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Everybody Has Their Own Hustle: An Interview With Jacq The Stripper

Jacqueline Frances (Photo by Danielle Rafanan)

Jacqueline Frances has drawn attention and acclaim with her deceptively simple cartoons of everyday strip club doings.  The simplicity of her comics draws you in, and before you know it, you’re seeing men and masculinity from a sex workers’  view that few people can bring themselves to take on consciously. Frances toured last year with her baby-stripper memoir The Beaver Show, and is touring this year with her new project, Striptastic!, a comic book celebration of strippers.  She’s traveling the country for the next month and a half on the Sex Witch Tour.

Red: So, early on in Striptastic! you have a great illustration of a woman onstage saying she’s smashing patriarchy, and then you write a bit below that about how stripping is feminist and against patriarchy.

And I wanted to ask if you think it’s that simple, because there are later illustrations of “bad nights,” and one of a girl being groped where the caption is something like, “for every Instagram picture of a stripper with stacks, this is what she had to put up with” (which is WAY TOO REAL). These illustrations hint at a different reality, one where women/strippers don’t have all the power—or much power at all—and the work is a complex negotiations of boundaries with customers for cash and then with management for their respect (or for them to at least act like it) and with some management beggaring dancers before allowing them to leave after a slow night.

So, given these illustrations, I was wondering how you see stripping now, if you still see it as a patriarchy-smashing activity, or if it is in fact just another job with compromises like everything else, or if it can be both. Can it be patriarchy-smashing if the clubs are set up to profit men with as minimal benefit to the dancer as possible? Is a woman with low or no social capital being able to earn a living radical (I think it is!), but can that also co-exist with the fact that she’s able to make this living by working in a space that expressly centers men, male desires, and male conspicuous consumption of female energy, bodies, and services?

And is her work that benefits all these men, is that still smashing patriarchy?

Jacqueline Frances: No, it’s definitely not that simple. We exist within it and all have bills to pay. There are many ways to chip away at and/or smash the patriarchy, and I don’t believe there is one pure and simple way to do it.

Red: What’s your ideal outcome with the book? Are you trying to build stripper solidarity? What would you like to do with that, if that’s your goal? What are your visions?

Jacq: Yeah, I totally want to build stripper solidarity! Hmm, what was my goal with the book? I don’t know—the book kind of just happened organically, I started drawing and I knew that people were disappointed that The Beaver Show wasn’t illustrated—

Red: [laughing] Did you see the review—someone posted a review of The Beaver Show and it was clear they hadn’t even touched it, they describe it as a comic book and I was like, “Mmmm…”

Jacq: No, it’s not! But yeah, there are a lot of typos and it is a baby stripper memoir, it’s how you start. And so I was like, “I guess I should make a book of pictures!”

So I made it, and the survey made it not so much a book about me, more about other people. And I was talking to my mom today, [telling her that] I want it to feel like a yearbook, I want other strippers to open it up and relate to it and be happy about the positive memories and the strength they’ve discovered through stripping and sex work. I really want it to be an artifact for the women who’ve done the work, to celebrate their achievement. And I also want it to be educational for people who don’t do it, but that’s not my MO.

My MO is not teaching dudes, that’s all I do at work all day. I’ll offer some pearls of wisdom, or my zine, How not to be a dick in the strip club, which I just made available on Amazon again, but this is a gift for strippers.

…I’d love to usher in more women telling their stories. I know it’s not safe to come out, I know I have a ton of privilege that makes it safe—stripping is legal, I’m white, I’m educated—I have a lot of privilege that makes it easier to come out, so I want to use that. I want to start a dialogue.

Strip Club Tourist Reports: Strip Club DJ Edition

Strip club tourist reports comes in two main forms: I’m Not That Kind Of Guy and I’m Not A Guy. This week, I learned about a third type: I Was A Strip Club DJ For A Night, in the form of Eric Spitznagel’s “I Was (Almost) a Middle-Aged Strip Club DJ” for MTV Hive. Spitznagel went to Chicago’s Admiral Theater to shadow the club’s DJ for a night, and the results are fairly predictable, if a bit nastier than I was expecting. He feels old. He feels like a fish out of water. The girls have stage names that amuse him. They take off their clothes. He finds it fascinating that one of the dancers likes British indie rock, which means he’s definitely not following me or my stripper friends on Twitter, because jesus fuck, if there’s one thing strippers like, it’s Britpop.
I wasn’t terribly familiar with Spitznagel, so was surprised to find that a guy who wrote such a disingenuous piece on being a strip club DJ for a night has written two books about the porn industry and interviewed Charlie Sheen for Playboy. Such experience would seem to make a guy a little less inclined to be all “Whoah! Naked women and cheesy lines!” Apparently he’s considered a humor writer, though, so that explains the tone.

Live Nude [REDACTED] On Stage

When the play in question is called Stripper Lesbians, one might assume that there will be strippers who are also lesbians. An astute reader is also likely to surmise that the subtext is going to center on labels. Neither assumption is incorrect when applied to the play Stripper Lesbians, directed by Jeff Woodbridge, currently running as part of the Frigid Festival in New York City. It is about strippers who are lesbians and the major dramatic (or possibly comedic) arc makes great swooping circles around the issue with labeling.

The center of this play, written by Kate Foster, teeters uneasily on a love triangle—at its vertex sits the androgynously named Evan (Amanda Berry). Her ex-boyfriend DJ (Joe Beaudin) and her current girlfriend Aisha (Samantha Cooper) serve as the two base angles. Because this play is also about labels, these three characters are also “the academic,” “the heterosexual male,” and the “stripper-lesbian.” There is, therefore, some truth in advertising.

Evan’s writing a thesis (presumably in women’s studies, indistinctly a senior or masters thesis) on strippers. At the behest of the symbolically named DJ, then her boyfriend, Evan takes a job at Wildlands, the local strip club. There she meets Aisha, whom she first studies for her thesis and with whom she later gets Sapphic. It’s the old “Girl-Meets-Girl,” “Girl-Dumps-Boy,” “Girls-Dance-For-Cash-Using-Vaguely-Pina-Baush-Inspired-Choreography-In-The-Most-Improbable-Strip-Club-Ever-Brought-To-The-Stage” story. You know how it goes.

The Sixth Annual Vagina Beauty Pageant: A Judge’s Notes

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(All photos are courtesy of Hypnox Productions)

NSFW PHOTOS AFTER THE JUMP

It began with a long drive out to Hillsboro, Oregon, also known as BFO, or Butt Fuck Oregon. The spacious parking lot of the Runway Club was already almost full, and I motored past the flashing lights of the #VaginaMobile, to squeeze my tiny car next to a trailer. The sun was setting, and the excited energy was palpable.

It was 9 PM on a recent Thursday, and the stage was set for the world infamous Vagina Beauty Pageant. Runway is a newer club, about a year old, and I was pleased to see that their shift dancers varied in body shape from XXXtina Aguilera-thin to Taystee OITNB thick. Generally, Portland city dancers tend to be slender, white, and tattooed.

Much like all clubs though, the crowd was an even mix of single guys tipping, creepy guys leering, throw in a couple of jealous girlfriends sneering, and plenty of dancers hustling and heel-clacking.

The pageant’s creator, Dick Hennessy, took the stage and announced the rules. As usual, there would be no photography or touching allowed by the audience. Event photographer Hypnox handed a video camera to fellow judge Reed McClintock, at my left, and Vice contributor Susan Shepard readied her cell camera, as did I.

In contrast to last year’s scoring, contestants would be judged in two different ways. Performance scorecards would be held up after each competitor’s performance, visible to all. Privately, we passed index cards marking our score of the performers’ aesthetics. Hennessey devised this method specifically to avoid hurt feelings.

Buyer’s Remorse and Intoxication at the Strip Club

by flickr4jazz, on Flickr

In the past few years there has been a rash of business men declining to pay their strip club credit card charges. For some unimaginable reason, a guy who racks up a $28,000 titty bar bill at New York’s Hustler Club doesn’t inspire a lot of sympathy. Are they victims of predatory vendors or are they morons with buyer’s remorse? Next to casinos, strip clubs are the businesses least likely to cut someone off as long as they are spending money. Of course, I’ve also known customers who take a pretty “law of the jungle” approach to their strip bar experiences—although usually for a few hundred to a couple thousand instead of $28K.

Journalists get too distracted by stripper-puns (“mammary mecca”? Really?) to provide us with a lot of facts, so I’m left with a few questions. What evidence does the club have that the customer knew what he was paying for? Did he sign for each round or only at the end of the night? How many drinks did he have? Did he have them all at the club? How drunk did he appear? And the obvious: Did he actually consume $28,000 in goods and services, or is that bill padded?