Dancing Thoughts

Some more ideas on stripping that have been dominating my thoughts lately…

I decided I wanted to tell my counselor about stripping. She was very supportive, and understood my reasoning, both personal and academic. It was great. She also helped me understand that my mom, who sees strip clubs in black-and-white terms as places that subjugate and degrade women, probably will never be able to understand my perspectives on them. She told me it will probably always be a wound I have to manage- the fact that someone very important to me cannot accompany me on my journey.

Also- it has become increasingly difficult for me to tell people “I haven’t been doing anything” when that simply isn’t true. But when we are in the company of working professionals who refer to sex workers as “those people” I feel isolated and like I could never, ever reveal my current experiences. Yes, my primary motivation for stripping was pretty self-serving: I wanted to indulge my exhibitionist side, exercise for money, and get all dolled up. But it has become even more than that. I am fascinated by the sociology and public health aspects of the stripping industry, and I know that having this experiences will prove invaluable once I am studying harm reduction methods for improving the lives of sex workers. The fact that I can’t be honest about this with people because I am afraid of offending them has been difficult.

It’s nice to have an almost-lawyer around 🙂 J has been reading up on the difference between an “employee” and an “independent contractor.” He is interested in whether strippers are employees or independent contractors. An employee would be entitled to hourly wages, sick days, social security, Medicare, insurance coverage, workers compensation, etc.  As a supposed independent contractor, though, I do not receive any of those things. Based on one case and my experiences so far, J has some ideas on the validity of my role as an independent contractor. Here are a couple of links with more info if you are so interested 🙂
http://www.oregon.gov/BOLI/TA/Pages/T_FAQ_Independent_Contractors_11-2010.aspx
http://www.oregon.gov/boli/TA/docs/boli-whd_test_11-2010.pdf

Something we were talking about with one of our good friends the other night was the market of strip clubs. I recognize that the dominant target market is heterosexual men. But I know lots of bisexual women, and hetero couples, that enjoy strip clubs. Why aren’t there strip clubs (at least, that I have heard of) that cater to those markets? What would be awesome is to have a club owned by women, who actually employed dancers (so gave them wages, insurance, etc), who had at least nights catered to just women, and night catered to couples. I think it would be awesome.

More on Strip Club: Gender, Power, and Sex Work

“…women become strippers; strippers are produced by their experiences, strip clubs, and broader cultural understandings of stripping. Far from being easy, stripping work is often fraught with uneasiness and entails physical as well as mental difficulties. Embodying the role of ‘the stripper’ means confronting ageism, racism, and sizeism, in addition to sexism” (p113). 

“sexual agency–the ability to act according to one’s will in a sexual realm–is a necessary component of sexual health” (Laurel Crown and Linda Roberts, p.166).

I finally finished this book. It got much better after the first chapter, and I am really glad I stuck with it! I think Price-Glynn makes some astute observations about the gendered working environment of The Lion’s Den, how masculinity is portrayed, how strippers manage their work emotionally and physically, and how larger cultural issues such as rape myths and rape culture perpetuate unsafe working conditions for dancers.

Here are some of my favorite points, notes, and thoughts from the remainder of her analysis:

-She spends a great deal of time discussing how masculinity is created and portrayed in The Lion’s Den. A number of her categorizations fit with my own experiences and observations. She describes men who come in to the strip club to: 1) seek affirmation, 2) experience group connectedness, and 3) perform aggression. I have witnessed and encountered men in the first two categories. It is quite common that men who come in are seeking the attention of young, attractive women to feel validated and gain a boost to their self esteem. In addition, men that come in groups of two or more have quite a different dynamic. They are there to talk about business or sports or their wives, and to also to see a show. Luckily so far, I have not encountered men seeking to perform aggression as a way of displaying their masculinity. Of course, I have heard stories of this, and I would not be surprised if it is more common during the night shifts when there are more people in the club and more alcohol being served. I think, too, the psychology of anonymity probably plays into that scenario: someone may feel like he can get away with being aggressive because a bouncer is less likely to see or because he could easily slip away in a crowd. In addition, the ability of a dancer to create and maintain boundaries, hold a customer accountable, and feel protected and supported by management also helps in keeping aggressive masculinity at bay (of course I have to also say then: it is never the fault of a victim of assault or aggression that they were assaulted).

-Her discussion about how women manage their work was fascinating to me. Ways that strippers integrated their work experiences with their personal lives included: identifying as an object of desire, denying involvement and keeping their work a secret from family and friends, adopting an attitude of cynicism and alienation, transforming the work, creating personal boundaries, and washing away their work. Identifying as an object of desire means taking compliments from customers and believing them, feeling uplifted, and noticing a higher self-esteem as a result. Denying involvement had negative impacts on strippers’ relationships, and Price-Glynn notes that this strategy has more to do with the stigma associated with stripping. The cynicism and alienation strategy is based more on focusing the money: strippers narrow in on their economic gains as a means of rationalizing the work they do. Transforming the work relates to strippers who find meaning in their work, trying to create and maintain a sense of professionalism and finding ways that they help customers. Creating personal boundaries is pretty self-explanatory: strippers define personal boundaries, stick to them, and report customers to management. She describes how strippers use a variety of self-harming techniques to “wash away” the mental and physical grime from their work. Things such as Brillo pads, bleach in bath water, and scalding hot showers allowed dancers to feel like they were getting rid of what they often described as a nasty (both mentally and physically) job. In addition, many strippers told Price-Glynn that they had to act while working- they found it imperative to pretend to be interested in customer’s problems, lives, and interests in order to be tipped well. Her discussion about how dancers manage their labor of course prompted me to reflect on how I have managed it so far. I definitely identify as an object of desire; I readily take compliments, and I don’t feel cynical about hearing them. I think the fantasy work of a strip club goes both ways: customers are paying to have a fantasy about a beautiful girl who likes them and takes off their clothes for them. I also recognize that they are playing into that fantasy, and talking and behaving accordingly. I am probably not “the most” beautiful girl they have ever seen, but I can believe them for the sake of the act. I definitely act while I am working. Some people I feel genuinely engaged with; I have met a number of intelligent and respectful and nice people that I like talking with. Sometimes, though, there are definitely those that I simply smile and nod at. The only people that I have denied involvement to are my parents, which has started to negatively impact my relationship with them because I have started not talking with them as frequently. I also feel like I have transformed my work; feeling like I am providing a sexual service (like porn) and being an energetic and happy dancer that truly enjoys her work. Washing away work isn’t something I do, although taking a epsom salt bath feels ritualistic for me when my body feels so tired (it is not about washing away the mental dirt, though).

-She mentions the work of sociology Bernadette Barton, who argues that “when strippers are relatively new to their work they emphasize the positive aspects–the money, flexible hours, and their enjoyment of performing. Beyond three years of employment, strippers emphasize the costs of their work, such as the longer-term effects of substance use and abuse, bodily strain, and aggressive and abusive patrons” (p123). This jives with my experience so far, and I think it also jives with the experiences of other strippers I have talked with who have been dancing for a couple of years or longer. However, reflecting more, I have met a couple of dancers who have worked in the industry for two or three years, and another couple who have worked for over a decade. All of those women emphasize the positives of the work without mentioning the negatives that Barton found in her work. Also, when people have asked me what negatives I have found, I mention the physical difficulty and how worn out my body feels. Bruising, sore muscles and joints, and doing things like popping out ribs (yikes) are all negative consequences for me.

-I continued to notice some main differences between her observations and my own in our town’s clubs. She points out several times throughout her ethnography that there was a huge emphasis and pressure on the strippers to embody the following image: tanned whiteness, large breasts, tall, thin, blonde hair, and shaved/waxed genitals. Strippers felt this pressure acutely, and spent considerable amount of time and money on trying to achieve this look. The dancers here, I think because of the sheer number of clubs and dancers, do not, from what I can tell, feel or act on these same pressures. The variety in body shape and size, hair color and styles, tattoos, piercings, makeup, body hair preferences, clothing choices, and musical tastes satisfies an audience’s desire for variety and I think it also allows dancers to remain as true as possible to themselves.

-I found this analysis quite useful in thinking about how stripping compares to other kinds of emotional labor:

“While bartenders and cocktail waitresses also performed emotional labor in the form of companionship and intimacy, their performances differed from that of strippers. Robin Leidner’s work is helpful in illustrating this difference. In her study of workers at McDonald’s and agents at Combined Insurance, she argued that there are three types of emotional labor in service work: when personality is inseparable from the product (e.g., teachers), when personality is provided in conjunction with the product (e.g., flight attendants), and when personality facilitates purchase of the product (e.g., salespeople). Bartenders and cocktail waitresses resemble Leidner’s description of flight attendants in that they provide emotional labor with another product: drinks. Doormen and bouncers, since they are often the first people to meet the customers, act most like salespeople–encouraging and making entry into the club possible. The contrasts that Leidner makes fall short when we think about what strippers produce. Since strippers are simultaneously inseparable from their product, providing personality, and facilitating purchases, they begin to look like hyper service workers. What is more, strippers’ service work includes an added dimension, erotic labor. Erotic labor performed in the nude is the central product of strip club, shaped by broader cultural, industry, and club-based norms” (p109).
-Price-Glynn discusses what she sees as needing to change culturally and in clubs in order to make strip clubs safer and healthier environments for strippers. Transforming the work environment includes management that takes the safety of dancers seriously by holding aggressive workers and patrons accountable, and promoting positive norms of women and dancers. We must also address the “larger social causes of violence and aggression toward women through rape culture and rape myths. The most important problems include continued valorization of hegemonic masculinity; cultural acceptance of discrimination; disrespect of women, racial, and sexual minorities; and a climate of sexual intolerance” (p197). Her final point was extremely satisfying to me: 
“…eroticizing the sale of sex and power is not the problem. The problem is that the sex industry continues to promote gender inequality, racism, homophobia, and sizeism, as well as ambivalence about sex and sexuality. Instead, the industry could work toward creating broader norms that de-stigmatize sex for pleasure and fun in its various forms of consensual forms. As well, strip clubs could work to humanize gender, race, bodies, sex, and sexuality. Alongside these kinds of industry and club-based reforms, broader social change may help foster safer spaces for women to work inside (and outside) of the sex industry” (p198).

Wedding Thoughts

J and I have been talking about our Party for next summer (aka the wedding). I am really excited about:
1. We are having Friends of Honor. Gender-neutral, and it allows us to recognize the fact that J has a very close, woman, friend. So of course she is going to stand up there with us. Duh.
2. Finding readings that represent our commitment to relationship diversity and LGBTQ rights. I included at the end of this post all of my favorites so far (some are more romantic- for example, ee cummings’ poem is my all-time favorite, and it’s not related to either open relationships or LGBTQ rights, but I love it nonetheless).
3. Reflecting our relationship and us as individuals in how the wedding is structured. This is related to not only having Friends of Honor, but the readings we have in our ceremony, the vows we write, the food we eat, and the music we dance to. Also, it is related to the fact that despite my mom is aghast that I want to shorten my dress, I am doing it, because I like short dresses, and it will look more like me. (I admit there is certainly an undercurrent related to my mommy issues and reclaiming control for my life, this wedding business included.)

I am adamant that our Party be as authentic and genuine as it can be, and ring true for how J and I are individuals and as a couple. That was part of my motivation for coming out to my parents, and why it was important to us to tell our officiant about our open relationship. We are both ruffled that not everyone will know about our relationship, and that the assumption is that we are monogamous and committing ourselves to something that we are not. However, I still think that it will be absolutely lovely to have the support of so many friends and family, regardless of whether they know or not, when we have a ceremony of love.

Possible Ceremony Readings
“Marriage is a vital social institution,” the reading began. “The exclusive commitment of two individuals to each other nurtures love and mutual support. Civil marriage is at once a deeply personal commitment to another human being and a highly public celebration of the ideals of mutuality, companionship, intimacy, fidelity, and family. Because it fulfills yearnings for security, safe haven, and connection that express our common humanity, civil marriage is an esteemed institution and the decision whether and whom to marry is among life’s momentous acts of self-definition. It is undoubtedly for these concrete reasons, as well as for its intimately personal significance, that civil marriage has long been termed a ‘civil right.’ Without the right to choose to marry, one is excluded from the full range of human experience.” ~2003 Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court decision that legalized same-sex marriage in that state

“Because the condition of marriage is worldly and its meaning communal, no one party to it can be solely in charge.  What you alone think it ought to be, it is not going to be.  Where you alone think you want it to go, it is not going to go.  It is going where the two of you – and marriage, time, life, history and the world – will take it.  You do not know the road; you have committed your life to a way.~Wendell Berry


“Can one have love? If we could, love would need to be a thing, a substance that one can have, own, possess. The truth is, there is no such thing as “love.” “Love” is an abstraction, perhaps a goddess or an alien being, although nobody has ever seen this goddess. In reality, there exists only the act of loving. To love is a productive activity. It implies caring for, knowing, responding, affirming, enjoying: the person, the tree, the painting, the idea. It means bringing to life, increasing his/her/its aliveness. It is a process, self-renewing and self-increasing. . .To say “I have a great love for you” is meaningless. Love is not a thing that one can have, but a process, an inner activity that one is the subject of. I can love, I can be in love, but in love I have . . .nothing. In fact, the less I have the more I can love.” ~“To Have or To Be” by Erich Fromm


Thousands of candles can be lit from a single candle, 
and the life of the candle will not be shortened.
Happiness never decreases by being shared.
~The Buddha 
“Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail” ~Ralph Waldo Emerson
 
“Your love is located within you. It is yours to nurture and savor, to give to others in any way you choose. Love must be without qualifications or demands. You must learn to find ecstasy in other peoples happiness. Once you feel love for yourself, it is quite normal to give it away.” ~Wayne Dyer Gifts from Eykis

“Eccentricity has always abounded where and when strength of character has abounded: and the amount of eccentricity in a society has generally been proportional to the amount of genius, mental vigor and moral courage it contained. That so few dare to be eccentric marks the chief danger of the time” ~John Stuart Mill

ee cummings, i carry your heart with me:
i carry your heart with me(i carry it in
my heart)i am never without it(anywhere
i go you go,my dear; and whatever is done
by only me is your doing,my darling)
i fear
no fate(for you are my fate,my sweet)i want
no world(for beautiful you are my world,my true)
and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you

here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows
higher than the soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart

i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)

Maria Falzone on Sex Nerd Sandra

A big, big shout-out to Maria Falzone.

I hadn’t heard of her before listening to Sex Nerd Sandra’s most recent podcast, but she is absolutely funny and fantastic. (I don’t know why I hadn’t heard her name before!) She is the epitome of sex-positivity. She understands and promotes the connection between positive sexuality education and sexual violence prevention. She creates her presentations for people regardless of gender or sexual orientation. She doesn’t promote abstinence exclusively; instead, she thinks people should be sexual when they are ready. Readiness is defined by the time when people are able to say clearly, this is what I like and don’t like. You can do this, this, and this to me, but not that. Readiness in her mind, is defined by the ability to say both no and yes to sex. My only gripe is that she didn’t mention relationship diversity and being open to both monogamy and nonmonogamous relationship configurations.

She was fascinating to listen to, and a great comedian. Check her out!

So Much Sexiness in So Little Time!!

When J and I first opened up about a year and a half ago, our sex life together went through the roof. We started having sex like we did when we first started having sex- as much as possible… two or three or four times in a day. Our sex life together has waxed and waned since then, but generally it has stayed higher than it was before we opened up.

Well, as a result of our reconnecting, apologies, forgiveness… I think just generally seeing each other deeply again and willing to be vulnerable with each other again… the sexual energy exploded. So. much. fun.

Apparently it started when J got into bed at 1:30am, nekkid. I was already asleep. He put his arm around me to say goodnight, and I put my arm around his (apparently)… and then proceeded to put my other hand on his cock. Haha! J is notorious in our bed for sleepy-humping, aka starting to have sex with while asleep. But I have never been reported to start it. Anyways, a couple hours later, I woke up to Mr. Sleepy-Hump, and it was great…we shared fantasies until 4am. Then, in the morning we did it again. Later that evening when he got home, we had an a-m-a-z-i-n-g threesome with a friend (potentially more on that later; it deserves it’s own blog post), and after the friend left we loved on each other again. My stripping skills even came in handy because I gave them both lap dances, and then gave J a private one… I guess I’m getting pretty good! 😉 …And we proceeded to love each other again the next day.

All of this reminds me of some of our earlier blog posts on casual versus intimate sex. Sometimes I have seen on other blogs or websites or in other books that casual and intimate sex depends more on what people are doing rather than how they are feeling. I know very clearly that it is how I am feeling that defines the mood for me. For instance, and interestingly, during our threesome I at once felt like I was having intimate sex with J and more casual sex with our other partner. But having had reconnected with J so well earlier in the week set us up to have intimate sex this whole week, no matter what we were doing and how. It all felt extremely intimate and connecting, and it has been healing and wonderful.

Apologies & Forgiveness

J and I had to work on apologizing and forgiving each other this week.

There was a lot to apologize and forgive for. In the past three months a lot had happened, and a lot was left un-communicated, we became emotionally disconnected, and resentment, frustration, and anger built up. Opening the lines of communication back up just by recognizing what had happened and beginning to apologize and forgive has already strengthened and deepened our understanding. I already feel so much healing and reconnection taking place. It has been magnificent. 

It can be so painful to go through this. When I am in pain, my ability to communicate gets warped, and yet my need to be honest goes way up. The feeling that my true feelings and experiences aren’t being expressed accurately gives me a stomach ache. I have to reach this place of breaking past a deep shell and just letting myself be vulnerable. Fortunately, I feel blessed to have a partner who doesn’t trample on that vulnerable part of myself; he respects it and actively listens to me. Of course, this requires him to be in a space himself where he can actively listen. I know for myself, that when I feel angry I struggle to actively listen and understand another person’s point of view. It is a process  to remember to be a active and compassionate listener.

Forgiveness is a process. It is similar to the grieving process. It is as much about the person forgiving as the person you are trying to forgive. It is releasing past hurt in order to feel a lighter load and move forward. It is not about forgetting. This article was helpful to me in remembering the art and benefits of forgiveness.

Throughout this process of communicating, apologizing, and forgiveness, my wonderful cousin told me: I have a feeling you are almost to the top of this huge hill, and it’s really hard right now. But you’re almost there. And when you get to the top, you are going to look out across this amazing and beautiful field of flowers. 

I covered my face and cried. I wanted to believe her, and believe in myself and in J.

I am glad I did. Because I feel we are there now.

Six Year Anniversary

the Dan Savage way. Sex before food. (He recommends this on all lovey-dovey dates, such as Valentine’s Day, anniversaries, weddings, etc.)

Check.

Dildo in the shower, fingering, squirting, ass play, blow jobs in the front of the mirror, rough spanking and pushing my head into the bed, prostate play, swallowing, Hitachi.


Beautiful. And check.

And then: food.

Maybe we’ll get out of the house at some point today. Or maybe not.

Happy six years to J. I love you to the moon and back babycakes!