Stripper Memoirs

Anyone who knows me will tell you I struggle with nuance.  Different people have different ways of expressing this: two of my friends describe me as a typical Capricorn, I’ve been called an “angry bumblebee,” “strident,” and “ideologically rigid” by some of my best friends.  They aren’t exaggerating! I’m capable of nuance, especially when talking about my own experiences, but when I see good things said about the sex industry without any mention of the bad, my internal alarm starts screeching.

Which makes me a really weird pick to review Jacqueline Frances’ (AKA Jacq the Stripper) celebration of strippers, Striptastic!, right?
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(Image courtesy of Red Umbrella Project)

(Image courtesy of Red Umbrella Project)

Prose & Lore is a literary journal published by the New York sex workers’ rights organization Red Umbrella Project.  Memoir stories about sex work are collected in two issues per year (Fall/Winter and Spring/Summer.) We at Tits and Sass have been following Prose and Lore since the journal began, and the third issue is even more fantastic than those that preceded it. Featuring selections from movement heavies like our own contributors Mariko Passion, Tara Burns,  Lily Fury, Lori Adorable, and Peach E. Keen, plus Kitty Stryker, Rachel Aimee, and  Audacia Ray, as well as promising new writers like Dion O. Scott and Leigh Alanna, each and every one of this issue’s pieces are affecting and visceral in their prose, from a frightening account of a client gone suddenly violent to the tale of the slow erosion of a relationship with a subtly whorephobic partner.  You can buy a single copy of the new issue or sign up for a print or digital subscription to the journal, including back issues. Those in New York city can attend free readings by the authors on Wednesday, January 29th and Monday, February 10th at Culture Fix and Brooklyn Community Pride Center respectively.

Here, we feature an excerpt of “Crippled Pleaser,” by Dynasty (W) Rex, a story of endurance and take-no-shit survival focusing on Rex’s experiences stripping as a Black woman with lupus and arthritis, with her dancing schedule often punctuated by hospital visits. The excerpt focuses on the piece’s club scenes, but we encourage you to get a copy of Prose and Lore so you can read about the grueling hospital stay which makes up the story’s core.  I think the thing we love the most about “Crippled Pleaser,” though, is how well it captures the phenomenon of sex worker outfit envy.

It was the middle of a sweaty summer night in Sunset Park, New York and I was on my way to Gold Rush, the sleaziest titty bar I could find through the internet. The large, but hardly swanky, dive was almost empty around 4:30 p.m., an odd point between the time that day workers come in after work, and when more adamant partiers come in after drunken nights. Even with barely enough people to fill a single table alongside the stage, it was lit up like a Christmas rave: strobe light blaring, music screaming from mounted speakers. I was relieved to find that there were only three men in the club to witness my arrival in dirty, black, barely-there shorts and a tube top. Not because I looked bad, but because after an all day excursion looking for jobs I had aggravated my limp. After a couple of awkward ass pops around middle pole on the stage that served as my audition, I was hired by Dave, the owner and manager at Gold Rush. I was asked to stay onstage for two more songs to start my shift.

Dave, a stocky man with a financial demeanor, is watching my bare feet and ankles pointedly, as if to sear the skin. I wasn’t quite sure if his look was one of approval or disgust. He pulled me aside by placing a sweaty palm on the underside of my arm as I’m walking offstage towards the stairs that led to the dressing room where some of the other girls were making mean faces at one another, or maybe discussing amongst themselves the very same thing that the owner/manager is so obviously about to say to me.

“I’ve been,” he started, “I’ve been watching you on stage, and your legs look funny. Are they always like that?” he asked, perhaps regretting the choice to hire me on the spot after my audition.

“No, I hit them against the bar when I was coming down the pole,” I retorted quickly, so as to not be found out, hoping that the fact that I had not been dancing long would be allow me to continue the night without embarrassment. There was positively no way I was about to tell this dude that I have a disability that makes my fingers and toes swell and my whole body ache. That would essentially amount to announcing my unfitness for the job that is easiest to attain and most lucrative to stay with.

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afouler3 by Caty and Red

12/9/2013 update: Yesterday, several commenters pointed out that speculating on the author’s trauma history was inappropriate of us. Upon reflection, we agree that this was specious and unnecessary, and apologize deeply for doing so.

Red: I love stripper memoirs; I buy them all indiscriminately and hope for the best. Strippers are like my family, people I love and hate and get driven crazy by but keep returning to. So you know I read Girl, Undressed when I found a copy at Powell’s. And I hated it. When Caty asked if I wanted to co-review it, I got giddy at the idea of sharing my outrage. Is there anything more fun that being righteously furious with a friend?

For those of you who haven’t read it, Girl, Undressed follows Fowler on a dank and seamy voyage, to places only “the ruined” (her term) can sink. She stumbles around early 2000s Manhattan, a weary traveler promising a glimpse at a New York not “vacuum-packed and delivered to your tastefully decorated abodes via HBO… there’ll be a sad lack of shopping expeditions to Bergdorf’s to punctuate each chapter’s end.” In other words, Fowler is not Carrie Bradshaw (but then who is) and I’m also gathering that she’s not writing this for me or her sisters-in-degradation/fellow strippers.

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