This is one of three responses to Josephine’s “An Open Letter to the Extras Girl” that we’ll be running this week. First up is M, a dancer who, like Josephine, works in Detroit.
On a sweltering August afternoon in 2012, I walked through the impossibly heavy glass doors of the glitziest strip club in Detroit. I had done copious amounts of research on the strip clubs in the area, spending nearly a month scouring reviews online and taking trips to clubs in the area. This particular club was the shiniest and it was filled with executives, physicians and lawyers. Promises of riches sparkled like the strobe lights overhead. Even though I had never stripped before, I forged ahead, fearless. Go big or go home, that was my motto.
Looking back, I was somewhat naïve. I had no particular urgency to my sales pitch. I was simultaneously working my “normal” job and stripping. It wasn’t as though I couldn’t pay my bills. So I started with the thought that I would only dance, no extras whatsoever. Perhaps I was conceited enough to think that my pretty face, tight body, and educated mind would be enough to make me money. Unfortunately that notion was completely false.
Stormy Daniels’ performance in Columbus, Ohio last week wasn’t the first to get interrupted by a vice squad.
On April 18, her performance in Detroit was also paid a visit by the Detroit Police Department Vice Squad. They appeared between her first and second performance, shortly after the majority of journalists had already left to file their coverage. From my seat at the center of the second level, I witnessed a swath of officers travel across the club. There were approximately 15-25 of them, all of them wearing black gear, and a few had their entire faces hidden under balaclavas.
I talked to Mary, a local dancer, who was also there as a patron: “They quietly came in, but were rolling like ten deep. They walked around to tables and asked if we were working and to see ID if we were. We didn’t have any dancers at our table so they quickly left us alone. After they went around doing that, a few of them remained posted up by the front door entrance. I noticed a few of the dancers leaving, but I’m not sure exactly why. I didn’t see anyone be arrested or anything but I’m not sure if tickets were given out. I left at about 11[PM] before Stormy’s [second] stage performance. But when I left the cops were still there.”
Had any reporters stuck around, I’d like to think they would have had some questions for the vice cops. What are you doing? Who gave you this order? Why are there so many of you?
Most readers will not have heard of the low-budget Canadian movie My Awkward Sexual Adventure. I had to review it because a) it was filmed in my hometown of Winnipeg, Manitoba b) one of the protagonists is a stripper (in fact, the club she works at in the movie is one that I work at regularly) and c) I found it infuriatingly filled with utter nonsense.
The film begins with pale, skinny, boring accountant Jordan (played by fellow Winnipeger Jonas Chernick, who is also the writer and producer) being so boring that his girlfriend, Rachel (Sarah Manninen), falls asleep during sex due to his being a completely dull lover. Just to be clear: accountants are very, VERY boring. Chernick clearly wanted to get this point across so that when we meet Julia-the-naturally-sexually-adventurous-stripper (Emily Hampshire) later, her life comes across as even more wild and disorganized in contrast to Jordan’s tedious and meticulous existence.
After Jordan’s girlfriend breaks up with him, he travels to Toronto (clearly Winnipeg’s Exchange District, but sure, I’ll pretend it’s Toronto) to visit his friend Dandak (Vik Sahay). Soon enough, Jordan moves on to the next stage in the heterosexual man’s break-up mourning cycle: get drunk as fuck at a strip club and get tossed out into the back lane by a bouncer. Enter Julia, who, after finishing her shift, finds Jordan passed out in a pile of garbage bags behind the club. She feels compelled to help him due to the fact that he lent her some spare change so she could purchase a bag of chips from the vending machine in the club. In real life, there’s no vending machine inside this club, and I’ll admit, I was extremely distracted by the little inaccuracies of the strip club setting used in the movie (hey, that’s not where the dressing room is! The private dance areas aren’t over there! That’s not what this club is called!). I was wondering the whole time why they bothered to alter it. I mean, it’s a real strip club, why not just let it be?
It’s no secret that politicians are whores—they lie to make you feel good and appreciated, but are always out to make as much money off as many people as possible. So it turns out President Obama is visiting my hometown tonight and getting a bunch of wealthy businessmen to pay for the privilege of having dinner with him. Sound familiar? And don’t fancy escorts call themselves “dining companions” these days anyway? Obama’s not giving it up cheap though, with tickets ranging from $25 to $35,800.
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.