell more dances; and notice that too many toxic traits I observe in straight men are all too comfortably adopted by masculine LGBTQ people (but that's a post for another day). 


The United States is now a young girl in the hands of a sexual predator. I’m not saying this for the sake of a provocative metaphor—some of the people at greatest risk are young girls coming of age during a Trump presidency, and we’ve already seen a spike in harassment and violence against women and people of color in schools since the election. 

I came up during the W. days—and I remember the rampant and unchecked racism, misogyny, and homophobia in classrooms and in hallways. While GWB was no ally to women, he has nowhere near the extreme and highly visible record of personal violence against women and girls that Donald Trump does. Boys and masculine of center folks of all genders will undoubtedly internalize our president's messages about masculinity and power, and it will impact the safety of girls and feminine kids across the country. I worry about young women finding access to birth control, HRT, T-blockers, and other essential health care during the next four years. I feel a sense of responsibility to look out for my little sisters who didn’t have a say in who will be shaping policies that affect them so pivotally in their development.

Coming out as a stripper feels like a protective act—it’s all incorporated in struggling against these goddamn neo-nazis, MRA troglodytes, white supremacists, and moderates who don’t want a fuss. I’m resisting the normalization of violence and bigotry by speaking from the margins. But I am one person. I am not a sea change.

You probably know a sex worker. Being a supportive and safe person in the lives of SWs is within everyone's reach.

Check your worldview for slut-shaming. Don’t throw around slurs like wh*re or pr*stitute. Pay attention to how you and those around you speak about sex work. I can only directly speak from the experience of a dancer, but one thing that jumps to mind is that SWs usually don’t want to hear unsolicited stories about your strip club or domme experiences, particularly not in social spaces. I’ve noticed that people want to tell me their strip club stories—and that when people tell me their strip club stories, it’s not often about how impressed they were with the athleticism of the dancers, or the artistry of a costume, or about a funny conversation. Even though all these things are notable of my experiences, the stories I hear from non-SWs are always something outrageous that they supposedly saw a dancer do. When these stories are told in front of me, the implication I take from it is that they are wondering what kind of salacious and shocking things I must do at work. Occasionally I’ve recognized this as an attempt to put me “in my place," to make me feel degraded and uncomfortable. More often, it’s the result of someone being over-enthusiastic. (“Hey, I been to a strip club once!” Cool.) Either way, I recommend checking in with yourself first to decide if your story is an appropriate one—and if you're in an appropriate time or setting or group to tell it. If your strip club or sex work story passes your own filter, then ask your SW friend if they feel comfortable hearing it—and don’t act like a whiny little asshole if they say no. When in doubt, leave it out.

Every sex worker has their own unique story. Maybe I do fit a stereotype in ways—I’m a risk taker, a survivor, and, yeah, I have a complicated relationship with my father. None of that makes me any less deserving of human dignity and self-determination. There are also many ways in which my story contradicts stereotypes of strippers—and that doesn’t make me in any way superior to anyone else in my SW community. We don’t have any one universal trait in common, but we do have a common experience of receiving less respect in the world than our patrons—who, I can assure you, are far less admirable and talented. Tip the scales. Honor and respect each and every one of us—no exception.

I have hella gratitude for the coworkers, friends, lovers, and chosen family who I can talk to about work, who I can call when I’ve had a rough night, who will cheer me on when I have a strong stage set or learn a new stunt. I’m grateful to the friends who already know I won’t be at brunch bright and early on Sunday morning, and that sometimes I need to sit alone in the quiet for a day or two to recharge. I have love and admiration for the women I work with—a crew of huge personalities I can’t imagine not having around who motivate me to take care of myself and hustle for everything I want in life.


My body has been a war zone since before I could comprehend what that means. The difference between walking onto that stage and stepping onto the sidewalk is that when I’m onstage bouncers and a squad of bad bitches have my back. Dancing has been and continues to be a fascinating, challenging, and empowering battle for me. I don’t take anyone’s bullshit for free anymore, and I’ve discovered strengths I didn’t know I had. Dancing has helped me rise up and seize control of my life. Part of being in control is the agency to speak for myself, and to speak openly. I’m talking precisely because of those who want me to shut up.

I want to end with these words from Junglepussy: “What’s a girl to do when the world’s against you? Throw it in they face, let em know that you meant to.”

 

Emily Gigler is a bitch with green hair and a real video and performance artist currently residing somewhere in the Bernstein Bear timeline.