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The Tasteful Nude The Tasteful Nude

On Becoming a Humanitarian Ho

On Becoming a Humanitarian Ho: Hair and Makeup by Emma Parkes

Hair and Makeup by Emma Parkes

Welcome to the fourth installment of The Tasteful Nude, a new series in which stripper, comedian and writer Kasey Koop gives us an unvarnished and often hilarious look at life onstage and backstage in L.A.’s strip club scene. Check back every Thursday afternoon for more.

I think it’s safe to say that the last thing stripping brings to mind is ethical rigor. The first few things might be money, sex and alcohol. Where, might you ask, could the social conscience possibly fit within an industry riddled with sin? What does a strip club have to offer beyond a bit of sleazy fun?

Getting into exotic dance exposed me to several facets of sex work that no male-created movie or TV show could possibly depict. Since the media is male-dominated and stripping is female-ruled, sex work is heavily stigmatized and misunderstood on a mainstream level. So I was pleasantly surprised when I became a stripper and not only felt comfortable at work but even inspired and fortified by it. Growing up outside of Portland, Oregon—America’s strip club capital—I had stripper friends who claimed empowerment from the job, but I naively dismissed that as misguided justification for their lascivious lifestyle. (Needless to say, I was jealous.) Finding that stripping empowered me was the first of numerous discoveries I had regarding the positive societal effects of sex work.

Here are a few other discoveries I made on the way to becoming a humanitarian ho.


WE CONTROL THE GAZE
As a feminist, I was nervous about how the male gaze of customers would affect how I saw myself. I was proud of the ‘70s bush I rocked even when reptilian pussies were en vogue, and I had never wanted bigger boobs—although two of the strippers I knew back in Oregon had undergone the procedure and I was scared that the male eyes would laserbeam implants into my chest.

It turns out that the club has more of a female gaze than a male one. For the majority of my time at work, the dancers outnumber the male patrons. Clustered on a sofa area we call “Whore Island,” the other ladies and I kill the slow hours snuggling and talking shit. When guys arrive, they are met with the hungry eyes of a dozen kittens ready to pounce. We feel like the Sirens luring men to their demise, or at least the demise of their bank accounts. This gender role reversal often makes dudes nervous enough to ask me to come back to them after they’ve downed a few shots. I spent my early twenties living bar to club to after-party, and no matter how on the prowl I was for penis, I felt like the prey. The club is a special place where men get to be pursued like women.

WE ARE ROBIN HOOD (WOMEN IN FISHNETS)
It’s strange that a completely legal job like stripping can be viewed with such skepticism. On the other hand, sometimes I feel like a job this easy should be criminal! During my first month stripping, I felt guilty asking customers for the $20 a lap dance costs because, after years of waiting tables, making money at this rate felt unnatural. Sex work has the inherent Robin Hood quality of taking from the rich and giving to the poor; it’s one of the few places where the redistribution of wealth occurs directly.

I frequent my local bank to deposit cash, and a bank teller once scoffed at the stack of ones I brought in. How ironic to be judged within the walls of one of the most corrupt institutions on earth! No judgments on the tellers out there, but no strip club has never repossessed someone’s home.

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WE TAKE IT TO THE STREETS
As I stated earlier, it was difficult for me to embrace the idea that dancing for men, scantily clad, had an empowering side. Wasn’t playing into men’s fantasies the utmost in degradation? But when I had visited the club as a patron, watching the dancers move and experience their own sexuality onstage lit a fire in me, even as a viewer. When I got past my fear long enough to strip down, I felt the rush stand-up comedy had given me the first time I tried it, although bearing my soul doing comedy actually felt more naked. Maybe I’m an adrenaline junkie or an attention whore, or maybe I just like walking through my fears, where I always find new reserves of strength.

Since we are not choreographed and I don’t care to choose my songs, I have learned to trust myself and the show I deliver. Honing my improvisational abilities has vastly improved my stand-up: I feel more comfortable being myself onstage and playing with my audiences. I’ve known strippers who have gotten into the job after abusive relationships, to get their mojo back. A girl who auditioned for the club at the same time as me told me she got into pole dancing in order to reclaim her sexuality as she was turning thirty.

WE ARE SEXUAL HEALERS
I don’t actually perform sex acts, but everything leading up to it—the flirting, playing and teasing—can be as gratifying as lovemaking itself. I’ve met an abundance of polyamorous couples at work who are there scouting out fresh faces to add to their partnership. Couples often get lap dances together as a noncommittal way to add excitement to their love life. Even for men in monogamous relationships, I provide an outlet of relief for the itch that long-term commitment arouses, without them actually cheating. So long as their partner is cool with it, a night at the strip club for a married dude is harmless, flirtatious affection. I give lap dances like a masseuse whose tool is her entire body and the knots I’m working out are emotional.

I can generally guess the years a man’s been married by his attitude toward me, the dancer. Newlywed men tend to act alarmed or even revolted by my presence, whereas guys married a few years seem playfully intrigued. Fellas tied down over a decade have the sentiment of: Sit on me. Fart on me. Whatever…take everything.

What can I say? I’m a giver.


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