THE (NOT SO) GLAMOROUS LIFE OF A STRIPPER

I am sat in the corner next to the bar, letting my back sink into the couch, my legs spread open. I stopped pretending for the night; I am just waiting for the manager to send me home. I stare at the ashtray and count the crumpled butts accumulated in a smelly pile sprinkled by gray ashes. I light myself another cigarette – tomorrow I’ll stop smoking. When I lift my gaze to exhale smoke in a twirl, the DJ waves at me. I roll my eyes around until the focus stops down to my feet. His predatory gaze is heavy on the top of my head, but I won’t stand up. 

“Eddy on stage.”

Once he calls you on the mic, there is no escape. I have worked in this club for two years and the DJ still hasn’t learnt how to pronounce my name. I thought about saying something, but it feels weird to be fussy about a fake name. I grunt, as loud as I can, but it’s still not loud enough for his ear to catch my disappointment from the other side of the club. I limp to the stage. Even though the alcohol is numbing the pain, my toe infection is burning, trapped in worn out eight-inch heels.

“Why do I have to dance now? It’s five in the morning and there are almost no customers left.”

“Maybe you can get some tips from them.”

“They have been sitting here for the whole night. They don’t tip.”

“Look, I am just doing my job. You do yours.”

I would take that if my job paid an hourly wage as his does. Or if I was paid for dancing at all. I walk a couple of rounds around the pole, then slide to the floor to rest my body and engage in some low effort floor fucking. My head is spinning; I am tipsier than I thought. No, I am actually drunk.

In a lot of European clubs, strippers get commissions on the champagne bottles they sell, and they are encouraged to sit and drink with the customers. I tried to dump my champagne tonight, but my customer was watching my glass the whole time.

“I know how you strippers do it. Don’t fool me.”

Well, what he didn’t know is that I have an appointment tomorrow and I wanted to avoid getting to my appointment with a hangover. It’s not because I am trying to fool you, sir. It’s because I have a life out of this place, sir. 

I get off the stage before the second song finishes, without taking my bra off. I drag my feet to one of the last customers’ table, my toe shrieking in flames.

“Do you have a tip for my show?” I stretch my cheeks into a fake smile for the best prize in acting.

“I didn’t see you.”

“It was me on stage right now.”

“I wasn’t watching, sorry.”

I open my mouth to answer, then close it again. I look away and stomp to the next customer.

“Do you have a tipping dollar for my show?”

“No, I ran out.”

I know this customer. I had a private dance with him yesterday, and he is one of those nostalgics for vintage radios. The ones who like twisting your nipples like they were tuning a radio. There is a whole bunch of them – the vintage radio fan club. They are almost as annoying as the lickers, who, no matter how many times you’ll tell them no licking, will keep trying, sneakily, like a lizard catching a fly. Adults grown back into children. If it’s not the first customer of the night doing that, I get satisfaction from letting them know that they have unwillingly exchanged fluids with another stranger man. After all the low effort floor fucking on the filthy carpet, I hope my skin tastes bitter. 

Another half hour and the manager sends me home. I am walking to the train station, one foot in front of the other, hiding the smudged make-up behind sunglasses. This wasn’t quite the life I expected when I decided to become a stripper. Where are the customers throwing money at me? I am still waiting for my JLo-in-Hustlers moment – all men in the club at my feet and bang, they make it rain.

When our industry is not demonised, I often see people falling into the opposite mistake and glamorise sex workers’ lives. Newspapers love reporting sensationalistic stories like “ESCORT EARNS THOUSANDS IN ONE NIGHT”. Professional domination is idealised as deeply satisfying, because you allegedly get paid for beating up cis-men. The recent pole dance trend showcases the more glam side of stripping with sexy outfits, glittery heels, and breathtaking dance moves. Sometimes it’s even us sex workers who glamorise our jobs. It’s a defense mechanism, because as soon as we don’t justify our industry as empowering, as soon as we say anything different than sex work is the greatest thing in my life, people use it against us.

I am not saying glamorous elements are never part of sex work. They are – sometimes. But the picture is so much more complex and there are other factors to consider. In the strip club, I didn’t find the stages covered in cash I was promised by the movies. If I have to describe an average night, it’s mostly long shifts, disrespectful and patronizing customers, unfair working conditions, instability, a lot of rejection – and a lot of boredom, mostly. Me sipping champagne in fancy lingerie can be part of the job, but that doesn’t neutralise the negative parts. Sex work might not be all bad, but it’s also not always good, and we should be able to say that, without having people using our own words as evidence for stigmatising or criminalising us.

 The glamorisation of the industry has harmful consequences on the way people perceive us, invalidating our struggles. Not only does it obliterate the stigma, the violence, and the discrimination we face, but it also gives the impression that the job is “easy money”. It’s not rare to hear people joke about quitting their normie jobs to become strippers or pro dommes. Yet, financial instability, lack of worker rights, and the dangers that come with existing in a society that doesn’t respect you are just some of the very non-glamorous realities of becoming a sex worker. We need more nuanced representation that doesn’t fall into the binary demonisation vs. glamorisation.

At the same time, I have the impression that glamorising sex work comes with the risk of convincing people to get into sex work for the wrong reasons or without considering that they are signing up for the whole package.

I made it through the pole class. My injured toe is pulsating, almost as much as my head. I enter the changing room, drying my forehead with a t-shirt, the combination of physical exercise and champagne hangover going hard on my sweat glands. Someone is already in there.

“You are good. For how long have you been dancing?”

“Six years.”

“Wow! Which classes have you been taking?”

I fold my sweaty t-shirt into my bag, avoiding eye contact. I am never happy to answer questions when I am at the pole studio.

“I haven’t really taken classes consistently. I learnt in the strip club.”

The girl’s face starts glowing.

“That is so cool! Can I ask you in which club you work? Or if you have any club to recommend? I am thinking of starting stripping myself.”

“I wouldn’t recommend starting now. It’s not a good time. The economic recession is hitting the industry hard.”

“Oh, I don’t care too much about that. I have a full time job during the week. I would do it just for fun.”

Just for fun. Fun like being marked as a deviant for your whole life? Being insulted as a filthy whore? Or fun more like working for establishments that don’t care if you get assaulted at work? Fun like suffering from the psychological and physical consequences of the stress caused by living a double life?

I swing my bag over my shoulder and my fingers fiddle with a cigarette – tomorrow I’ll stop smoking. My other hand is wrapped around the door handle, as tight as my life depended on it.

“I need to go. My train is coming.”

Edie Montana

Edie Montana (she/her) is a Berlin based sex worker, performance artist, and writer. Her work combines politics and activism with arts and performance to destigmatise sex work.

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