By year three of grinding on dudes for dollars I had had enough shitty experiences with civilians (both customers and not) that had taught me the world was especially unkind and unfair to Strippers/SWers. I was exhausted by the micro and macro aggressions that had become my new normal, and by the dehumanizing questions and comments people often hurled at me. All I wanted was to be seen as a person who worked a job (albeit an interesting job) and provided for herself.
It was around this time I reverted to the ancient mantra of my BK roots: fuck bitches, get money. It was around this time I arrived in Las Vegas and started building an online presence. It was also around this time I started to buy into the myth that if I hustled harder/smarter/right I could win this game. i.e. Earn all the money, flex how I did what most won’t to have what most don’t, and finally shut these jabronis up.
As mentioned in Part 1 & Part 2, I didn’t initially see how my insatiable work ethic and sole focus on securing the bag was deeply rooted in fear. How wanting to escape society’s stigma against Strippers/SWers had only reinforced my belief that I had to lifestyle my way out of being persecuted. A belief that was seeded long before I ever strapped on a pair of plastic stilettos, back when I was coming up as a poor city kid with very little guidance.
It’s a common story, not the only story, but one I’ve for sure commiserated with colleagues about in many dressing rooms. Growing up without means, internalizing society's whorephobia, and getting caught up in justifying our human right to work by holding ourselves to impossible standards. And I'm convinced we only perpetuate these impossible standards when we glamorize, dramatize, and proselytize partial truths about stripping in exchange for viewership.
When I pay attention to what’s currently being PSA’d by Strippers on the internet the gold glittering elephant in the room is often fear.
Follow me here. Yes earning enough to support your livelihood is essential. That’s what we came here to do. Yes understanding your emotional relationship to money and establishing healthy money habits is important. Especially because for a lot of us this is the first time we’ve ever been able to sit in the same room with this kind of earning potential. However, if we’re serious about treating Stripping/Sex Work as real work, then we also need to address that we do not get longevity out of this job by solely fixating on the money.
That’s the trap. Coming from a place of surviving, securing a job where we can eventually earn enough to not have to survive, then solely validating our success and self worth on how much we earn, which reinforces starvation mentality, and keeps us stuck in survival mode. And when we’re afraid there’s not enough to eat it’s really hard to see the value in engaging thoughtfully (not pandering or projecting an image) or in connecting on a human level.
Gone are the days when I would fool myself into believing that it was a single moment or incident that led me to seeing how I was stuck in survival mode and in need of a reality check. As if one event occurred and poof, voila, I was a brand new bitch instantly capable of seeing how I got caught up and instantly able to change course. Not only would I be doing you a disservice by selling you on the fakest news, but I’d be disrespecting myself. Disavowing the years it’s taken and the really hard work I’ve done to get to what I consider the other side. The other side of fear. Fear of not surviving. Fear of being marginalized for the work I do. Fear of losing family and friends because my job has somehow deemed me unlovable. Fear of not living up to this persona I created to project I was above this fear.
That and truthfully, now that I’m on the other side I’m still not sure I’ve fully arrived. Some days I can see myself objectively. Not only will I ask myself why? Or should I? I will even accept when the answers to those questions don’t support the outcome I was hoping for and then pivot accordingly. Other days, not so much. I can get so attached to reaching a certain outcome that I will intellectualize and rationalize my decisions until they support the reality I'm hoping to create. I chalk it up to human nature. We’re all comprised of contradictions. I’m just really grateful to have a solid support system that helps keep me accountable when I’m on one.
But maybe it’s never been a matter of fully arriving? Perhaps getting real with yourself is a continual action like loving or forgiving? Everyday you wake up and you make the choice to do so. Not because of some societally agreed upon hypothetical ROI, that it’s somehow good for you or that you’ll feel better for doing so, but because you’ll never truly be you otherwise.
The irony of #striptok and other forums like it is that content creators often project authenticity when delivering their PSA’s. But how can we be authentic/keep it real when our sole metric for success is wrapped up in winning? We’re over here like, “money mindset”, “manifest all day every day”, “don’t get stuck doing this work in your 40’s and 50’s”, “crypto this”, “investments that”, and “racks on racks on racks”.
But what about the time this work affords us? The fact that we can create our own schedules and have agency over our lives in ways most corporate jockeys do not. What snapped me out of believing the myth of winning this game has never been about the money I stacked. It has always been the real whole hearted connections I have made with fellow humans. In real analog life. The support system I have dedicated years of intentional time and meaningful effort into. My friends, my therapist, my community, and my family- they have helped keep me grounded and accountable.
There’s something about this mirror, so to speak, that gets held to us by the people in our lives. When we engage one another, ask questions, and have discourse it challenges us to think about why we believe something or do something and should we believe it or do it. But I’m convinced doing so via the online community is not enough. While working through these last 3 posts I’ve thought a lot about the vulnerability involved with being our authentic selves online when it’s likely we’re being viewed by potential or existing customers. And I want to say, by no means am I advocating to dox ourselves or put ourselves at risk in order to keep it real with one another.
What I am advocating for are a few things that I have found non-negotiable in my process of getting out of survival mode and getting real with myself.
Use the time this work affords you to connect meaningfully with people off of the internet. The power of being in the tangible presence of a trusted friend or confidant when relating to each other and being heard and/or actively listening is profoundly healing. The benefits of which far out weigh any internet feedback, and will facilitate healthy sustainable connections. The kind of connections that will have your back and help keep you accountable for the times you lose sight of what’s real.
Approach creating content for Strippers/SWers the way you would approach talking to a colleague in the dressing room. Hopefully that’s with empathy, compassion, and from a place of not needing to be right. And if that’s tough to do, perhaps it’s because you have a hard time doing so for yourself. I for sure did and at times still do. Practicing empathy, compassion, and patience has definitely been a work in progress but it has radically changed the way I relate to the world. I also think having a dedicated online space that is vetted for fellow workers will become essential if we’re looking to speak frankly to one another but are concerned with being viewed by potential/ existing customers.
Approach consuming informative/PSA content by Strippers/SWers with respect to the fact that there is no one size fits all magic formula to doing this work “right.” I don’t care how fly, confident, and goddess-like the creator of said content is. I don’t care how many hundreds they’re waving in front of the screen. We’re all just operating from a perspective that was informed by our own unique life experience. Sure, there may be validity to what someone is saying and there may not be. People tell the truth and people lie. Algorithms, platform induced time constraints and word limitations make it insanely difficult to suss out a more informed conclusion. I think we’d benefit most by abandoning this fallacy that there is some secret sauce to winning this game and instead accept and honor each other as fallible and human.
Next Post: 10/4
If you find value in these posts please share with a friend you think will relate. Xxo, Val