This is the post I was writing when my computer had a little epileptic fit. Now that it has been brought back from its comatose state, I wanted to finish it... It's another episode of my stripmemoirs. You can get caught up here, or you can just sit down and slide in mid-stream...it's your choice.
Being a stripper is a lot like being a writer—both professions require you to know your audience well enough to keep them interested as you slowly reveal some body of work. Being a sex writer is almost exactly like being a stripper. Though as of yet it’s a lot less high paying. And my feet really don’t hurt at all.
Though other parts of me do. But I digress.
A sex writer, like a stripper, has a choice to make about identity. Most other occupations don’t offer forth the frothy cocktail of puritan shame and prurient interest that the occupations of stripper and the sex writer bear on their ample bosoms. You tell someone that you stripped, and you see this brief discomposing flicker, this momentary lapse when that person tries successfully or not to recompose facial features into a semblance of polite interest.
“Really,” they say and then usually falter.
You have a choice as a stripper to come out to your friends and family. You have a choice as a sex writer too, especially when you’re the not-quite-as-of-yet-published sort that I am. I do, of course, have aims to publish. I do, of course, have a book or several in me, and I do, of course, want to publish them and get all the miniscule glories attendant with seeing my name in print.
You don’t know it, my name. Trust me: it looks good in print.
And this beginning may seem tangential to my strippy narrative, but trust me it is not. It runs a big thick swath down my CeeCee self because the question became, as I was stripping, who I was, who CeeCee was, and how to keep these two not so disparate (though sometimes desperate) lives from blurring like wet watercolors.
I don’t keep my own secrets well. If my secret is as much someone else’s as it is mine, I respect that privacy and don’t tell. But if it is mine and mine alone, then I do. If it rests in the grey area of the Venn diagram between thine and mine, then sometimes I write about it.
And sometimes I don’t.
But when I was stripping, I constantly assessed whom I told. Whom I could tell and why I would. And equally from whom I had to guard this secret. Sometimes I found myself shamed, like when I brought my Flashworn Lucite shoes to the cobbler to have him resole them. He would look at me, my scuffed and stinky white platform in the curve of his brown palm, and our eyes would meet and I would see that he knew. I could see him imagining me naked, which he probably would have done anyway, just without the obligatory pole and flashing lights.
Sometimes, like right after I had my boobs done, people would look at me and try to place the difference, or having placied it, try to give it context. Other times, people would notice my year-round tan, my French-manicures, my sheet of blonde hair and they knew. They just knew. Usually these people had stripexperience themselves. Sometimes they just guessed well.
And I was bursting to tell. I had this huge secret in the straight world and all I wanted to do was to let it ripen and burst open like a blackberry in the sun. I wanted to just let the secret out into the air and see what happened because it was so much goddammed work to hold it in my size 6 body.
I went to college at day and I stripped at night. And while I was at school I saw these things I read through a stripper’s eyes. I read Yeats and saw the foul rag and boneshop of my heart played out in a split screen of some dusty Irish pawnshop and some scruffy New York pornshop. I read Michel Foucault and saw my nightlife of sexwork expressed in my daytime intellectual textual politics.
I went to work at night and reveled in my putting my feminist praxis into practice. Here I was, I thought, making the patriarchal system work for me. I was the one in power, I told myself as I smiled and swiveled in 6” heels, holding my garter out for the drunken patriarchs. I was liberated in my own brand of do-me feminism, I told myself while counting my twenties in my cab ride home at four in the morning.
I tried to both meld my two worlds and to keep them separated. Like the famous Einstein quote about simultaeously keeping peace and preparing for war, these two acts were at cross-purposes.
I stripped a year before going to school. I stripped my final year of college, the year between college and grad school, and the first two years of graduate school. I spent the vast majority of those years not telling anyone but my closest friends and my boyfriend, if I had one, what I did. And I cannot begin to tell you how much that hurt.
I remember in this undergrad writing class I took with Susan Cheever, she had us write a five-sentence paragraph that followed this paradigm: simple sentence; compound or complex sentence; compound-complex sentence; compound or complex sentence: simple sentence.
I don’t remember exactly what I wrote, but it went something like this: I am a stripper. I go to school every morning after working until 4:00 a.m. the night before. I don’t tell anyone what I do, for it is hard for most to understand and to see me the way they did before they knew. I work very hard and I am very tired. I love it all.
And then I asked her not to read it aloud. She didn’t, but she, too, never looked at me quite the same way again.
Dancing, of course, I had a separate name, a bogus identity, a sham history. It didn’t bother me to not tell those people who I was and what I did, but it was hard to keep my fake life from blending in whirly bits into my real life.
Especially when I was home in Vermont. I’m not really sure what my burning impetus was for telling my mom, but I had it. It had a big old fire in my belly and I had to had to had to tell. I had to. Part of it, I’m sure, was my desperate loneliness.
I haven’t really gotten into it here, yet, though I’ve tiptoed around it, but here’s the simple fact: I spent two ten-month consecutive periods without having sex. And while a lot of my pain came from the loss of the sex, which really requires its own writing, the lion’s share just came from being alone so much of the time.
Every Sunday, especially during my first year in grad school, I spent sitting on my couch, weeping. Every Sunday my mom would call, and every Sunday I would feel this crashing sense of utter abandonment. And eventually, the crash of the loneliness, the weight of the conflict, and that burning impetus conspired to make me come out to my mom.
I remember I was sitting on a stool in my family’s kitchen. I sort of took a deep breath and dove into the narrative.
I’m not a waitress, I told my mother. I’m a stripper. I’ve been doing it for four years, I told her. I work at FlashDancers, I told her. They treat me well, I said.
“Does it make you feel badly about yourself?” She asked.
No, I told her.
“Do you feel safe doing it?” She asked.
Yes, I told her.
She stood, clearly considering all that I’d told her. “I’d always wondered where you got the money,” she said, sizing me up. “And as long as you feel ok doing it, I guess it’s ok with me.” She paused. “There will always be poor women and men needing some place to go and look, so it looks like every one comes out ahead,” she said and went back to washing the dishes or whatever it was she was doing.
We did speak of it again, the stripping. When Striptease, the Demi Moore movie, came out, my mom called me.
“I was thinking,” she said, “Given that so many men want to cheat and the fear of AIDS, I guess what you’re doing is giving these people a safe environment for working out their fantasies. It’s a social service, really.”
That’s right, Mom, I responded. I’m a social worker.
But now that the stripping is all said and done and so solidly in the then, I know that I wasn’t really honest, if not with her, at least with myself. It did hurt me. I didn’t feel safe. I do wish I hadn’t had to have done it. I do hold it accountable for at least a portion of the searing loneliness, the cognitive dissonance, the crashing depressions I had in those days.
And yet I don’t leave it behind, for I still am here, on some stage, taking things off and showing them to people I don’t know.
And my parents still don’t really want to know about it.