This Spring Break I went to my first strip club. It’s a trip that’s been a long time coming. I turned 18 and rather than looking forward to being able to buy a pack of smokes (I didn’t smoke) or get a lottery ticket (who cares) or buy porn (do people still do that?), I looked forward to going to a strip club. But it didn’t happen. So they’ve been shrouded in mystery to me for a while.
I know for a good chunk of you, this is all old-hat. Strip clubs? Been there, got the t-shirt and the strange Babysoft perfume smell in your jeans to prove it. Maybe you went once or twice, decided the novelty ended there, and moved on. On the other hand, maybe you really dig strip clubs. Maybe you go all the time, can’t get enough of ’em, and constantly have a pocketful of singles. I find YOU enthralling.
See, I went into a club in Montreal that I’d been told was somewhere between seedy and classy. Not too expensive, not too much expected of you except that you pay for the requisite number of drinks. They even let women in for free. How kind of them, no? I gathered that lady patrons were rare enough that they could afford to let the five-dollar cover slip by.
Once the fellas paid their dues and we marched up the stairs, our group of two couples was courteously but quickly led to a table next to the stage. It was clearly purposeful placement — after all, at that table you can’t lie on the stage to get a pair of boobies on your face, and what girlfriend would let that happen anyway, right? What they didn’t consider was the possibility of said girlfriend wanting some damn boobies on her face, and I have to say, I was a little offended.
The very first thing I noticed, other than how loudly I had to yell to be heard, was the face of the woman onstage. She was naked as the day she was born, kind of just slowly prowling around on all fours. By all accounts, my eyes should have been stuck to her body. That’s the point, right? Ain’t nobody get naked for money so you can look at her face. But I looked. And this chick was bored as hell.
There weren’t that many people in the club, since it wasn’t a weekend night. But those that were there were soaking in her no-contact nudity like they wouldn’t see another woman again. And there she was, looking like maybe she was thinking about what she needed from the grocery store or how annoying it was that all the banks in Montreal close at 3 p.m. She was wholly disinterested and uninvolved. Even when she straddled a guy’s face and wiggled (for an extra fee, of course), she looked like there were a hundred places she’d rather be. Can you blame her?
There’s a whole politics to the commoditization of women and the complexities surrounding sex work. Everyone’s heard of the dancer who’s just trying to pay her way through med school, but we also know of the one who is caught in a system that gives her no recourse but this one. All of that is too big to tackle in a thousand words, but the truth is this: we just don’t know where each of those women comes from, and it’s not fair to pretend like we do. I’m not making a judgment call on any of them. For this column, I’m more interested in their customers.
There I was, watching very thin, very flexible women take off their clothes and swing around a pole for about a minute each. There was no tease to this strip, no tension, no build-up. A woman would come onstage wearing almost nothing, untie a few things here and shake off some things there. Once you got a couple good long looks straight at her vagina, she picked up her clothes and left the stage. That’s clearly protocol: respond to a demand that keeps on holding out dollar bills. I’m betting a lot of those men are continually returning customers. What do they keep coming back for?
I’m sure there are “special” customers who get “special” treatment in a “special” place. But taking a strip club for what it is on the surface — that is, a legal sector of the sex work industry — regardless of what it may be underneath, watching bored dancing naked women is about as impersonal as it gets.
When it dawned on me that this is in fact the point of a strip club, I slugged back a $10 shot of whiskey, denied the waitress when she immediately came over to give me another, and got a little sad.
Is this something that has happened recently to sex or has it always been this way? Has a faceless body always been enough? And not only enough, but in fact better than the alternative, so much that people are willing to pay just to look at it? I have my doubts as to whether I would actually put that in the same category as sex.
Some of the men were staring almost listlessly at the dancers, like they could have been staring at their mothers and not have been the wiser. What kind of sexuality is that? Look, I try to make a point of not making judgments of people’s preferences. But I’m judging the hell out of this right now.
I have yet to meet a person who can have a sexual experience with someone else and legitimately have no feelings or connection. I’m not saying there needs to be love or that they need to like the person, but SOMETHING is always there. Even if this something is terribly negative, it exists. But I saw men looking beyond these women, looking through them like they were dancing blank walls that suddenly caused an erection. And the dancers knew it.