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  • Valerie Stunning

Stripper Retirement, Definitely. (Part 2)

After thirteen years of professional thotting- across 3 continents, 4 countries,10 states, 17 cities, and 37 clubs- I have officially hung up my Pleasers. As in done, D U N, done. That’s right. This puta is retired. 

You might be thinking, “Well duhh Val, the title of your last blog was Stripper Retirement, Probably. (Part 1)” but believe it or not, I actually didn’t plan on retiring until the end of the Summer. 

Yes, I was beyond burnt out. To a crisp. So much so that my therapist and partner (on separate occasions) even expressed concern that my relationship to this work was slipping into dangerous territory. That the weariness I exuded from 8 days of work a month eclipsed any dollar amount I brought home. Stripping was increasingly taking more than it was giving me and I could feel it. As the months rolled by it was increasingly harder for me to shake off the internalized stress from a weekend of club work and slide back into my civilian life.

But in spite of my physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual dimming, I still clung tightly to this abstract idea of exiting on my terms. Which in reality I did exit on my terms. It just didn't look or feel the way I thought it would. In retrospect, I’m not even sure what I thought it would look or feel like. I just know I had an iron tight grip on it.

I can safely say that "on my terms" didn’t look like a closet stacked with hundreds. And regrettably, it wasn’t a parade with an accompanying lifetime achievement award for “What Dat Ass Do.” While I believed I hadn’t felt bound in quite some time to some standard of enough that I witnessed other sex workers hold themselves to, I do admit I’ve caught myself every now and again looking at the houses my sex worker friends have bought and the respectable on paper civilian careers they now boast with an envious side eye. In my most insecure moments I have questioned, did I do it wrong? What have I got to show from all these years?

I’m not proud of it. But I’m also not above it. Even so. While I can recognize that petty comparison can occasionally creep up and get the best of me, I’m also confident that temporary envy is not enough to keep me engaged in self destructive behavior. 

I'm sure of this because throughout the entirety of my sex work career I have never once aspired to pursuing a college degree or buying a house. Hell there were many years I didn’t even want to own a couch. 

When I started stripping at 26 what I wanted was to move through the world untethered, to come and go as I pleased. And I did just that. 

I used the time and money stripping afforded me to live in a way women in my family never had the chance to. I travelled as far as I could and experienced as much as possible. I made intentional choices that kept me buoyant and pliable. I made reckless choices and accumulated a proper amount of regret. I’ve been fortunate enough to see the sunset from countless vantage points on this Earth, and privileged enough to rest comfortably on my soap box and pontificate about my life. 

I did all this based on how I wanted to live. Not according to someone’s idea of what I should be doing.

So why, after sucking so much juice out of life, did I still feel compelled to push myself beyond burnout and continue with a job that was now sucking the life out of me? I suppose I could explain myself with the same ol' go to's, but this time I don't feel it's enough to solely relate my behavior to starvation mentality. Or group think. Or even capitalism. What is that insatiable thing that shames me into believing that I didn’t do enough? That there’s still bread on the table and it ain’t over till I get every last crumb.

You know, logically if I break down the labor I regularly traded for money, it’s easy for me to understand why burn out is an inherent part of this job. The level of compartmentalization required to do this work is in and of itself a lot for any one person to process from a single night, let alone years on end. 

To give those of you who aren't personally familiar, here’s an idea of the baseline of things I am managing during any given dance:

There’s the close proximity to a complete stranger which of course entails various degrees of physical contact AND the sensory overload that comes from smelling and touching new people all the time. Then there’s the energetic exchange and absorption that comes from being that close to someone. *I don’t care how woo woo or not you consider yourself to be- I know for a fact that we human animals are constantly picking up what other people are putting out energetically… 

Then there’s the hyper vigilance of making sure while I’m performing eroticism and intimacy through intricate movement and dance, I am also safe. 

  • Is the customer respecting my boundaries? 

  • What happens if there is a sudden shift in their character (because sometimes they do bait and switch and who they become during a dance was not who they were on the floor) do I have an exit strategy? 

  • Am I quick enough, strong enough, savvy enough to deescalate a possible dangerous scenario? Sure, security.. but can they get there faster than it takes a potential predator to try some bullshit? …

Meanwhile, as I’ve calculated all this, I’m moving with a fluid sensuality, grace, and effortlessness designed to seem natural and turn someone on. I’m also projecting a playful/slutty vibe that’s tailored to compliment the energy each customer is seeking but hasn’t necessarily specified…

As I’m keeping rhythm and showcasing my labia, I’m searching for that thing, the key to keeping a customer enraptured and spending. Is it deeper conversation? Is it a flying somersault? Is it light BDSM?  

I’m also counting songs to mark the time…

And I’m calculating the numbers in my head. 

  • What is this customer’s spending potential?

  • How much energy do I need to exert based on this perceived information? 

  • How much in tips do I need to earn to cover the percentage that goes back to the club?

  • When all is said and done is there enough money to make me feel good about the labor I’ve traded for it?

All this while operating anywhere from dead sober to proper buzzed on shots of tequila. And that’s just a dance. Keep in mind this isn’t considering watching and working the floor, dancing on stage, and intercepting colleagues energy/issues/drama. It’s also not taking into account my personal life and all I’m managing with myself and family on any given night. Capeesh? 

A while ago I received a comment on IG from a fellow veteran stripper who had hung up her heels after seventeen years of hustling. I remember at some point during our exchange she said something along the lines of feeling that although she had been out of the club for awhile, she still felt like she was processing the experience. 

In the few weeks since I’ve retired, I feel that so hard. And it’s only been one month. I remember thinking when her and I were messaging, what a wealth of experience and advocacy she was sitting on having had the perspective that only time and distance can shape. It’s way too soon for me to say something profound regarding the summation of my stripping career, if it ever comes. But if does, you’ll be the first to know.

BTS Photo: Valerie Stunning


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