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.
Red: So one of the big issues when we were doing legislation [in Portland] is that a lot of the girls here make like $30 a shift, literally, so I was wondering: how do we celebrate that or how do you see that fitting into a celebration when people are working for minimum wage?
Jacq: …$30 a shift? Damn, that sucks. “How is it a celebration of that?” Well, stripping isn’t always really good money. Sometimes it’s great money, it’s not always for anybody. I’m really bummed to hear that salary! We all got into it for the money and yeah, the [sub]title is “a celebration of dope ass cunts who like money” because that’s a fun phrase I like to roll around, but ultimately, I think it’s a celebration of the work that you do, and the choice—or maybe it wasn’t your first choice, maybe you don’t love your job, but that’s not a question we need to be asking, that’s not a polite question to ask anyone.
Ultimately, it’s a celebration of the work, of the compassion, of the artistry, of the hustle, of the women who are doing it, as people. Strippers are fucking people. It’s not that complicated. But it is complicated to some people.
So yeah, it’s really hard to celebrate when you have shit nights. And you don’t celebrate those nights, but that doesn’t mean the people aren’t worth celebrating.
Red: When you have a sad experience, if you can make it funny, it’s better. It’s so redeeming.
Jacq: It’s never funny at the time, but what’s so great about cartoons is that like all of those situations—like, for example, the circumstance where he was like, “don’t ruin my couches,” do you know that comic? And my manager said that to me, and I was on his couch, this brand-new couch, on my phone, being a nice little stripper, arriving on time at work, and just, in my head, I was like, “Your mortgage depends on me ruining your couches!” But I didn’t SAY that, are you kidding? I don’t have the privilege to talk back to management yet. There’s GONNA be a day, I’m gonna go down with guns blazing, but I’m not ready. This is my home club in the city, I can’t do that yet. But that’s what’s so great about comics, hav[ing] a space to be like, “This is what I would’ve said.” That’s what’s great, you just get to kind of recreate that memory as though you would have said it instead of what really happened.
Red: So are there any early stripper bloggers or sex worker bloggers that you look up to? Because you said you were on Livejournal, or WordPress? Were you a part of that community?
Jacq: Ok, so, back in the day I really liked Diablo Cody’s memoir. And I still respect her career that she’s built, but I realize—I didn’t have the language at the time, but she was an oppression tourist. She made her money, but she was very judge-y of people who were doing the work who didn’t have the privilege she had.
But at the time, I didn’t realize that when I was reading this stuff. Anna Nicole Smith…Who are the stripper writers that I read? I mean, Lily Burana. She wasn’t really a blogger but she wrote Strip City, right? I met her, and I was really nervous.
Red: She’s an angel.
Jacq: And then, who else? Antonia Crane? Oh, Colette! Colette, it’s just auuuughhhhh! Colette is probably my favorite.
Red: I love Colette.
Jacq: Virginie Despentes really changed my life with her writing and film-making, and being in this recent show, Still Working in San Francisco, opened my eyes to so many new talented artists. I love Rae Threat’s portraiture, Morgan Claire Sirene is an amazing illustrator who’s releasing a tarot deck that I’m really stoked about, and Weed Slut just released a fashion line of stripper wear which I think is so fucking rad.
Red: Do you wanna talk about art inspirations or writer inspirations?
Jacq: Eh, no. I did art school for like a minute, like a semester, but I dunno, I just like watching art documentaries on Netflix and stuff. I’m not really in. I’m straddling a lot of communities, like sex workers is what I feel is my community. The sex worker community is just like, that stripping dressing room is just my favorite place in the world. Um, but, yeah I’m really bad at, like, knowing about…in comedy because I’m a comedian too, right? The comedian scene is just a bunch of sad dudes in their basement….
Anyway, just trying to navigate a whole new aspect of a career. Like, stripping and sex work, all of it is so transactional. You do your job, you get paid. And now, it’s like property rights and like art and contracts, and it’s a weird feeling to negotiate. I just want, like, a database of strippers who have gone on to do other shit, so we can all help each other out. It’s like, who became an accountant?
I’m really glad people like [my work], I’m honestly like, “What more could I want?” It’s like all of my people who are paying my bills now are all women who like my stuff, who feel happy. It’s like the best career shift, ya know? Dudes aren’t about my work. No dude wants to give you money unless he wants to fuck you.
Red: I feel some of them must. It’s so funny, I feel like some of them must have a sense of humor about it?
Jacq: Some of them do, but it takes them some time, it takes them their girlfriend to convince them. I don’t think any guy like stumbles across [my work] and is like, ‘Oh, this is so fun making fun of me!’ I think a girl says they need to listen to how shitty it is for his girlfriend to walk down the street, and then she’s like “and do you know who this person is?” Sometimes I feel like I need to give men more credit…but I’m also like, “Uh, no I don’t.”
Red: You know what I loved about The Beaver Show? When you were dancing on the back stage and you were like, dancing near a bathroom, and so you got to see how many guys did not wash their hands…’cause they don’t! They don’t. And in my last club, it was allowed for them to adjust their dicks—like, I don’t know if they can adjust their dicks at your club…
Jacq: You can do anything in New York. New York is all about doing your own hustle. New York is a free-for-all and a very hard place for a young stripper. For a seasoned stripper, it’s good money, but—I started, I had a year of prep in Australia, for which I’m very grateful, because there’s no boundaries…it’s New York City, why would there be rules? Like, there are rules, but nobody gives a fuck. The rules are whatever you make them.
Like, you can run a super-clean, tight show, and you’ll still make your money, you just have to be a really solid hustler. Or you can be full-service and do whatever you want and still make your money, like you can make tons of money. It’s free will and it’s everywhere. New York made me realize that there’s no rules for everyone. Like, when young girls are like, “Eww, this club is so dirty!” I was like, “Every club has every kind of sex worker. You just need to figure out which kind you are.”
Red: Yeah, and then go with it.
Jacq: Like, do not waste your time saying other women are ruining your money because they’re NOT. When young girls are like, “Ewww, this club is so dirty,” like, you being salty is you being a little brat.
I was salty too. I remember one time, this girl went a VIP room and she whipped his dick out immediately. And I was like, “wait a second, first of all, wait a second, we just got in here, and you’re gonna try to get more money of him…isn’t that kind of like an end game? Don’t you do that to extend the hour?”
I was like, “Mathematically speaking, that is not a wise move,” and I was just like really upset, I was like, “…That is not how I do my job, and we should have talked about it.”
But now I’m just like, everybody has their own hustle. I used the whole phrase, “I’m not a prostitute,” was a phrase I definitely turned around when I was younger and started. I was like, “I am a stripper and do extras” and whatever, and like, that’s problematic to say that, you know what I mean? It’s about boundaries and not about class. People really think it’s about class, but it’s really just about boundaries—or maybe it’s about both, I don’t know.
Red: I have an unpopular opinion for a hooker, which is that as a stripper I was like, “A strip club is a closed market economy, and extras are fine, but you need to charge extra if you’re gonna do extra.”
So I would sometimes like do extras, but I’d be like, “It is fifty dollars to lick this nipple. It’s fifty dollars for each lick.” And then, you know, that discourages them from wanting to lick your nipple, but if they still want to pay it you get extra money for your extra, you know.
….Where was I going with that? Oh! Men! Touching their dicks! They just have like MEN HYGIENE. They’re so gross.
Jacq: They think their dicks are pristine. They think their dicks are the most beautiful things in the world. “What do you mean I can’t touch it?” It’s like a crystal ball.
Red: You did a comic where they were like, “Oh, I wash my hands before I touch my penis. ”*giggling* I laughed so hard because that’s so typical! They’re just, “Oh and then I get to touch you all over, right? Why wouldn’t you want my dick hand on you?”
If you’re the kind of guy that doesn’t wash your hands, your dick probably doesn’t smell good, you know? It probably gets washed even less than your hands. There’s some dick cheese happening. So, I loved that about The Beaver Show, I was like, “This is what I’ve been telling people! Straight women, your boyfriends are gross, they’re disease vectors!!”
Civilian women love you. I loaned my Off Duty Stripper shirt to my friend, we were doing outreach at the Slutwalk, and people kept coming up to her, they were like, “I love Jacq the stripper!! I love her!!” And I was like, “You can’t all be strippers,” you know, so I’m sure you’re gonna get a ton of civilians.
Jacq: There are a lot of women who aren’t strippers who like my stuff and who buy the Off Duty Stripper shirt, which is starting to be problematic.
Red: It’s a little weird, but ok…If you ever need someone to be a bitch to civilians, I’m here for you. *giggles* I will shut them down.
Jacq: I know, I only like to be a bitch to men. I’m like, “It’s not you, I’ve just been too nice to all of you for too long, and I’m tired of it.”
Red: On that note, what do you think of the whole Not A Stripper thing? Like it’s pretty much over, but stripping is cool now. It’s weird, right?
Jacq: It’s so ignorant to just steal from a culture and literally put a disclaimer that THIS IS NOT ME, I’M JUST STEALING FROM IT.
Stripping really helped me understand things that my privileged ass didn’t get. I grew up like a nice little white girl, middle class, I didn’t even realize I was queer until I was like, 20. So, I guess I just didn’t get a lot of these things, I just didn’t really understand. Not A Stripper made me really understand cultural appropriation and how infuriating that is.
And if you call them on it , they’re like—“What do you mean you’re not stripper, what’s wrong with being a stripper?”—and they’re like, “uhhhhh,” and they really hesitate…
Red: Oh my gosh, one woman was like “Well, I don’t shuffle around the pole and have daddy issues,” and I was like, “OH HO HO, IT’S ON.”
Jacq: Like, yes, you do. YES, YOU DO!…Everybody has daddy issues, and if you don’t, they’re mommy issues. And you know what, we’re monetizing our daddy issues—what are you doing?
Red: You’re just being mean!
Jacq: You’re paying a therapist! I’m getting paid! Suzanne Somers—she’s one of my other idols—she turns all of her problems into money. Every problem or conflict she has in her life she writes a self-help book about it…she researches it, she sells a book, [and] she does incredibly expensive speaking engagements.
Red: So, on online blogging and stuff, how do you feel—do you feel it’s the same kind of hustle maintaining your online persona as it is in the club? Because I find managing online stuff really tiring…not in the same total way as hustling, but it’s still maintaining a persona that appeals to people so that they buy your shit, you know? Do you feel like managing your store and your brand is the same as being a stripper, a little bit? Or do you feel like you can be a little bit more honest with your online followers?
Jacq: I can definitely be more honest with my online community, for sure. I think they’re totally different, in my experience. Because, hustling at work, I get to go into work, I have a space, and it’s just me and my body. And then with my store, I’ve designed my idea, manufactured it, received it, and then I have to get people to want to buy it, which is just like a little post on Instagram, but I love social media, I really like drawing and having my little idea and people enjoying that idea. I’m not selling entertainment, I’m selling a product.
Jacq: And I do believe that you turn your character into a product at work, but whereas running e-commerce is like…there’s so many more steps. SO many more steps.
Whereas stripping, there’s a lot of steps in the beginning, because you’re really figuring out who you are, but I’ve been stripping for seven years now. Like, I really have my hustle down, like, I wear the same thing for seven years. I know how to do my hair. It’s new guys, it’s not like I’m selling different products to the same girls, it’s like it’s a new guy, and I’m selling the same thing…It’s so honest, you just show up and you get your money and you go.
And this, it’s like, I’m doing customer service e-mails, I’m trying to like, make sure the product is good, make things delivered on time… I’m not organized, I’m not a Type A, I’m like…the glass is not half-full or empty, it’s like, sprawled on a tie-dye canvas! Like WHOAAAAAAAA…
My mom is always like, “Do you ever want to sell to more than just strippers?” And I’m like, “No.” So few people market to strippers. If you actually told us that this lipgloss was for strippers, it would sell out in two seconds. Because every girl who wants to be a stripper will buy it, and strippers will because all I think we want is recognition as people who are doing a job.
It’s like when they use all the escorting terms for like, Victoria’s Secret—like, The Courtesan Collection, I’m like, awww, fuck off!
I want all the things for strippers! We’re a whole economy, we’ve got money! We have cash, we like to spend it on stuff! There’s nobody richer than a baby stripper…
Red: *laughing*…I KNOW. If I had that money back instead of just down my nose in cocaine, I would just be like, “Oh, I have a mortgage now! No, I paid for it straight up, I don’t even have a mortgage!”
Jacq: Well, you know, we all wish we did that…
Red: Oh, also, what’s your worst club experience? What was it like?
Jacq: Hold on! I want to call you on that. That’s a shitty question to ask someone!
Red: Ohhhh. But…
Jacq: You’re asking me to relive my trauma! That’s not cool!
Red: I know, I’m so sorry. But all…
Jacq: I’m calling you on that; I’m not dignifying that [with an] answer.
Red: But all the experiences in Striptastic! are so good, and you know, there are so many bad experiences too that we don’t get to talk about. So you’re having a celebration, but also, like, you know, have you had bad experiences? Do you want to talk about them?…I mean with management, like what’s your worst club experience with management being horrible, or you know other girl drama? Just, as a job?
Jacq: I mean, yeah, I’ve had people touch me inappropriately without my consent, and in a way that I will not forget, yes, that has happened. Um, I’ve been Mean Girled by another stripper…
Red: Mhmmm. That’s the worst. Sometimes the dressing-room dynamics are the worst.
Jacq: Yeah, usually it’s not like that, but it did happen, it does happen, and I think it happens when you’re vulnerable, and…
Red: They can feel it.
Jacq: …and like, figuring shit out, and like, I don’t let that happen, and that really sucks. And I mean, like, I’ve had shitty female customers be really shitty…I have a theory about that, about how much shittier women are—they actually need to take responsibility for that—but my whole theory about why women are so shitty is that they internalize how they are treated by men, and they think that because strip clubs are like hetero spaces that their responsibility is to act like a man. Like, their responsibility at a club is to treat women like they have been treated.