I like to scan the men bathed in flashing red light at their tables, strategizing. Star Wars and comic book character t-shirts are the easiest. Anyone who gives off the vibe of working in tech. Sometimes I can recognize a tattoo, or, sometimes it’s just a good hunch. Really, most of the men in these places under 30 will light up when I talk about how I spent a few hours playing Skyrim in my underwear, even if it would be better if I lied and said it was Call of Duty.
I’m hunting for nerds in the strip club.
What works in my favor is the myth of the fake geek girl, the harsh reaction of men to women who show interest in nerdy things, accusing them of not really being fans, just fakers trying to lure male attention. Many of these men seem to think there’s no such thing as a pretty, sexual woman with a deep love of video games, sci-fi, comic books, and Neil Degrasse Tyson. Much like they seem to think none of us in the strip club have significant others or, you know, brains… So when I saunter up with G-cups on display and start talking nerdy to them, they seem to think they’ve found one-in-a-million. Lifelong geek and nerd that I am, this works greatly to my advantage. I can, for the most part, just be myself. Men who never thought they would ever have a conversation with a pretty, busty, mostly naked girl about comic book conventions get to revel in their nerd-girl fantasy. They love to tell me how I look like an anime character, and sometimes I even have pigtails and over-sized contact lenses to complete the effect. This makes for a more pleasant evening of lap dancing for me. I get to talk about the thing I heard on NPR about Mars, or the PS4 versus X Box One debate, or how I want to dress up as Magneto at San Diego Comicon next year. All while I just so happen to be playing with my cleavage.
And they love it.
I’m hardly unique. My best stripper girlfriend-of-the-moment is obsessed with the beauty of chemistry. She will show anyone and everyone her Kingdom Hearts keyblade tattoo. She looks like, and at times has been, a Playboy model— perfect, blonde, and smiling. A few months ago when I brought up video games in the dressing room, 80% of the dancers became embroiled in an epic debate: Which is the superior fighting game series, Marvel vs. Capcom? But besides me and my friend, most of the girls bury their geeky selves on the work floor.
Still, the stereotypes in nerd culture haunt me. A lot of these men I’m playing to are the same guys who gleefully pick up prostitutes and then beat them to death in Grand Theft Auto games. The ones who will blatantly threaten a woman with rape and death threats just for expressing dismay that there is still a terrible lack of relatable female characters in video games. The ones who will stalk a girl dressed up as Poison Ivy at a convention, to try to get a video of her bending over on their camera phone. Because I still have the potential to be sexually available to them, I think I get leeway in the strip club that other girls don’t on Twitter or at a comic book convention. The praise and respect, real and feigned, I reap from my customers is sometimes incredible. My ego swells. In the club I get put on a pedestal for what can draw ire outside of strip club fantasyland.
Often, women aren’t considered legitimate geeks, real nerds. The internet is ripe with criticism of nerd-girls, and many of our favorite geeky things like comic books and video games are full of problematic sexism and a lack of women-produced content (even if huge strides are being made even as you read this.) Women are held to different standards in the nerd world, where a guy who’s only seen the movie can wear an Avengers’ t-shirt and not be bothered but if a woman does so she’s likely to get quizzed by the male nerds around her to see if she’s actually read the comic books, and judged accordingly. But really, I am as close to a real fake geek girl as you could find. I know just enough about other people’s nerdy obsessions to fake it. I’ve very successfully been a fake Whovian (I’ve only just started watching Doctor Who this month, I’m very late to the party), convinced people that I still rabidly read comics (I used to get every single X-Men comic book every Wednesday more than a decade ago, but now I’m always intending to pick them back up but I never have the time), and appear to be a constant devourer of the latest video games (I’m actually woefully behind, rarely play more than once a week, and only have one system set up at the moment.)
I am a pro at playing fake geek girl. But I’m a real geek girl. I’m currently up to my eyeballs in Star Wars, A Song of Ice and Fire, and I’m re-watching Farscape. My Pinterest page has an entire board full of my cosplay aspirations. When my customers fawn all over me, saying they can’t ever find pretty girls that game, or love Star Trek, or whatever, I want to lecture them about how maybe if you boys weren’t so hostile, maybe if there were more female-friendly and relateable games and characters, maybe if we didn’t get constantly cornered and asked for hugs at conventions, you would realize just how many geek girls there are. For fuck’s sake, stop being creepy and mean. Why do so many men cry “fake geek girl!” every time they see a pretty or sexy girl into games just because she’s intimidating or unavailable? Apparently, because I am available to them on some level, because I’m showing interest in them, because I’m on their lap for $15 a song, I am acceptable. For the sake of sales, sometimes I keep my mouth shut and smile, and take as much of their money as I can. Sometimes, I try to enlighten them. Their response: “Well, I never thought of it that way…”
Interesting things happen when I’m the stripper out in the nerd world. At a recent convention, a panel that discussed women in geek culture, the skimpy nature of many female character costumes was brought up a lot. There’s currently a movement called “Cosplay is not Consent,” which tries to stop the harassment of anyone who dresses up as their favorite characters. One person in the crowd emphatically cited the cosplay competitions at conventions, and how he can’t allow some women on stage because their costumes are so skimpy. He can’t be held responsible for what will happen to them on stage, and back out on the convention floor once they step off stage into the crowd. He wanted to know what he can say to these women that are nearly naked, that have ass and tits mostly or entirely exposed—what are they thinking? He said that this level of nudity invites groping and inappropriate behavior, and nobody corrected him. The conversation flowed around this assumption, right after a conversation about how sexy costumes are not consent. But nudity or near nudity is, apparently.
I wanted to raise my hand. I wanted to point out that even in a strip club, my thong bikinis are still not consent. My complete toplessness or nudity is not an invitation to steal my time or my touch. I’ve been known to hurt and humiliate customers that try to shove dollar bills anywhere I’ve not given them express permission. At the panel, none of the female panelists contested this man. There was discussion about the need to sacrifice accuracy for the most revealing costumes so people are more covered. Think of the children! I let the argument go on without me. I didn’t want to draw attention to myself as the stripper in the crowd. It was impossible to know whether or not I was in a room where, as a sex worker, I would be considered the enemy of feminism. I didn’t know if I would have any allies besides a good friend who was a panelist. Or maybe I was scared of being on the defensive yet again, having to speak for all sex workers. It’s a heavy thing to bear. Sometimes I can’t hack it, and then I feel guilty.
When I do out myself as a stripper in nerd land, I get a lot of attention. I never lie when people ask what I do for a living. Then I often find myself encircled by a few men vying for my attention, which is sometimes intensely fun and flattering and sometimes makes me wish I was at work—I could at least be getting paid for all these tiresome come-ons. And then something odd happens; the same damn thing that happens in the strip club. Other girls get quizzed, but because I am now the stripper I get a get-out-of-fake-geek-jail-free card. Just the fact that I know the difference between Marvel and DC and can list off my favorite characters, that’s enough. I’m in. At a recent convention, I dressed up as my favorite character ever: Ash from the Evil Dead and Army of Darkness films. I spent all day covered in fake blood, wearing way more clothing than I normally ever would anywhere, and a bloody red chainsaw attached to my left arm. I play dress-up at work everyday but this was different. For one day, I wasn’t a stripper, and I wasn’t a geek girl fake or otherwise.
I was Ash. Groovy.
It felt powerful, and awesome, and I loved all the attention and people who wanted my picture. It felt amazing to get that much love from people while fully dressed. I made hideous faces in every photo. I smeared mascara everywhere with glee. I WORE FLAT BOOTS IN PUBLIC. No one grabbed my ass. No one asked for my phone number, or tried to hit on me at all. It was an amazing break. I was all geek, all fan, all legendary horror movie character, and nothing else. For one day.
And then the next day, I showed off the pictures of myself in costume to get instant geek cred with customers at work.
Hail to the queen, baby.