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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

Photo: Valerie Stunning by Angie Ortaliza

If you haven’t read Part 1, I recommend doing so before continuing. Cheers!

When I first started writing this piece I thought it was only about how #striptok participants (and the like) overhype hustle culture and glamorize partial truths in exchange for viewership and validation, and how this in turn oversimplifies strippers’ circumstances and contributes to the stigma we face. I’ve since realized it is also about how using our work persona and the tactics we use with clients at work when addressing fellow strippers online can become cannibalistic. The more I think about it, the more I realize there’s a lot to this theory and I aim to explore it thoroughly. But I also don’t want to squeeze too much in a single blog post. So let's begin with how I got caught up.

The very first day I arrived in Las Vegas I had one suitcase and enough money to stay a single night at Motel 6. Since February 2011 I had been shaking my ass from city to city earning just enough to make a few memories and then move on. After an adventurous two plus years of living without a home base to say I was road weary was an understatement. But I had just put my last cent toward lodging, so after check-in and a quick refresh I took off in my jalopy of a 97’ Subaru Outback to audition at a club I’d read about on (rest in peace). I returned later that night with a lot more cash than I had left with and an inflated sense of confidence that I was going to make Vegas my bitch. Ahhhh, twenties…

One of the things stripping eventually provided me with is access to an earning potential that I otherwise could have never sat in the same room with. I come from generations of poor working class people. In terms of “formal” education I have only a high school diploma. And my pre-stripper resume flaunts a slew of fast food joints, highway side diners, and chain restaurants that I worked back breaking hours at from the age of 15.

One of the things stripping eventually taught me is how to impersonate a socioeconomic class I did not come from so I could appear more relatable and therefore more valuable to prospective clients in that tax bracket. This is known as class drag.

*Lawyers, Realtors, and Strippers are a few examples of the professionals that regularly employ class drag to signal relatability in hopes of closing a sale. Perhaps it’s also why a significant amount of lawyers and realtors are also former strippers ;)

But it was when I began building a social media presence as a Stripper living in a fabulous city doing fabulous things, that’s when I was able to curate the version of myself I wished to see in the world. And at some point, I can’t remember when, the line between me and my work persona began to disappear.

I lived and stripped in Las Vegas from May 2013 to December 2022. And while no one makes Las Vegas their bitch, I did spend several of those years hustling with zero chill and flexing on the internet that I was that bitch. There’s a weird thing that happens when constantly viewing yourself through the lens of a constructed persona who performs on social media. (Yes, performs. What else would you call the act of curating a post that takes into consideration any of the following: lighting, setting, makeup, wardrobe, angles, and diction?) Especially if you work a job that is heavily stigmatized and the internet feels like a safe place to publicly exist and celebrate this aspect of what you do. Especially if you grew up without means in a tough environment with very little guidance. *Waves hand emphatically

The thing that happened to me, despite it’s superficiality and parasocial nature, is that I started to internalize the the social media attention I was receiving for the persona I was promoting as personally validating. I saw that the more I adopted my internet persona as my actual personality the more the world seemed to reward me with access to spaces and social spheres that were once considered above my pedigree. And while this was a slippery slope to conflating my self image with my self, I’m not sure that I would consider the entirety of the years I spent caught up a problem. I think the problem specifically is when I stopped being able to separate the person I was on the internet for work purposes from the person I was on the internet for community purposes.

It’s an easy trap to fall into and because I've been there I now see the signs of buying into one’s own internet hype reflected back at me in many of the people who PSA on #striptok and other forums like it. In fact there seems to be a general disconnect that we Strippers are collectively ignoring when it comes to which audience is the appropriate audience to direct one’s work persona and/or class drag at when flexing on the internet.

I didn’t make the rules. But I can tell you after dancing naked for money for over twelve years throughout sixteen cities in four countries and on three continents (fakes humility, flips hair) being a Stripper is so much more than the hustle hard/right/smart, look expensive, rack out and go home messaging of social media lore. I believe when targeting prospective clients, yee-fucking-haw, this is explicitly work. But when we are sharing insights, stories, and advice with fellow Strippers, we owe each other the aggressive overhead white lights no bullshit truth. And we owe it to each other because when it comes to navigating the full spectrum of hard realities that doing this job safely and sustainably requires, we are all we’ve got. This is evident in the very act of us coming to the internet and looking to each other for guidance.

In Part 3. I’ll share how I got real with myself, and will explore the ways we can practice holding ourselves and each other accountable when creating and consuming content made for Strippers by Strippers.

Next Post: 9/20

If you find value in these posts, please share them with a friend

Photo: Valerie Stunning by Sophia Phan

I took a break at work recently and was bombarded with a Tik Tok that gave me, what I can only describe in my best Jersey I-talian accent as the agita. I didn’t intend to watch it. I don’t even have an active Tik Tok account. But it was a sneak attack, reposted by a popular IG stripper account that I follow. And as I scrolled my feed it came into frame and immediately started playing. Got em.

The reel’s content was in line with the trend of strippers / swers on social media dishing what I believe is intended to be well-meaning advice. The woman delivering it was direct and her tone matter of fact. The bulk of the message was crystal clear: Do stripping right. Go to work, live below your means, save your money, and don’t get stuck working as a stripper in your 40’s and 50’s, or even worse at Panera Bread, when you could have done better.

More and more strippers are taking to the internet in search of community and information and I have scrolled many posts akin to this one. I’ve even preached similar sentiments about saving and preparing in past posts. So why did this Tik Tok agitate the hell out of me?

I sat with my discomfort for a few more minutes in an impossibly small dressing room on an impossibly slow night, and promised myself I’d continue to examine this feeling later. Because as Brené Brown would say, this was information. But as my mother would say, this rent wasn’t going to pay itself.

Since that night I thought about that Tik Tok a lot. I rewatched it, I talked about with others, I weighed it against other stripper / swer PSA’s and even my own past rhetoric. Then eventually I realized. The reason this video hit different is because I no longer relate to or agree with a lot of what is being touted as industry insight.

I’ll bet my ass it’s an unpopular opinion, but what I currently glean from most stripper /swer PSA’s flushes into a repetitive cycle and becomes this sort of self licking ice cream cone. For example, I see our society mine the culture of strippers / swers for inspiration yet continue to stigmatize and marginalize us. I see us as workers attempt to reject this stigma by being out about our jobs yet internalize it by overhyping the hustle and buying into the very class drag we perform to earn our living. I see us as content creators glamorizing this as the “key to success” and “right way” to do this work, then formatting it within the constraints and limitations of algorithms and word counts. And I see how this leads us as viewers to absorbing half baked ideas as scripture then modifying our behavior accordingly. Thus becoming our reality, which then influences our culture, and repeat.

You know, when I first began soap boxing on the internet I wanted to believe that a lot of us in the industry who flex on social media, regardless of pomp and circumstance, aimed to encourage a more informed worker. Because a more informed worker is a more empowered worker. It was this belief that led me to pursuing an active role in my community as a fellow organizer. For over five years I collaborated with folks from different factions of sex work in multiple sex worker led organizations to advocate for humanizing the worker, de-stigmatizing the work, and securing labor rights and protections. I learned that the issues we as sex workers face are really fucking complex and often require multi-pronged solutions. And in the midst of it all I doubled down in my belief that sex work is valid work and can be a sustainable career for whomever chooses to pursue it.

It’s a hill I will absolutely die on. Though as I wave this flag I also wonder:

Are we individually and collectively perpetuating a feedback loop that overhypes the hustle and leads us to getting caught up which then reenforces the stigma we face?

Have we bought into the cult of #hustleharder culture as the sole means of validating our line of work? And / or our right to work?

By glamorizing, dramatizing, and proselytizing partial truths in exchange for viewership and validation, are we just cosplaying ourselves? Is this harmful?

Over the next couple of posts I’ll dive deeper into these questions, give detailed examples from my own experience of getting caught up and believing my own hype, and wax poetically about why I now believe there is no winning this game.

Next Post: 9/6

BTS Photo: Valerie Stunning

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